There are lots of reasons to study physics, at school, college or university. It teaches you really handy problem-solving, computer and teamwork skills; you get to use some really awesome equipment (I got to use a laser, a massive 1 Tesla magnet, and a cryostat all in one experiement); it can boost you up the career ladder for pretty much anything, from finance to law; and it can offer some real insight into how the world works, as well as throwing up some really interesting questions.
However, sometimes it’s hard to remember these reasons when you’re stuck doing the same annoying maths problems over and over again.
Now don’t get me wrong – I like maths. To be able to do a physics degree, you have to like it on some level – you have to be able to deal with it and get satisfaction out of getting the right answer. But I can’t help but feel that a degree based entirely on maths wasn’t my idea of a perfect Physics degree. Really, I’d much rather someone invented a Physics degree based around essays and explanations: explaining why, or how, something works (or doesn’t) and understanding the concepts, rather than solving maths problems and explaining using mathematical proofs. Unfortunately, as far as I know, this kind of degree just doesn’t exist in Physics: it’s all maths, maths, maths, because that’s what you need to be able to do a PhD.
It’s entirely possible I’m not seeing the full picture here. After all, I did a very maths-based Physics degree out of choice (the choice being based on the fact that I really, really don’t like Astrophysics) so I’ve no idea if it’s better if you don’t. But even then, the core modules we did up until 3rd/4th year when the choices came up were still very maths-based, and I wondered at the time if we’d ever actually get to explain something in words, not equations. (That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this blog – I want to have a go at doing that!)
Still, I can’t help but feel that for people like me – who want to do Physics, and love it, because it allows you to really see, understand, and be able to explain the world around them – a Physics degree (or even A-level) with a few essays, or paragraph, questions on explanations would be a massive improvement.
It’d also be good experience for those of us crazy enough to do a Humanities masters with essay exams… which is probably just me.