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 should I obtain my Bachelor's degree in?

  1. Sep 13, 2014 #1
    I am currently a freshman at Penn State University. I have always been greatly interested in astronomy, space, and the universe. Especially cosmology and the "larger pictures" of our existence. I have decided that this is what I want to do with my life...study the universe, help discover new information, and work on future space projects and missions.

    I am having a little trouble laying out my educational future to make sure I succeed in this career area. Like I said earlier, I am mostly interested in astronomy and cosmology and the "larger ideas" of the universe...more so than microscopic, small, highly mathematical calculations. However, I did take two years of Physics (and one year of basic Calculus) in high school so it's not like I haven't been exposed to the math. I just didn't enjoy it as much as my "Advanced Astronomy" class that I took in my junior year, which focused on large ideas like stars, solar systems, black holes, galaxies, the expansion of the universe, etc.

    From the research I have done, I have learned that it will be necessary for me to obtain a PhD to have success in this career area. I am willing to do that.

    But my main issue is this: What should I get my Bachelor's degree in?

    Even though I am more interested than Astronomy than general Physics, I have been told that getting my Bachelor's in Physics is better because it will give me a better educational background for entering astronomy later on. They told me that I can always focus on Astronomy & Astrophysics in graduate school.

    So I have ruled out Astronomy for my Bachelor's. I can get my PhD in Astronomy or Astrophysics.

    But now I am between this: Is it better for me to get my Bachelor's degree in Physics or Aerospace Engineering?

    I have read that Bachelor's degrees Aerospace Engineering lead to slightly better pay right out of college versus Physics Bachelor's. However, I have also read that a Bachelor's in Physics will give you more job opportunities, because companies will hire Physics majors to work as Aerospace Engineers but won't hire Aerospace Engineer majors to work in Physics. Is this true?

    What would be your advice to me? I want to end up working as an astronomer/astrophysicist/cosmologist for a space organization (such as NASA), or maybe even for a university, and help to plan and work on future space missions and projects.

    What should I obtain my Bachelor's degree in?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It is true that a BS in physics will help you become an astronomer more than a BS in astronomy. It will place you in a better position to get into graduate schools, since you will be more competitive at places with joint departments.

    Being an Aeronautical Engineer will not help you be an astronomer. It has advantages, to be sure, but helping you become an astronomer is not one of them.
     
  4. Sep 13, 2014 #3
    Physics.
     
  5. Sep 13, 2014 #4
    That's sounds about right, I'd go with that plan.

    Where did Aerospace Engineering come from? I thought you wanted to be an astronomer/astrophysicist/cosmologist? Getting a BS in physics will give put you in the most flexible position to go into any of the above-mentioned fields once you get your degree. Plus, it will give you a few years to decide on a specialty while you're at it.
     
  6. Sep 13, 2014 #5
    Thanks for those replies so far.

    It arose from my reading that Aerospace Engineers make more right out of college than Physicists. (Who doesn't like money...haha).

    But in all seriousness, it doesn't appear to be that much more. The other reason it arose in my mind was because of Bill Nye (he does most of his work in Astronomy & Physics but he got his Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering).
     
  7. Sep 13, 2014 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    If you are planning to go to graduate school, don't you want to pick a course of study that prepares you for graduate school?

    Bill Nye is also not an astronomer. You need to decide if you want to be an astronomer, or to have a career more like Bill Nye's.
     
  8. Sep 13, 2014 #7
    Bill Nye does his work in Astronomy and Physics? In what capacity? I know him as an educator and TV personality. Wikipedia says he worked at Boeing.

    In my opinion you should only pursue a physics BS if you want to get a PhD in physics or be a teacher. The notion that you can can just waltz into an engineering career with a physics BS is an exaggeration to say the least. With physics you will not be more competitive than actual engineering graduate for an engineering position.

    I spent years unemployed and underemployed after getting my physics degrees. I went back and took engineering classes and was able to use that to break into an engineering position. This was a non-ideal path done as damage control for un-marketable non-PhD physics degrees.
     
  9. Sep 13, 2014 #8
    I stand corrected. He is not an astronomer, but he is very knowledgeable about all fields of science and incorporates a lot of astronomy and physics into his science communication.

    Thank you for the rest of your advice.

    However, I'd like to clear up something: my goal is NOT to be a teacher. I may accept teaching on the "side" if it comes as part of a job, but my goal is to actually work on research and work on future space projects and plans. Working for NASA would be fun. Or another private sector space agency...

    So that's why I'm still not sure whether to get my Bachelor's in Physics or Aerospace Engineering.

    People often tell me to look at the resumes of famous science people of recent times like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, etc.

    I have done that. But my goal is not necessarily being famous or well-known. My main goal is to actually work on productive things. Who are the people who are actually working on future space projects and missions? Where are they employed? What degrees do they have?

    My future visions can be summed up by the following types of statements:

    When we successfully take an asteroid, put it in orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to it...I want to have contributed to that project. When we send humans to Mars, I want to have worked on that mission in some way. When we discover life on another planet, I want to have been on that team of people who did it.

    Hopefully it's clear to those who have the experience what I intend to do. So now I need help on how to get there...
     
  10. Sep 13, 2014 #9
    If you wish to get involved with astronomy, a physics BS will definitely put you in a good position. That being said, I am fairly certain Penn State has an astrophysics program so why not enroll for that?? That would definitely be your best bet my friend...
     
  11. Sep 13, 2014 #10

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Be aware that with the possible exception of one star with one solar system, none of the others will have a NASA mission any time soon.
     
