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Torn Between Money and Passion 12th Grade Year

  1. Oct 15, 2013 #1
    Im a senior, I took AP Chemistry last year, and im in AP Calculus, AP Biology, and AP Physics. I excel at chemistry (on the highschool level) and I have always had a passion for it, specially organic chemistry, but now that im in Calculus and Physics, I have reallllyyyy come to love them way more than chemistry. My ideal career would be aerospace engineering, but i feel like it would be 1) difficult to find a job. 2) have alot lower paycheck than organic chemistry and 3) a boring desk job/being a grunt. I really love calculus, and i'm afraid that I wont use much of it in chemistry. Obviously I don't want to base life decisions on how much math is involved, but physics is definitely a more desired choice, money and type of work aside. What do you think? What does a standard aerospace engineering career look like, and what does a organic chemistry career look like (broad)
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  3. Oct 16, 2013 #2


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    It is early enough in your academics and career that you have plenty of time to find what you want to focus on, IMO. It is great that you have a passion for science, and appear to have the aptitude and interest to do very well in your studies. I think that you will find that with your level of accomplishment (keep it up!), you will not be stuck in a grunt job. Your level of intellect and accomplishment is always in demand, and you will have many options open to you as you progress through your college years.

    Keep up the high level of achievement, and enjoy the ride! :smile:
  4. Oct 16, 2013 #3
    Aerospace engineering is a great field to go into right now. With space flight in the US turning to the private sector, there are more than a few companies who are looking for aerospace engineers/physicists. I am not an aerospace engineer, but I suspect their job is not just calculating things, probably a mix of that and hands on work. That being said, I have heard engineers in general make more than chemists (depends on where you work as well), but overall both jobs pay well enough for you to make a good living. So why not do what you love?
  5. Oct 16, 2013 #4
    thank you guys so much! I really appreciate it! If I were to go into aerospace, should I first get a B.S. in physics? And if grad school turns out to happen for me, focus on aerospace?
  6. Oct 16, 2013 #5
    If you're thinking of Aerospace, you should learn some engineering in college. I don't know if you need an engineering degree or not, but a physics degree doesn't prepare you especially well for engineering work. Modern design techniques are the result of decades of innovation; they aren't things you can just walk onto the job and immediately understand.

    I write this mostly because there seems to be a mythology about the Physics BS, in which the degree prepares you for any job and employers will realize you are the smartest person in the world. This isn't true though, at least in today's job market employers look for people who are already trained for the job. And most importantly, there are many important skills you need for an aerospace job that a Physics BS doesn't give you.
  7. Oct 16, 2013 #6
    I absolutely agree, I understand that. But what would a physics degree offer, engineering aside.
  8. Oct 16, 2013 #7
    A physics BS trains you to be a physics graduate student. This is the main reason to get a physics BS IMO and its the only job out there that a BS in physics specifically trains you to do. Teach for America actively recruits unskilled physics grads as well. Otherwise, BS grads usually have to rely on other skills gained outside the curriculum to get a job or career with.
  9. Oct 16, 2013 #8
    A physics degree offers a lot of things. You'll get very good at applied mathematics (depending on the school, you'll be even better than the math majors). You'll become a great problem solver, and most importantly you'll learn how the universe works (to the best of the fields knowledge).

    These are all to some extent employable. For example the first one is why physics majors become quants, and the second one is highly sought after in business (look for generic "analyst" or "consultant" jobs). But for more technical things, the problem is this: If your hiring someone to build you a plane, would you hire

    a) someone who knows in principle why a wing produces lift, but has never made a plane before

    or b) someone who doesn't understand why a wing produces lift, but has made several functioning aircraft

    For me, and I think most people out there, the answer is b. Person a has yet to demonstrate that they are capable of actually delivering what you are hiring them for. Further, if they make something that can fly, how safe will it be? Person b seems to have actually studied the "how" of aircraft design, but person a only seems to know the "why" of aircraft design.

    All of that said, I did a physics major, and it worked out fairly well for me. It's an enjoyable experience for sure, just make sure you have an eye towards the future while your there.
  10. Oct 16, 2013 #9

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    Neither one of those describes a physicist or an aerospace engineer. Many (most?) physics undergrads little more than a freshman level understanding of lift. Aerospace engineers obtain that same freshman level understanding, then learn a lot more about it in the thermodynamics course that many physicists don't have to take, then find they have to throw out all that basic knowledge and learn it again in various courses on fluid dynamics.

    It works much the way physicists have to learn and relearn electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. The plethora of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics classes one has to take in the second half of an undergrad physics major: They're pretty much orthogonal to the skills needed by an aerospace engineer.

