#1 Posted by FreezyFrog (83 posts) -

So my friends and I are starting university this September and are in the process of selecting our classes and one particular friend of mine has gone "full on for Physics" (electing to study Physics, Maths and Astronomy in his first year) and it got me thinking are there many Physics students in the Giant Bomb community.

There appears to be a noticeable amount of Computer Science students (my degree of choice) in the community but I never seem to hear of many Physics students so if your out there...

  • What's life as a Physics student like?
  • Have you enjoyed your degree?
  • How report intensive is your course (are you doing lots of spreadsheet analysis)?
  • Do you regret not doing engineering, electronics or something else?
#2 Edited by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

My friend from college is studying Physics at Imperial in London. He's failing and he hates it, which sucks because Imperial is pretty much the best institution this side of the Atlantic for Physics, apart from maybe Oxbridge.

#3 Edited by BisonHero (6674 posts) -

@jazz_bcaz: I took Computer Science at pretty much the most prestigious computer science school here in Canada, haaaaaaaaated it, and failed out. It happens.

Now I'm in an engineering program at a different university and like it way more. Life, man.

Also:

"...Imperial is pretty much the best institution this side of the Atlantic for Physics, apart from maybe Oxbridge."

Isn't like, University of Cambridge also a pretty fucking big deal for physics and really any of the sciences or mathematics?

#4 Posted by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

@bisonhero: Tell me about it. Everyone close to me in London has had a difficult time with things. The most promising people from college among them and I myself have taken a year out. I'm determined to finish what I started but it's a difficult time in a lot of peoples lives. People who have it easy in their early 20s are just missing out anyway.

#5 Posted by Euler_Riemann_Zeta (29 posts) -

1) Life is alright, if a little stressful at times. I'm an undergrad physics major (sophomore) with an interest in astronomy. The classes so far aren't bad, but later on they will become more mathematics based (for what I would be doing, I could also be a math major) and a lot harder. I also have done some research, and am hoping to do more this semester. Overall, I would say that I have had a fairly relaxed time as a physics student, but I'm sure that will change as the stuff I do becomes more involved.

2) Yes, I have enjoyed my time doing research and even my time in classes. I like the subjects, so that helps out a lot.

3) There are lab reports for the lab sections of each physics class, but so far they are comically easy. There is a lot of spreadsheet stuff, but nothing that requires more than a half-hour of work. The hardest stuff is when you start doing real projects or you start research. Then, you start having to learn how to use multiple programs and program yourself. I learned more about programming from my research than I did from the class.

4) Nope. The lines get kind of blurry between physicists and engineers. We rely quite a bit on the instruments that engineers design, but it is physicists that determine where the progress is made (commercial applications aside) and what these instruments do. I can think of the LHC as an example. It is a marvel of engineering, but it is used to study aspects of the Standard Model, among other things. I hesitate to say that engineering is applied physics/chemistry/etc., but it kind of is in the sense that they "make" stuff out of the ideas that other scientists have. In doing so, they can discover more interesting things that a physicist may not have noticed, on account of looking very closely at certain aspects of what they are developing.

#6 Edited by Party (109 posts) -

Not a physics student... But I've taken a lot of physics for my major (neuroscience) and am currently studying physics for the MCAT. I also know plenty of physics students at my school. Suffice to say, everyone I've ever talked to taking physics says its rough, but that their actual love of physics makes it worth it in the end. To each their own huh?

#7 Edited by ThatOneDudeNick (659 posts) -

Undergrad physics courses were almost fun if you enjoy math, though the real heavy math comes later. Getting my bachelors wasn't exceptionally hard. I've known that I wanted to be an astrophysicist for a long time, and prepared for the courses in my free time. I wouldn't say it got difficult (for me personally) until I started graduate school. It's sort of like a punch to the face (and ego) when you realize they are no longer fucking around. That's not to say a bachelors isn't an achievement. However it wasn't until I started on my Masters that I began to stay up all night wondering if I have what it takes mentally to earn my M.S., if i picked the wrong career, if I really learned what I needed to up until this point, ect. The love of science gets you through all of that.

