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!

What am I going to do with my life?

  1. Jan 6, 2016 #1
    Good evening,
    I'm 17 years old and this is my last year before going to university, I'm really looking forwards to it. Except for one thing : I took don't know what and where I want to study... And it should really be time to find out.
    What I do know is that I want to study something with science. I'm mainly hesitating between physics and chemistry... I'm more interested by physics but I'm afraid it's going to be too complicated for me. So chemistry is more of a backup plan, even though I find it interesting too. My father recommends I study Mech. E. but I'm more interested by the theory than by the applications, and there's a math exam to pass before entering any engineering school in Belgium. So even if I wanted to do Mech. E. I would have to study really hard for the entry exam or study abroad (which wouldn't be a really big problem, bit the problem of the difficult math would still be the same I guess).
    I have already posted something on this forum before but the answers didn't help much. So I decided to post this more complete version and I hope someone out there will help me figure out what to do next.
    Thanks already.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Here's the thing: You do NOT have to pick right now. You can always change. If your university demands that you select, select physics (or whatever) and take the gen-eds initially.
    You have more time to decide your fate.

    The one thing I note in your post is that you seem tentative or 'afraid' of the mathematics exam. If you are interested in physics and theory you will be doing A LOT of mathematics. There is no way around that.

    I think the most important question right now is where you should attend. This should be determined by:
    a) what you want/ your interest
    b) what the school offers, obviously you won't be going to an art school
    c) Financial help (most important starting off)

    So, you want to find a university that wants you if at all possible (scholarships, etc.). Not sure the situation there in Germany.
    Perhaps tell us some of your school options or more about what you seek/want?

    But ultimately, the key here is that you still have time. Try to develop a love for math, get through the general education credits for a year or so. You will have to decide, but if you are deciding between physics, chemistry, engineering there will be close enough overlap in the beginning courses that it won't matter for another year or so.
  4. Jan 6, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    For the record and before WWII remarks show up: Germany ≠ Belgium. However, it's both EU and it should be possible to change the country within.
  5. Jan 6, 2016 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Look at the factors mentioned by RJLiberator, but in all likelihood you will get to a point where you have more than one good option and have a difficult time picking out the best. In that case, my recommendation is to simply pick one of the good choices without too much stress, recognizing that even if you don't pick the best, what you picked was still good.

    Plus, there will be many chances to adjust or change later.
  6. Jan 8, 2016 #5
    In Belgium, you do. It becomes very difficult to change later on.

    There are no gen-eds in Belgium. You start with your major courses right away. And the problem is that physicists, or chemists and engineers take almost all different courses, so you'll definitely lose a year if you want to go to another major.

    Universities in Belgium do not offer scholarships, only the governments does so.
  7. Jan 8, 2016 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Oh, wow. That is tough.
  8. Jan 8, 2016 #7
    Well, on the other hand, school in Belgium is extremely cheap, so it's not like you'll lose a lot of money, you only lose time.
  9. Jan 8, 2016 #8


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Same in Germany, also considering the costs. And to be honest: The first year has the highest rates of dropouts. However it's certainly easier to switch between mathematics and physics than between other subjects.
  10. Jan 8, 2016 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Interesting. I was unaware of the differences abroad.

    In that case, in that case my advice switches to: finding what your passion is. It seems like you want to do physics but are unsure of it. Are you ready for the intense math work? Are you willing to devote a huge amount of life to math and physics?
    Or do you want a better job outlook? (Engineering)

    For me, my love of science and math forced me down the path of physics and mathematics. I don't expect ot make a big sum in my lifetime, but I am happy with my route as I get to study 10+ hours a day on material that I want to study.
  11. Jan 8, 2016 #10

    I'm in Belgium myself, planning to finish my masters in physics this year.

    If you are scared of the maths entrance exam for engineering you might want to reconsider physics.
    A big part of the first year is maths and you'll be following the same courses as maths students do.

    However, they start from the beginning. You'll see a lot of stuff you've seen in high school for the second time.
    So you can get used to the level they expect, mainly the proofs get more exact.

    Most other students I talked with agree that the first year is the hardest. Not conceptually, but getting used to the level, speed and depth.

    Next semester there should be some opportunities to follow some actual lectures to see if you like it.
    If you're in doubt this can help you make an educated decision.

    Feel free to ask more specific questions if you like, I know the workings well enough.

  12. Jan 9, 2016 #11
    I do love science in general and especially physics. But I just hope I'll be clever and hard-working enough. Except for physics and maybe chemistry, nothing really interesses me enough to study it at University.

    Is the math really a lot harder than at high school? Because with the math we're seeing now I'm doing quite fine (one of the class's bests, among people who want to study engineering), even though the school's level maybe isn't the greatest.
  13. Jan 9, 2016 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    One could also look into materials science, or chemical physics, or physical chemistry. It would be useful to try to define what in the broad fields of chemistry, physics and perhaps engineering, one finds interesting or appealing. The various fields generally use a fair amount of mathematics.

    Computational chemistry and physics are developing areas.
  14. Jan 10, 2016 #13
    It's different, some courses are rather abstract.
    Also in Belgium the maths in a physics education is quite different from engineering. More abstract instead of a lot of calculations.
    You will follow some proof-heavy courses, linear algebra was one for me. For me, this was useful in e.g. quantum mechanics.

