The Benefits of Studying Physics
Why Should I Study Physics?
Picking a subject to study at university can be one of the most difficult and important decisions for an individual to make. In this article, I will list the main reasons why physics is a good choice for a wide array of intellectually capable young people.
Physics is the study of the workings and limitations of nature’s laws. It is the oldest academic discipline, and the most widely respected. From Newton to Einstein, the greatest geniuses who have ever lived were physicists. Whether you are still at school, or choosing a university degree, there are a number of reasons to consider studying physics.
Whether you want to become a professor or a banker, the skills you acquire during a physics degree are sought after by employers across the occupational spectrum. One of the most important skills to learn is mathematics. However, a physics education does a lot more than teach you how to add up; it teaches how to use your knowledge to solve practical problems. Children often ask what the point of learning maths is. The answer is evinced in the study of physics through novel experiments that replicate real world phenomena. These experiments and examples provide an avenue through which an individual can understand the relevance of the knowledge they are taught. Employers crave this skill because they want practical individuals who can apply their knowledge to their work.
Physics degrees teach students how to use computers, make graphs, understand trends, patterns and causal factors, solve complex problems, and write essays in clear, concise language that avoids the purple prose that is so often applauded in English degrees. For almost any job in the world, a physics degree will put you in an excellent position to succeed, and for the most part, employers recognise this.
Physics degrees qualify individuals for a diverse variety of occupations. Studying physics is therefore a great idea for individuals who are intelligent, but have no idea what they want to do with their lives. In such cases, there is little chance of reaching the end of the degree and regretting it as a waste of time.
This is no more evident than in the choice of careers within the physics profession. A generic physics degree can easily be converted into astrophysics, medical physics, nuclear physics or theoretical physics. You could be gazing at the stars, curing cancer with radiation therapy, maintaining a nuclear power plant, or solving complex equations with very little need for specialization. Typically a one year Masters degree is all that is needed to take an undergraduate physics qualification in the desired direction.
3. Travel and Experience
As part of my physics degree, I was sent to the USA to spend a year in a national laboratory. Research trips such as this are quite common for physicists. There is usually a lot of money allocated to building collaborations between international facilities, and this typically involves an interchange of researchers. As the UK is without a particle accelerator, my postgraduate nuclear physics degree involved travelling to Italy, Germany, Greece, USA, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Not only was this very enjoyable, but it gave me a wealth of worldly experience. Organising flights and hotels in foreign countries, conducting oneself appropriately on arrival, meeting new people, and working with foreign researchers are all skills that employers would love you to have. Learning to speak publicly to present your work at international conferences is also extremely beneficial.
Some American physicists having fun at the LHC, Switzerland.
4. Showing Off
When people ask what you study, and you tell them physics, they immediately think “rocket scientist”. This nearly always brings some level of respect, and in some circles it can even bring extra attention from the opposite sex! Usually though, you are asked questions about the Higgs Boson, relativity, or the Big Bang. Sometimes you get deep philosophical questions about the nature of time and space. A physics degree can equip you with some profound answers. However, it’s always best to be modest! If someone complements you, it’s better to downplay your achievements. Nevertheless, the respect you earn can certainly help to build self-esteem and confidence.
Professor Brian Cox on the unusual questions he is asked.
5. Nerds Are Fashionable
Thanks to the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, and celebrity physicists like Brian Cox, being a nerdy physicist is more fashionable than ever. In previous decades physicists were disregarded as unsociable recluses, lofty, erudite snobs, or frizzy-haired maniacs who like to blow things up. Nowadays, the popular impression of physicists has changed to become more flattering. What's more, if you were ridiculed for being a nerd at school, don’t expect the same treatment at university. Nerds are almost the majority in some institutions.
The Astronomy Pick-Up Line
6. Become A Doctor!
After completing a Ph.D. in physics, you will become a doctor. This is a title you can keep for the rest of your life, and one that will fire your employment prospects into the stratosphere. Be careful when using your title though; most people associate being a doctor with medicine!
In summary, the world needs more physicists. If everyone studied physics we'd be flying around in spaceships and living off robot slaves by now. It is the language of innovation and advancement. Other than being a noble profession, the benefits of studying physics are valuable and numerous. The employability of physics graduates is second to none because of the transferable skills that are learnt during physics degrees. So whether you're passionate about physics or have a vague interest in science, I would recommend studying physics at university.