You are here:

Physics/career oreintation in physics


hello Steve,
i have a question relating career in physics- what to do will become clear as you proceed below.

currently i am pursuing in civil engineering.

i love physics since high school but due to family constrain i opted civil engg. to earn money but later on i realized that it is not a cup of tea for me.

now , i want to study physics. what should i do .
should i leave civil engg. for my sake or not.

if i do so , can i get something or any resource for earning money after the completion of research in physics(MSc or Phd).

moreover i want to learn mechanics greater than anything else. which exam should i have to give so that i can pursue research in mechanics.
lastly , i want to take advice from you about my dream...
i want to invent or propose something new in mechanics ...but i doubt that i really can do that....this fear sometimes haunts me
when i sit alone thinking what should i do in my life so that i will be satisfied and remembered long after i have what to do next...

i will greatly thankful to you if answers these questions.

Well, since I don't know you and can't ask you about your family/personal situation (I can, but I doubt you'd post it all here), I don't know certain things.  I don't know how old you are, nor why your family constraints pushed you at civil engineering and not physics.  Therefore, it's very difficult to advise you on a career path here, but I'll tell you what I can without knowing almost anything about you.

I'll start at the end, since it's easier to proceed with goals in sight.  Satisfaction is something that depends on your inner motivations and personal experiences.  I don't know you, so I'm no help there.  Being remembered after you're gone?  That's fairly easy, there are two ways to do that which have little to do with physics itself.  The first way is to teach.  A career in physics can often lead to teaching.  Students remember their teachers.  It's not permanent, but it's personal.  The second is to invent something that everyone uses.  That happens less often and involves a lot of trial and error...personally I would get to work prototyping things (at least in software) that might be useful on a 3D printer in a physics lab environment to create an indispensable tool.  The third way (physics) is to come up with a theory or experimental result that is central to the field.  This is dreamed of by millions and found by perhaps one or two per year.  And for the really fundamental stuff, perhaps a couple of times per generation (like E=mc^2 types of things).  I don't recommend giving up on dreams, but I do recommend a dose of realism when thinking this big.  People who discover such things get deep into physics early on and never look back, as a general pattern.

Research in mechanics is old-fashioned and unusual.  I would recommend that you think about nonlinear dynamics, like granular flow. There are still major advancements to be made in such ridiculously complex fields, if you're willing to break extraordinary mathematical ground.

The completion of an advanced degree in physics will require research with an institution that can support your research (and you) financially.  You need to take the usual exams, like the GRE and the physics subject GRE (Graduate Record Exam), if you wish to study in the United States.  I'm unfamiliar with schools in other nations.  Upon completion of a doctoral degree such as a Ph.D., you should have many opportunities to work in environments towards goals which are profitable to your employer.  They will pay you accordingly, I assume.  These degrees take a long time and a lot of effort to complete.  The average Ph.D. requires a Bachelor's degree in physics and 7 years of graduate class work and research (most of the class work in the first two years of the graduate part).  If you do not have a lot of physics yet, you could be looking at 10+ years of schooling.

In short, only you know your situation.


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.


I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

©2016 All rights reserved.