    All in all it's not something to fear. But that's easy to say in retrospect, also I like maths.

    Can I ask how many hours of maths you have each week, 6 or 8?

    Another tip, I know UHasselt organizes a course in september to refresh your maths.
    I'm sure other schools do the same.
    You probably won't learn anything new but it might be an option to look into that.
  15. Jan 10, 2016 #14
    I've got 6 hours of math a week, plus one extra where we do exercises from the entry exam for engineering.
    Yes I've heard about those refreshing courses.
  16. Jan 10, 2016 #15
    I'm having trouble finding a book that you could look at since they usually write lecture notes for the course I wanted to show you.

    See the following links for the first course where you see the more abstract mathematics I mentioned, UHasselt and KUL
    You'll see that the first has an introduction to group theory, that was the hardest part for that course.
    In Leuven you'll get LaTeX in that course, which is nice since most students will end up using that at one time or another.

    These notes can give you an idea of what is covered in both courses http://www.bu.edu/linguistics/UG/course/lx502/_docs/lx502-basic set theory.pdf
    They are in English like most physics textbooks you'll use.
  17. Jan 10, 2016 #16
    If you can afford it, you might really consider the option of studying abroad in the U.S. where you have a lot more time to explore in undergrad. Allow me to give a bit of my story. I was in a very similar position leaving high school, not knowing whether I wanted to do engineering or physics for similar reasons that you are choosing between chemistry and physics. Basically, I was scared of the math since I'd never seen calculus. I figured that even if I didn't do fantastic in the math classes, I could still get a job with an engineering degree if my GPA was greater than a 3.0. Whereas with physics, grad school was probably necessary and you need a good GPA to get into grad school. I started out in engineering and was succeeding but just wasn't satisfied. I felt like I was cheating my self out of my one and only chance to study physics properly. So, I changed my major to physics in my second year. It was easy to change -- I just signed a sheet of paper, and it took me no extra time to graduate. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made, personally. I'm in grad school now and wouldn't trade my physics education for anything.

    Anyway, moral of the story is that I severely underestimated my abilities, and it sounds to me like you might also be doing the same. Studying in the U.S. might give you some flexibility that maybe Belgium would not. However, work hard and you will succeed in your math and physics classes regardless of where in the world you are studying.
  18. Jan 10, 2016 #17
    I suppose Mwett is french-speaking? In Flanders(where I come from), the mandatory entrance exam for ir. has been removed for over ten years, it only remains for med school/dentist and some art studies. But I think apart of that there's not too much difference between the flemish and french-speaking education.

    Anyway, I think physics can be both easier and harder than engineering, let me explain. To my knowledge(but some engineering student may disagree), the mathematics in an engineering degree comes down to swallowing bunches of techniques they throw at you. Especially the first years of the Bachelor's it will be hard, rather because of the amount of everything you have to study than because of the level of abstraction itself. There will be many other students in your year, which will automatically make you somewhat less involved in class and also allows lecturers to perform a harsher selection at the examinations because enough students will continue anyway(enough for them, society keeps needing more engineers)

    Physics on the other hand is typically in smaller groups, you will be more involved and, I think more than in engineering, the professors want you to succeed(this does not mean that everyone will succeed of course, I think in our case about 1/5 obtains the masters degree within 5 years, 2/5 will obtain it delayed and 2/5 quit, but in order to succeed it is not automatically necessary to give up hobbies etc.). The math will be of a more rigourous and abstract level than in engineering but at many universities you can chose the amount of math for yourself, there are some compulsary math courses which won't be to difficult if you had 6+1 hour of math before. Meanwhile you can choose to take more advanced courses of math together with the math department.

    In summary, probably an engineer will be better in performing a laplace transformation. A physicist in turn, is more likely to have a decent notion of topology or differential geometry. Anyway, in case you try one of these two studies and fail, the applied engineering (ing.) will probably be the best way to go as it is considered a bit easier but still a degree in high demand

    Good luck with your choice
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
  19. Jan 10, 2016 #18
    Yes, that could be a good idea, and I'd love to. But leaving Belgium next year is maybe a little hard and I don't know if my parents would still be OK paying for my studies.

    I live in Wallonia but both my parents are Dutch so I'm french- and dutch-speaking.

    What's applied engineering ? And what is the difference with a "normal" engineer.

    Thanks for the advice!
  20. Jan 10, 2016 #19
    ir. is the abreviation for "Burgerlijk ingenieur" in flanders(literally civil engineer) and has always been a 5 years degree at universities and with a mainly theoretical approach. An ing. is called "Industrieel ingenieur"(industrial engineer) as a title, but the corresponding faculties often call themselves something as "Applied engineering sciences". They are more down-to-earth than both the physics MSc and the ir. and although it is still a serious degree they focus more on practical implementations, some hands-on work etc. It has always been a 4 years degree (academic master's) but is officially only connected to universities for a few years. It is also possible to obtain an ing. degree first and afterwards go to ir. school for a second master's.
    (this is in flanders, but I think ing. and ir. exist in wallonia as well because they are officially protected titles). Bio-engineering by the way is still another degree, but it is also called ir.
  21. Jan 10, 2016 #20
    Oh ok, wasn't aware of the abbreviation.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook