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September 06, 2005



Well said, Dr. O'C!



Yeah, awesome! But I have to say that undergrad physics beats high-school physics hands down, even just at first year level, so that's something to consider as an elective. As long as you do a proper course, not one of those pseudo-physics things they force on all of the first-year medicine students :)

Basic programming skills are also extremely valuable for critical thinking, etc.


I think it's the other way around: study law if you want to do physics. Studying law will teach you how to manipulate laws to get the result you want. Which is alot like doing physics homework sets.


you say compounding or confounding? (IPV-321)

Gordon Stangler


The problem with studying Law is a twofold one:

The biggest issue is you become a lawyer.

The second biggest issues is that you don't learn to look at the data fully. In law, you are allowed to come to your conclusion first, then cherry pick your data to back you up. In physics, this is simply not allowed. Your results MUST come from your data, not the other way around.


Many people-- often including those in "rigorous" fields-- have misconceptions about what lawyers really do, misconceptions which reflect a combination of popular stereotypes (If you believe these, you shouldn't think twice when people assume that all scientists are scrawny maladjusted socially-awkward white, Asian or Indian male geeks with pale skin, strange odors, a general disdain for fashion and eyeglasses held together by tape who spend half of their time in the lab trying to make a girlfriend.) and, more dangerously, holier-than-thou idealistic views of their own respective fields.

Being a lawyer isn't all bad. Regardless of what you do, it's more a question of how seriously you take yourself. And in terms of expected income to hard work ratio, I'm not sure lawyering can be beat.

And anyway, lawyering is not nearly as bad as financial engineering.


Dr. C, much as I sympathise, there's a major problem with your sermon: you. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with you as a person - quite the contrary - but there's something wrong about you being the one delivering that particular message.

Why? Because in this case you can not really be assumed to know what you're talking about. You've never been "out there", in the big bad real world. Big girl that you are, you've been in school all your life. So how CAN you actually know that having studied physics is useful outside the ivory tower?

This kind of sermon would be most interesting coming from a lawyer, or a plumber, or whatever. But coming from an academic physicist, it looks like a pious hope at best, like self-serving propaganda at worst.


horrified: from Jacques Attali: seule prévaudra la vertu esthétique du discours for all rigourous sicneces: molles, linéaires and non linéaires (found in arvhives of Los Alamos or something like this: were is the site?), dures, humans or not....
Vertu esthétique?
Horrified because it seems you have nothing to conclude about physics as there is one effervescence....
Don't you confuse LOW and LAW?. In France we had the banqueroute of LAW, it was the name of one man: trying badly to joke: inondations in Europe again...
i will read it more precisely... They are very old questions of methods...To oberve one phenomen and to think about after is not the same to propose first one hypothesis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



You don't think I'd blather on about something I don't know something about, do you? First, although I have yet to leave the ivory tower, I did consider it. After college I applied for jobs in investment banking and I got every job I interviewed for based on two things: I studied physics AND I could hold a conversation - at least, so said all the interviewers. Okay, one job I didn't actually get because I made a stink about their reputation with women. I opted not to go into investment banking because figured I could always go back finance if graduate school didn't turn out how I wanted.

Second, this sermon was actually given to me by a lawyer. I had an extra job in college calling the Harvard Law School alumni asking for money for the school. Yes, I was that person calling at dinner time and asking for money. When one gentleman asked if I was pre-law, I sheepishly said no, I was studying physics. His reply: That's even better. Apparently, he felt the some of the best lawyers he had worked with had studied physics as an undergrad. And I quote: their ability to think through the cases logically and systematically make them exceptional lawyers.

But since I have forgotten Mr. Harvard Law School's name and I am not sure if he has a blog, I thought I would take up the torch on behalf of my experience with those outside the ivory tower, even though I haven't actually left the ivory tower. I think that still counts for something.


As the immortal James Boswell said, "I tried hard to be a lawyer, but happiness kept breaking through."


Don't worry Caolionn. You are right, and the detractors are just bitter. Sorry it couldn't have worked out better for them, but they are wrong to bash you since, frankly, your position is rather obvious (and could just have easily been made about chemistry, biology, or engineering etc.).

