Will I Miss Physics?

On my latest post, I received the following comment:

This post sounds just like a physical science MCAT passage. Once I was done reading, I was expecting a series of questions. Ha! Ha! It is actually interesting. Do you ever wonder whether you will miss physics when you get to medical school?

This is a great question, so I decided to answer it in a post, instead of a comment that would probably go unread by many.

The experience of most undergraduates notwithstanding, physics is far more than equations and formulas.  It is a way of thinking, reasoning, and curiosity that can be applied to many different fields.  Most physicists (myself included) do not actually work in the field of physics, but are employed in fields like computer science or engineering.  I have classmates that went on to do medical physics, software development, and even one that became a quantitative analyst on Wall Street.  I truly believe that the sky is the limit – it really just depends upon what one finds interesting.  Richard Feynman, probably one of the most celebrated physicists of the 20th century, and one of my personal heroes, had an intense interest in the field of biology, which is something apparent in his writings and lectures.

As to the question of whether I will miss physics, I suppose it is difficult to give a precise answer.  I don’t really see pursuing a career in medicine as abandoning physics.  Medicine combines aspects of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry with  a clinical application, so in a sense, leaving an aerospace career to become a physician isn’t all that strange.  It’s really just an application of the basic scientific principles that I was trained to use to a specific field.

The goal of a physicist isn’t to blindly repeat the past – there’s no purpose to solving the Schrodinger equation for the hydrogen atom or working out the mathematical foundation of the uncertainty principle – all of that was done almost a hundred years ago.  Our goal, the goal of all scientists, is to go beyond, to apply basic scientific principles to new problems.  Those problems could be in the field of finance, biology, particle physics, chemistry, mathematics or just about anything else.  Some choose to apply themselves to discovering whether the Higgs boson actually exists while others might choose to attack problems in molecular biology – recall that one of the discoverers of DNA was himself a physicist.  I decided that I want to apply myself to studying the way that the human body works and the practice of how we manage and treat diseases.  So, to answer your question, I will never miss physics because I’m not really leaving it – I’m simply taking it with me to a new place.

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6 Responses

  1. That is a very interesting perspective! I am sure your contribution to the field will be significant.

  2. I recently stumbled upon your blog, and I’ve found it very interesting. I’m in high school (going into my junior year) and plan on/hope to go into the medical field and become a doctor. I realize anything could change in the next few years, but it’s the path I am most interested in for now. Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that it was complete news to me that physics plays such a big/any role in medicine. I didn’t realize physics is covered on the MCAT either. I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about “honors” physics at my school, and had planned on taking regulars physics this upcoming year for that reason. Do you think this will put me at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding physics in college and for the MCAT’s? I had heard similar things about honors chemistry (which I took last year) but still managed to receive a mid-A without too much of a struggle. However, I tend to struggle a bit with math and am worried I will be miserable all year in honors physics (in addition to a courseload with multiple other AP and honors courses).

    Do you have any advice? Which is more valuable in the long run- the greater understanding of physics or the pretty much guarantee of a higher GPA in regulars? I know everyone says that high school courses don’t really matter in the long run, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to choose!

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Ah, this is a mirror-like reflection of what I think about my current undergraduate career in physics and whatever is to come. You have taken the words right out of my mouth. Thank you for this post.

  4. Yes, there are lots of physicists who take their training with them to other fields. The previous Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, jumped into molecular biology after he won his Nobel Prize in physics. At UCB, he studied RNA folding and looked for ways to use cellulosic ethanol as a biofuel. He currently has joint appointments in the departments of molecular biology and physics at Stanford. Hooray for physicist-biologists!

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