Too many interests to choose just one

  • Thread starter pillbox
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Hello all,

I am unsure about what to do next in my life. Here is some personal background:

- I graduated from a mid-level public liberal arts university last May with a degree in physics. I graduated with extremely high GPA and general GRE scores, and I expect that my physics GRE scores (which are due back this month) are also very high.

- I spent 3 years working on an astronomy research project, which I designed myself. My advisor assigned 4 other students to my project over the years, so I can say I led my own research group as an undergraduate.

- I spent two summers working in astronomy REUs – one at my home school, the other in Arizona – and the summer after I graduated (i.e. last summer) I taught physics, engineering/electricity, and astronomy to high school students.

- Currently, I’m living with my parents while writing a novel, writing a set of introductory physics lecture notes, and (supposedly) writing a paper wrapping up my astronomy research.

Overall, I would consider myself an excellent candidate for top graduate schools in physics or astronomy. I am a great student, teacher, and researcher, with several years of evidence to back me. The only problem is, I am almost certain that I do not want to do research in physics or astronomy for a career. I would be perfectly happy taking classes in these two fields and teaching as a TA, however.

Outside of astronomy and physics, I have many interests that I could potentially make into a career or a topic of research at graduate school (e.g. heliophysics, nuclear energy, medical imaging, electric power transmission, satellites, development of space-based industry, science policymaking) but only lukewarm passion about any single one. The only interest that has stuck with me through all my major changes, through all my years as a young adult, has been the novel I’m working on.

I absolutely love teaching, but I’m afraid that teaching at the high-school level would put a ceiling on my prospects of advancing upward. I am strongly considering teacher residency programs that pay me to get a masters/certification and then place me in a high-need area for a few years (e.g. GSkyTeach in Kentucky, Teach for America).

I have also strongly considered joining the military, primarily because they would make me settle with something and, with luck, I would grow to like it. And even if not, I would walk away with four years of service and a lot of money. However, I don’t feel dedicated enough to apply for officership, and many aspects of the military culture are a bit off-putting to me.

It’s easy to say, “Well, you’ve got all the time in the world you unemployed bum, just apply everywhere and take the first offer you get! Temp jobs, grad schools, fellowships, whatever.” But I can’t write an honestly passionate application for any opportunity I’ve found so far in my searches.

So, there is not really a well-defined question in this post. But I would greatly appreciate any feedback or advice, especially from people who have been in the same sort of boat as me.

Thanks.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Maybe you will be interested in some interdisciplinary science? I think it is fun (compared to pure physics) and intellectually challenging enough
 
  • #3
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I'm with Stan: go interdisciplinary. There are so many niches in science that you can almost certainly find something that takes advantage of your strong background in physics and side-interests. One of the biochemistry professors at my university earned his bachelor's degree in physics and went onto study biophysics. He now does RNA research (structure, kinetics, new NMR methodology, etc.).

If you find military culture off-putting, have you considered government/military contractors or even being a civilian scientist for, e.g. Dept. of the Army? That represents an interesting opportunity: not just research & development, but research & technology wherein you oversee an idea from initiation to a finished *product.* The metric for success there is different--simply publishing a paper may not be enough. Some people like that.

If I were you, though, I'd strongly consider one of those top level graduate schools that you'd be eligible for. A Ph.D does a lot for "street cred" in the job market.
 
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