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Should I study Physics?

  1. Jun 29, 2015 #1
    I understand that this maybe a very common or an irritating question by now, Should I opt for Physics or Engineering?

    From the last 5 years I have been fantasizing become a scientist and I am selected in a "not very" reputed university for Bsc physics (hons.) course, but my parents are insisting that I opt for Engineering, they are literally begging me! The situation is this that I am starting to consider engineering myself. The following are main things that I have been obsessing about for the last 5 days, please advise me on this!

    1. As physics is a very competitive field, will I have to work in a completely different industry on a lower payroll than both physicists and Engineers just because I specialized in a "not in demand" field?

    2. My dream is to "Invent" something that will solve the near coming energy crisis of the planet, will being a physicist help be on this ?

    3. As my undergraduate university is not a reputable one will I ever get admitted in a good university like Harvard, Stanford , provided that I score perfectly in my graduation and publish alot of things?

    4. http://imgur.com/N8IFJ92 / People like her with a Phd are not getting jobs? they are seeking jobs in Engineering department? Why? are there not enough Phd positions? What are my chances of ending up like her? This scares me! and is the heaviest reason for me to consider engineering

    5. I've heard from some of my friends that I can later do research in Physics after taking some Engineering deciplines? is it true? are there ant physicists with bachelor's degree in Engineering ?

    6. As my family is not a rich one and I will wind up with a ton of loan money when I finish my Phd, will I ever live a good life (with decent amount of money? provided that I work hard

    7. http://physics.wustl.edu/katz/scientist.html [Broken] This scared me the most, is it completely true? Is getting a Phd a deathtrap?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2015 #2


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    No, this is totally unrealistic.

    Normally if you are accepted into a physics PhD program you will be offered enough funding so you are not going into debt.

    This article is talking about your chances of getting a job doing fundamental physics research, which statistically are very low. That doesn't mean that people with a PhD in physics are unemployed. The unemployment rate for anyone with *any* degree in physics is extremely low. They just may not be doing jobs that require what they learned in their physics courses.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  4. Jun 29, 2015 #3
    But if my chances of getting a job in the field in which my Phd was are so low, should I not consider engineering from now?
  5. Jun 29, 2015 #4
    The truth is that I am considering getting a master's in Geophysics or Radiation Therapy, get a good job and THEN later continue getting my degree in "Pure" physics and involve in research.. Is it a good career choice? Is Geophysics not that competitive? Geophysicists gets to travel much and I like travelling . And how is getting a master's in Radiation Therapy and other medical Physics?
  6. Jun 29, 2015 #5


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    Nobody's going to argue you into getting a physics degree. It's a decision you have to make for yourself, based on what you want from life and what you think your abilities are.
  7. Jun 29, 2015 #6
    Yes. Physics, along with any other academic discipline is incredibly competitive.

    Yes. If you are unable to make it into academia, it is likely you will have to work in a different industry; however, being on a lower payroll isn't to be expected. There is no guaranteed job in academia, but people don't just sweep floors after succeeding in a difficult technical curriculum. A PHD physicist in any field has had to come into contact with computer programming, and those jobs will always be around. Salaries compensate for increased experience.
    Maybe. There are usually decade(s) long gaps between discovery and worldwide implementation on new and exciting technology. Sure, you may be able to contribute to some foreign technology's success in the coming years, but physics is a basic science. Physicists are trying to understand the basic workings of the world, and it is typically engineers and businessmen that make the global impact. So, if you are more wanting to see direct application of your work, engineering is where you want to be.

    There is this weird fallacy in reputation in science, especially physics, that all major contributions are due to the person who was first able to piece together the underlying structure. This is especially evident in pop-sci television shows and books. The truth of the world, however, is that all great strides are made by many people over a succession of years. Maybe we wouldn't have completely accurate satellites if it weren't for Einstein, but those satellites wouldn't have changed global communication and effected the lives of the entire world without the engineers that put them in orbit.

    But! That's the difference between the two. Einstein was after the pure knowledge and discovery, the engineer was after the application of such knowledge. Countless examples about of this.

    The honest truth is that you can, but it's harder. People that go to top schools for undergrad, if they succeed, have an easier time getting into top schools for graduate work. That doesn't exclude everyone else, though. Academia is as close to a meritocracy as you can get, but it definitely isn't perfect. Just because you are going to non-ivy school doesn't mean you can't get into one later.

    And! You don't need an ivy-league education to make major strides in a field or do meaningful research. It is easy to get sucked into the mindset of, "Oh wow. By the time I finish my calculus sequence, I will be older than when Newton invent the calculus!"

    You are living a life with different circumstances than a child prodigy, so don't expect the accomplishments of one. This also applies to.. "I didn't get into harvard/mit/stanford for my undergraduate/graduate degrees.. I can't make it"

    You ultimately are living your own life with different circumstance. All you can do now is focus on improving what you are and what you want.

    What she also didn't mention is that she went to a top 10 school. With all the information in that post and what I just said, doesn't that make it even worse -- unbearable even?

    Well, like most exceptional circumstances, there are additional factors into play than what are ordinarily apparent. She also was looking for a job in a very specific part of the country, which most definitely limits initial employment opportunities. Also, she did pen and paper theory. Again, limiting employment opportunities. Jobs in academia are scarce and you have to be willing to move where there is need.

    Typical engineers don't have this problem. There are engineering/software jobs all across the country and offer a wider availability for geographic selectivity. If this is something that matters to you, it is something you should consider.

    Physics is a large field, and the day-to-day work is different for each field. There are experimentalists with a day-to-day similar to those of an engineer. There are experimentalists/theorists with a day-to-day similar to that of a software engineer. Then there are also pen and paper theorists with a day-to-day only possibly similar to mathematicians. Which do you think are more marketable for employment?

    I have to heavily disagree with bcrowell on this one. It is most definitely possibly to get into physics graduate school after getting a degree in engineering. It is also possible to get into graduate school in physics with a degree in Jazz Bass. What matters is the finer details. Graduate schools care about requirements in courses and PGRE score and also letters of recommendation. Those three factors are the primary interest to advising committees.

    However, and I emphasize this, if physics research is what you want to end up doing, then study physics! Crazy things in this world are possible, and physics academia is no exception. However, there are standard paths for a reason -- it is easier! I previously answered your question about worrying about going to a non-top tier school. Think of majoring in the same as that situation.

    Would it be easier to get into MIT's graduate physics department with a 4.0 honors degree from Harvard and a perfect score on the putnam exam and gold metals in both the IPO and the IMO? You bet! Is it possible without any of the above? Sure, but do you want to add another "I don't have this...'" things to your resume?

    In the sciences, it is almost certain you will have your tuition waived and be given a stipend in return for teaching/research duties. So, you will not accrue any more debt than what you will have in your undergraduate degree.
    This final article is referred to often, and most of it can be looked over.

    The general consensus... *drum roll please*

    A life in physics research is difficult to attain and is never guaranteed. That, however, doesn't prevent you from being successful post-phd. Many people finish their PHD and have no intention of continuing in academia.

    What is most important is that, even if you decide to pursue graduate studies in physics, attempt to gain practical skills along the way! Computer programming is a common alternative. But.. like anything in life. It has its consequences. Do as much research on it as you can and make an educated decision based on a mix of what you need and what you want with your life.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. Jun 29, 2015 #7
    Thank you shablong,

    I did some research and finally decided to get my undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics as people in this field can easily find jobs in engineering department and also have an option to continue higher studies!

    As my family cannot provide me with my higher education it is necessary for me to get a job in a country like Norway and continue my higher studies in physics as well.
    Again thank you both Shablong and Crowell
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