I'm already working in the commercial space industry, which is nice. I don't have the exact job that I want, but I've at least got my foot in the door. We're working on space station modules that will be used for private industry. The stress level for my particular situation is high, but that's not unique to physics. My attitude is that you either get shit done or don't. My only other option is to do something that I don't love, and that's unacceptable to me. I might as well enjoy every minute spent getting there. I've questioned my career, but never because I thought I should be doing anything else.

Lots of reports, labs, and research projects. I spend as much time doing research as I do in the classroom and doing actual math. There are new discoveries and advancements literally everyday. My research projects are always relevant to what's happening right now (sometimes within days), which keeps things fresh and exciting.

TL;DR - Physics can be difficult. You need to love it. I enjoy my career field and wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm two semesters away from my M.S. if all goes according to plan.

You don't accidentally become a physicist. If you decide that it's not what you want to do, the courses you take in your first few years will be useful for almost any related major (engineering, for example).

#8 Posted by Peakborn (91 posts) -

@bisonhero: Oxbridge refers to any of the colleges under the university of Oxford or Cambridge banners (some of which have the same name). Both are prestigious at whatever they do really just due to their history, kinda like the Ivy league I guess.

I'm a ex-lit student (dropped out) so my personal experiences may be fairly useless, but from some of my old flatmates (1 Maths, 2 Computer Science, 1 Pharm and 1 Biology) the work load seemed heavy and stressful. The guy doing maths was also working part time in the area but his passion for it seemed to hold him through it. They all had pretty healthy social lives, especially the Com Sci guys, with room for regretful hangovers - if that's your poison - but that might be down to the people. I also had an old friend who studied physics at Southampton and loved it despite how tough he found it (he's currently working on his PhD).

I will say though, try not to compare your workload to some of the humanities students I had 5 hours of lectures and seminars a week but spent the rest of it with myself near a book or pile of books. Which always made my flatmates enviously think I wasn't working, well, until I recited a verse from a 32 page poem from the 14th century in it's original Middle English (but hey those pieces where why I dropped out).

#9 Posted by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

Isn't like, University of Cambridge also a pretty fucking big deal for physics and really any of the sciences or mathematics?

Oxbridge means Oxford and Cambridge. With Imperial, they form the Golden Triangle, along with 3 other University of London colleges.

#10 Posted by Rorie (3117 posts) -

I got to Fourier transforms in my physics education before I NOPED out of it and went to English. Also, when cosmology went from "hey this star is not rotating and is perfectly spherical" to "hey this star is rotating and deformed at its equator due to that rotation," holy shit did the equations get complicated.

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#11 Posted by thomasnash (579 posts) -

@peakborn said:

@bisonhero: Oxbridge refers to any of the colleges under the university of Oxford or Cambridge banners (some of which have the same name). Both are prestigious at whatever they do really just due to their history, kinda like the Ivy league I guess.

That's sort of true, but they are definitely prestigious in different areas. Oxford tends to be seen as the place to be for humanities, particularly literature and history. More recently it's been (in)famous for its PPE degrees, having produced a large number of our current ruling class.

Cambridge is definitely seen as the "science" one, mostly because of the Nuffield centre but also because Cambridge has a very significant tech industry which probably makes up the bulk of its non tourist and non academic economy. When I was growing up it was quite a centre for battles between animal rights activists and scientist who tested on animals at the science park. I remember a guy on my street posting letters to all the neighbours apologising for the vandalism of his property by protestors.

I think it would also be fair to say that in terms of their prestigious history, the great moments of Cambridge's history have been scientific. Newton was a Cambridge fellow, as was Christopher Wren. IIRC Watson and Crick worked at Cambridge for some amount of time at the Cavendish laboratory, and I seem to remember hearing that the atom was split for the first time in some fellow's bedroom. It was a Cambridge scientist who made the first steps in showing that cloning was viable by doing experiments on frogspawn.

