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Physics Shall I just focus on getting a good job?

  1. Jul 30, 2015 #1
    I often wonder people's life in developed countries, not for the recreational activities or big houses, but that the people there are encouraged to pursue what they want and to turn their individual dreams into reality. I have long been fascinated by physics, and maths, and have been dreaming about becoming a theoretical physicist, working on high energy physics or cosmology. However, reality seems to be that I don't have much chance to be an outstanding physicist and this makes me feel depressed. I don't know what to do next, and really hope to get some advice from you.
    In this year after the summer holiday, I am going to apply to various universities in UK. Last year I still had hope of applying to Cambridge, one of the best universities in the UK, but now I feel I have completely messed up my study.
    I am not a native speaker in English, and it often makes feel awkward to talk to British and American people because I feel embarrassed for my weird accent and my inability to express myself. Perhaps because of my poor communication skills, my application tutor dislike me.Application tutor is extremely important because they write recommendation letters, and these are of great weight to anyone's application. It made me feel stressed and, with also pressure from my peers, I lost my study habit and lost a lot of sleep. Consequently, I did not do well on my exams, and poor grades put me into a situation that I will be accepted only by universities with low quality. I know academic career put a great emphasis on the university one studied at as an undergraduate, and more importantly being at a poor university make it unlikely I will get into good graduate schools.
    I have so many challenges ahead : I have virtually no communication skills with native English speakers; my social skills are poor; my level of understanding of maths and physics is still far from comparable to my elite peers in the US and UK; my own country is extremely political to an extent that politics has penetrated throughout universities which means I will not be able to pursue a real physics career in my own country.......All of these make me feel having no future.
    Should I stop thinking about pursuing my interests in physics, and think more about how be find a job after university?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 30, 2015 #2


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    It seems that you worry to the point of causing yourself to fail. If you didn't get into the first school of your choice, that doesn't guarentee failure in life. Your success is going to be based on how well you prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities when they come. And, just because you aren't able to take advantage of one opportunity, doesn't mean that there won't be others. Just focus on doing the best that you can, strengthen your skills and the opportunities will come. Or, you could focus on "what if I fail scenarios" but I wouldn't recommend that.
  4. Jul 30, 2015 #3

    I am sorry you are in such a situation. I don't really know how important physics is to you, but if it's what you really want to do, you should pursue it as best as you can. Language will come with practice. No social skills? No problem: that's no different than most other physicists anyway. What you should think about is: "If I quit now, could I be happier doing something else? Will I regret the decision to quit when I am older?" It's one thing to have a "plan B" in case things get rough (you could learn how to code, or learn/teach a language, for example); it's another thing altogether to give up your dreams.
  5. Jul 30, 2015 #4


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    You should think about going into engineering. It is applying physics to real world problem solving. It is far more practical and there will be far more jobs available. You can focus on whatever type of physics you excel at or enjoy the most, and go into that branch of engineering; mechanical, electrical, materials, computer, etc.
  6. Jul 30, 2015 #5
    As opposed to getting a physics degree and no job?

    I don't understand. Aren't you studying to get a job either way?

    I also don't understand that in once sentence you talk about going to Cambridge, in the other you say you know no math&physics or English. As for funny accents, what about the British, hahaha...
  7. Jul 30, 2015 #6


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    It's always a shame when a person does not have the opportunities to do what one really desires to be doing.

    But on the other hand, everyone faces obstacles. The fact of the matter is that there are very few professional cosmologists in the world. The odds are that even those graduating with a PhD are more likely than not to end up outside of academia.

    In a way your question might be phrased... Hockey is my passion. I'd like to play in the NHL one day, but I live in a tropical country that doesn't even have an Olympic ice hockey team. I had the opportunity to go to a really cool training camp, but I was really nervous, lost sleep and I don't think the coaches liked me because I wore a Maple Leafs jersey. Now I have to go to a training camp that isn't as good as the first one. Should I give up on hockey all together?

