anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

  • Imagine you are sipping tea or coffee while discussing various issues with a broad and diverse network of students, colleagues, and friends brought together by the common bond of physics, graduate school, and the physics GRE.

physics vs engineering for undergrad studies (in terms of job prospects and personal satisfaction)

physics
2
100%
electrical engineering
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 2

aliceinwonderland
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Dec 28, 2011 6:35 pm

anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby aliceinwonderland » Wed Dec 28, 2011 6:45 pm

hi
I just applied to EE and physics to different undergrad schools. I love physics and math, never done computers before. But what do I know I am only a high schooler. My parents think that I should go into engineering because of more security in terms of job prospect. I live in Canada btw....won't make much of a differnece.

any body also had this problem back in your days? between engineering and physics?
I really like figuring out why certain things happen...not so much of a builder or designer (because I am not that amazing at it...) However, if there is no job at all in the field I study....I would rather do engineer then.

yeah, I am planning to study all the way to grad schools if I have to
only thing that worries me is that I will be in humongous debt if I don't take a year off once in a while to keep up with the tuition.

p.s. are grad school usually free? (as in I will take the TA job)



sorry for rambling, any advice in terms of this will help greatly

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Dec 29, 2011 1:42 am

As much feedback as I can give, other than to say follow your interests:

1. Physics to EE is easier down the road than EE to Physics. As in, an undergraduate degree in physics can land you a job or a masters/phd admission in EE, but not necessarily the other way around.

2. Physics PhD's are (almost) always "free"; in fact, you can sometimes save some money during grad school (though not often and not much). EE is sometimes free, but not always. Masters programs are rarely funded in either case.

3. Physicists dont have trouble getting jobs, they just have trouble getting jobs in their direct field. Lots end up as engineers, programmers, and quantitative analysts, among other jobs. A bachelors in Physics gets you almost nowhere in the (physics) job market though. Engineers have trouble (I've heard) getting jobs in engineering after getting a PhD, though a bachelors and a masters are generally good career moves. Something about overqualifying themselves for jobs... Either way though, a quality degree (good GPA) will mean you'll definitely find employment.

4. Both engineers and physicist figure out why things happen. Well, cheekily I can say engineers figure out why things happen, and physicists figure out why Things* happen.

5. Students at US schools don't need to decide between Engineering and Physics the first year. That might be different in Canada, but for both majors down here, the first year classes are the same.

*Things, both uppercase and lowercase, refers to harmonic oscillators, point particles, infinite sheets, (exactly) parallel capacitors, small angles, and spherical horses only.

aliceinwonderland
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Dec 28, 2011 6:35 pm

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby aliceinwonderland » Thu Dec 29, 2011 11:57 am

that is relieving
thanks for you answer

have you heard of Canadian students getting *free tuition at u.s for grad schools?
do grad school care which undergrad school you came from? does prestige count in your admission?

SSM
Posts: 87
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:57 pm

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby SSM » Fri Dec 30, 2011 12:46 pm

bfollinprm wrote:As much feedback as I can give, other than to say follow your interests:

1. Physics to EE is easier down the road than EE to Physics. As in, an undergraduate degree in physics can land you a job or a masters/phd admission in EE, but not necessarily the other way around.

2. Physics PhD's are (almost) always "free"; in fact, you can sometimes save some money during grad school (though not often and not much). EE is sometimes free, but not always. Masters programs are rarely funded in either case.

3. Physicists dont have trouble getting jobs, they just have trouble getting jobs in their direct field. Lots end up as engineers, programmers, and quantitative analysts, among other jobs. A bachelors in Physics gets you almost nowhere in the (physics) job market though. Engineers have trouble (I've heard) getting jobs in engineering after getting a PhD, though a bachelors and a masters are generally good career moves. Something about overqualifying themselves for jobs... Either way though, a quality degree (good GPA) will mean you'll definitely find employment.

4. Both engineers and physicist figure out why things happen. Well, cheekily I can say engineers figure out why things happen, and physicists figure out why Things* happen.

5. Students at US schools don't need to decide between Engineering and Physics the first year. That might be different in Canada, but for both majors down here, the first year classes are the same.

*Things, both uppercase and lowercase, refers to harmonic oscillators, point particles, infinite sheets, (exactly) parallel capacitors, small angles, and spherical horses only.


This is really good advice. Speaking as someone who went from physics to EE, I can tell you that I agree with 1. I'd like to add something to 2.

I applied to two EE schools, and what I found was that they are seriously hurting for American students in their grad programs, so if you are a domestic student that meets their admission criteria, there's a very good chance you'll have a really nice funding offer. As an example, both of the places I applied offered me fellowships and every American student I know in my particular subdivision (Optics and Photonics EE) at Michigan is supported by a fellowship. On the other hand, if you're an international student applying to EE Ph.D programs, admission is extremely competitive and the vast majority of international students must first pay their way as a Masters student. EDIT: I don't know any Canadians in our program, so I can't tell you how difficult it may be for the OP.

Also: I can't tell you much about Applied Physics Ph.D programs outside of Michigan, but Michigan's program is very well funded. ALL first year students have a full fellowship for the first two years.

