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C2C: Course to career

Physics is a good training ground for the mind, for fields as diverse as economics and molecular biology reports Amitabha Mukherjee

education Updated: May 12, 2010 10:31 IST
Amitabha Mukherjee

Physics is arguably the most ‘basic’ of the sciences. Its link with modern technology (robots, supercomputers, mobile phones…) is obvious. Physics is also a model for other branches — both other natural sciences such as chemistry and life sciences, and social sciences like economics. Consequently, on the one hand, it finds direct application in other sciences, and, on the other, it serves as a training ground for the mind. A first degree in physics thus serves as an entry point for a variety of diverse careers.

Career options
After a first degree in physics, the usual ‘general’ jobs available to all graduates are of course open, and are not being listed here. A second degree opens up many more specialised careers. A variety of Master’s and other programmes are available to a student who has done BSc (H) in physics, more so than for most UG degrees (see box).

Apart from these, there are less-known opportunities to branch off. Perhaps the widest set of openings, in the coming years, is likely to be in the life sciences. Fields like biophysics, bio-informatics, molecular biology and brain studies are likely to draw people with a physics background. Indeed, many eminent biologists started off as students of physics.

For those who study the discipline at the Master’s level and beyond, the sky is, literally, the limit. Branches of study such as astrophysics, cosmology, high-energy physics, nuclear physics, plasma physics, condensed matter physics and material science are open to them.

Skill set required
What is common to all branches of physics is logical thinking and formulation of real-life problems in quantitative terms. A student of physics should be comfortable with maths and mathematical thinking. However, while pure maths has an emphasis on deductive logic, physics needs both deductive and inductive thinking. It also calls for making models with predictive power. This is why physics is regarded as a good training ground for the mind, for fields as diverse as economics and molecular biology.

Institutions at a glance
Most universities offer the BSc (H) programme in physics. At the University of Delhi, 21 colleges conduct this programme. Countrywide, some among the many popular colleges for physics are:
. Loyola College, Chennai
. Presidency College, Kolkata
. St Xavier’s College, Mumbai
. St Stephen’s College, Delhi

The author is professor at the University of Delhi’s Department of Physics and Astrophysics, and was director of its Centre for Science Education and Communication (2003-2009).

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