Maybe someone can correct me, and there is a similar list of scientific achievementss for Oxford, but the only Oxford scientific product that springs to mind immediately is Richard Dawkins, who is at least partly a philosopher at this point! Geoffrey Hill (often called Britains finest living poet) is an Oxford Don I think (while the school of poetry known as the Cambridge School remains fairly obscure). Alan Bennet went to Oxford as well I think.

Anyway, all this is totally irrelevant, I just thought people might be interested. I've definitely always had an impression that Cambridge is the "science" one.

#12 Posted by mracoon (4972 posts) -

It's cool to see other physics duders on the site! I recently graduated from a four year physics MSci and overall I enjoyed it. You have to really like the subject otherwise you'll get bored or frustrated very quickly. My modules in the first two years weren't that bad (apart from having a lot of lectures) but in third and fourth year things got significantly harder. Fourth year was quite brutal because we also had a major project (essentially doing your own research with the help of a supervisor) that if you didn't keep on top of from the start could leave with a lot of work and not enough time. Apart from final year I only occasionally had to do reports and even then they were quite simple. You might have to do spreadsheet analysis in your labwork because that's the best way to analyse data in a lot of cases. Again, that's not especially difficult.

I don't regret not picking another subject. The way degrees are taught in the UK is different to the US. Over here you just do the subject of your degree and can't take modules in other subjects. If I had the choice I may have taken a few modules in engineering, maths or another physics related subject but we don't have that option.

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#13 Posted by Sinusoidal (1661 posts) -

I got a four-year bachelors in physics, but I went on to get a music degree afterwards because I just couldn't see myself sitting in a factory testing fibre-optic cable resistivity for the rest of my life, which was the job at the time for physics students. Third and fourth year physics courses get pretty brutal as well. Atomic force and Schroedinger's equations out the wazzoo!

Hilarious prank my classmates pulled: There was this one guy who always either skipped or slept through classes, but ended up with passing grades anyway because he was pretty smart. Our fourth-year classical (Newtonian) mechanics exam was take-home, and the course was taught by a prof who made notoriously hard take-home exams, so some of the fourth years got together and made the most absolutely horrific exam you could imagine and slipped it to him. The only question I remember specifically asked you to describe the motion of a sphere mounted by springs inside of another sphere that was bouncing down a set of stairs... The rest of the questions were as bad if not worse. I guess he worked on it for about an hour before he went in to talk to the prof and found out he was had. Luckily, he was also a good sport.

#14 Edited by CatsAkimbo (635 posts) -

@rorie said:

I got to Fourier transforms in my physics education before I NOPED out of it and went to English. Also, when cosmology went from "hey this star is not rotating and is perfectly spherical" to "hey this star is rotating and deformed at its equator due to that rotation," holy shit did the equations get complicated.

Hey, I took nearly the same path! I went specifically for Engineering Physics, which just means they supposedly try to apply it more to things you can actually build, like a more theoretical Mechanical Engineering program.

My first upper-level physics course, equivalent to a basic intro to quantum mechanics, was taught by someone who'd won a nobel prize in physics just a couple years earlier. That was super rad, and by the end of the semester we could understand everything going on in his research. He was just a fantastic, well spoken professor too.

But then I had two professors in a row who were just the worst. It was bad enough the material got way more dry and theoretical, with all the classes boiling down to finding the equations to describe the same sorts of increasingly complex systems, but the profs did absolutely nothing to put anything into easier to understand terms. I ended up learning more from the TAs in study halls than any of the profs.

So all that combined with other unrelated stuff, I dropped out and just directly started working at an engineering office, later going back to get an English degree. I feel like some people think it's lame to "fall back" on an English degree, and I won't deny that that's sorta what happened, but I still work in engineering/computer-science, and all the technical writing stuff I learned has been immensely useful.

#15 Posted by Sbaitso (554 posts) -

@thomasnash: I wouldn't call what Dawkins does philosophy. It's more politics than anything else.

#16 Posted by BisonHero (6674 posts) -

@sbaitso said:

@thomasnash: I wouldn't call what Dawkins does philosophy. It's more politics than anything else.

