Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why would one major in theoretical physics?

  1. Apr 16, 2010 #1
    what's the point? my friend majored in this he's a phd student and he made $600 last year
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2010 #2

    He could have made a lot more money shoveling ****. Should he do that instead?
    Someone that majors in Theoretical physics isn't typically going into it for wealth and fame.
  4. Apr 16, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Did he forget to work?
  5. Apr 17, 2010 #4

    actually he was marking papers and doing research work... and it all came to 600... after he paid for the courses
  6. Apr 17, 2010 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I thought usually the tuition fees are waived for Phds.
  7. Apr 17, 2010 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Well, first off, as a student, you're not really expecting to earn that much money. Usually, as long as you're not falling deeper into debt, you're doing okay. It's after you finish school that your career really starts.

    Post docs aren't typically all that glorious as far as money goes. They're contract positions with minimal benefits, and they can be rather competative. But they aren't your only option, once you have the PhD.

    Something to keep in mind, is that the PhD is part of your education. It's not job training. You have to figure out how to take those skills that you've learned while studying and market them for a career. People who do this well can end up earning a very comfortable living.

    Studying theoretical physics will give you the background to solve very complex problems. If you can apply those skills to fields like financial or economic modelling, software development, actuarial science, or any number of engineering disciplines, there will be a high demand for your services.

    The trick, in my opinion, is to plan for this in grad school, so you don't end up in a "I have a PhD, now what" situation.
  8. Apr 17, 2010 #7
    Are you actually asking the question? Your friend is still a student, and the money he makes as a PhD student has almost no correlation to what he might make in an actual job. Also, theoretical physics as compared to what? Do you know PhD students in engineering disciplines that make more than your friend? Finally, (not really related to your question) I'm a bit tired of universities offering 'theoretical physics' as an undergraduate degree - at this level, physics is physics. Everyone needs to learn the basics, and there are so many basics that there is no room for specialisation. I see, commonly, that theoretical physics courses are the same, but with more math modules instead of labs. What? This is bizarre. It's important that students realise that experimental is not sitting in a lab with a Geiger counter measuring activity of different materials.

    Otherwise, what Choppy says is, as usual, good.
  9. Apr 17, 2010 #8
    yeah but he's 30 years old still in school... sounds kinda... weak especially making only $600 last year and living in your parent's basement...
  10. Apr 17, 2010 #9
    I'm not sure about theoretical physics, but in mathematics your friend's situation would sound odd to me. Graduate students in general make little money, but in mathematics they are almost always supported by significant financial aid, i.e., usually tuition is totally paid. All the graduate students I know either live in apartments or university provided housing (which usually, again, takes the form of apartments). They certainly don't have glamorous lives, but they seem to get by pretty fine, and besides they spend a lot of time in the mathematics department, which sets up plenty of fun activities, etc.
  11. Apr 17, 2010 #10
    I think he means $600 after tuition and what-have-you is paid- net profit. If not, then his friend has neglected to apply for funding...
  12. Apr 17, 2010 #11
    I'm pretty sure that doesn't qualify as an argument. What does his age have to do with anything? He has chosen to pursue further education, if you're wondering why he's doing this at his age, then ask him. It's probably because he wants to.

    Taking on a PhD is no small task - it's a difficult decision for a number of reasons. If you've ever read anything about it on here, you'll know that the money isn't good (you are still a student, afterall) and many jobs you may end up in can be obtained with a Bsc or Msc. A PhD isn't something one pursues for career purposes - it's something you do because you're interested enough in it. Consider something like a gap year abroad: you make no money, but you're doing something that you want to experience and love.

    Presumably your friend is able to live on whatever money he is receiving, and that's good enough for most graduate students. They get to work on something they love, learn more and add to their marketable skills - sure it takes a few years, but you don't apply for the position if you don't think it'll be worth it.

    Anyway, going back to your original question: neither of the points you've mentioned directly above have anything to do with theoretical physics, never mind majoring in theoretical physics. Your friend was under no obligation to pursue a PhD after completion of the undergraduate degree. The current situation is really little to do with choosing to major in theoretical physics, your complaint is with graduate school in general.

    So what you're really asking is 'why would anyone go to graduate school when the pay is so poor?' - the answers I've already provided, and have also been discussed in numerous other threads.
  13. Apr 17, 2010 #12
    Clearly one would seek a PhD in theoretical physics because they feel that is what they need to do in this life. You don't pursue theoretical physics for the money, not even freaking close. That's not even on the radar.

    Everyone knows that if the only thing you care about is making money, you become a doctor/surgeon, lawyer, or become involved with wall street/business/money.
  14. Apr 17, 2010 #13


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    For the groupies?
  15. Apr 17, 2010 #14

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It is weak, and it's also one of the reasons science is not able to easily attract high-quality talented students.
  16. Apr 18, 2010 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Truthfully, this is why we all go for it.
  17. Apr 18, 2010 #16
    Is this the thread were we all feed the forum troll? Ok, I'm in.

    Yeah, and he'll be DOCTOR soandso, and you'll be MISTER Luongo.
  18. Apr 18, 2010 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Well I am (or was) an astronomer of course!
  19. Apr 18, 2010 #18


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    There's nothing to say that you can't do both!
  20. Apr 18, 2010 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook