I did something quite similar, in fact. I always wanted to do theoretical physics, but let's say that when I was studying, the prospects in that domain were meager. It's a hard battle to try to get one of the very few permanent positions, and the battle is not purely in your own hands: it depends on your thesis adviser, department politics, what wind will blow 6 years from now etc...StatusX said:True, but I'm talking about advanced (maybe theoretical) propulsion methods for spacecraft. Either way, I want to go as deep into physics as I can. I just want a backup plan if I find out I'm not smart enough to do theoretical work for a living. By the way, right now I'm majoring in applied and engineering physics, the only major that might bridge that gap.
My dad thought that I first had to do some "real" studies, so I did electromechanical engineering. After that, I could "go and play" if I wanted to. So after that I did my physics degree. The problem was that, given my engineering background, I could easily get into an applied physics or an experimental physics program (where I was offered the possibility of starting a PhD right away) ; theory was harder to get into (simply on paper). So I took the surest path, and did experimental stuff, while taking most of the theory courses I could get.
The problem afterwards is that with an engineering degree and a PhD in experimental physics, let's say that the job market doesn't really push you into into considering a theory postdoc career: too many nice other opportunities are open. So I made a compromise: I'm working as a research engineer on rather applied physics problems, and I like reading theory on my own. Do I regret it ? Some days, I think I might have been a great theorist :-)) Then I look in the mirror again, and well, probably I would have ended up in a more lousy situation than I'm in right now (can't complain). After all, a correct income and some "job security" are things that get appreciated more over the years.
What I can say, however, is that my playing around in theoretical stuff makes the problems I'm working on for a living look very easy! It doesn't replace labwork, but where I see many of my collegues spend weeks and weeks in the lab to find out rather elementary results, it takes me half a day to work it out on a computer, and another day to check a few points in the lab. Which then leaves me some time to spend in the library, reading some interesting stuff :-)