I mean, he writes very passionately about certain ideologies of his, and some of it's philosophical while some of it gets more political.

#17 Edited by BisonHero (6674 posts) -

@thomasnash: @jazz_bcaz: @peakborn: Thanks for the clarification on what Oxbridge meant! When my brain saw the word, I think it literally just went "Nope, that's a nonsense word" and just converted it to Oxford instead, which is why I thought to bring up the omission of Cambridge. Interesting that those two get lumped together.

#18 Posted by Euler_Riemann_Zeta (29 posts) -

@rorie said:

I got to Fourier transforms in my physics education before I NOPED out of it and went to English. Also, when cosmology went from "hey this star is not rotating and is perfectly spherical" to "hey this star is rotating and deformed at its equator due to that rotation," holy shit did the equations get complicated.

Hey, I took nearly the same path! I went specifically for Engineering Physics, which just means they supposedly try to apply it more to things you can actually build, like a more theoretical Mechanical Engineering program.

My first upper-level physics course, equivalent to a basic intro to quantum mechanics, was taught by someone who'd won a nobel prize in physics just a couple years earlier. That was super rad, and by the end of the semester we could understand everything going on in his research. He was just a fantastic, well spoken professor too.

But then I had two professors in a row who were just the worst. It was bad enough the material got way more dry and theoretical, with all the classes boiling down to finding the equations to describe the same sorts of increasingly complex systems, but the profs did absolutely nothing to put anything into easier to understand terms. I ended up learning more from the TAs in study halls than any of the profs.

So all that combined with other unrelated stuff, I dropped out and just directly started working at an engineering office, later going back to get an English degree. I feel like some people think it's lame to "fall back" on an English degree, and I won't deny that that's sorta what happened, but I still work in engineering/computer-science, and all the technical writing stuff I learned has been immensely useful.

I have a Philosophy minor that I could switch to (as a major) in case things go south quick. Writing in a coherent way is pretty valuable in any context, so yeah, having that education is important.

#19 Posted by ajamafalous (12040 posts) -

I will just say that I was a Computer Engineering major at The University of Texas at Austin and the two physics classes and labs I took were the worst ever. Like, class average on exams between 40 and 60 out of 100. It was awful. Think for one of them I ended up with a 52 for the semester and that was a C+ or a B-.

#20 Edited by djn3811 (56 posts) -

I'm about to start my 5th year at Xavier University (Cincinnati, Oh). I switched over to physics from chemistry before my 4th year because I hated my 2 years in chemistry and had been interested in physics since my senior year in high school, but didn't really consider majoring in it at the time.

1. My life was pretty busy during the school week last year due to me taking sophomore and a few junior level physics classes. I assume it will be even more busy this year since I'm trying to finish up this year with the remaining junior level and all of the senior level classes.

2. I very much enjoy my degree. My school's physics department is small (roughly 40-45 students) so I have met a bunch of people which is great since I didn't know anyone at the school until this past year. It has been challenging, but I would trade it for anything else.

3. All of the labs have weekly reports associated with them for the different labs we do. I've had a couple of long papers formatted like they were going to be submitted to a journal.

4. My school does not offer engineering so that wasn't an option. I'm not sure whether I want to go to grad school and if I do it wouldn't be right away. If I do go to grad school I'm not sure what specifically it would be for, I could master in engineering if I wanted to down the road.

edit: I also went from a B-/C+ student for all my gen ed classes to a B+/A- student in Physics for the most part with friends, so that is probably the best thing to come out of all of this.

#21 Edited by HelloDanni (22 posts) -

I'm a CS major taking physics for the first time this semester. Lord have mercy.

Hey, kids that tried hard in high school: Did taking physics in high school exempt you from having to take it in college? If so I wish I had not opted for the free period senior year. (That's a lie, I loved leaving school two periods early)

Edit: waaaaait a minute here. I'm fairly new to the forums and just put two and two together. Are you *the* freezyfrog that they've mentioned on the podcast? I don't know why this excited me haha.