Something else you might want to consider if you're thinking of switching for physics to EE:
Unless you're talking about high energy exp. physics or VLSI circuit design, there is a lot of overlap between experimental physics groups and EE groups. In fact, you can gear your EE coursework so that it also overlaps with grad physics courses. This is my plan this year and the next.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Dec 30, 2011 4:46 pm

aliceinwonderland wrote:that is relieving
thanks for you answer

have you heard of Canadian students getting *free tuition at u.s for grad schools?
do grad school care which undergrad school you came from? does prestige count in your admission?


For Physics, every student gets free tuition at US grad schools, no matter their nationality. Admission is tied to funding in the VAST majority of circumstances, so if they can't fund you, you aren't accepted. For engineers, I have no idea (I'm not an engineer).

As far as what undergrad school you come from, someone like admissionprof will know best, but my educated guess is what matters is, in order:

1. GPA/class rank
2a. Research Experiences
2b. PGRE/GRE score (standardized tests you'll take your senior year of undergrad, the GRE is similar to the SAT, the PGRE is a physics test, quite hard)
2c. Recommendations--who recommends you and what they say about you
5. Minority status/unique experiences
6. School Prestige--where schools are divided into top 10 and everyone else (I'd say Harvard, MIT et. al. gives a slight edge over a no-name, all else equal).

So, go where you feel you'll be happy, succeed, and be given opportunities to explore physics and engineering, not necessarily to the top-ranked school. Oftentimes, however, those schools are top-ranked because they're most likely to give you those opportunities, so if you don't have a chance to visit, the undergrad (and even grad) rankings might be a good place to start in making your decisions.

Georgebob
Posts: 1
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2015 10:07 pm

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby Georgebob » Sat Jul 04, 2015 10:13 pm

I have some regrets on this one. While I love physics and learning about the natural world, I don't enjoy the work that having this knowledge leads to. I had some awful (aggressive or absent minded) advisors, and the work was mind numbingly difficult. Now I am working for a software company, and the work is almost as difficult. People seem to expect an immense amount of work from you on hearing that you have the degree.

Also I think it prevents you from getting lower level jobs. I for instance have had a hard time getting away from extremely difficult, ultra technical work.

MostlyAnonymous
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri May 27, 2016 12:08 am

Re: anyone regret choosing physics as their careers?

Postby MostlyAnonymous » Fri May 27, 2016 1:04 am

This looks to be an old thread but here is my 2 cents anyway.

I was good in high school, I did well, picked hard subjects. I thought Physics was a natural progression and chose it because I thought it was adaptable, would open doors and look good on a resume. I thought it was a good investment.

The truth for me is that the Bachelors in Physics did not set me up for work or a career, it set me back in a broad and debilitating way. There was the debt, the time spent on study (4 years). I emerged with a sense of entitlement but no directly employable skills. I began looking for work in science (there's really not much going in Australia). A BA in physics gets you nothing in science, you need Masters or better a phd. Further study takes commitment, time, life and massively restricts the areas you can work in, more than that I can't say (I didn't go for the phd).

I worked in retail, hospitality, and other service roles as my energy to find related or distantly related work dwindled. I became apathetic, then resentful. I was slowly learning that nobody is interested in educating you or giving you a chance. You need to bring developed, employable skills to the table and be able to start work with brief instruction. In fact, most jobs advertised are looking for a senior who can walk in with their own experience and confidence and steer other people in the right direction.

The analyst work I have managed to get is only because I've taught myself a marketable skill like SQL, SAS, or Pivot tables/Macro's in Excel. Physics had absolutely nothing to do with it. It may have helped that it was on my resume but seriously that's just part of the education arms race and a finance/analyst/programming degree would have had a greater impact. I know nobody from my degree that following graduation had gained work on the merits bestowed by their physics degree.

Physics has its place. It has been incredibly useful to tech progression but the number of middle tier physicist jobs compared to any of the engineering stream jobs is minuscule. This lack of eligibility is exacerbated by the utter lack of crossover skills which make a BA in Physics (for most unlucky souls) an abysmal investment in education. Of course universities won't hint at this, they want your business. They'll point at things like astronomy, healthcare, tech, meteorology, energy or research, or my favourite "it's flexible" (see link http://www.topuniversities.com/student- ... ics-degree). None of these wanted me, there are other more specialized skills required that I just don't have. Sure I could have adapted but why not just do a different degree?

Since graduating I have been constantly trying to re-imagine what I should work as. The closest thing I can find work in is as an analyst of some sort using programming skills picked up in as many as a few months. These alone combined with the kind of luck that might have parted the seas for Moses have gotten me in the door more than once. As it stands I am still a fledgling in my profession 10 years on from graduation.

Ultimately physics (and this is in part my own 18 year old self's fault for not researching it properly) had been an impressive waste of literal years of my life in and outside of study. I do indeed have a profound regret for choosing it. I find it offensive that universities offer so many places for it and genuine contempt that the kind of warning I'm writing at this time isn't much more common.




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