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State School for Physics or Elite School Humanities

  1. Jan 6, 2013 #1
    Hello Everyone,

    This is my first post here, but I've been reading for awhile and I'd like to say thank you for such an informative website.

    I'm having a bit of a personal crisis at the moment. In a very short amount of time, about one week, I will have to decide if I would rather attend my cheap local state school to study physics (or something else if I want to change my major later) or an elite institution across the pond in England (Oxbridge,) for Classics. I am currently enrolled at Oxbridge as an undergraduate, and while I enjoy the degree okay, and of course the reputation of the school is fantastic, it is very expensive and a hassle to get all the way out there for school. I am beginning to regret the decision and think that it isn't worth it after all, especially because Classics isn't particularly vocational (I would probably teach), and the degree system in the UK does not allow you to change subjects.

    I can afford it without TOO much strain, but it better REALLY be the right decision to go through with it and stay. With a Classics degree from there and the networking and campus recruiting that goes on I would probably have decent odds in the Financial Sector or teaching, but of course I would be closing the door on a career in engineering or science because it would not be worth it to me to start all over again after receiving the classics degree.

    This would be my second transfer, and I have previously taken Physics I and II, Calculus I and II, Chemistry I and II and most of my gen-eds. Although I am very much interested in science, I fear I do not have enough experience in programming, research, advanced physics classes, internships or any of the other elements of a scientific career that would really clue me in on to just how much I would really enjoy it, so it could be a massive mistake to jump into this irreversible decision without the info, but I can't really get that info without jumping in, and I'm spending more time and money the longer I wait. I have not alway liked science and math, in fact I didn't like it until I took Physics and Calc, which I found fascinating and got A's in (at college level calc-based physics). I have always been something of a History guy, and I wouldn't mind teaching high-school, which might be all I can do with a physics Bs anyway.

    What do you all think, especially about the career prospects of the two options? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2013 #2
    Hello Gabe123,

    May I ask, where would you be looking for work? As I understand it, around 70% of all graduate jobs advertised in the UK do not require a specific subject. I expect that is not nearly such a high figure, if at all, for most engineering and science jobs. So where, and in what, you would like to work might be a relevant factor.

    One thing I would say is that Oxford frequently comes out as the top uni in the world, in various tables, whatever their worth. The 'old boy network' might help you out in looking for work ('Oh I see you went to Oxford, oh you were in X college too?!') but I wouldn't give that much weight in your decision. Just something to be aware of - if you are likely to enjoy both physics and classics, and likely to go for a job that is not engineering or science (by sheer weight of numbers there are more non-sci/eng jobs out there), then having 'Oxford' on your degree will - rightly or wrongly - do more for you than 'not-well-known school'.

    This is, of course, all my opinion.
  4. Jan 7, 2013 #3
    Thanks for the response.

    I'm not entirely sure where I will end up working, I really have no idea. That's my main problem, because if I pursue Classics I will exclude myself from science and engineering, which might end up being what I wanted to do after all, but if I leave Oxford I will exclude myself from that Old Boy Network and prestige, which would be advantageous in just about any other career. What do you think? Is the competition for science and engineering jobs so high that its not worth it to try and jump into it from a state school with no guarantee of perfect gpa and great research/intern opportunities? I'm really torn on this one. What's the best way to know if a science/engineer career really is best for me? I would be sacrificing a lot to pursue it.

    Thanks again
  5. Jan 7, 2013 #4
    The only way to know if science is "for you" is to do a research gig. A lot of students realize that physics really isn't for them after their summer REU.

    What I can tell you is this: I was a political science major. I shot to the top and was the state chair of a political organization. I was flown all over the country for speaking engagements. I changed my major to physics - but I did NOT lose those contacts. You don't need to get out of the network just because you don't study with them. Just continue to keep in contact.
  6. Jan 7, 2013 #5
    Unfortunately, there's no way I could do a summer REU before making this decision.

