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Thread: Physics Degree - Useless?

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    Physics Degree - Useless?

    Hi guys I know this may sound like a stupid thread but I need some urgent advice.

    So ever since I was in primary school physics has always been my passion. I really like it to the point where I just do olympiad questions in my free time. I'm sure I can take it in uni.

    However everyone has been trying to convince me out of doing this. If I do a physics degree I will definitely do a PhD in it but every one is saying it's a useless degree. Should I follow my heart or is it just a waste of time for me?

    I know this thread has been created before, but I also want to know would I need to attend a top uni like MIT or harvard in order to even land a research career anywhere?

    I've been accepted into the Physics course at UNSW already but I just feel flustered at what everyone thinks at my decision!

    Thanks.
    Last edited by Drdusk; 14 Dec 2018 at 7:51 PM.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Do it. Some trading/finance firms have been known to include physics majors in their hiring itinerary, since people who study physics are good at problem solving. A lot of physics graduates end up in being experts in machine learning, which are definitely in high demand by employers nowadays. Ultimately what a physics degree gives you is a quality education in being adept at solving complex problems, and that's pretty valuable.

    If it helps, do a second major in computer science or maths or statistics or something. That definitely helps too.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    I think main thing is you have to do what you want to do. It's not like HSC where you will do the subject for two years. This degree you choose will influence things down the line, and it will probably be harder to keep motivation in another degree if it doesn't interest you. I myself had these types of comments from family friends telling me to do stuff like law, medicine etc., but at the end of the day if you are good enough in the degree you should be able to make something out of it. I'm doing a chem major and physics minor at UNSW currently 2nd year, and also planning to do a PhD later in chem. I would say physics degree alone if you don't do a PhD I can understand why people are telling you it is useless in terms of there probably isn't a lot of application you can do with it in real life (cause most of that is in engineering or you could probably go into some finance places which I heard before hire physics people sometimes) but research or teaching in a uni eventually is something that pays decently and is something you can do if you plan to a PhD. Also, you don't need to go MIT or Harvard to become a researcher. UNSW has a quite a decent research presence in sciences so I wouldn't really worry too much about that
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Thanks!

    I was just a bit concerned because already Science is really competitive and then you got world class graduates from MIT, Ivy leagues, so I thought that it would be impossible with UNSW.

    Well people are going to doubt me but I'm just going for it now.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drdusk View Post
    Thanks!

    I was just a bit concerned because already Science is really competitive and then you got world class graduates from MIT, Ivy leagues, so I thought that it would be impossible with UNSW.

    Well people are going to doubt me but I'm just going for it now.
    Don't worry about it. Like jazz said, research here isn't bad at all. Don't worry about competing against students across the world; at uni, it's "you do your own thing". You'll focus solely on your own research, which is often in a very specific/niche area that not many people work in anyway.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    I just punched in the keywords for my research area into Google and only 6 pages came up.

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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Just a warning: UNSW Physics is very good in first year, but it is trash from 2nd year onwards (labs are hell as well). You will have to learn it yourself from websites like Mit opencourseware. UNSW completely ruined physics for me. So make sure you keep your comp sci degree as a back up. Most of the jobs in industry that would hire you for physics (eg. analytics, trading etc.), will also hire you just based off your comp sci degree.

    If you are looking at research don't worry too much about what you need for a PhD. Focus on getting through undergrad first and you will be more clear on what you want to do. To be honest, going through UNSW may kill all desires of doing a PhD in physics (all of my friends in physics started off wanting to do PhDs , now we all hate it).

    Source: I am a 4th year, just finished my degree at UNSW in Physics.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Quote Originally Posted by tyrone97 View Post
    Just a warning: UNSW Physics is very good in first year, but it is trash from 2nd year onwards (labs are hell as well). You will have to learn it yourself from websites like Mit opencourseware. UNSW completely ruined physics for me. So make sure you keep your comp sci degree as a back up. Most of the jobs in industry that would hire you for physics (eg. analytics, trading etc.), will also hire you just based off your comp sci degree.

    If you are looking at research don't worry too much about what you need for a PhD. Focus on getting through undergrad first and you will be more clear on what you want to do. To be honest, going through UNSW may kill all desires of doing a PhD in physics (all of my friends in physics started off wanting to do PhDs , now we all hate it).