#22 Edited by PeezMachine (241 posts) -

I doubled in Physics and Philosophy. Degrees are irrelevant, which is why I'm currently a software developer!

If I could do it again, I'd definitely major in computer science. There's a lot of great stuff in physics, and I'm glad I took some high-level E+M and quantum classes, but my passion was always for problem solving, and not necessarily for physics.

You'll spend a lot of time in the lab, but I wouldn't call it "spreadsheet analysis." It's mostly "shit didn't go as planned, here's me trying to quantify how badly it went and possibly trying to explain it." Exhausting.

#24 Posted by alwaysbebombing (1622 posts) -

Can I ask how one makes money with a physics degree?

#25 Posted by Sinusoidal (1661 posts) -

Can I ask how one makes money with a physics degree?

I teach ESL in Korea with mine. lol

#26 Edited by EquitasInvictus (2036 posts) -

I graduated with my bachelors in Electrical & Computer Engineering not too long ago but took a bunch of physics courses up to senior level Electromagnetism and y'all have my respect. My head still hurts thinking about it, but yeah -- physics is cool even though I can only handle so much physics as an engineer before I start going off like the ICP in Miracles. But hey, physicists, we can be friends!

@rorie said:

I got to Fourier transforms in my physics education before I NOPED out of it

True story, I almost didn't make it to graduation because of a hardcore Linear System and Signals professor who gave us the craziest Fourier transform problems during exams. One of the most stressful periods of my life before one of my most miraculously clutch moments of scoring just enough to finish my degree!

To answer some of your last two questions: we had mad physics labs, but they were not as report-crazy as the engineering ones I had to do. Engineering labs get really crazy with data collection and analysis. Also, I still don't regret being an engineer, as much as I continue to respect my physicist contemporaries out in the world. ;_;7

#27 Posted by thomasnash (579 posts) -

@sbaitso said:

@thomasnash: I wouldn't call what Dawkins does philosophy. It's more politics than anything else.

I wouldn't argue with that, I was mostly just trying to say that what he is famous for, and therefore the type of prestige that he brings to his University, is not hard science research. I only went with Philosophy because something like the God Delusion can definitely be placed into a metaphysical (or anti-metaphysical?) tradition.

@thomasnash: @jazz_bcaz: @peakborn: Thanks for the clarification on what Oxbridge meant! When my brain saw the word, I think it literally just went "Nope, that's a nonsense word" and just converted it to Oxford instead, which is why I thought to bring up the omission of Cambridge. Interesting that those two get lumped together.

It's because they are the two oldest Universities in the UK by quite some margin. Oxford is late 11th Century and Cambridge is early 13th. Universities in England are broadly chronologically divided into Ancient Universities (Oxbridge, then 200 or so years later Universities in Scotland and Ireland), Red Brick Universities (late 19th Century universities like Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, generally in the new Industrial centres of the UK) and "Plate Glass" universities from the 1960s (UEA, Warwick, Essex and others). There's also "New" Universities which are generally polytechnics that have been given a University Charter in the last 20 years or so. I think the last Poly to get its charter was Anglia Polytechnic in Cambridge (now Anglia Ruskin) which has a nice symmetry to it.

So put simply, they get lumped together because they are the oldest universities in the UK, and also the only two ancient universities in England.

#28 Posted by Damntheman (15 posts) -

Physics is awesome! Maybe not the wisest choice in terms of finding work after university, but still incredibly fascinating to study. Doing second year of a PhD in theoretical particle physics now and went through the whole 3 year undergrad and 2 year masters course in Australia.

Personally I'd rather study economics or law before switching to engineering or something, but I know plenty of other students who are engaged in grad projects that are much more applied and practical in terms of pathways into the engineering industry.

You definitely need to have good relationship with maths to make it far though, the more math subjects you take on the side, the better your understanding of physics will be.

#29 Posted by Cirdain (3100 posts) -

@thomasnash: Also they get more funding and foreign funding.

I'm wondering if I should make an architecture student one of these forums, or maybe make is all 3d modelling encompassing. Or maybe a whole artistic student forum. I dunno.