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What should I major in?

  1. Jan 8, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm in a bit of a dilemma here. Long story short, in about a year from now I will be applying to university and I'll have to make the dreadful choice of selecting a major. Ideally I'd like to chose Physics, but I'm having doubts concerning job prospects.

    Our family has been financially struggling for as long as I can remember and the pressure is extremely high on me to chose something that's also beneficial on a financial scale. I'm hoping to pursue a PhD but that remains to be seen...but let us assume I opt for a PhD.

    I'm not asking to earn unreasonably high amount of money, I just want something comfortable to support a family.

    Here's what I'm wondering:

    (1) I know there are many statistics stating something along that only 1 out of 10 PhD graduates are eventually tenured. Outside of academia, what are the most financially stable options?

    (2) Is it even a viable option considering outside of academia, I mean do people actually find jobs elsewhere with a Physics degree. I've read how versatile a Physics degree can be, but is there any truth to this claim of versatility?

    (3) Lastly, what about a degree such as "Joint Honours Chemistry and Physics". Does that add any value to the degree or extend the scope of what I can do with it?

    I believe that's all for now, any suggestion/comment/advice is highly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2012 #2
    You need to take my post with a huge grain of salt because I'm only an undergraduate and I have no experience whatsoever when it comes to finding jobs and the like. The information I provide comes from reading what more experienced posters have to say on this forum and other places as well.

    Yes, the prospects in academia are very dim and it makes sense if you do the number crunching. Think about how many physics departments are there in the country and then compare that to the number of Physics PhD's produced every year. Also think about the fact that one advisor graduates several students, but only one will replace him in the future.

    If you want a well paying job outside of academia, the three main sectors which Physics PhD's go to are oil, defense and finance. I have no clue what "oil" implies. For defense, it usually means the designing weapons for the government and what not. Finance usually means that you'll be working in New York City as a quant. It is my understanding that for all of these, you'll need to have done a PhD in a subfield which allowed you to acquire certain skills such as programming. You might have a hard time getting these jobs if your PhD only had "pen and paper" work.

    Physics PhD's can also get technical positions in firms but they would much rather hire someone who has a bachelors in engineering as they may view you as overqualified.

    Of course. Just ask someone like twofish-quant, who did a PhD in theoretical astrophysics and now makes big bucks on wall street.

    It will probably open up more options for what you can do as a postgraduate degree but I wouldn't count on getting a high paying job with just a pure science bachelors.

    Hopefully the more experienced users can come in and verify/correct what I said.
  4. Jan 9, 2012 #3
    Thanks for replying, it was a thorough post and I appreciated it.

    Well I'm not exactly looking for an extraordinarily high paying job, but something that's convenient to support a family.

    Also, my local university offers a joint honours in physiology and physics. Now I'm not sure about this but I'm thinking having a life science subject in the degree may increase employability or opportunities. In fact, I'm confused as to how one should market his degree in such cases. What kinds of jobs do people do with such degrees (combining pure and life sciences, at the bachelors level). If I do go farther then it will only be to study physics or a subfield like astrophysics at graduate level. How does that later add up to the preexisting joint honours bachelors?
  5. Jan 9, 2012 #4
    It is usually for students interested in applying methods of the physical sciences to problems in physiology and allied biological sciences.
  6. Jan 9, 2012 #5
    So would you consider it to be practical pursuing a joint honours program. In terms of interest, I don't mind studying physiology, but my primary interest will be Physics.

    I guess what I'm really afraid of is being in a transitionary phase, having graduated and searching for a job for months or remain jobless.

    Forgive my ignorance on this topic, I appreciate all I can get from this forum.
  7. Jan 10, 2012 #6
    Biggest consideration: You will be dedicating the better part of a decade to your studies. This means loans, maintaining scholarships, or working as a full time student. Don't choose a major, choose a profession. What do you plan to do with this degree?

    As far as the physio-physics degree is concerned, you would most likely use that to go on and get a masters in biophysics (and perhaps a Ph.D) and work in biomedical research.

    I reiterate: Choose a profession, not a major. You may like physics, but if you are looking for employability, that isn't the right major. Not that it is a bad one, and certainly not if you are dedicated enough, but you don't seem to be consistent with what you want. Figure that out first.
  8. Jan 10, 2012 #7
    Then what are the right majors? (in your opinion)

    I agree with you on me not being consistent with what I want. I'm only interested in physics but my inconsistencies stem from a lack of confidence that I'll find a job. How do I know if I chose the right profession. It comes down to placing an educated guess or a bet on something that I hope will yield a positive outcome on a financial level.

    Re-directing my question back to the phyiso-physics degree: Other then biophysics, is there any other application of other fields of physics that may be practical with physiology? I'm more and more considering astrophysics at the GRADUATE LEVEL (PhD), what else can people do with it other then researching. I've heard finance is an option for astrophysics graduate, but if ideally I'd like to find something that has a bit more relevance to the subject studied. Going into finance would be to only pay the bills.
  9. Jan 10, 2012 #8
    Ok. We have to hone in on what you mean as "practical". It is not "practical" to get a physics degree if you have financial worries. What I mean by that is that it is not practical to go into any academia-centric fields if you are concerned about your finances.

    You will have to dedicate an incredible amount of time and energy into your undegrad degree. Then you will have to be admitted into the masters program, where you will have to do tons of research and really shine if you want good doctorate research projects for your Ph.D (and potentially for post-doc). This will likely become your life for the forseeable future. Academia is not a hobby, it is a life choice. And it certainly isn't generally considered low-risk financially.

    Physics is pretty broad. Some people go into finance, some go into school teaching, some continue in academia and get into research. You need to do your homework before choosing physics as your major.
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