Why study Physics? | Department of Physics

Why study Physics?

What is Physics?
Physics is so versatile a field that it is almost hard to say what it exactly includes. Fundamentally, physics deals with the quantitative description of phenomena that can be repeated under controllable circumstances. This applies to the core physics disciplines: mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. Mechanics, in turn, can be looked at from the classical or the modern point of view. The classical picture explains the behaviour of large objects (compared to atoms) moving at slow speeds (compared to the speed of light). However one must invoke the modern picture, which includes relativity and quantum mechanics, to explain phenomena on the atomic or on the cosmological scale.

However, the principles of physics can also be applied to completely different fields. Biophysics and medical physics are now well established fields, and physicists now also work on complex systems (e.g., what causes a traffic jam), neural networks (some models of how the brain stores information are surprisingly similar to magnetism), or financial analysis (fluctuations in the stock market share many features with fluctuations that appear in physical systems).

Studying physics means that you get acquainted with a toolbox of general methods and concepts that allow you to work on very different topics. This is why some physicsists work very closely with engineers or material scientists while others work on fundamental questions that challenge even the most profound philosophical concepts about our world. Physicists can easily switch to other sciences or engineering, but it is way harder to do the opposite.

Some numbers:
a BSc in Physics can get you a high starting salary
a BSc in physics is one of the best ways to get into med school

Who should give Physics a try?
First of all, if you hate math, then physics is not for you. You don't need to be perfect in math (although that helps in some research areas such as mathematical physics), but you will encounter quite a bit of it during your studies and in most physics research.

If you like intellectual or philosophical challenges, if you want to understand the universe, if you want to work on cutting edge scientific concepts that may shape tomorrows technologies, then physics is just right for you.

If you are fine with math but are not sure yet about which career would be most suitable for you, then it is a good idea to study physics. You will learn very general concepts and get a solid foundation in science, and this will allow you to go into many different careers after you graduate. Technology, programming, medical careers, finance, R&D, and education may all be open to you. In other words, you can decide about your career path four years later than students in many other disciplines. Plus: physics unemployment rates are usually very low.

Myths about physics
Information about careers in physics by the Canadian Association of Physicists.
Information about careers in physics by the American Physical Society.