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The big question(s)

  1. Mar 8, 2014 #1
    Should I go into physics?

    Let me tell you my story first, I went to a decent public university, I was originally going for computer science, but then switched to engineering. I did terrible and was put on academic suspension. Now I'm at community college, things have been going pretty good grade wise and I've spent a lot of time rethinking about what I want out of my career. The more and more I think about it the more I'm considering physics.

    So I have a few questions
    Will my previous academic record prevent me from getting into any decent grad schools?

    How do I generally increase my chance of getting into grad schools? Extra math/physics classes?
    Honors? Undergrad research? Tutoring? Little of everything?

    What can I expect form the pay? No matter how passionate you are you got to pay the bills.

    More important, what is the job security like? Does matter how passionate you are or how much money you could make if you can't get a job in the first place.

    What are the chances for academia? I've heard lots of horror stories about it, but I think its the route I would like to take. Not to get all socialistic or anything, but I'd rather research for the sake of expanding human knowledge rather than a lacky for some corporation looking to fling out their next product.

    And expanding on that, what are some of the work environments can I expect? Things like lots of competition, paper work, long hours(although I do realize this is almost inevitable in any serious career,but I don't want to work 60-70 hours a week into my 30s) and intrusive management turn me off.
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  3. Mar 8, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    You should probably find another career then.
  4. Mar 8, 2014 #3


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    70 hours a week can really fly by when you're having fun
  5. Mar 8, 2014 #4
    Is it really that much, thats scary, I know grad school is supposedly a pain and the first few years out of school is always a pain, look at medical residents, but I would hope it would mellow down after the first few years.
  6. Mar 8, 2014 #5


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    If you got into academic trouble in an engineering program, what makes you think physics would be any easier?
  7. Mar 8, 2014 #6
    I didn't say I would think it would be easier, just because I had academic problems before doesn't mean I can't pass anything.
  8. Mar 8, 2014 #7


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    The idea isn't to pass. It's to do well and prove comprehension in order to get into a decent graduate program. A lot of people can pass a class; however, if you desire to eventually become a graduate student, you should do rather well in the majority of your classes.
  9. Mar 8, 2014 #8
    Well I don't mean just sliding by with bare minimum grades, I just meant I still have academic "competence" if you know what I mean
  10. Mar 8, 2014 #9


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    It's long hours, long odds, and short pay. And you'll be competing against people who are freakishly smart.

    I don't mean to be discouraging, but it's a tough field and you should know that before you start down that path.
  11. Mar 8, 2014 #10
    I am in college for an EET degree (I don't want to go into engineering, I prefer the work an EET does) and I am working 40-50 hours a week.

    You should be prepared to work long hours if you want to do anything above the technician level.
  12. Mar 8, 2014 #11


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    I supposed that depends on what "terrible" means. Graduate schools will see the grades from all post secondary programs you've attended. Generally you need a 3.0 GPA just to be in the race, and better than that to be competitive for a spot.

    All of the above really. Keep as high of a GPA as you possibly can, while taking rigorous physics classes. Get involved in research if you can (this will also help you to know if graduate school is a good fit for you).

    As a graduate student you'll live off of a stipend that will be enough to cover tuition and a modest lifestyle (living with room mates, taking buses everywhere, etc.) You then move into the post-doctoral world for several more years making a little bit more in contract positions that last for ~ 2-3 years with minimal benefits. Then you can apply for tenure track positions (assuming those will still exist), where you can make about the same amount of money as an entry-level engineer. The odds are very much against you making it this far.

    Post-doctoral positions are temporary. And the stat that gets tossed around often is that 1 in 10 students who graduate with a PhD will end up with a permanent position in academia. Most people who go so far as to get a PhD would prefer to work on "expanding human knowledge" but according to Maslow eating is generally a higher priority than self-actualization.

    I'm not sure that physics/academia is going to be a good fit then.
  13. Mar 9, 2014 #12
    Possibly, it depends on how bad it was. Roughly, you need a 3.0 or better.

    Research can certainly help a lot if you excel at it.

    You'll be in your mid 30s before you out-earn the manager of a mid-sized restaurant.

    Practically nonexistent. The majority of people who get physics phds leave science for field with more opportunity.

    The chances of both of those things are fairly small. Maybe ~1/10 physics phds will end up doing academic research, and very few corporations do physics research, so thats also an incredibly rare position. Most of the physics phds I know work in insurance,finance and as software engineers.

    All over the map. In graduate school, some advisers micromanage everything and some don't even know all their student's names.
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