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Should I become a physicist?

  1. Apr 9, 2013 #1
    Greetings, my name is Ali and I live in Sweden.

    I've had quite the depression these couple of weeks, if not months. I've been thinking a lot about my future and I can't get my mind to make a decision. I want to become a physicist but the problem that keeps my away from becoming that is the salary.

    Please don't get me wrong, I couldn't care less about the money itself but I'm worried that later on when I start a family, I wouldn't get enough for my kids education or buy a house etc.

    The other career that is interesting is medical doctor. In this career I wouldn't worry about the salary at all.

    Why physicist: I want to advance our knowledge in this field. I know quite much about physics at the moment. I'm actually building my own little Betatron. The thing that bothers me is quite much the salary only. I'm also interested in astrophysics.

    Why doctor: I love to advance humanities knowledge and helping humanity directly. A medical doctor fits in where I want to help people.

    So to my question: Which career should I choose and why?

    If there is any physicists here or astrophysicists would you mind telling me how long you have worked, how much you get and if you can atleast afford a house.

    :) Thanks for your answers.

    Edit: Sorry about the English, my grammar isn't that good atall.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2013 #2
    I'm a physics PhD candidate, which means I know many recently-graduated physics PhDs. The large majority of them cannot afford a house. (Me neither.) The ones who can afford a house work for software companies, financial trading companies, and defense contractors.

    [STRIKE]Very many[/STRIKE] All of them are either 0) not working in physics research or 1) doing postdoctoral work. Some of the non-postdocs are adjunct teachers, some work for private companies, and some are unemployed.

    Postdocs typically get paid low salaries, but I've seen a few offers for 70,000 USD or more. Most postdocs will never become tenured professors. However, tenured professors typically get paid well - not as much as medical doctors, but more than enough to buy a house.

    The people I'm thinking of are all from the US or Canada. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the Scandinavian research economy to say anything useful about it.

    Also, I had no problems understanding your English. It's far better than my abilities at either of my second languages!
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2013
  4. Apr 11, 2013 #3

    I hear ya. I wasn't that worried about money when I decided to major in physics either. I figured I would at least land some kind of professional career. Not the case though. Like most physics majors I was not able to become a physicist. Now I am middle aged with little money. Not enough to raise kids, not enough to buy a house. Enough to stay fed and not be poor, but my income is no higher than it was before the degree. Of course this is what I get for not caring about money... Maybe you should care about money? Just a thought.
  5. Apr 11, 2013 #4
    Since you're Swedish, your situation is a little (if not a lot) different than American students. As a national, chances are you would not need to spend very much money to complete a bachelors in your country and you would not end up with massive debt like most students in the US. In fact you might even get enough in grants to live on your own while studying, I'm not sure how it works in Sweden exactly. This was how I did it in Spain (I qualified for substantial aid coming from a very poor background + living in a geographically isolated area, but even without it, tuition is still around 1k€/year which is ok if your school is at a reasonable distance from home)

    Your earning potential is no doubt greater with any degree than without one. If it's not going to cost you tens of thousands, why not spend those 4-5 years of your life studying what you like? Those are 4-5 years you won't get back and you certainly won't be able to afford time to proper studying when you're actually working to support yourself. There's another option if you can't make up your mind between physics and medicine: doing physics then mastering in medical physics.

    You'll at least break even if your funding situation is anything like mine. Job prospects doing any kind of science still don't look amazing without getting a higher degree beyond a bachelors though, so beyond that I can't help you because I'm just finishing up my BS right now and I'm currently applying for jobs/internships all over the world.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2013
  6. Apr 11, 2013 #5
  7. Apr 12, 2013 #6
    My advice (I'm last year Master student in Physics... Astrophysics and Gravity in particular). Choose what you like more, don't think about money now. You will have time to think about that later. Also I know that in Sweden you can study without too much money so take the chance. If you do what you like you have good chances to be good in what you do, and this always help with a future work. Ok, with physics you will not become rich probably (at least not as with medicine) but you will be able to maintain yourself and also a family (I know a number of physicists and they have not big problems, of course in research you will have the first years in which you have not so much but this in quite all kinds of work I think).

    Another advice:
    don't count your chickens before they're hatched... wait the University before saying you know QUITE MUCH physics now
  8. Apr 12, 2013 #7
    I wish I could. The thing is that I got raised in a poor environment. Not having money to rent an appartment with my own room really effected my studing quality. I had to search for appartments for me and my mother as she can't speak swedish while I had tons of homework.

    I really don't want anything like that happen to my kids. I've made alot of asking and people always warned me about the physics career. That is why I'm worried.

    I've an appointment on monday with my school career guide "thingy". I hope that she will help me.

    Another thing, will it be easy for you to get a stable job after you are done with your education? I wouldn't really like having an unstable job. (fine as a starter, but moving from city to city is hard. That is what happined to me and the result was that I had to go to 14 diffrent schools)
  9. Apr 12, 2013 #8
    I think it actually depends on which career you choose and of course how much you are lucky. Anyway if you choose to stay in research (academic research at least) you will have to move a lot at least for some years after PhD, you have small probabilities to be stable in one place before 33-34 (age). The thing changes if you do a different career. If you stay in industrial research or choose a different field (consider that being a physicist you are quite trained at problem solving and data analysis, so many fields becomes theoretically available, even finance they say) then you will have more probabilities of staying in one place.
  10. Apr 12, 2013 #9
    Take anything a school counselor tells you with a grain of salt. They don't have a magic crystal ball, everybody's educational and professional experience is a world of its own and there's no telling what the world will be like in 4-5 yers.

    I see you're a foreigner living in Sweden? You should find out what kind of financial aid is available to you from Sweden's educational bureaus. In my case, since I lived with my widowed mother, my support was actually comparable to her pension, but I was a citizen in my country.

    A science career will most likely not be stable. You'll really have to have a very open mind about moving and where you'll end up living if you want to have a better (but by no means great) chance and landing a permanent job. This includes other countries depending on specialty.

    If you want a stable job that doesn't require moving around, science and even medicine won't guarantee you'll be able to stay in the same city of your choice. There are professions every city needs though: plumbers, electricians & repair workers, auto mechanics, etc... As for things that can be done with a physics bachelors there's education and entry positions at banks, but anything else will almost likely require you to move around and doesn't seem any more promising, safe or stable than a science job if you manage to get one with it, as far I've seen in my current job hunt.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2013
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