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Courses What are my possible paths with a physics BSc?

Disclaimer: there is a wall of text. Some of it might be rushed as I tried to make it less waffly. It's a lot, apologies beforehand, but I would really appreciate some insights especially from those from US (I'm from UK).

Here is my situation: on one hand, I have been accepted to do natural sciences at Cambridge. I applied with a focus on physics. This degree prepares you very well for academia.

On the other hand, I am almost certain I don't want to work in academia. I originally chose Cambridge because of their extreme flexibility in changing course since I struggle choosing what I want to do. I naively thought I could maybe have my cake and eat it - pursue a degree in physics because I love it, and then get a job in finance for the sake of making a living. However I've read a lot of things about finance in general that make me cautious:
1) low stability, a lot of redundancies often made
2) most 'quants' are just coders (don't mind that - coding's great, but clearly with a physics degree I have some catching up to do) and the job is seriously hard work and low reward until you become a trader
3) generally a dang industry to be in, very stuffy and formal. I'm quite independent and innovative, hate traditions and rules that seem to have no logical implication, and female to boot, so it would suck a bit to be stuck around traditional rich white men for my whole career. My dream job (abandoned, as dreams go) was once to work at SpaceX. I knew I liked science, wanted to help make progress for humanity and engineering would be a perfect degree. I'd be therefore giving up a lot of what makes me, me, if I were to give up on engineering and work in finance just for the high pay and somewhat intellectual job.

Of course I could switch to engineering at Cambridge but there's only a massive caveat: not a fan of their engineering course at all. It's broad-based engineering and the way the course is taught is less than ideal. The best engineering uni in UK is Imperial and I was also accepted, but for a physics MSci, not engineering. It's my insurance choice which means if I get the grades I'm predicted, I'll probably not end up there. So now I either graduate with a broad engineering degree, am forced to graduate with chem eng degree (idk why, chem eng is the only separate one at Cambridge) or end up with a science, most likely physics, degree.

I'll admit I've been swayed partially by the name of the uni in my choice, hence why I'm now in this pickle. I wanted to go for many reasons besides the name, but ultimately it made me blind to the fact that there's a life beyond university. I didn't apply for engineering because I knew I'd have a higher chance of getting into Cambridge with NatSci, since I genuinely adore physics and maths, and engineering is sort of 'yeah it's useful, but it's not physics'. Really cursing my short sighted vision here.

Now onto options:
1) pursue a physics PhD (if I still want to four years down the line). Get some experience in machine learning and hop into the City anyway.
2) this is the most exotic option: transfer to the US once I gain a BSc in physics, possibly even to the higher tier unis like Caltech/MIT. I'd be looking at transferring into the 3rd year most likely, to give myself time to switch to an engineering major. (Don't see a point applying to engineering grad school without some engineering experience). I know that transfers are very competitive and even more difficult to get into than the actual undergrad. My real question is, is this a realistic option? Are there other things I've missed that I need to consider? MIT was my dream school and I never applied because of workload over the past 2 years. This would be giving myself a chance to say 'hey at least you tried'.
3) Switch to engineering or even compsci at Cambridge. Not sure about this one. Will give myself time to decide if it's a wise choice.
4) Take an impromptu gap year and reapply for engineering at Imperial. Use the time to also apply to the US. Drawbacks are obvious: one year spent 'doing nothing', risk of being rejected, stress of more applications while not having a stable path.
5) ???? Any ideas? I'm open to suggestions. I know whatever job I need it to be maths heavy, intellectually stimulating and demanding. Think working in engineering R&D might suit me, but then again I haven't got much knowledge of that either. In terms of engineering, from what I've seen on open days and such, I quite like controls and systems because of the heavy coding and simulation aspect. MechEng might be the one just because it's the white bread of engineering. I don't want to be a grunt work engineer though. For instance, a quick search on online job ads for UK turns up a job at a company that is working on new biotechnology - much more up my alley than simply being paid by Rolls-Royce to develop an engine that can resist heat to a greater capacity or save 5% more energy or something.
 

symbolipoint

Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
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Here is my situation: on one hand, I have been accepted to do natural sciences at Cambridge. I applied with a focus on physics. This degree prepares you very well for academia.

On the other hand, I am almost certain I don't want to work in academia. I originally chose Cambridge because of their extreme flexibility in changing course since I struggle choosing what I want to do. I naively thought I could maybe have my cake and eat it - pursue a degree in physics because I love it, and then get a job in finance for the sake of making a living. However I've read a lot of things about finance in general that make me cautious:
1) low stability, a lot of redundancies often made
2) most 'quants' are just coders (don't mind that - coding's great, but clearly with a physics degree I have some catching up to do) and the job is seriously hard work and low reward until you become a trader
3) generally a **** industry to be in, very stuffy and formal. I'm quite independent and innovative, hate traditions and rules that seem to have no logical implication, and female to boot, so it would suck a bit to be stuck around traditional rich white men for my whole career. My dream job (abandoned, as dreams go) was once to work at SpaceX. I knew I liked science, wanted to help make progress for humanity and engineering would be a perfect degree. I'd be therefore giving up a lot of what makes me, me, if I were to give up on engineering and work in finance just for the high pay and somewhat intellectual job.
Engineering & Computer Science -
Both intellectually challenging and you should be able to find work other than academic type.
 

jrmichler

Science Advisor
891
793
Since you repeatedly mention engineering, and my degrees are all in mechanical engineering, I'll say a few things.

You do not need to go nonstop straight through college and graduate school. You can get a BS degree, work for a few years, then go to grad school. I worked for 11 years before going to grad school.

The undergraduate programs in US engineering schools are all very similar with respect to quality of education.

I chose to look for interesting jobs rather than high paying jobs. I have never regretted that decision.

If you like modeling and simulation, take a look at Figure 24 in US Patent 6,832,886 and Figure 9 in US Patent 8,490,772. Then ponder on what it took to create those figures.

My dream job (abandoned, as dreams go) was once to work at SpaceX.
Abandoned - why? Companies like that hire mechanical engineers by hundreds, if not thousands. These companies are not "stuffy and formal".
 

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