    Source: I am a 4th year, just finished my degree at UNSW in Physics.
    Oh thanks for your input, I appreciate it

    Sorry to bother you but could you please expand a bit on why its trash after 2nd year?

    Are the lecturers just not good or something?

    I'm fine with learning online, I've been doing an online course in undergrad phys these holidays from MIT anyway.

    Oh and congrats on your degree!
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    You can land a physics research career in Australia if that's what you're after. However, Australia's research scene is abysmal. Research money is tight enough as it is, and the scene is highly political. The ARC (Australian Research Council) is responsible for divying up the funds, and they typically fund projects that are perceived as interesting from a layman's perspective. As a result, there's a significant amount of time spent fighting for grant money. My advice is after you finish your honours, try to get into a reputable US institution for graduate school.

    If you plan to work in Australia, then you don't really need to worry about graduates from MIT, CalTech etc, since they're not going to come down here where the research scene is so much smaller when compared to the US. I have plenty of friends who have PhD's from Princeton, Cambridge, MIT, Harvard, etc, and none of them came back here, the reason being that the academic positions and research grants are too limited.
    Last edited by blyatman; 14 Dec 2018 at 11:21 PM.
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Quote Originally Posted by blyatman View Post
    You can land a physics research career in Australia if that's what you're after. However, Australia's research scene is abysmal. Research money is tight enough as it is, and the scene is highly political. The ARC (Australian Research Council) is responsible for divying up the funds, and they typically fund projects that are perceived as interesting from a layman's perspective. As a result, there's a significant amount of time spent fighting for grant money. My advice is after you finish your honours, try to get into a reputable US institution for graduate school.

    If you plan to work in Australia, then you don't really need to worry about graduates from MIT, CalTech etc, since they're not going to come down here where the research scene is so much smaller when compared to the US. I have plenty of friends who have PhD's from Princeton, Cambridge, MIT, Harvard, etc, and none of them came back here, the reason being that the academic positions and research grants are too limited.
    If you become a professor at a uni like usyd or unsw you also do research along with it as well right?

    Also would I need specific kind of marks to get into a reputable US institution? Like for example first class honours with a really high mark?

    Thank you
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    Re: Physics Degree - Useless?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drdusk View Post
    If you become a professor at a uni like usyd or unsw you also do research along with it as well right?

    Also would I need specific kind of marks to get into a reputable US institution? Like for example first class honours with a really high mark?

    Thank you
    Yes, university lecturers/professors are paid to do research. Lecturing is just their side role, not their primary job. There are many professors who don't like teaching, but are forced to as it's part of their contract (unless you're good enough that the university can't afford to lose you, then you might have some leverage if you don't want to teach).

    Getting into graduate school in the US is very competitive. It's not like here, where it isn't all that hard. I had a 80 WAM without physics honours (although I did my engineering honours in a physics area) and I was accepted into both the engineering and physics PhD streams at USYD based on that alone (but I didn't take either and opted for a engineering PhD program in the US instead). The US education system is very broad, and is not only focused on marks like it is here. To get into the US graduate program, you need to sit the GRE's (the graduate equivalent of the SAT's), submit your university marks, submit your CV, submit a 2 page essay (called the Statement of Purpose) explaining what you want to do, who you want to work with, and why they should pick you, and then pass any interviews if you're shortlisted. For specialist programs like physics, you also need to take the relevant Subject Tests (in this case, Physics) alongside the GRE's, which tests your physics knowledge from undergrad (you can look at sample tests online). So it is a very thorough and selective process, but it is of much higher quality if you can get in.

    Also, keep in mind that research life isn't for everyone. More often than not, it's going to be pretty bland. I was previously doing research in the gravitational cosmology group for one of my postgrad degrees at USYD, where I specialised in general relativistic time dilation and black holes. I got a few papers published in journals before deciding it wasn't for me, and went into industry instead.

    Another note on research life: Professors are partially funded by the university based on the number of papers they publish, since more research publicity = good for university. As a result, professors who haven't done much can spend a good chunk of their career salami slicing, which is where they churn out multiple papers on a single study, with each paper only slightly improving upon the previous but adding no real substance - This is definitely where you don't want to end up. Here's an article on that: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmat1305
    Last edited by blyatman; 15 Dec 2018 at 12:21 AM.
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