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a career in physics

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pi-r8
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Hi, I'm new to this forum, and relatively new to objectivism. I need some advice. I'm currently a physics major- I love physics, and I like math (sometimes), but it seems like as my classes get more advanced, they keep getting less interesting, not to mention much harder. I used to be able to breeze through with no effort whatsoever, now I have to study like crazy to understand the material. On top of that, it seems like after I graduate my only career choice will be academia, and I'm not sure that's what I want to do. It seems like physics really hasn't made a whole lot of new discoveries over the past 50 years or so- biology definietly seems to be the "hot" science right now. Given all this, what do you guys think- should I persue a career in physics?

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Given all this, what do you guys think- should I persue a career in physics?
I dunno, do you find physics more enjoyable than biology? If your goal is to make money, I'd go with biology. But if that's the case, why don' you go into business? If your goal is to do something that intellectually satisfies you, then do that.
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I am not in college and don't really know what you want to do, but you could go into engineering. It seems like you already have the math/physics mostly down, so it shouldn't be as hard for you as other people who are trying to understand physics at the same time.

Just a suggestion. <_<

Zak

Edited by realitycheck44
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Hi, I'm new to this forum, and relatively new to objectivism.  I need some advice.  I'm currently a physics major- I love physics, and I like math (sometimes), but [...] Given all this, what do you guys think- should I persue a career in physics?

David has the right approach. The key question is: What would you love to do as your central purpose in life?

The first step is to decide what your love is, and the second step (when you are in that career) is to do what you love to do and make the most money at the same time. Love is first; money is second.

Here is an extreme example, probably not suitable to you, but it shows the range of possibilities. I knew a man who loved physics but knew that he didn't have the intellectual stature to be a great physicist or a professor of physics. What he did was become a specialist -- at a top university -- in being responsible for helping physicists set up experiments. He couldn't originate the theory behind the experiments, but he could follow it well enough to help select and install equipment.

That way he constantly associated with physicists in actually helping produce advances in knowledge. He was satisfied with his life. There are many such possibilities for a variety of individuals in many fields.

P. S. -- The term "objectivism" refers to a particular tenet in the traditional history of philosophy. On the other hand, "Objectivism" is the proper name of the philosophy that Ayn Rand created. Capitalizing the "O" makes a world of difference. (See Forum Rules.)

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Thanks for the advice guys. You're definitely right to ask what what would I love to do, and all I can say is, I'm not sure. I love the SUBJECT of physics; it explains so much, so well. But being a physicist is something else.

And of course it's more than likely that I'd end up like that guy you mentioned who made a career out of helping out the really top notch physicists. I sometimes fantasize about being the next Einstein who will completely revolutionize our view of reality, but unfortunately that's not too likely to happen.

I could probably do engineering, but to be honest, it really doesn't interest me that much.

Do you think that someone could be happy doing work in the subject that they love, even if they never accomplish anything particularly important?

Oh, and thanks for the heads up about O vs o, I'll keep that in mind.

Edited by pi-r8
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The most important thing about choosing a career is having the passion for the doing of the tasks involved.

Ask yourself what about physics you enjoy the most. Is it solving equations? Is it working with cutting-edge technology in the lab? Are there some areas of physics you like more than others?

Do you like explaining the concepts and principles? If so, options might be teaching physics in a high school or writing for a periodical like Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover, or industry journals like that for the Optical Society of America or the American Institute of Physics.

I picked up a BS in physics 8 years ago and have worked as an engineer since. I've gradually worked my way into jobs that are better than the previous ones, to the point where I'm currently far happier as an engineer than ever. I get to do some conceptual design work on new products, create test equipment, and so on. The work I do requires a conceptual understanding of the technology, which I've picked up from jobs over the years in spades, but it all goes back to theory picked up in college classrooms. I don't derive equations or solve super-complex math. Sometimes I use computer modeling tools, but mostly I rely on rule-of-thumb guidelines. (Other engineers often do deal with more complex equations, FYI.)