    Why did you choose to switch from physics to political science, especially if you were so involved in it? Did you lose interest in political science, randomly decide you liked physics better, change because of job prospects or money, or something else entirely? Are the job prospects for a physics BS from a big state school any good?

    Unfortunately again, I will almost certainly lose contacts with the few people that I have met at this point in England, and will close all of those doors almost automatically simply by leaving Oxbridge. Oxbridge and the potential for that name on my degree is what opened those doors in the first place. This will be an irreversible decision, and perhaps the right one, so I must be very sure. I am saying Oxbridge instead of one or the other to keep my identity a little more secure.

    I'm not sure about the undergrad rank, I couldn't find it, but the grad school rank of my local state school in physics is tied with a few other schools in the low 60s on US news and world report, if that gives you any idea of the prestige and how to help you compare.

    An important thing to note; the reason I did not pursue science prior to now instead of going down the Classics route was that, although I knew I loved physics and Calculus, and doing word problems, and the way it kind of all seemed like the secrets of the universe and related so closely to philosophy, I have never enjoyed statistical analysis, lab work, data collection or computer programming, and so I thought that although I enjoy the theoretical side, a career in the sciences was not for me. What do you think of this evaluation? Are those things just something to grind through as an undergraduate, or are they really the crux of not only scientific education but a career in science and engineering. If they are I might very well steer clear of the sciences. All help is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again!
  7. Jan 7, 2013 #6
    A few personal reasons (I didn't really like having my personal life exposed always) but also because I met with politicians that didn't know much about science. I took a class my freshman year called Climate and Crisis and really liked it, and it made me concerned that politicians didn't really know much about the research they are funding. I plan on getting my PhD in physics, but will most likely go into science policy or lobbying later. Also, I didn't really like taking out loans to get an education that taught me what I could learn by reading Wikipedia or the news. I was able to be successful in politics without the formal degree, and feel as though it's more than possible to do the same in the future.

    Why wouldn't they be? Lab techs are always needed. Most of my friends found easy employment, and we live in rural America (i.e. I'm on dial-up right now). However, they work in labs and make about $30k a year.

    Once again, I'm not sure this is necessarily true. I still talk to ambassadors that I met. The governor still knows me by name. A few prominent Congress people recognize me when I see them at events. Professors in particular take stock in the person - I wouldn't be so cynical and think that your professors all think of you as a disposable student. If that is the case, you would lose those contacts simply by graduating, would you not?

    Don't worry about rank. Worry about what you would learn and the research you would be able to do and the relationships you could make with professors. Are you sure that there is no way you could take a semester break to "study abroad" in America taking physics courses?

    Yikes! You don't like lab or statistical analysis? I don't really see you getting a good job straight out of undergrad if you cut those things out entirely. Plus, I would say that lab was the backbone of my undergraduate career. There aren't a lot word problems in the real world. However, I didn't like lab in high school and ended up loving it in college.

    You can certainly get a theoretical job if you get the credentials needed (probably a PhD), but I could guarantee you that you would be doing data analysis and complex calculations. But I think that you would have a hard time finding a school that would skimp on such essential skills for your undergraduate.
  8. Jan 7, 2013 #7
    It's not so much that I would expect to skimp on those skills as an undergraduate. I can and expect to work my way through those sorts of things in school. I guess my question is, are those things to be worked through, or absorbed as part of an indispensable skill set to be used regularly and repeatedly throughout a career in the sciences? I've done lab work in college some before [this would be my second transfer ):], and I didn't really enjoy it much then either, but I feel like maybe all jobs, careers and majors will have parts I dislike. The question is partly whether or not a science career will be consumed by that sort of thing.

    I'm also not necessarily interested in being a lab tech, that seems somewhat tedious (but I don't really know). And 30k a year isn't really any better than my Classics options, but that's far from my primary motivation. But, I'm not sure what else I would do with a physics degree after getting my Bs except teach, go on to a master/phd in physics or go to engineering grad school, which I understand would require quite a few more undergraduate engineering classes, and I don't think I'm interested in engineering, and if I was it would save time and money to just do engineering now I guess. Perhaps I would be better off getting the degree in Classics and teaching high school or going into whatever else besides science. I guess I just don't want to be in a position where I always wonder.