Besides, physicists are arrogant. That's why we love them! No, seriously, the physicist side of me is very useful since it allows me to ask an impossibly hard question all the while thinking I have a chance in hell of answering it. The trick is learning restraint and admitting that sometimes reality is actually contained in those higher-order terms we are trying to throw out.



Maybe you can answer this. I have asked everyone I can think of that might have some knowledge of physics but they don't even know what I am talking about. My high school physics teacher introduced me to the whole gravitons thing. I was puzzled when I asked him if we can't see gravitons or feel them or anything of that matter, how do we know they exist? and he answered we don't know. He said that our bodies shoot out a bunch of them and the more mass the more gravitons one shoots out. I was wondering, you know how you can feel when someone is next to you or behind you without even looking if someone is there, could that energy that you are feeling be the gravitons? Oh my high school teacher went to your school's (caltech) rival(harvey mudd college)ha ha ha. I just thought that was funny. Oh I did not thing of this question until after I graduated high school. I couldn't go back and ask him because he was not teaching there any more. I felt so bad for failing his class but strangely enough I failed but retained the knowledge I learned there. It was like I did learn and know what I was doing but I just performed really bad on the tests. hummm that sucks. Ok hopefully you can answer my question my friends say its intuition. I am not sure what it is. Oh can you e-mail me your answer? if you can't just answer back here. thanx a lot.


Dr. C, with whom I'm secretely in love, claims not to "blather on" about something about which she doesn't know something, and backs it up thusly: "although I have yet to leave the ivory tower, I did consider it. After college I applied for jobs in investment banking and I got every job I interviewed for".

Wow. The mere act of having CONSIDERED leaving the ivory tower after college means you know what it's like outside? Amazing! Careful who you tell though - they just might get the idea that it's enough to CONSIDER being, oh I don't know, let's say an experimental high energy physicist to know what it's like...

As for having had great success in job interviews some 5 years ago or so, I have no doubt Dr. C did great - I would certainly have snatched Miss Brains & Beauty myself had she only just walked past my office! But I do feel obliged to point out that the job market around the turn of the century, at the very top of the manic bubble that went "pop" in March of 2000, was nothing like normal. Not least in finance, you'd have had a hard time not to get job offers. Things are quite different now.


I too went through graduate school hearing platitudes about how great an education in physics would be for anything, anything I might choose to do should I leave the ivory tower. And most of these platitudes I heard mouthed by people who themselves had never held a non-academic job in their lives. Having since crossed over to the other side, I would say the platitudes are not 100% correct, but if they get you through the night then go with it.


My computer science profs kept pushing the "divide and conquer" idea, which is really the same thing -- analytical thinking -- Caolionn described above. And yes, that works great for landing jobs and being successful in the "real world," just like it does in academia.

The only thing I'd add to the PSA is: study physics because it's fun!


Having heard lots of similar comments in the past, I have to ask: What is so much different outside the Ivory Tower? The later years of grad school are so dissimilar from any formal "schooling" as to hardly merit the name. Post-docs, scientists, technicians and professors, spend the vast majority of their time working like dogs. The path to advancement, whether for the lowest grad students or the highest tenure track professors is fraught with egos, politics, and insecurity. And to top it all off, we watch our peers leave the sciences for jobs with 2005-dollar starting salaries in the 6 figures while those who stay behind work for peanuts.

I personally believe that this pretty generally describes the lot of anyone in the US not fortunate enough to be named Bill Gates. Are you saying that the "Real World" is worse than this? If so, why isn't everyone trying to get into the "Ivory Tower"?

little miss demosthenes


she has a boyfriend. a serious one. i know you're teasing (or you could have real feelings, who am i to put thoughts in your head?), but i've known through blunt experience that qd doesn't like joking. apparently, 60% of the people who read these comments don't understand when things are just thrown around, and when we actually mean the throwing. that's why i've quit posting my comments - in distaste of censorship, yes - but also because i don't want to give these physicists any trouble. don't be surprised if you find in your inbox a chipper message from some woman at the fermilab. and yes, i am dripping with sarcasm, but maybe i have a reason, hey? maybe it's because i'm grounded and i can't go to my 1830 multivar class... no harsh feelings toward anyone here at qd, rest assured. i forgot to unplug my microwave when i left home for the month.

