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Brady Yoon
2005-Feb-20, 03:52 AM
I want to major in physics in college and I was wondering what it's like for the people who have first hand experience. I want to go from physics into something else, maybe an electrical engineer, doctor, or perhaps even a real astronomer.

Some questions I have are
1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?
2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program?
3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc)

College is still several years away for me, but it's never too early to start thinking about it I guess. If there's anything else you can tell me, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks. :)

jnik
2005-Feb-20, 04:20 AM
I want to major in physics in college and I was wondering what it's like for the people who have first hand experience. I want to go from physics into something else, maybe an electrical engineer, doctor, or perhaps even a real astronomer.
EE is probably something that a physics degree won't prepare you well for, as usually the expectation is you'll work for at least awhile after your BA. Doubt it'd do you much good for premed either. It's great for astronomy, physics and some engineering (including EE, it's just you'll be looking at a different set of jobs than if you majored in EE).


1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?
Those aren't "extras" most places; they're core. Especially for the first couple years your major isn't as large a part of your life as you'd like it to be.

I can't quote an hour figure, and of course it depends on where you go, how adept you are at stuff, and your priorities, but a rule of thumb would be "enough free time, but certainly not an excess." You won't have enough time for everything that interests you, but you will for everything you need to do (and I include sleep, socializing, and just plain fun in "need.") The focus of college, especially if you live on campus and don't have to worry as much about food and transportation, helps a lot.

(Incidentally, develop relationships, friendships or otherwise, your first two years--sustain them the rest. Having to feed a new love interest just as you hit the advanced courses is good for neither. But, what happens happens...)


2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program?
Again, it depends. The difference between B+ and A is usually a lot of work. The difference between A and honors is even more work. But it's also all good preparation. I decided that picking up another degree was more important to me than the honors designation.


3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc)
Physics is probably a better choice than many majors in terms of keeping your options open in variety of jobs, not so much in numbers. Jobs aren't *hugely* available, nor hugely lucrative, but a solid student will be able to find a solid job.

azazul
2005-Feb-20, 05:12 AM
First off, I am a physics major at Angelo State University. So maybe I can help you out a little.


1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?


2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program?

Well, the answer to these questions differ from one person to another. Some people just don't get the concepts involved and some get the concepts right away(my advice is to talk to professors as quickly as possible if you don't understand something). But no matter how good you are at the subject s, expect to have to spend some time on homework and studying if you want to get A's. If you don't do anything but go to school, there should be no problem, you will have plenty of time to study and do whatever else you wish. But if you are like me and have to work as well, then time can get short.


3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc)
I sure hope so.

Normandy6644
2005-Feb-20, 07:16 AM
I'm doing physics and astronomy at Cornell, so hopefully I can be of some help!



1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?

Last semester I only had 14 credits and had too much free time, though that might have to do with the way I manage my time in the first place. :wink: This semester I'm taking 17 credits, complete with 2 physics and an upper level math course. I'm very busy but do still have time to myself.


2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program?

Probably depends on the school. The courses here are tough, as they would be most everywhere, but professors know that. Often grades are curved so that you do better than your actual score was, but it's iin relation to the rest of the class. All told it's pretty tough, but if you work hard it shouldn't be a problem.


3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc)

I would think that depends on your concentration. You would more than likely take the courses that fit what you want to do most.

Andromeda321
2005-Feb-20, 07:45 AM
Another physics/astro major talking here (not sure which I'm doing yet so I have to do core classes for both, fun fun...)-
1. You're gonna have to do classes outside sciences no matter what school you go to, and even if you didn't I'd highly recommend scheduling it in anyway. For example, I have a pet project of pretending I'm a history minor which means a history class each term and I really enjoy it. Two reasons: history's different and after all the science courses it's nice to have one that makes you feel competent.
2. Depends what course and how the prof is but it's doable. But then I am a self-admitted slacker who will settle for ** on the grounds that I don't let schooling get in the way of my education. But that's another story... :wink:
3. Only 1 in 20 physics majors actually end up being physics professors, and the idea is you can do quite a bit with a physics degree. The point of majoring in physics, for the record, is really to become a problem solver by the end of your four years so no matter what you end up doing it will certainly a benificial asset!