    Maybe if you could tell me what sort of person you are and what the people you work with are like and, by extension, what sort of person would relish a career in the sciences above all else, and love going to work everyday. This is the most important thing for me. I may be somewhat glorifying a scientific job though, having watched too much Cosmos and not done enough actual physics grunt work.

    I have access to the American Institute of Physics database, do you think that there is something on there I could look over, like old undergrad physics research, that would give me a really good idea of where I'm headed?

    Thanks again for the help
  9. Jan 7, 2013 #8
    A few more things:

    I would almost certainly not maintain those contacts in Englad because I have simply not been there for long enough, I only just started this fall. And if I were to study abroad from Oxford it would have to be in the same coursework, and I don't think Classics students can do that regardless.

    And some more somewhat abstract questions: How satisfied are you by your physics education? I don't know if you are interested in philosophy at all, but have you considered physics to be a comforting, informing and or mind-expanding way to view the world around you that truly changes your life? Or is it just kind of more of the same but more in depth once you go beyond general physics I and II? This decision is partially motivated by a strong desire to understand the workings of the natural world from a philosophical perspective, as well as the desire to understand science and technology from a practical perspective on our world which is ever increasingly dominated by science and the relative few who truly understand it. Do you think I can fulfill these ambitions with physics, or do you think I will walk away disappointed?
  10. Jan 7, 2013 #9
    It's in my opinion that you're going to be hard-pressed to find a job with an undergraduate degree that doesn't include lab. I know that my research basically took up all my time. If I didn't love it, I would probably have been suicidal.

    It can be, depending on your placement.

    Good. It is horribly depressing to see people in science careers motivated by money. The long hours hardly make it worth it.

    Umm, I really don't think engineering is for you from what you describe. ;-)

    I think you should go to a few conferences and see if anything doesn't bore you to death. That might be a good gauge? Make sure that the conferences are diverse though - a particle conference would make me want to swallow glass. Have you considered being a mathematician who also studies physics?

    Where would you be planning to teach?

    The rest of this will be in another response.
  11. Jan 7, 2013 #10
    Well, I am a 23 year old female who is an Army officer. I don't really care about how I look and I don't really mind not watching TV or going out to the bars. I really care about my studies. Throughout my physics education, I only ordered about 5 pizzas and spent only about $100 on alcohol. Instead, I'm sort of stereotypical and play Settlers of Catan, Magic, or other similar games in the physics lounge. However, I had lots of extra-curricular activities and really enjoyed college.

    A typical school day for me started at 6 AM. I would work out until 7 AM. I would take a shower and get ready, going to school by 7:30 AM. I would work on homework until 9 AM and would go to work tutoring math students. From this, I would go from class from 10-noon. At noon, I had a lunch break. I brought lunch, and work work on more homework. Then, from 1-4, I had class again. I would take a break from 4-6 for dinner and whatnot. Then, I would either work in lab/do homework from 6-10 PM or I would go to work for another two hours, depending on what day it was. During my advanced lab year, I spent more time in lab. Sometimes, I would work until 11PM or midnight. On weekends, I would come in for about 8 hours a day unless I had drill. This year, I didn't have advanced lab - I just had my own independent research. I ended up spending about 10 hours a week in lab this year, as opposed to 20+.

    This summer, I worked at a summer REU. While some of my friends there only worked for about 8 hours a day, I worked about 12 hours every day, unless I wanted to go biking. I did take weekends off, however. But, I got my project done and some of it's on its way to getting published. My advisor was pushy too as he had me come in on July 4th.

    But the thing is, I don't really get tired of it. I feel like I'm always "catching up" and striving to understand more or be better. No matter what my grade is, I don't really feel like I'm good enough - even with a BS in physics, I refuse to call myself a "physicist". I doubt I even will if/when I get a doctorate! It gets kind of bad though, because I get a little disillusioned because I think I'm worse than I actually am. I'm strongly turned off by people that are very full of themselves due to my Army training, so I think that this that "issue" comes from that. You certainly can get by without working as much as I did, but I have dyslexia and I had to compete for a good work position for the Army, so I had motivation to maintain a 4.0.

