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Which Physics tracks to take?

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  • Thread starter SataSata
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

In my university, physics undergraduates are required to choose either pure physics or applied physics after freshman year. There are various common courses available to both like condensed matter physics, atomic physics, quantum mechanics and many others.

However, there are some courses that are exclusive to either track and have put me in a dilemma as to which track to choose.

For pure physics:
Statistical Mechanics
Fluid Mechanics
Chaotic Dynamical System
Atmospheric Physics
Computational Physics
Non-classical Electrodynamics

For applied physics:
Physical Optics
Biophysics
Photonics
Fabrication of Micro & Nanoelectronic Devices
Physics of Semiconductor and Spintronics Devices
Soft Condensed Matter Physics
Medical Physics for Radiotherapy

I thought that applied physics courses are a bit lacking as their focus are either optical, semiconductor or bio/medical. Whereas pure physics courses cover a wider range of topics. I also doubt that it is possible to take all the courses listed as we have to choose a specialization. For applied physics, we get to choose either nanotech, optical tech, semiconductor tech or bio/medical physics. But for pure physics, the only specialization available is nanotech.

I'm actually much more interested in the courses of pure physics as the reason I got into physics in the first place is because I wanted to study about nature. However, I understand that it is not possible to take up all the courses that pure physics has to offer and nanotech is the only available specialization and I'm not particularly fond of it. Choosing between all the specializations, I would probably choose optical tech or medical physics, but this would mean I'm giving up on all the pure physics courses that are listed above.

Initially I wanted to continue to get a master's in a pure physics sub-field and hopefully a PhD. However I'm afraid that I wouldn't do so well in my undergrad results and unable to qualify for a master's. Furthermore, the tuition fees are high and currently I'm already in debt for my undergrad tuition fees. Career prospects are also another factor that I'm worried about.

On the other hand, if I take up applied physics and simply specialize in an industry, I wouldn't have to worry about not getting a master's or PhD if I can't afford or qualify for it. The career opportunities are also better in the chosen industry compared to pure physics.

So basically, it's either I pursue my dream in a pure physics sub-field with risks of not succeeding, or I simply choose a safer and more stable career in an applied physics industry. What are your thoughts? Is it really worth studying things that you like compared to things that are useful to the industry?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Some employers might believe that "applied" physics is necessarily the discipline that they might hire, but I sure do not. Granted employers related to medical professions might want the medical physics, biophysics, or even physical optics or nanoelectronic devices. But many physicists, both inside and outside of academia (e.g government labs or their contractors, geophysical or space laboratories etc), hired on have a strong background in computational physics, and atmospheric physics or fluid mechanics.
 
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