    Most people would say of course not. It you really love something, pursue it. But don't do it blindly. At the end of the day, it's important to set yourself up for a decent career. Pursuing physics as an undergraduate will give you an education in physics. That could lead to graduate studies. Or it could lead you to a job elsewhere.
  8. Jul 30, 2015 #7
    hey! there is nothing funny about our accents! (apart from those in Norfolk!)

    Getting into Cambridge is not going to be easy. But as they themselves say, the surest way not to get in is to not apply.

    People all over the world dream of studying at Oxbridge. Some get in. There is no reason that cannot be you if you work hard. The odds might seem astronomical, but that's life. Not everybody can be the managing director of a FTSE100 firm, or own an Aston Martin, or climb Everest, or go into space, or date a victoria's secret model - but some do it!

    Go for it.

    And remember, you have your whole life to study. University is not something you have to do from age 17 to 20.
  9. Jul 31, 2015 #8
    You are right, perhaps I should spend my time focusing on developing my skills instead of worrying. Complaining and worrying are just wasting precious time. Thank you for the reply!

    These are the best words for me today, thank you so much! I really can't imagine myself working in fields other than physics, I would be miserable. Never quit, that's it.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I think engineering is a good subject to learn for job, but is quiet different from physics. I am interested in High Energy physics and this makes engineering not suitable for me. Nevertheless I still appreciate your help.

    No I'm not a British, and I have no problem with British accents (I think they are good).

    I find it relaxing to read the modified Rescy story, at least it reduces my pressure... Yeah it's still better to stay in the training camp than quit.

    I will give it my best try. Thank you very much!
  10. Jul 31, 2015 #9
    Guys don't be like that and don't tell OP fairy tales about not giving up etc. He is from developing country which means without good degree his situation will be far worse than in USA.

    Yes, you should give up for your own good. 1st - being in high school means you have no idea if physics is what you really want to do. 2nd - you will regret not studying engineering later because with degree in Physics you will likely get a job that has nothing to do with any kind of science. From https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/switching-from-mechanical-engineering-to-physics.825528/ :

  11. Jul 31, 2015 #10
    It is very difficult to get a job with a PhD in physics, in the US. People get a physics PhD and expect to do engineering jobs in countries that undervalue STEM degrees and that have professional certification protecting certified engineering degrees.

    Anyway, OP never says where he is from or what job he is aiming for. Also, if you are willing to get a PhD you should be willing to move to about any place on earth to get a temp job and to build your scientific resume. If you aren't, don't get a PhD.

    Studying engineering and getting a job at the local tech firm is completely different from getting a PhD, doing research, and getting patents and publications behind your name. They do not compare at all.

    If you talk cosmology and theoretical physics, sure. Those are hard markets. But there's tons of research done all over the world where people with physics degrees are needed. Are there to many PhD people, sure. People have gotten in the habit of getting a PhD because of a poor job market and uni's have been accepting subpar talent into PhD programs because they are cheap and expendable workforce. But if you want a job doing research, a PhD is the minimum.

    In my country you can get an MSc in physics and you will have the same job prospects as an engineering grad with an MSc. You just have different skillsets. Companies hire both engineers and physicists, because they aren't the same and because their tech involves both physics problems and engineering problems, which are different.
    I guess if you have a physics BSc program that sets you up only for doing a PhD and academic research, then yes, you can't convince industry that you can make their company a profit.
  12. Aug 1, 2015 #11


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    The data show that people with degrees in physics (including PhDs)...
    • have low unemployment rates
    • work in STEM fields
    • work on technical problems
    • have high job satisfaction
    See: APS statistics

    Usually whenever I challenge anyone to provide data to back up assertions such as "it is very difficult to get a job with a PhD in physics" the best they can come up with is an anecdote or an attempt to poke holes in the existing data. The realty is that pursing a PhD in physics is unlikely to lead to a professor position - particularly in fields such as cosmology. So the it may not be likely that one will end up doing the specific job that one might envision on the outset, but it's not the dead end that many people would make it out to be.