Re: the comment about "accomplishing something important" -- important to whom? What matters is doing something where the act of doing it makes you happy, not whether what you do revolutionizes the field. Think of Eddie Willers or Mike from The Fountainhead in this regard: good men who loved their work, but didn't have the Earth-shattering abilities to revolutionize their fields. If the standard you now set for yourself is "I must revolutionize whatever field I go in to," I think you'll just set yourself up for disappointment. If you do what you love, and dig into it with both hands, soaking up as much as you can about it like a giant sponge, judging the truth each step of the way, asking questions as you go, and thinking for yourself all the time, I bet you will find more than a few original insights. How revolutionary they are you can't predict, and I wouldn't set that as a standard for choosing a career.

Good luck. Hope this helps.

Edited by Ed from OC
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Do you think that someone could be happy doing work in the subject that they love, even if they never accomplish anything particularly important?

In addition to Ed's excellent points, I would draw October Sky to your attention. Have you read it? It is by Homer Hickam, Jr., who, when he was a boy, loved rockets and dreamed of being a great rocket scientist. He didn't become great, but he continued on into the field he loved, working for NASA. He is happy, judging from his book, which is about his memories of that love in his youth.

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In addition to Ed's excellent points, I would draw October Sky to your attention. Have you read it? It is by Homer Hickam, Jr., who, when he was a boy, loved rockets and dreamed of being a great rocket scientist. He didn't become great, but he continued on into the field he loved, working for NASA. He is happy, judging from his book, which is about his memories of that love in his youth.

No, I have not read October Sky, but it sounds like an interesting book. You guys have definitely made me feel more optimistic about a career in physics. It's good to know that there's more possible careers than I'd thought of- I've been thinking about it as though I'd inevitably end up being like one of my physics professors. Clearly that's not the case, if Ed got a degree in physics and went on to be an engineer.

I think writing for a science magazine would suit me pretty well. It's definitely the the concepts and ideas of physics that I love, and I do enjoy explaining them to others (when I can). I never liked highschool much. but I did love my highschool physics class and teacher, so maybe I should consider that as well.

Thanks guys!

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it seems like after I graduate my only career choice will be academia, and I'm not sure that's what I want to do.

Yeah, I'm a physics major too. Most of the job options that we're exposed to are, as you said, in academics, but there are a few other options which aren't so obvious. An up and coming trend in physics is working in the business world. A lot of companies like to hire physicists as something like a consultant because they think differently about problems then most people. This option is advertised a lot at my university, so if you want to know more I might be able to get you information, but it's not something I know a great deal about.

You might also consider positions as a physicist in the government or private sector. In the private sector, however, your job title probably won't be "physicist". There is no really defined field for physicists in the private sector, almost everything is physics. So what you could do here is limited mainly by what you're interested in.

~Aurelia :lol:

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I'd only continue for a career in physics if one of the following holds for you:

1. You love mathematics, and find it enjoyable to keep learning more difficult mathematics.

2. You love tinkering with things, putting together mechanical contraptions

If 1 then you can be a theorist. The fact is to be a theorist you will end up having to learn mathematics that bears little resemblance to what you are studying as an undergraduate. Think about it this way, the mathematics you do as an undergrad (advanced calculus, differential equations, linear algebra), and how different it is from what you did in high school (algebra, trig, maybe simple calculus). By grad school you'd go through math that is to the undergrad math as that is to high school math, and then you'd have to go another step farther.

If 2 then you can be an experimentalist. You wont need math so much, but you'd need to be able to construct experimental apparatus by hand and get it to work. A good experimentalist has a lab that looks like an extremely messy garage and is tweeking his apparatus by hand continually.

If neither, then go on to something else.

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Hmm. I do enjoy mathematics a lot, although math CLASSES are something else again. I like reading books about advanced mathematics too, even if I can't understand everything that they talk about. If I really could be a theorist, I think that would be AWESOME, although from what I understand that's the hardest field of physics to make a career in.

Tinkering with machines, I dunno, it definitely sounds interesting, but I really don't have a lot of experience with that. I've never been the kind of person who would, say, dismantle a lawn mower just to see how it worked, which seems to be how most of my engineering major friends were as kids. Most of the lab equipment I work with now seems to have been made in the 19th century, and is extremely simple.

That's interesting that private companies are hiring physicists these days. The government, sure (someone's gotta design those nuclear bombs :dough:B) ), but what would a company want with a physicist? It's not like any of the material I'm learning is in anyway practical. They must have just figured out that most business majors are not the brightest bulbs in the box.