  12. Sep 13, 2014 #11

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It's probably worth pointing out that these projects you have listed don't really fall under the umbrella of astronomy or cosmology, at least in terms of what a typical astronomer or cosmologist will do. As an astronomer, you'll more typically work on projects like processing data from a telescope or array. As a cosmologist, assuming you're able to get one of these extremely rare positions, you'll work on mathematical models that will help us to understand the dynamics of the universe as a whole.

    On the flip side, the projects you've listed will have people from many different disciplines contributing to them and the big question is really more one of what kind of contribution do you want to make. Do you want to design the rockets that put that satellite into orbit? Do you want to develop a new polymer for the suits worn by the first people to walk on Mars? Do you want to be a supervisor at mission control? You may not know exactly what you want to do, but it will help to develop an idea of the skill set you want to develop and the work that you think you would enjoy doing each day.
     
  13. Sep 13, 2014 #12
    I would say that I'd probably want to help plan the mission; be one of the leaders who designs the outlook of the mission or project. Not someone who physically builds an engine for a rocket. But someone who plans and constructs the mission as a whole. So for that type of position it would seem to me like I'd need to understand a little bit of everything...physics, astronautics, etc.

    I'm sure you're aware of the Mars One project. What kind of people are working on that mission? It may not be the greatest example, but at least it is something that is actually happening right now. What kind of degrees do the people have who are leading designers and planners of that mission?

    I think my issue is kind of that I want to do "everything." It's hard for me to limit myself to just designing rockets, or just working on one single mission, or just studying the past, present, and future of the universe. I kind of want to do it all. But I don't know if that's possible or not.

    I would embrace variation in my work and change throughout my career. I would probably get tired of doing the same thing all the time. So after years of working on missions, I might want to study the universe more deeply and try to contribute to a more accurate future prediction of the universe (or vice-versa).
     
  14. Sep 13, 2014 #13

    They do have an Astrophysics program, but I still don't know if it would be best option to go Bachelor's (Astrophysics) and then PhD (Astrophysics) OR Bachelor's (Physics) and then PhD (Astrophysics).
     
  15. Sep 13, 2014 #14

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I'm puzzled by the prevalence of this old chestnut: "because companies will hire Physics majors to work as Aerospace Engineers but won't hire Aerospace Engineer majors to work in Physics."

    Where exactly have you read this? What companies? If you're in the business of making aircraft, spacecraft, or satellites, you need aerospace engineers, not physicists. And no, a degree in physics does not qualify you to be an engineer. AFAIK, aerospace companies are not in the physics business.
     
  16. Sep 13, 2014 #15

    AlephZero

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I think that's only half of the truth: the other half is that engineering companies will hire physicists if they can't find anybody who is a better match for the job requirements. In the current recession, that puts physicists at the end of the line. When the recession ends, it might still put them at the end of an even longer line of foreign companies that can do the work cheaper.
     
  17. Sep 13, 2014 #16

    jtbell

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    What are the differences in course requirements between the Astrophysics and the plain Physics bachelor's?
     
  18. Sep 14, 2014 #17

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I'd like to know this too. I think people underestimate what an engineer learns in school. Not long ago we had a topologist publicly wondering why he couldn't get a job as an engineer.

    And it works the other way too - people with engineering bachelors seem to think that they are prepared for physics graduate study, despite being 6-10 courses short of the expectation.
     
  19. Sep 14, 2014 #18

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    The number of these positions is very small. Perhaps ten. They are also not entry-level positions. It's a little like saying your ideal starting job is pitching for the New York Yankees.

    Also, they require one to spend years living and breathing that one project, which conflicts with your other goal " It's hard for me to limit myself to just designing rockets, or just working on one single mission". Besides that, the way you get to that position is by doing a good job on a small piece of a project, and then a bigger piece and so on and so on. It's very likely your first job will be of the form "See this widget? I need one that does the same thing but is 10% lighter."

    Finally, on top of all that, NASA's missions will be planetary for our lifetimes, and maybe forever. There will be no exploration of other solar systems or galaxies or black holes any time soon.

    I think you have overconstrained your future job out of existence and will have to ask waht is most important. It is possible to study black holes, but your tools will be telescopes, satellites and computers, and not spacecraft.
     
  20. Sep 14, 2014 #19
    Thanks for the information; I understand those things. I understand that leadership positions only come after many years in the field and after proven success.

    And when I referred to wanting to work on the "future missions in space to....black holes, stars, galaxies, etc." I AM aware that we won't be sending spacecrafts to those things any time soon.

    What I meant was that I want to be a part of the next big missions and projects within my life time, whatever they are. You don't have to send humans aboard a spacecraft to another Earth-like planet; obviously that's not going to happen. What I meant was that, for example, the search for extraterrestrial life is a project. Like you said...using telescopes, satellites, computers, etc. That would be an example of a project I would like to work on.

    As I said earlier, my main goal is not teaching. I loved my high school Physics teacher...he was a great guy. He had a Masters in Physics from Penn State University. But all he's doing is reiterating the same stuff we already know over and over to high school students. That may be fine for him because he has a wife, a son, a family, and that's where he's at in life.

    But I think my mindset is different. I am determined to work on future discoveries and projects, even at the loss of a "typical" family and social life. I don't want to be stuck teaching the same information over and over.

    I will teach if it comes as a side job with my position. Which kind of brings me to this question...

    What are the daily routines like for Neil deGrasse Tyson (not including his public appearances)? He is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.

    What is the daily routine like of a person at NASA on the team of people working on the asteroid capture project?

    What is the daily routine of someone who works for SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)?
     
  21. Sep 14, 2014 #20

    Rocket50

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The question should be between a degree in astrophysics versus physics. Aerospace engineering isn't really useful if your main goal is to be an astrophysicist/astronomer. My advice would be to simply major in physics to keep your options open for graduate school.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: What should I obtain my Bachelor's degree in?
Loading...