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I am now studying Computer Application, a bachelor degree in India. I can get a job in the IT sector if I try only a little harder. But I have this deep desire to study Physics starting from undergraduate.

My high school science scores were average. I consider myself as a smart working science student. I want to apply in UK colleges as there I can start from bachelor degree even if I already have one. I study Physics whenever I get time apart from my present course preparation. But, I have this depressing and demeaning feeling within me that I shall not be able to cope up with Physics, I shall fail and that I don't belong to that field.

I want to know how can I be finally sure whether I have what it takes to study Physics. So that either I can finally remove this desire of Physics from my head and concentrate on Computer/IT jobs or prepare myself for another field of education that I think will best fit me. How can I assess myself?

It's private to me, so I don't want to ask anyone close to me. Not even my almost-a-physicist brother. I struggle a bit at solving deep thinking problems. I am slow at math but I don't give up. Often it makes me cry, but the next day I'm again after it. And I don't think I shall be happy in the IT sector.

  • This doesn't answer your question, but the only thing UK admissions care about are good scores in physics/maths. If you want to do a physics BSc, do a foundation year (this is what I did). I had basically zero physics and maths before I did that. The drawback is that it takes 4 years (BSc) or 5 (MPhys) and costs a huge amount of money. But that's the angle in I can see for you, if you are determined to do this in the UK. – la femme cosmique Sep 21 '18 at 18:10
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Believe it or not, I too was in an exactly similar position as you. So, I can tell you how I made my choice to study physics. I graduated from engineering in india. I too had a similar feeling about physics but decided to play it safe and took up a job in the industry after placements. Ironically that experience made up my mind regarding how I want to spend the rest of my life. I quit two months back. I am now preparing for master's entrance exam to Physics. The syllabus has quite a bit of overlap with High school physics (JEE level). Also, if you have interest, you can study some of the topics on your own. So, with 4-5 months preparation time, I think it is doable.

Now, it may seem a simple matter but it was not an easy decision. Coming to your question, How can I be sure? I wasn’t 100% sure but by the process of elimination, I decided this would be the best course of action for me. I liked physics a lot in school, always did well at it and I have been studying Feynman’s lectures on physics. This book was the final nail since I strongly resonated with it.

In your case, you have studied Computer applications which would be much more relevant in your physics career than engineering. Plus, you are still in your bachelor’s and you won’t have to waste a year like me.

So, your questioning if physics is a career for you is correct. You need to resolve that. That is something only you can do. Once you have decided, what you should do next will become much clearer. But why are you considering abroad as a place to study? And why do you think repeating a bachelor’s a must for switching to physics? You can try to get admissions to an Msc course in physics.

It won’t be easy I suppose but it is possible. And that should be enough if you truly wan’t to do it.

4

Not a direct answer but I have zero reputation (new on SE) so I can't comment on your question : I was doing a master's thesis in philosophy and switched to physics a few years ago. The math part is HARD. But with enough hard work, nothing is impossible - I even graduated with pretty good grades, and I absolutely have no regret switching to physics. So another case of "follow your gut feeling" there, if I hadn't tried it I wouldn't have known.

Another remark concerning the math part : when I take CS classes I find them pretty easy - in general, but most specifically regarding mathematics. The equations you'll have to solve in physics are way harder than what you do in CS. So be prepared to that.

Oh and final comment : I'm beginning my master's thesis in physics with a particular focus on numerical simulations. So yes, as has been noted by others, you can join disciplines eventually and get the best of both worlds.

3

Answer from a physicists. Please make an effort to define what it means to "belong to the field of physics".

  • Do you have what it takes to get a bachelor in physics? Sure you do: if you can graduate in another STEM field as computer engineering you can graduate in physics as well. Physics is hard, but with good math skills, and lots of passion this is certainly not an insurmountable challenge.

  • Do you have what it takes to get a master in physics? Pretty much same as above. If you still like it after 3 years you can certainly put one or two more. If anything, master is easier as you are already through the first barrier (having the proper mindset)

  • do you have what it takes to obtain a PhD in physics? If you got till here, then the question is more about attitude: can you on work for long hours, many days a week toward a very hard, possibly ill defined problem, for years? This is a skill you develop in any PhD

  • do you have what it takes to become a physicist? (physicist = an person that does research in physics for a living, typically in universities or laboratories) It takes a person with a PhD who can prove he/she is creative, relentless, ambitious, can get papers published and money grant flowing, and face extreme competition without crushing under pressure. At this stage, it takes exeptional hard and soft skills, and a good dose of luck.

I think you were referring to the bachelor. Go for it, follow your passion. Are you not sure you want to become an academic? Most physics graduates I know who left the field are now working as quant traders, data scientists, entrepreneurs, journalists, teachers, politicians. Not too bad if you think you would not make for a good academic, right? :)

  • You don't need to work in academia to be a physicist. There are stand alone research labs, government agencies, and industry jobs too. – Anyon Oct 16 '18 at 12:26
  • I specified physicists = an academic working in the field of physics. A physicist working at a public research lab, is basically an academic without teaching, and one at a private lab is close to that. As for physicists at a government agency (that are not labs) - these are often admin jobs, It is logically closer to the list of physicists who left the field (do not do physics) together with peoople working in the publication business. At least at first approximation, that is what one would cover here. What is the point you wanted ot make? – famargar Oct 16 '18 at 13:40
  • Just that the noun academic usually means "a student or teacher at a college or university" (i.e. someone working in academia). If you want to define words differently I guess that's fine, but I figured it was worth clarifying that point to future readers. (Feel free to disregard the part about government agencies if you want, but I don't think all such jobs are all admin.) – Anyon Oct 16 '18 at 13:50
  • Interesting. According to your link academic refers to both professors and students, something I did not experienc in my research life in the US or UK. Cambridge, Oxford, Merriam Webster and Collins dicitonary refer to academic only as a teacher/professor/researcher. Anyway, I guess your point is that I used the word "academic" and that does not include people who do research in physics but outside of a teaching institution. Let me correct that – famargar Oct 16 '18 at 20:18
  • 1
    Yeah, that's exactly my point. For example, US National Labs are often explicitly mentioned as an alternative to academia, but you can certainly do physics research there. Also, now that you mention it, that definition does seem a little weird. It aligns better with my own interpretation if the "students" part is restricted to graduate students, but I guess that discussion is heading way off-topic. – Anyon Oct 16 '18 at 20:36
2

It is hard to give specific advice here so I'll just try to make a few helpful comments.