    Periapsis: It's best to think hard about majoring in something other than mechanical or aerospace engineering if you truly do think you want to be an aerospace engineer. If you aren't sure, and if you are smart enough, then an undergraduate physics degree may well be a good idea. But do try to pick up technical skills in addition to those you'll learn as a physics major. Take the engineering thermodynamics and fluid dynamics classes. Take two or three computer programming classes. Use those technical electives intelligently.
  11. Oct 16, 2013 #10
    I was assuming the physics major had taken the time to enroll in fluid dynamics courses. But you are right, both are caricatures of who they were supposed to stand for. The point was just that physics and engineering have different goals, and those differing goals reflect on the skills of the student.
  12. Oct 16, 2013 #11
    What sort of careers exist for physics majors? And what sort of graduate programs should i be concerned with?
  13. Oct 16, 2013 #12
    All careers potentially exist for physics graduates. This is both a selling point and a downfall of an undergrad physics degree. A physics undergrad degree does not provide you with job training. It does provide you with academic knowledge mostly about historic theories in physics. The natural graduate program for a physics grad to enter is a physics Phd program. Otherwise, many physics grads enroll in professional master's degree that focus on specific marketable skills.
  14. Oct 16, 2013 #13
    what about engineering major, with many physics classes, then some sort of graduate program
  15. Oct 21, 2013 #14
    The obvious solution here is to pursue chemical engineering...

    I can tell you this, jobs in oranic are extreeeeeeeemly hard to come by. Biology and chemistry have horrible job prospects, with constant unemployment, temp or permatemp jobs only available, and little or no health and retirement benefits if you get a permatemp gig.

    I know several chemical engineers that are making 6 figures down in LA and TX in the petrol industry with just a bachelors because they're managers now after 10 years.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2013
  16. Oct 21, 2013 #15


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    It hasn't changed much in decades...chemical/petro engineers (not chemists) are on average paid more than engineers in other disciplines. Money won't mean much though unless you love (or at least like) the job. But unless you are in a real special area, regardless of engineering discipline, don't plan on using calculus much on the job. It is extremely important (and required) that you take multiple levels of calculus in college. That cannot be stressed enough. But typically you won't use it much in the engineering profession. Ask any engineer. And that is a good thing, since I don't think you want to spend your life solving partial differential equations. Or do you?:bugeye:
  17. Oct 21, 2013 #16
    My question is, why does the undergraduate curriculum not relate much to the real job? If you don't touch math, why am I doing math all day in my classes?? Shouldn't they prepare us for things like management and other skills necessary for the job? That means in theory you could be a good engineer without liking calculus, no?
  18. Oct 22, 2013 #17
    that is the difference between an engineer and a mechanic \
    you would be correct if you were a mechanic
    but if you are an engineer , you do the "Math" and the calculations needed to build something
    then a group of mechanics led by a group of engineers lead the process of building what engineers designed
    for instance , in civil engineering , an engineer building a dam would need to calculate things like the pressure on the dam , the force the dam can uphold , and all of those are just basic things they do
    its not like there is a one-size-fits-all blue print to build everything , even though planes and rockets work by the same principle , but there are always different conditions where the engineer has to come and adapt the project to
  19. Oct 22, 2013 #18


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    here is a good example I think: I took Latin for 4 years in high school. Nobody speaks Latin anymore. Even the church got away from it . So was it a waste of 4 years taking Latin 3 days a week and with hours of homework each week for 4 years? Absolutely not!
    Engineers use math on an often daily basis. They generally don't use calculus. You can't be a good engineer without having excellent math skills.
    Heck, no. They should prepare you how to think and understand concepts. Management and other skills are developed when in the work force.
    I haven't met any engineers in 40 years who like calculus, and only one or 2 who use calculus, and most of them are pretty darn good! But I stress...you can't be a good engineer without taking multiple math course, including calculus. End of story.
  20. Oct 22, 2013 #19

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    Speak for yourself, Jay. The engineers I know run across calculus, at least obliquely, on a daily basis. You can't escape calculus if you are developing the Kalman filter that makes a robot go from place to place, makes a UAV fly properly, or makes a spacecraft go where it's supposed to go. You can't escape calculus if you want to figure out where that spacecraft should go, or if you are modeling fluid flow. There are many parts of engineering that are extremely math-heavy, where calculus is the starting point rather than the ending point in utter mathiness.
  21. Oct 22, 2013 #20


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    Well said. All the engineers , save 1 or 2, I have met and worked with over the years do not use it. I speak for myself.
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