    I don't think there is any one personality "type" that fit the bill for succeeding in the science field.

    You wouldn't BELIEVE how common that is! In reality, I spent my birthday, my Halloween, my Thanksgiving... soldering wires and characterizing thin films. It's not particularly glamorous.

    Absolutely! I think that SPS would be a good place too. If you would like, I could also send you my lab formals.
  12. Jan 7, 2013 #11
    You sound a lot like me in many ways. I am similarly dedicated to my studies, and have always had a passion for my school work, but I cannot be sure if that passion would be fueled by upper level lab work. I felt physics was a good way to put off making any hard and fast career decisions, it being the theoretical foundation of science and therefore a good base for anything, but also not really directly applicable from the BS level in too many cases.

    Out of curiosity, will you become/are you an army scientist then?

    Sending those lab formals would be appreciated, if it's not too much hassle.

    Thanks so much for the quick and thorough responses!
  13. Jan 7, 2013 #12
    I would be planning to teach anywhere I could find a job, probably at first anyway. It doesn't have crazy good pay, but the benefits and 15 weeks vacation would provide me with the lifestyle I enjoy (i.e. plenty of time to think, read and study on my own).
  14. Jan 7, 2013 #13
    As my favorite professor would say, "then graduate school isn't for you."

    Funny. That's what I've always heard about the Classics.

    Absolutely not if I have any control of what I do.

    Please PM me.

    Everyone gets stuck in the "I can only teach" mode. I don't get it. =P
  15. Jan 7, 2013 #14
    Ah, it would really be a killer if graduate school isn't for me, because that was my plan from a physics BS. But if graduate school is truly not for me then I need to seriously rethink this decision, and fast. Whats the best way to VERY quickly get an idea of physics graduate school life, work, lab time, and job prospects?

    Army Scientist that bad huh?

    Yeah, teaching would be a fine job I think, maybe not even a fall back, but actually a top choice.

    PM on on the way once I figure it out.
  16. Jan 7, 2013 #15
    You seriously need to do a research gig. Ask if you can "study abroad" someplace and try doing research at an institution for a semester and come back.
  17. Jan 7, 2013 #16
    Unfortunately, study abroad, especially in a different subject, is not really an option. YOu come to Oxbridge to study one thing and one thing only, its just the uk system. I could potentially finish out the year at Oxbridge before transferring, although that would put me more than a year behind due to available class and necessary prereqs in physics, and try and tag along some research project this summer, but I don't know what/who would let me in to do that. Is there a good way to get a quick peek at some ongoing research at my local state university do you think? Maybe I would have to answer that but I'm not sure where I'd just walk in.
  18. Jan 8, 2013 #17
    Have you tried coding? Maybe you'll like it.

    FalconOne, why would "grad school not be for him/her" if he/she is not particularly keen on lab work? What about computational or theoretical work?
  19. Jan 8, 2013 #18
    Research is mundane and boring. If OP doesn't like lab work, calculations and programming there is no way he will enjoy science. After all grad school and science job is all about lab work, programming and calculations.

    I think OP should read some pop-sci books and do "science for humanities students"' courses. This is all what is interesting about science without boring stuff to do.
  20. Jan 8, 2013 #19
    I have tried coding in a basic IT class that involved some java, coding helper type software, and making your own website. I did not enjoy any of it.I was also terrible at it and that class was my worst grade that semester even though it should have probably been my easiest class.

    If I should choose not to go into science or engineering as a field, and not go on to grad school, is there any point in an undergraduate physics degree other than personal fulfillment? And those of you out there with a philosophical bent towards science, did you find physics classes in the upper division courses to be somehow gratifying or mind expanding in the same way that general physics and calculus are when first taken? If so, which parts of which classes?

