1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

The flexibility of a physics background

  1. Sep 28, 2012 #1
    I'm a sophomore physics major, but I'm having trouble figuring out what where I want to focus. I started out in biological engineering but realized that it was WAY to specialized, and I'm enjoying the freedom of the physics program much more... though this may eventually backfire. I am mainly just looking for some advice from people with experience.

    Basically, I'm most interested the interdisciplinary fields of physics such as biophysics and geophysics. I'm not all that interested in staying in any of the "traditional" fields of physics because I feel that the tools of a physicist can be used to solve other interesting problems outside of physics. It seems like I'm more interested in the "tools" and the problem solving more than anything. I chose physics because I like the way they learn to think, and I want to have that background. This uncertainty about where I want to focus has been stressing me out, especially when I think about graduate school, etc.

    My dream scenario would be to work on many different problems in many different fields. I heard of a few people doing this, but more often I hear that it is best to choose a narrow topic of one field (niche field) and become the worlds leading expert on it. This does not sound appealing to me at all.. More specifically, I've read about people in chaos working on problems in everything from geology to ecology to atmospheric science, and that is ultimately what I would like to do. My question is, how hard is it for someone with a physics background to work on other problems and not necessarily specialize in one area. I'm guessing that studying nonlinear dynamics would apply to many fields, so would this be a wise area to pursue?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2012 #2
    if you're wondering specifically what the job market is like for someone with a physics BS, fresh out of college, here's what i found:

    you might think you could step into fields like engineering with relative ease, since there's so much overlap, but i was not able to. in most cases, when i tried to apply for engineering positions, i couldn't even get people to look at my resume. recruiting for those jobs is typically initiated by HR people who have no technical background. the first thing they do is ask what your degree is, and check whether it's one of the ones on the list they were given. in my experience, physics usually wasn't, and the recruiters had neither the authority nor frankly the ability to consider whether a physics major might still make a good fit for the job, so they would say sorry and ask who's next. a few times, i was able to get past the wall of HR idiots and talk to one of their actual engineers, and in all those cases i was able to get multiple interviews, though in the end none of them actually panned out. things just weren't set up for physics majors to become entry-level engineers.

    on the other hand, whenever i looked into jobs that were further removed from physics, but still somewhat technical (accounting, teaching math, construction management, operations analyst, etc.), i found that people were in awe of my degree. people hear "physics" and they think you're some kind of genius that can do anything, and the question of whether you're qualified enough for them doesn't seem to come up. i would ask a few questions and be offered a job on the spot. one time, i called a high school just to ask to be put on their list of tutors, and the principal asked me over the phone if i wanted to be a substitute math teacher. so, the job opportunities are there. however, these options probably sound terrible to you. if you're a physics major, i'm guessing you actually like the subject, and these other things sound dull and dumb.

    ultimately, i think the best reason to get a physics bachelor's is that you plan to go to graduate school for physics. if you finish your undergrad and decide not to do that, you may find that you've stovepiped yourself to some extent, unless you're willing to do something totally different, in which case you're pretty employable. the opportunities are like the "wine bottle" potential, with a low peak centered in your field, an annular minimum around that, and then rapid growth as you go further out.

    of course, several caveats apply here. this is just my own personal experience, and it's from almost 10 years ago. could be better, could be worse. good luck with whatever you decide. hope this helps.
  4. Sep 28, 2012 #3
    p.s., i know this is a cliche, but it bears repeating: the real world does not work the way you think it does while you're in school. it's not necessarily worse than what you're expecting, it's just..... different. and it's hard to fully grasp how it's different without actually experiencing it.

    try to get some work experience while you're still in school. summer internships or whatever. that's gonna be good for you, regardless of what you decide later. but more importantly, you want to see what people actually do at their jobs, and get a sense of whether you'd enjoy the day-to-day aspects.
  5. Sep 28, 2012 #4
    I really appreciate your input. It's definitely something I will keep in mind. With that being said, I'm definitely planning on going to grad school, but I guess I didn't explicitly state that in my original post. I'm hoping someone can give me some advice on how to approach gradschool from an interdisciplinary perspective.
  6. Sep 28, 2012 #5
  7. Sep 28, 2012 #6
    You can get your BS physics then do grad school in something else. That's a good idea. Grad school physics is pretty different from BS level physics.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook