What I Want To Do With My Life

So, we’ve established by this point that I want above anything else to be a writer.

We’ve also established that it is, in fact, very difficult to make one’s living on writing alone, so the overwhelming likelihood is that I will have to have some additional source of income.

In a few months’ time (god willing) I will have a Master’s Degree in theoretical physics. I frankly expect that I will be done with the subject after this point. The reasons for this are several-fold: first of all (and I know that every graduate student thinks this, but I believe that I have a fairly realistic idea of my own strengths and weaknesses), the fact of the matter is that, whereas I am good at what I do, I am simply not as good as most of my peers. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, except pretty much the only careers in theoretical physics are in academia, and there aren’t a lot of them to go around. But even this, of itself, would not be enough to get me to drop a field that I loved. The vastly more important motive for my decision, however, is that I am simply no longer certain that I loved it the way that I once did. When I first started studying physics, I had the beautiful sensation of flying; it seemed to me then that the world was a wonderful place, explicable in terms of simple laws: indeed, sometimes if I closed my eyes, I could imagine the entire universe being written-out as equations in ink by a quill. It was very orderly-very civilized.
But not anymore. Now when I think of the physics that I learn, all that I can think of is a dusty old desktop computer, groaning in agony as it craps out one hideous mess of badly-simplified numerical simulation after another on Maple. I must admit, I really don’t much care for Quantum Field Theory; I think the mathematics behind it are ugly, and, though this might sound childish, I’m disappointed that the universe would come up with something so aesthetically displeasing. And, given that the overwhelming majority of physics theory these days is given over either to quantum field theory, or to attempts to merge beautiful parts of physics (general relativity, black hole thermodynamics) with quantum field theory, I can’t honestly see that I have much place in the field.

I have mentioned economics as an alternative, and this certainly seems like a field in which I would be able to make a lot of money. But I’m not honestly sure if it has all that much else going for it. What kind of jobs can one get in this field? Are there any that won’t make me feel like an ant in a colony?

I’m also considering that old fall-back of all physics majors*, Engineering. I would need to significantly improve my programming ability before I was ready for that and, while I have endlessly critiqued what I have seen as the somewhat chauvinistic culture of the field, I can honestly imagine that I would be quite happy designing, for example, ships for a living (the equations of fluid dynamics are just so pretty).

And then, of course, (though some of my more hicklodytic readers might find this a self-defeating idea if my aim is to make money in the long-run), I often find myself hopelessly drawn to the Humanities or social sciences. A lot of my peers are unjustly dismissive of these fields, but I find that I find a lot of their analysis to be elegant, fascinating, socially-relevant, and indeed, something which I think that I might actually be really, really good at.

Understand it’s not my intention to malign my friends in the humanities with this assertion (‘oh, I’m a mediocre physicist, so therefore I’m better than everyone in the humanities, la-di-da-di-da’). No. Rather, I am suggesting that it is entirely possible, at the end of the day, that the reason that I am only a mediocre physicist is because I have missed my true calling.


*As Randall Munroe has correctly noted, that wikipedia entry for “Physics Major” redirects to “Engineer.”


About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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4 Responses to What I Want To Do With My Life

  1. zinemin says:

    I understand you really well. Your description confirms my prejudice about hard-core theoretical physics…. . Have you considered more applied directions of theoretical physics, like computer simulations of fluid dynamics, and things like that? Simulations of weather or climate, or biophysical modelling of protein folding? You do not have to go into engineering to do more applied research, which nevertheless does not have to involve running experiments. If I could go back in time, I would go in biophysics.
    As you say, engineering is unfortunately a very difficult field for women, and least that’s what my sister says who studied engineering and just left the field recently to become a technical writer…
    Have you thought about scientific/technical writing, and writing an actual book on the side? Money is overrated. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • “Have you considered more applied directions of theoretical physics, like computer simulations of fluid dynamics, and things like that? Simulations of weather or climate, or biophysical modelling of protein folding?”

      Ooh, that could be fun! I hadn’t thought of that. Either way though, I need to bone-up on my programing skills.

      “Have you thought about scientific/technical writing, and writing an actual book on the side? ”

      You see, there’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that I know that I would be really good at this, but I also know that I really not enjoy it very much, since, well…technical writing is no fun at all.

  2. Pingback: In Which The Author Expresses Her Frustration | voxcorvegis

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