    I should probably do the pop-sci books thing, and I do enjoy serious science fiction as well, particularly Isaac Asimov, but it may be a mistake to pursue science based off these interests and an interest in calc and physics alone.

    In essence, I like doing book problems and the gratification that comes with getting the answer right, but I have little to no interest in just about anything that goes on in the lab. What do you make of that?
  21. Jan 8, 2013 #20
    OP said earlier that he really doesn't like computation or data analysis either and also ruled out computer science - so I assumed that included coding.

    I couldn't agree more. Or if his math skills permits, he could easily take an upper level "for fun". That's what my math professor did with E&M - and it made him awesome to work with.

    Hmm, I don't have knowledge of that. I learned C programming and my professor made us basically make "sledgehammer" programs so that we could really learn how to get a programming language to at least WORK, even if it isn't beautiful. That class was HARD, but I liked it a lot because of its approach.

    I know people interested in law school do better on their tests if they have physics degrees. You can take that for what it's worth. My friend also ended up going to medical school with his physics degree.

    Quantum mechanics really messed with me, haha. But seriously, my math professor took any non-lab course that was math intensive and it was awesome for him and it made him a better teacher. Classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics (if there's no lab), acoustics (take that lab, lol, it's fun), nuclear and particle, condensed matter physics, and thermodynamics are all classes you might enjoy. But some of them are VERY math intensive.

    I can promise you that I have not once done anything as cool as listed in the pop-sci books. But I can say that those interests can help you see the "big picture". At least you like math?

    I don't really know if book problems come very often in the real world. After a while, you start making a calculation for a problem you have, and you have no idea whether or not you are even close to being right. Then you take that and send it off to the experimental physicists to *do* that work. If you don't care what going on in lab, I'm going to be angry at you because you might not care about what you're sending OFF to lab. See what I'm saying? Even if it doesn't personally affect what you're doing, it'll still affect lab work.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  22. Jan 8, 2013 #21
    I do like math and am fairly keen at it, especially calculus, but I'm certainly no prodigy. I received A's in Calculus I and II, if that means anything. So I think math intensive is okay.

    Unfortunately, I can't take upper level physics or math classes for fun. if I stay at Oxbridge I am locked into Classics (Latin, Ancient Greek, History, Philosophy [of any era, not just ancient], archaeology and art history). It's a nice variety of humanities that would be a good preparation for life outside of science/engineering, but once again, that may be what I want.

    I'm not really interested in Law School or Medical School, the only profession that requires a degree that appeals to me is science, so if not that then no professional school probably.

    I see the connection between the Lab and Theoretical work, and I wouldn't disrespect that in a professional environment, I just wouldn't be interested in being in the lab myself.

    What are the odds of someone moving into theoretical physics/math successfully anyway? Are they all 145 plus IQ's who've loved science and math since childhood, who live and breath calculus, and even then don't often find a good job in their field?
  23. Jan 8, 2013 #22
    Have you actually asked if you can take a semester off? I know for a FACT my friend at Oxford did it.

    Differential equations or calc III? Linear algebra? Discrete?

    That depends on the individual. Work ethic can take you a long way. I switched from political science and did fine.
  24. Jan 8, 2013 #23
    According to the local state school I may attend the Calc II I already did is more like their Calc III, so I've already done most of their Calc, but they will still make me retake Calc II and at least have to do a test to validate Calc III, if not retake it, just because of the content difference. Also, my earlier school puts people straight into upper division physics after what they called Math Modelling, Statistics, Calc I and II, and with a mathematical physics class (which I didn't take), so maybe they somehow cram it all into those. Looking at linear Algebra, multivariable, partial diff equations and discrete on the internet rings some bells so I think thats maybe what they did there.

    I have not requested the semester off yet (its actually a trimester system, so I would request the next two Trimesters off and then pick it back up perhaps a year from now, I'm not sure), although that is an option I think.
  25. Jan 8, 2013 #24
    Well, I'm done helping you. Best of luck.
  26. Jan 8, 2013 #25
    Okay, thanks for all the help! much appreciated :)
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