CM’s Guide to the Physics Major

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Hey humanities majors, don’t think I didn’t catch you yawning. While studying physics may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world, bear in mind that it covers pretty much everything we encounter in everyday life. There’s a reason physics alums are die-hard fans of having this particular B.S. on their diploma. Whether you’ve vowed to stray far away from this major or you aspire to be the next Stephen Hawking, CM will have you debating declaring a physics major in no time.

What you’ll be doing

As a physics major, your studies will consist of two basic categories: theory and experimentation. You’ll start off with some introductory physics classes in classical mechanics (Think Einstein and Newton) before you start getting into the cool stuff. Depending on what specialization path you take, your class titles will include “General Relativity and Nuclear Physics,” Computational Physics,” “Nonlinear Dynamics” and other really complex names that will make your parents proud. Also, be prepared to get a hearty dose of math classes for good measure. If you play your cards right, you should walk away with more understanding of how the freaking universe works, and knowing everything about gravity.

Upsides

1. “I learned to break down problems into their simplest and most fundamental components, so that I could understand things from a deeper perspective. This allowed me to excel in research, but I believe it also helped me in talking to others from different fields (such as engineering, biology, or even art) about their work and being able to have stimulating conversations about things which were at first very new to me.” –Amir Maghsoodi, University of Michigan Class of 2014

2. “Physics lets you travel through your research. This isn’t said that often, but between REUs (Research Education opportunities for Undergraduates), and foreign scholarships (such as DAAD, Erasmus Mundus, DoE fellowships, etc.) you can travel almost every summer. Physics lets you go to really cool places and do really cool things there.” –Bezia Laderman, New York University Class of 2013

3. “Small class sizes are generally nice because you have a better relationship with your professors. That makes it a more comfortable classroom for asking questions and getting clarification.” –Ekta Patel, New York University Class of 2014

Downsides

1. “I didn’t like the level of pretension that existed among a portion of the physics community, where other disciplines were laughed at or ridiculed, and physics was seen as the golden major. This always seemed very childish and ignorant to me.” –Amir Maghsoodi, University of Michigan Class of 2014

2. “When you think back to what you learned in your classes, you’re fairly useless. You know very abstract stuff. It really is up to the student’s character if they can translate the concepts they were taught into critical thinking skills for unrelated tasks.” –Neil Sapra, University of California San Diego Class of 2015

3. “The percentage of women is one of the lowest of any fields, and this can often lead to negative attitudes towards you. It’s hard to navigate a system where you stand out like a sore thumb and learn to let what people say go, but finding good mentors makes it possible to get past that.” –Ekta Patel, New York University Class of 2014

Career Opportunities

1. Physicist

OK, so this one’s kind of a no-brainer, but your physics degree could be the first step toward discovering the next scientific law and living out the rest of eternity in infamy. Too much? Well, at the very least you can spend your career narrowing in on what interests you the most, learning more about it and sharing that knowledge with others. Embrace the nerddom!

2. Finance

I know it may seem like I’ve gone off the deep end, but stick with me here. Your degree in physics is going to provide you with hella skills in mathematics and critical thinking, making you an ideal candidate for a career in finance. Not to mention that the money is good.

3. Statistician 

It’s another career path that zeroes in on that math knowledge and analytical cred. By graduation you’re going to be a pro at making sense out of seemingly abstract numbers, exactly the skill set you’ll need to rock it out as a statistician.

4. Programmer

With the ever-expanding digital age, you’re going to be grateful that your physics degree gets you an in with the computer industry. Think about all the ways technology tries to simulate real life—someone has to crunch those numbers to figure stuff out. You can be that someone.

5. Astronomer

Freaking outer space. You can literally make a career out of observing and collecting data about the universe. Since space is so dang big, you can (and likely will) choose a specialization to focus on. Be the guy that knows everything about black holes or the girl that’s an expert on the milky way and prepare to impress everyone you meet.

Senior at the University of Michigan studying English and Creative Writing with a minor in Law, Justice, and Social Change. Lover of French roast coffee, large bathrooms, and cats. Greatest aspiration is to be adopted by Beyoncé.

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