secondly: okay. so caolionn is biased. SO(WHAT)? we all are. if we want to define careers in terms of those within and those without of academia, there's a set J of people who are locked in their cute ivory towers, and a complement J' of those who are not. don't give me any sh*t about them gray-areas - can we ignore them for the time being in this argument, please?; for now ivory-ins and ivory-outs are mutually exclusive. for example's sake, we'll take the lawyer and the theoretical physicist as representatives of the space C... all careers...

caolionn, no doubt, fits in perfectly in J. she has a biased view. it's one thing to say, "hey, i prefer pureness to applied work because i've been there done that... in both areas," and another to say, "hey, i prefer pureness to applied work because i've been drenched in purity all my life, and i never want to leave." i agree with you there that caolionn may not have the proper amount of experience of the latter to give a unbiased opinion (excuse the oxymoron)...

but at the same time, take your typical lawyer - a person completely out of J' - does he know bleep about the pure world? maybe as much as caolionn knows about his world! so they're *both* initially biased no matter how you take it - you can't bash one without bashing yourself... so let's just not bash at all.

now, the gray areas. the people who started out toward one set and reverted back to the relative complement. or maybe people whose work touches on both aspects... but then you could argue that those silly number theorists belong in the "gray area career" because in some distant way they impact the real world - namely, crypto. am i right?

in the end nothing is really pure... and i think that was caolionn's original point - that some day, what we deem as pure in the present may be very applied in the future - or more aptly, even if it is pure now, it's great to have the skills acquired through learning something like physics because the same method of thinking can help in another field, which need not necessarily be pure. and even *then*, the physics learned need not be pure, though if you are sufficiently interested to begin with you can continue down the path of puredom.

the point is, you have strayed quite far from the original topic, which i urge you to address in your later comments, rather than resorting to ad hominems...

again, if i sounded really scathing and imbecilic in this post, it's probably because i am in a bad mood at things that are not even in the remotest sense, related to the issue at hand. i apologize in advance for any misinterpretations on *your* behalf. as for me, i can follow my train of thought just fine, and i cannot find any personal insults.

by the way, knucklehead. please don't even *start* giving me a huge lecture on how inexperienced *i* am, and how i am not entitled to an opinion because i am a little fourteen-year-old brat who fluctuates according to hormone-induced teenagerhood - because i've heard it all, and you better be wittier than that, buster.

that means i've taken a liking into you. you're cool in my books right now.


she's back! ...or not... (by the way, this guy has just spent a whole *hour* going through conversions between polar and rectangular coordinates! i could strangle him! or i could give him a biscuit after he emerges from his class!)

love you all, and good luck to you especially, caolionn, as i basically spammed your comments box... sorry.


how about rocket science or racket science?


I would like to say that Dr. O'Connel is absolutely right. Physics is important because it aids in the way you think about problems and your ability to solve them.

I do not nor have ever worked in the ivory tower. I work only in industry. I am a physicist, and yet almost none of my schooling has been directly beneficial in my current job - yet all of it has been important, for exactly the reason Dr. O'C describes. I deal with plasma balls, growth rates, heat dissipation, liquid flow, gas safety, chemistries and crystallinity every day, and though few of those topics were directly adressed in my education, I have had great success solving problems surrounding them using physics and physics type problem solving.

What's more, my job as a physicist may be coming to an end soon - a good thing if you knew the details. I have no fear I will be able to solve any number of problems in my future work simply because I've developed methods of solving problems and examining the quality of solutions I employ.

Various knuckleheads will undoubetdly shift the goal post beyond the argument of experience. This is fine with me, because the next arbitrarily set determinant of correctness will be just as poorly chosen as the last one.


Thank you all for the resounding defense of an entry that I assumed would be rather banal. Clearly, I didn't expect so many interpretations from the pretty bland statement that physics taught problem solving skills.

And welcome back, Demie.


As for me, I'm amused by the apparent difficulty displayed by some here in parsing a simple statement: that the problem isn't what Dr. C said, but rather that she was the one saying it. Perhaps those problem solving skills need some more honing. ;^)


dr. o'connell,

that's your baby... (rpab)


complete detail is the singular statistic. (ARK-217)

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