    Look at the data. Interpret it in your specific context. And draw your own conclusions.
  13. Aug 1, 2015 #12
    Hai friend,
    i had watched many peoples who were seeing problems as a vast one & also as dangerous one. First remove all your negative thought . This is your life so you are the best one to choose your path.Don't think about failures & your marks.It doesnot judge you.Forget the past & think about present.There is still time for you to choose your decision.you had mentioned that your english communication is poor.I am not think soo,still you are good at english.In my country eventhough we didnot know english. We used to show that we are good at english.For your scores you couldnot able to get into cambridge it doesn't matter.If you are interested in your wish then you would pursue your studies in other universities."you can make your life a beautiful one by showing your talents & not by the grades".
    If you want to go job then select a job in which you are interested & show your talents. My mom always used to insist me that "Don't think about , what others will say about you, it's your life, you can live as your wish"
    "Built your heart strong, don't fear for failures otherwise you will become a coward".
    "start your life from this minute,still there is time,enjoy the life in your way"
    Have good time.:smile:
  14. Aug 1, 2015 #13


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    I don't believe this. Your enjoyment of physics is not something inexplicable, there are some specific things about physics that you like. If you understand what those are then you will find that many other things also have those same features.
  15. Aug 2, 2015 #14


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    I know people who have stayed home with their parents for two years, after graduating high school ( with a side job), spending those years getting prepared for university intensively . Maybe you can do that, and apply , take necessary exams, after those two years?
  16. Aug 7, 2015 #15
    Yes, that's sort of the point. The part that you are leaving out is the whole thing where you work ridiculously hard for 5-7 years and don't get paid that much for it. That, by itself, is grounds for reconsidering for many people, depending on their preferences. And I'm sorry, but that is a subjective judgment that you can't overrule with all the data in the world. The objection that it's not all about the money might not hold enough weight if the thing you are working for is not going to come to fruition after all your efforts. The fact is that no matter how much data there is about what happens after the PhD, there's still a strong case to be made against it for many people, based on the opportunity cost, and it all boils down to factors that are highly sensitive to the individual who is making the decision, rather than some sort of blanket answer like, "physics is a great career" or "physics is a terrible career".

    The devil is in the details, here. Exactly how far is the job from what you envision? Does it really make sense to put such a huge effort into one thing if you end up doing something different? I know of many people who have high job satisfaction, work on technical problems, and all that good stuff, but they use almost nothing of what they learned in grad school.

    Yes, for some people, doing a physics PhD is the right decision, but there are risks that have to be taken, as well as absolutely certain sacrifices that need to be made.
  17. Aug 7, 2015 #16


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    I don't think I was leaving that part out, much in the same way that I didn't leave out that the student will have to breathe during the entire course of the PhD. Some facts are pretty obvious. If someone is smart enough to get into graduate school they are smart enough to realize that (i) it's going to take a long time to complete the PhD and (ii) that they won't make a lot of money doing it. Even if they didn't figure that out as an undergrad, these facts are spelled out in the letter of acceptance.

    I agree with you that blanket statements are not generally constructive. That's why it helps to look at data rather than make decisions based off of anecdotes and complaints. (And I would think that it goes without saying that the data also needs to be critically analyzed.)

    A student facing a decision of whether to study physics, or whether to go on to graduate school should have a reasonable idea of what kind of life these decisions are likely to lead to, or what is reasonable to expect.

    You're applying a trade-training model to an advanced education system, here. If the sole purpose of graduate school was to prepare the student for a job exclusively in that field then yes, it does not do a good job. But that's not the point.

    In graduate school, the student gets an advanced education in his or her subject of choice. The student gets to perform cutting edge research and make a novel contribution to the field. The student learns how to independently conduct research, how to write papers, how to present work at conferences. In a field like physics a student almost has to go out of his or her way to avoid learning practical skills like computer programming.

    I'd like to draw an analogy with judo.