Most important is that it would be a shame if you learn at age 60 that you made a wrong decision at 20 and that you feel you wasted your life. If you have the opportunity to do what you want to do, and not everyone does, take advantage of it.

But switching will be hard. In fact, it will be starting over, rather than leveraging a lot of what you already know. Be prepared for that. Your age doesn't matter, though you will likely finish later than others who started earlier.

Thinking physics is hard. It isn't necessarily harder than thinking computing, but it is a different way of thinking. Be prepared for that. Of course, there are a lot of subfields of physics and each is hard in its own way. Some are very mathematical, some computational, etc. But a bachelors is usually pretty general, with the expectation that you will specialize later.

It is hard to think of an assessment that will predict success unless you have already been evaluated in meaningfully difficult scientific courses - especially physics. It is a bit of a blind leap. But desire and enthusiasm can make you a success as long as you put in the work, and work effectively.

It would, in fact, be a good idea to discuss it with your brother. He knows something about physics, but he knows a lot about you. He can point out the challenges you will face.

  • I would added that living abroad gives a completely different level of difficult and should be careful considered. I don't know India, but I believe they have good undergraduate courses there too - why are you considering going to the UK? – The Doctor Sep 21 '18 at 22:58
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Like anything in life, you should try it and see how it goes. However, I have an answer for this particular fields you mentioned because I do have PhD in Computer Science and I’m working with people with the background in physics and mathematicians all the time.

why you may not enjoy physics The chances are that you, as a software engineer, will find physics not moving as fast as computer engineering field. Also, there are mountains of knowledge to climb on. Third, as a software engineer you might like “virtual things” to develop ( computer games, graphics, chat rooms, virtual reality, etc.) but in physics you are kept down by the reality of universe. Fourth, how good is your math? Get ready to climb on another set of mountains to be sufficient in math.

There is another solution! Why not marriage the both fields together! Why not look at simulators that are developed by software engineers for people who want to do physical simulations? You can start looking at simulators like Comsol? In this case you are enjoying physics as well as being a software engineers. Also there are game engines that are used that requires programmers know physics.

1

I'm a physics ph.d. from one of the top universities but I took career change afterwards and work in computer science field now. It may depend where you (want to or end up) live- some places have more jobs in certain fields- e.g. silicon valley is very much populated with CS jobs. Maybe think about what you really want and why you want to study, what do you define a success as?

p.s. If you keep having itches, why not try taking some courses or do research interns? Graduate study (research mostly) is very different from undergraduate coursework. In both experimental or theoretical physics, your computing skills may be valuable.

1

I was in kind of similar situation few years back and I've successfully changed my stream to physics now and pursuing my masters in Physics in a good University in India. I run a blog for all the Physics enthusiastic Engineering grads like you looking to switch to Physics somehow. Along with me Vaibhav Sharma, an engineer turned Physicist currently pursuing his PhD in Cornell University writes articles about switching to Physics in it. Also you can meet 150+ other engineers like you aspiring to switch to Physics there. You might want to take a look at that.

https://physicsafterengineering.blogspot.com/2018/03/physics-after-engineering.html

These are the major ways for doing Msc or Integrated Ph.D.(or direct Ph.D. in some cases) in Physics after Engineering.

JAM

Universities Entrance tests.

Opportunities abroad (Physics GRE, General GRE, IELTS and TOFEL etc)

JEST

TIFR GS (Integrated Ph.D. paper)

MS by research programs

TIFR Hyderabad

Direct Ph.D.

Astronomy and related programs

GATE

CSIR NET

Distance programs

Details about the exams are mentioned in the blog

-1

Physics is very hard, if you've learned only IT on pre-grad level, you probably can't imagine, how hard is it. It is not like the IT.

Furthermore, you earn much lesser with it. Simply, there are much lesser physicist jobs.

Do it only if you have an inherent internal urge for that.

From the other side, giving up physics you will likely lose something what you will sorrow in the rest of your life.

The main hardness what I can see in your plan, that you want to do two hard switch simultanously:

  1. Switch from IT to Physics (nearly impossible)
  2. Switch from India to the UK (probably very hard)

In my life, I could do some similar as (2), but in much better circumstances. I had no chance for (1).

Your chances are better, but still low, if

  • There is some strong financial support behind you (you can simply migrate into the UK and apply to a physics University, paying it and learning there, without the need of finding a job there).
  • You are young (ideally, below 25)
  • You have the urge to learn and work with around 10 times harder as you are doing now.

Math is a very strong requirement in Physics, knowing only IT you probably can't imagine how hard.

I think your chances are low, but nothing is impossible. In your case I would try both of (1) and (2), but I would be ready for that at least one of them won't succeed.

  • 1
    funny you should say this: I happen to think CS is much harder than physics. – ZeroTheHero Sep 22 '18 at 1:56
  • @ZeroTheHero Check the physics.stackexchange.com , particularly the answers of physicists to the questions of other physicists... I changed "cs" to "it", cs is also a hard science, I think it matches better. – peterh says reinstate Monica Sep 22 '18 at 7:51

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