Why I Studied Physics

Why I Studied Physics

When people find out I studied Physics at university, the first question I usually get is something along the lines of “…Why?!”

(The question is usually preceded by a statement like “Wow, I was terrible at physics in high school,” at which I just smile and commiserate.)

Up until about third year, I used to give a canned answer – something about transferable skills, problem solving, mysteries of the universe… Blah, blah, blah. For a while, I think I may have actually believed it. But now that I’m neither studying nor pursuing a career in Physics, it begs the question: honestly, why did I do it?

Reason #1: Physics was my best subject in high school.

With no clue what I wanted to do with my life at seventeen, I looked to my report card for guidance. And actually, my top mark was a tie. My choices were Physics or English. Which brings me to my next point…

Reason #2: It looks good.

I’d spent 13 years in school trying to get top marks and excel academically, and I wasn’t about to stop there! I felt that saying that I’d majored in Physics would look good to relatives, peers, and potential employers. This was especially in comparison to English, which was my other best option at the time. I’d grown up hearing that Arts degrees wouldn’t get me as far in life, so I wasn’t about to take the chance.

If I were to spin this reason in a more positive way, I’d say it was more about the transferable skills from taking on a difficult set of courses. But that wouldn’t be true. When I was choosing a major in Grade 12, it was all about whether I would look smart, not about if I would actually be smart.

Reason #3: Interest?

I’ve had a mild interest in Astronomy since I was a kid, fueled mostly by my dad’s interest in the subject. Contact was my favourite movie, and I even got my own telescope! (Well, okay, I got it for free. But that’s a topic for another time.) I figured if I immersed myself in the subject, I would become more passionate about it. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case, because most of my interest boiled down to Reason #2: it looked good for me, the self-professed Queen of the Nerds, to be into Astronomy. I still do have that mild interest, but not enough interest to keep me coming back day in and day out.

In examining the reasons I chose my major, it’s no surprise I didn’t end up going on to an MSc, PhD, and/or career. I’m not ruling those things out forever, mind you. And I don’t regret studying physics, because it did help me gain those skills, meet new people, and get a better idea of who I am. For now, though, I’m still on the hunt for my real passions.

How did you pick your major? Is it still the love of your academic life?