    The probability that I'll ever be attacked on the street is quite low - a lot lower than the chances of a PhD graduate getting a professorship. But the opportunity cost of attending the weekly classes is high. It costs money. I have to wear silly pyjamas. There's a risk of injury. It's embarrassing when I get thrown by a kid who's half my age. There's a high opportunity cost that comes with it.

    So why on earth would I do it?

    Because I get to practice judo. I get exercise. I get to socialize. Once in a while I land a pretty impressive throw or make someone younger and stronger than me tap out. I get to learn new things.
  18. Aug 8, 2015 #17
    I get attacked on here for not dwelling too much on the obvious and talking about all sorts of side issues. People then think that my side points are meant to be my main argument, but no, the real reason is just the obvious. Everything else is just bonus stuff.

    Sure, you should look at the data. But I don't think you can blame me too much for disagreeing because I made my decision partly based on the data because I didn't think it was that bad, and it was the wrong decision. It's a straw man to say that I am suggesting that people should base their ENTIRE decisions on stories like mine. All I'm saying is that it's worth asking yourself if some of the anecdotes might be you. For example, in pure math, I think you really have to think through whether you are okay with doing something that might not be very practical, yet is extremely complicated. And it's obvious, so everyone has thought it through to a point, but I mean, really think it through. If I had done that, rather than look at the stats, I might have had a chance to make the right decision. It's not all about looking at the stats. It just isn't that simple. Do you think it's bad advice to visit departments and talk to grad students? That's just gathering anecdotes.

    It's up to the people making the decision to go to grad school whether it is the point or not. Not you or me.

    And becomes a narrow specialist who may not have that much time to know about things outside that subject. I'm not saying that grad students are all one trick ponies--I wasn't (which I think actually contributed fairly significantly to why I didn't do that well)--but it can hamper one's ability to keep up with things outside your own field.

    You have a point there. Some grad students actually help with advancing the science. I made a contribution, but it was a lame one that no one cares about, and that's probably true of a lot of people. PhD is usually not anything earth-shattering.

    But if they are not going to be physics professors, I'm not sure how much of that is going to be transferable and regardless of that, they might be better off actually studying the thing that they are going to be doing. I spent 6-8 hours a day over the summer one time studying 3-manifolds for my qualifying exam. Will that really make any sort of meaningful contribution to my life, after leaving math?

    I'm not so sure about that. I have come across a lot of physics students who haven't done a lot of programming.
  19. Aug 8, 2015 #18
    What are the odds of becoming a CEO of a middle-sized or over company with a BSc in engineering? Better just find an apprenticeship from a local technician.

    Let's open up a can of sour engineers to counter-balance this whole issue.
  20. Aug 8, 2015 #19
  21. Aug 8, 2015 #20
    Not sure what this has to do with the thread. I would think if you wanted to be a CEO, you ought to get an MBA or something, rather than study physics, but what do I know?
  22. Aug 8, 2015 #21
    If you want to be the CEO of the new Enron, sure, get an MBA. You learn exactly how to scientifically run a company down into the ground. Furthermore, you have to be in the US even to get an MBA as it is an US invention and often doesn't even exist outside.

    Why criticize a degree in physics for the small odds to get a job as a professor when you don't do the same for similar degrees? No degree is going to guarantee you a top 1% job.
  23. Aug 8, 2015 #22
    Let's not get off topic, but I think that not many math and physics types are interested in being CEOs.

    What makes you think I don't do the same for similar degrees? My opinion on getting an English or history PhD is pretty close to being a flat out "just don't go". With physics, I am willing to concede that for some people, it makes sense to do it.

    An engineering PhD typically will have a closer connection to industry jobs. Certain areas of physics may also be better in this regard.
  24. Aug 8, 2015 #23
    But they are interested in becoming professors? A CEO in business is the same as a professor in academics.
  25. Aug 8, 2015 #24
    Same? Really? I am sorry, but you are mistaken. CEOs do research and publish in papers in journals now? And they teach classes? Interesting.
  26. Aug 8, 2015 #25
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