Why study Physics at University?
Physics’ popularity is growing like never before. A ‘geek chic’ fondness of the subject has developed in the public imagination on the back of shows like The Big Bang Theory. Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox’s explanations of the quantum nature of the universe and the Higgs’ boson (or ‘God particle’) have enthralled audiences. The numbers are impressive, with record applicants for the subject at University. However, if you’re studying the subject at school, you may sense a disconnect between what you are learning and what you see on TV. How does Boyle’s laws relate to relativity or particle physics? What does physics lead to if you can’t see a life under the French-Swiss border (at CERN) or peering through a telescope in the Atacama desert?
As a recent graduate, I’ve put together a few answers to some of the questions you may be asking yourself before applying for this unique subject.
Will I have the chance to learn about Relativity, Quantum Physics and our Universe?
Yes! It may be hard to see how ‘school physics’ leads to these wild and complicated topics– but they do. For example, from your knowledge of springs you’ll go on to learn about normal modes which are an important concept in Quantum physics. What’s more, you are developing the fluency in mathematics which will enable you to describe increasingly complex systems.
I would like to design and carry out my own experiments – will I be able to with physics?
Physics is a very deep subject in the sense that there is a lot of essential ground to cover. Indeed, educators have spent many years developing experiments and methods of explanation to speed up this process. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that you will have a chance to design much of an experiment before you reach Masters level. Personally though, the excitement of the subject lies in taking time to trace the progress of some of history’s greatest minds, from Newton to Einstein, and in the process learn about how our Universe works.
What does it lead to?
Your skill set may have also led you to consider a more vocational degree like Engineering or Economics. You may be wondering whether they are a safer bet long term. However, physics gives you great analytical skills that make graduates highly sought after and means you can compete in many of the same fields. Physicists go on to careers in Finance, Engineering, Computer Science, Journalism, Law, and Medicine. Of course, that’s if you decide not to continue with research, which many do.