It is summer, and the newspapers are full of the inevitable pictures of happy blonde teenage girls celebrating their A-level results. This year, more than one in four of the results was an A grade. This will undoubtedly trigger renewed debate about falling standards, and prompt questions about how universities should go about …
What's the point?
What is the point in kids A-Level physics when physics graduates can't get work in the field (my brother who has an MPhys being a case in point).
The IoP is constantly telling people to study physics but doesn't seem doing anything to encourage industry to employ and develop graduates.
The Point of A-Level Physics
A-level physics is a good starting point for many degree courses, particularly as a good primer for engineering. If taught properly it provides a lot of the basic skills required for such degrees.
There's all the point in the world!
I have a degree in Mathmatical Physics which I took, not because I expected to be a physicist, but because I was interested in the subject.
The vast majority of jobs for graduates don't actually care two hoots what your degree is in, so long as you demonstrate a good attitude and intelligence.
How many people who study Philosophy go on to become philosophers? How many people who study History go on to become historians? How many people who study English go on to jobs where their degree is directly useful?
If you can get a job as a physicist, all well and good. But if not, go and work for a bank or an insurance company or anyone else - if you've got a first or a 2:1, and persuade them you want to work for them, they'll be interested in you.
And in the meantime - if you really love physics - go and do a degree in the subject. It's fascinating.
In "the" field?
I'm not sure what field you're referring to with the following:
"What is the point in kids A-Level physics when physics graduates can't get work in the field (my brother who has an MPhys being a case in point)."
Physics doesn't fit into just one neat little field, it's used from everything from engineering to space exploration to games programming so it's hard to know what this mystical field you're talking about is.
As a mathematician and a computer scientist I see this a lot, many people go through school, a-levels, degrees and get their qualification in maths then ask what to do with it, being unable to find anything listed in the job paper saying "Mathematician" then then cry that maths is useless and was pointless studying. This is absolutely the wrong way to go about maths and physics, it's not like say, IT where you go get your IT degree and work in IT any old place, because IT is the same, you instead have to look first at the industry you wish to work in and then realise for yourself how math is applied there and then you can find the jobs.
Want to work in the fashion industry? They need mathematicians to carry out statistical studies as to how big a size medium should be to be able to fit the average person. Want to work in the finance sector? Plenty of math use there. How about the defence industry? Again, no shortage of requirements for people skilled in number theory to be used in encryption, or maths with mechanics to calculate how various subsystems in a product are going to work.
The fact is, not everything is handed for you on a plate when you follow the GCSE -> A-Level -> Degree drone-route, sometimes you actually have to figure out for yourself what you're doing with your life, with your qualifications and put some effort into pursuing it.
What irks me the most about it all is that some people are clever enough to complete a math/physics degree to a high level but too dumb to even know what they're actually going to do with it. What an absolutely horrible waste of what could otherwise be an intelligent person, perhaps alongside majors in physics we need to begin to add in some minor classes in motivation and common sense.
Re: The Point of A-Level Physics
"A-level physics is a good starting point for many degree courses, particularly as a good primer for engineering. If taught properly it provides a lot of the basic skills required for such degrees."
I spent six years working as a post-doc in a top 5 UK university and had the (mis)fortune of teaching first year physics undergraduates. If my experience with them is any indication, the current A-level physics and maths curricula are *not* a good primer for engineering - that first year physics undergrads had little or no knowledge of differential and integral calculus, both fundamental requirements for degree-level science, utterly beggars belief. This is the stuff I was taught during the first year of my maths A-level but has been gradually shunted out of the syllabus because, presumably, it'll cause the little darling's brains to explode.
Like Martin Benson, I did my first degree in physics because I find it fascinating. So much so, I went on to do a PhD in computational physics - I've done my time in research and whilst it too is fascinating, the pay sucks. I'm now a programmer with a longing to do Real Science[tm] but sadly the prevailing conditions in this country, due to the dumbing down of science by the Powers That Be, are such that this is unlikely to happen and when 25% of students are getting A-grades at A-level it's a sure sign that something, somewhere is severely fucked up and nothing short of a serious overhaul of both the subject syllabi and the examination system is going to change that.
Sad, but true. Maybe I should have done my degree in hairdressing - I'd probably be coining it in now.
What's all the fuss about 2:1s?
Off topic from the original point here, but:
I'm sick of employers setting arbitary boundaries such as "2:1 or 1st required". I've got a 2:2 in a very difficult technical subject, from a very good university. My 2:2 is worth far more than many 2:1s in lesser subjects at lesser universities. When will employers, particularly those in IT graduate recruitment, realise that someone who has a 2:1 in history from a mediocre university is NOT necessarily as good a candidate for an IT graduate role as someone who has a 2:2 in a more demanding technical subject from a more prestigious university...
For the record, I've been working for 5 years and now earn a decent crust, but back in the day I was rejected outright (for being predicted a 2:2) by one blue chip company's grad recruitment scheme. They took one one of my friends with a history 2:1 from a less prestigious university, who had never programmed in his life. Madness. He lasted 12 months, before they worked out that he actually didn't have the logical brain to do the job, but paid him silly money anyway for those first 12 months......
The decline in pure sciences will come back to haunt us
There seems to have been a trend at degree level in the past couple of decades of people studying applied subjects which are seen as "sexy" such as computer science and electronic engineering, instead of pure sciences. If this trend continues then it is only a matter of time before we have a vast number of unemployed hardware and sofware people because there will be no physicists and material scientists to design the semiconductors needed to create future computing platforms.
Physics supplies the basic essentials for most human endeavours, from building a house to answering the question, why? There is no aspect of life that is not touched by physics and having an understanding of it helps to improve the quality of life bit by bit on a daily basis and it will be physics that will provide the solution to global warming, even if it's only an argument with a large asteroid.
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