Edited by pi-r8
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That's interesting that private companies are hiring physicists these days.  The government, sure (someone's gotta design those nuclear bombs :dough:  B) ), but what would a company want with a physicist?  It's not like any of the material I'm learning is in anyway practical.  They must have just figured out that most business majors are not the brightest bulbs in the box.

I don't really know what they do. I figure it has something to do with analyising systems, and high end mathematical theory. I was told that some companies on wall street only hire physicists, and that they make a lot of money. :P

I didn't pay much attention, personally, I'm into energy production so I'll look for positions in the private sector.

~Aurelia B)

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That's interesting that private companies are hiring physicists these days.  The government, sure (someone's gotta design those nuclear bombs :lol:  :) ), but what would a company want with a physicist?  It's not like any of the material I'm learning is in anyway practical.  They must have just figured out that most business majors are not the brightest bulbs in the box.

There are plenty of engineering companies out there that need physicists. Many companies do research in various areas, and are in need of physicsts. Bell Labs, Lockheed Martin, etc. Anywhere you see things being engineered, a physicist is often required.

Go to Dice.com and/or Monster.com, plug in the word "physicist" and do a search. This might help you decide the type of physicist you want to be.

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I'd only continue for a career in physics if one of the following holds for you:

1.  You love mathematics, and find it enjoyable to keep learning more difficult mathematics.

2.  You love tinkering with things, putting together mechanical contraptions

I used to be very solidly in the second camp, but lately my interest has grown in the first.

However, 2 is a better description of engineering than of experimental physics. Engineering is about applying physics to creating new technology. Experimental physics is about experimenting -- running tests to see what happens under certain conditions, both to verify a theory or to look at some aspect of reality in a new way to see what's there.

option 3 would include teaching or writing, where there's a need to understand the well-established parts of physics and then pass along that information to others.

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Wow. There were a LOT more companies hiring physicists than I expected (i got over 1000 hits for "physics" on monster). Apparently all you need to be a nuclear power plant operator for the navy is a high school degree B) . Anyway, I feel a lot more optimistic now.

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There are plenty of engineering companies out there that need physicists.  Many companies do research in various areas, and are in need of physicsts.  Bell Labs, Lockheed Martin, etc.    Anywhere you see things being engineered, a physicist is often required.

  Go to Dice.com and/or Monster.com, plug in the word "physicist" and do a search.    This might help you decide the type of physicist you want to be.

You can also look for things like "industrial physics" on google.

Note, though, that nearly all physics scientific research is done at universities or government research labs. Engineering that involves physics-level work can be found at many private firms.

The difference is whether one wants to do science (discovery) or engineering (application). The difference is not a hard line and there is some overlap, but the jobs are primarily one or the other.

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I don't really know what they do. I figure it has something to do with analyising systems, and high end mathematical theory. I was told that some companies on wall street only hire physicists, and that they make a lot of money. B)

I know two Objectivists who do this. Both are very, very smart guys with PhDs. I've looked into it a bit. It turns out that a lot of the equations used are exactly the same form as some physics equations, such as that for heat diffusion, which is why physics experts are (or were) in demand.

To learn more, look into FINANCIAL ENGINEERING. A growing number of schools offer advanced degrees in it.

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I used to be very solidly in the second camp, but lately my interest has grown in the first.

However, 2 is a better description of engineering than of experimental physics.  Engineering is about applying physics to creating new technology.  Experimental physics is about experimenting -- running tests to see what happens under certain conditions, both to verify a theory or to look at some aspect of reality in a new way to see what's there.

option 3 would include teaching or writing, where there's a need to understand the well-established parts of physics and then pass along that information to others.

The fact of 2 is that you have to design and build the experimental apparatus. So yes a good experimentalist must be an engineer of sorts. A good experimentalist also has to develop a very deep and intuitive understanding of the apparatus well beyond the specific physical value that the apparatus is measuring.

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An idea I forgot to include in my prior posts: try an internship. If you have a few possibilities for careers in mind, an inside look at one of the options over a summer may help you decide.

Also, if your school has an engineering program, maybe talking to a prof or two, or even taking a couple elective classes may help as well.

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