Kristophe
2005-Feb-20, 09:09 AM
1. You're gonna have to do classes outside sciences no matter what school you go to,

Actually, that is dependant on what school you go to. For instance, I never have to take a course outside of the physics department if I don't want to. I'd just die of burnout if I chose that road.

The rest, though, I agree with 100%.

ngc3314
2005-Feb-20, 07:43 PM
I want to major in physics in college and I was wondering what it's like for the people who have first hand experience. I want to go from physics into something else, maybe an electrical engineer, doctor, or perhaps even a real astronomer.

Some questions I have are
1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?
2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program?
3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc)

College is still several years away for me, but it's never too early to start thinking about it I guess. If there's anything else you can tell me, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks. :)

As someone who occasionally sits on the departmental physics-major advising committee...

Perhaps the major drawing card for physics majors is the experience you get in a wide range of problem-solving skills. This makes it a useful premed major (as an alternative to biology), and teaches things that can go into a wide variety of fields (more of them as employers figure this out - I worked doing programming and computer operating for a local utility company as an undergrad, once they discovered that programs written by physics majors were often working sooner than those from the Computer Science department...).

There is (naturally) a fine balance between grinding away on the work and having a life (hmm, I didn't think I was entitled to one until after grad school). To a large extent it's your choice - you don't have to, for example, wake up one day in your junior year and notice that you have more hours a week of music rehearsals than classes, despite taking no music classes.

Acing an honors program... to a large extent, that depends on which honors program. If it lets you delve into research, it's your option. In some other cases, it helps a lot if you're quick on the uptake all the time, so you don't have to waste time learning things over again. From experience, though, grad schools do start asking your references if you have more than a couple of Cs in physics courses (even if it was thermo and you could barely stay awake, despite knowing that these are the laws that tell the other laws how they can operate).

Eta C
2005-Feb-20, 10:02 PM
I'll second ngc's comments. One thing to check, Brady, is the course requirements for the major. The university's course catalogue should detail what they are. If the physics courses seem too dominant, choose a school or major with more opportunity for courses outside of physics.

Some universities will have more than one physics major option. Illinois, where I went, actually has three. One is in the College of Engineering and is pretty heavy in the physics requirement (although the curriculum is under revision there to allow more ability to combine physics with other areas of engineering). The other two are in Liberal Arts & Sciences. The main curriculum in physics has fewer required courses in physics than engineering, but still enough to be a strong pre-grad school preparation. It does have a foreign language requirement and more distribution requirements than engineering. It was the curriculum I was in as an undergrad. The third option is as an area of concentration in a larger science & letters major. This one lends itself to people who want a strong physics background, but don't necessarily intend to go on to grad work in physics.

As to uses of a physics degree, you'd be surprised. A strong physics background along with the required biology makes an excellent prep for medical school. Biophysics and biological physics are rapidly expanding areas of study. Combine physics with some poly sci and you've got a good pre-law background, especially for areas like patent law. Certainly the physics background will help you stand out from the hordes of bio and poly sci majors who make up the majority of pre-med and pre-law types.

It is possible to get a job in engineering with a physics degree. After my ** I was offered a position at Motorola, but went on to get a Ph.D. instead. As others have pointed out, the thing to push is the general approach to physical problems rather than any specific knowledge. Consulting companies, such as the one I work at, are also more interested in the tools gained in a scientific education than the specific area one worked in. Many of these places, however, prefer an advanced degree. My company primarily recruits Ph.D.'s and M.S. students with a dissertation.

