# What can I do with a physics degree?

I'm sure this question has been asked a lot, but it's a fairly big concern of mine. I just finished a semester of engineering at the university of calgary, (about to start my second) and while I like it and I'm doing well at it, I really think that my passion lies in pure science, specifically physics and math. At this point I'm considering dropping out of engineering and going into a double major with honours physics and pure math, starting fall 2011.

My main concern is this: Say I get a double degree in honours physics and pure math. 1. If I go straight into working, can I get a career that will allow me to use advanced math and physics and that will pay enough that I won't be under constant financial stress? (I don't really care about being rich. I'm far more concerned about job satisfaction and having enough money to live off of) 2. Same question, except assuming that I manage to get a PhD in physics.

Pengwuino
Gold Member
Just to put my 2 cents in, unless you are uneducated, people under financial stress are never in that position because of how much money they make or don't make. It's because of personal choices and financial know-how. It's very hard to find a job that pays $30,000 a year that forces you into a standard of living that costs$50,000 a year.

chiro
I'm sure this question has been asked a lot, but it's a fairly big concern of mine. I just finished a semester of engineering at the university of calgary, (about to start my second) and while I like it and I'm doing well at it, I really think that my passion lies in pure science, specifically physics and math. At this point I'm considering dropping out of engineering and going into a double major with honours physics and pure math, starting fall 2011.

My main concern is this: Say I get a double degree in honours physics and pure math. 1. If I go straight into working, can I get a career that will allow me to use advanced math and physics and that will pay enough that I won't be under constant financial stress? (I don't really care about being rich. I'm far more concerned about job satisfaction and having enough money to live off of) 2. Same question, except assuming that I manage to get a PhD in physics.
Just curious, why pure math? Have you taken any pure math courses (higher level) or have you read anything that covers what pure mathematicians do?

The reason I ask is that for physics you already learn a lot of math anyway, but not only that you get to apply it. Maybe working in some esoteric field of geometry might be your thing, but its a world away from applied fields like physics, statistics, modelling, and engineering.

Just curious, why pure math? Have you taken any pure math courses (higher level) or have you read anything that covers what pure mathematicians do?
i.e. you might want to look at applied math instead.

Pure mathematics is about investigating mathematics. Applied math is about using math as a tool and would be useful for physics - but certainly not essential, you'll learn all of the base math you need in a physics degree.

1. If I go straight into working, can I get a career that will allow me to use advanced math and physics and that will pay enough that I won't be under constant financial stress? (I don't really care about being rich. I'm far more concerned about job satisfaction and having enough money to live off of)
Financial stress is really not that much a function of how much money you make. If you make X, there is going to me a huge amount of pressure to spend X + 20%, and that quickly will get you into trouble. If you want to avoid financial stress, reading up on personal finance is going to help you a lot more than what degree that you get.

Also, I've found that getting a math and physics degree does help avoid financial stress in interesting way. If you are with a group of people in which to be "cool" means having a bigger house and more expensive car, you are going to find that expensive. If you are with a group of people in which to be "cool" means being able to do more math and write more original papers, that's not that expensive.

2. Same question, except assuming that I manage to get a PhD in physics.
One of the more useful things that you will learn as a graduate student is how to enjoy life while making only \$20K/year.

Well, this is interesting. I'm actually a UofC student myself. Last year I was in the physics program, and now I'm taking first year engineering courses at MRU with permission to then transfer into 2nd year at Schulich (UofC's engineering faculty) next term.

From my experience, my best advice is that you make sure you understand what it means to get a degree in physics, and not have romanticized expectations. While I enjoyed that first year, after reading and talking to various people I figured I wasn't that interested in studying advanced physics. Make sure you do this, of course, before you drop out of engineering.

fss
My main concern is this: Say I get a double degree in honours physics and pure math. 1. If I go straight into working, can I get a career that will allow me to use advanced math and physics and that will pay enough that I won't be under constant financial stress? (I don't really care about being rich. I'm far more concerned about job satisfaction and having enough money to live off of) 2. Same question, except assuming that I manage to get a PhD in physics.
Yes to both, although it's probably easier if you go with #2.

Thanks for all the replies.

Just curious, why pure math? Have you taken any pure math courses (higher level) or have you read anything that covers what pure mathematicians do?

The reason I ask is that for physics you already learn a lot of math anyway, but not only that you get to apply it. Maybe working in some esoteric field of geometry might be your thing, but its a world away from applied fields like physics, statistics, modelling, and engineering.
I'm saying pure math at this point because I really enjoyed the taste I got of it from my pure-math-oriented linear algebra course and the chats I had with that professor. I don't know if I could do pure math as a career, but it's at least quite interesting to me. I've also been told by a couple advisers that a lot of the material covered in pure math is still useful/applicable at the undergraduate level to something like physics. I may have to look into applied math as an option. At this point for me the far bigger decision is engineering vs physics.

Well, this is interesting. I'm actually a UofC student myself. Last year I was in the physics program, and now I'm taking first year engineering courses at MRU with permission to then transfer into 2nd year at Schulich (UofC's engineering faculty) next term.

From my experience, my best advice is that you make sure you understand what it means to get a degree in physics, and not have romanticized expectations. While I enjoyed that first year, after reading and talking to various people I figured I wasn't that interested in studying advanced physics. Make sure you do this, of course, before you drop out of engineering.
Interesting. May I ask what specifically turned you off of physics? I kind of feel the same way you described, except towards engineering. Having looked at the 3rd and 4th year engineering courses, I just can't really get excited by many of the course descriptions. Most of the ones that sound interesting to me have to do with pure science. Especially when I talk to students farther along in the engineering program, the stuff they do just doesn't sound all that interesting to me. I mean yeah, designing a car sounds awesome, but the closer I look at the specifics involved, the less interesting to me. I imagined engineers to have a deep, intricate understanding of advanced physics and math, which they then applied to solve real-world problems. It seems more that they learn just as much as they need to about theory, and then apply it. While I don't hate it, I just find myself much more drawn to the more theory-based courses, and the application of theory itself is less interesting to me.

So I'm curious, what places did you look to find out that you weren't as interested in physics as you thought? I pretty much have this semester to decide, so I plan to do as much research as possible.