One other thing to remember is that you're not locked into a physics career at the start of your freshman year. It's easy to change majors in the first couple of years. The flexibility of a physics background would allow you to shift easily.

Finally, let me add my encouragement to research the schools thoroughly. Read the departmental web sites (shameless plug for the Illinois department here) (http://www.physics.uiuc.edu/). Check on the ability for undergrads to do research. Email the undergrad admissions people if you have questions. Check out the course offerings and curriculum requirements. Most of all, be excited. I know I was.

Enzp
2005-Feb-20, 10:13 PM
I went off to college as a physics major and spent a couple years at it. But I realized after a while that as interesting as physics was, I didn't want to be a physicist. I went into other things, and my career is elsewhere. I am a small business owner.

Hard to imagine a bachelor program requiring nothing but major related courses in physics, but what do I know... In any case, you really want to take the other stuff. You really aren't educated if you don't know anything. ANd by that I mean the rest of the world outside your major. If you are never exposed to other things, you may never know what interests you. I wound up taking as many courses as I could fit in in geography and geomorphology. It never directly impacted my career, but I know a lot more about the world around me.

SOme of those other courses might be a factor in deciding between EE, Medicine , or Astronomy.

Andrew
2005-Feb-20, 10:25 PM
Hard to imagine a bachelor program requiring nothing but major related courses in physics, but what do I know...
This is actually the norm for degree programs in this country.

Tobin Dax
2005-Feb-21, 07:52 PM
Since I haven't seen anybody mention an Engineering Physics program, I will. A lot of schools have them, afaik, and it's basicly a hybrid double major. If you want to do physics and/or engineering, but you aren't sure which, this could be the way to go. I have a number of friends from undergrad at Oregon State that were in such a program. They were in all of my physics courses for that major, and they were also taking engineering courses for that aspect. It's a little more work , but it's managable. It might also give you a slightly better chance at a diverse range of possible jobs (though that's pure speculation on my part). The same would also apply to grad programs.

Brady Yoon
2005-Feb-22, 05:33 AM
Cool! Thanks for the info, in a few years I'll probably be here asking for help on all those tough problems. :)

pumpkinpie
2005-Feb-22, 02:23 PM
Hope you don't mind another reply! I was away from the board all weekend. I majored in physics at a liberal arts school, graduating in '98.


1. How much free time do you have (say that I'm also taking a couple extra classes like Foreign Language, English)?

I had plenty of free time. I had a lot of requirements for my core classes that I easily managed to fit in, and I also took 5 semesters of German that weren't required at all. And I was very active in various non-academic groups: jazz band, Rhythm Squad (dance team that performed halftimes of basketball games), and 3 years of a sorority that took a lot of time. It was just the balance that I needed, though. I didn't get straight "A's" in physics (well, at my school it would have been a 3.7 or a 4.0), but I never got lower than a 3.0, and that was only in a couple classes.


2. How difficult is it to get an A in a Honors physics program? I wouldn't know, we didn't have a Honors physics program. We did have the "Honors college" which had a few extra class requirements, extra seminars, and a thesis, but I wasn't a part of that. You could be in it no matter what major you were, but it generally added nothing to your actual major.


3. Does it provide lots of job opportunities (like astronomy, engineering, medicine, etc) My response will be similar to a lot of others here. But I'll use a personal story. One day my junior year, the physics department had a luncheon to honor a distinguished alumnus. Unfortunately, I don't quite remember what field he went into. But he did give some advice that I still remember. He said that employers and graduate school admissions people *love* physics majors. And not just physics grad schools--he was talking about law and medicine, too. Like someone else said, actually making it all the way through a physics program says a lot for a person--it gives them a distinct way of solving problems that you don't learn in many other majors. Almost like "if they can learn physics, they can learn anything!"

So I say if you have even a slight interest in physics, and there isn't anything else that you would much rather be doing, then go for it! It will provide you with many opportunities upon graduation. Good luck!