Thinking About a Career: Computational Physical Scienstist

April 6, 2008

I thought I’d share my thoughts on a future career. The thing that inevitably comes up during course selection time. In case, anyone’s wondering, I’m taking Physical Chemistry, Instrumental Analysis (essentially Analytical Chemistry), Differential Equations, and Intro to Creative Writing (one of these things doesn’t belong, huh? I need an art requirement, and I have no experience with drawing or photography. Writing… I can fake that). Looks to be an interesting semester. Especially with a single, no cross country (though that ones still up in the air) and the possibility of physical chemistry research (or organic research, depending on what I end up deciding…)

Ultimately, though, I’m beginning to think that this whole undergrad experience will just be a dress-rehearsal for when I decide on the path I really want to take. And I have a feeling it’s not really going to be in chemistry. At least, not in the traditional sense.

Thinking about the things I like doing on my own and in class, I come up with two main criteria: (a) developing an understanding of the world (b) through the use of mathematics. I kind of wish I’d had that blinding flash of the obvious back two years ago when I was deciding on where I’d like to spend the next 4 years of life. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Ursinus. But it kind of has a … nontraditional physics department and no engineering department. It does have a great chemistry department, which is why that seems to be the avenue that I’ll take into this world of mathematical analysis. Hopefully through a good deal of physical chemistry and analytical chemistry.

After examining my strengths / pleasures, the next logical choice was to look at my weaknesses / pains. One thing I’ve learned during research this semester is that I’m not so great in the lab. Sure, that’s something that will improve with time and practice. But for the sake of this analysis, I’m just looking at present strengths and weaknesses. I don’t really have the manual dexterity or architectural know-how to do organic chemistry (it looks so easy to put together, but for me, not so much…). Plus, I don’t really enjoy the actual lab work. I just like working with numbers, moving them around, replacing them, whatever. At the same time, I don’t really think that theoretical branches of the sciences are for me either. I like using theory, not making it up.

Which, following my gut, has lead to the computational fields of the physical sciences. Reading a chapter out of my physical chemistry book, I learned that computational chemistry is reaching its golden age in the coming decades. Sounds like perfect timing. Using computers to do experiments? Without all the chemicals? For serious? That sounds as sweet as they come!

And what does that mean in the present moment: it means I need to brush up on my mathematical skills. Thus far, I’ve just been learning enough to get through the classes. I haven’t really been developing a lasting understanding of the material. Certainly not enough to do real world modeling with the concepts. It also means I need to brush up on my programming skills. I haven’t programmed a lick since high school, which is getting longer and longer ago! Luckily, that’s pretty easy to pursue on my own, and doesn’t require a degree from an institution for me to feel like I’m competent. And I need to pursue more physics classes. Which hopefully will happen during my time here at Ursinus. If not, that’s what paid-for graduate school is for. You have to love the physical sciences!

And now I’d like to take this moment to review my career paths of choice, starting in about 6th grade:

  • computer programmer, with thoughts of becoming the next Bill Gates (6th grade)
  • theoretical physicist, with ambitions of exploring string theory (10th grade)
  • regular physicist, with very little ambitions other than getting through college (11th grade)
  • nantechnologist / chemist, with plans of developing a biomimetic photosynthetic system for creating hydrogen (12th grade)
  • chemist, with hopes of getting through college without killing myself in lab (freshman and sophomore years of college)
  • computational physical scientist, well, with no idea where I’ll go with that (now)

It seems I’ve come semi-full circle. At least, I’m back at the computer. Now with a little more math and physical science in mind. Amazing what eight years can do to life plans. Especially when that eight years is about half my life.

At least I have a vision moving forward. Hopefully that vision can become some sort of reality. If nothing else, it makes a handy mirage to keep me happy!


3 Responses to “Thinking About a Career: Computational Physical Scienstist”

  1. daveinthewest said

    lol uh oh. Dave’s doing an overhaul. Yeah, its kinda neat what you can do with computers these days. I don’t know much about your industrial interests, but it almost sounds like you don’t know much about it either. That’s cool though, its almost stupid to know exactly what you want to do at this point anyways… that just means you’re not open to change.

    Hopefully you’ll like your new path. I’ll be cheering you on.

  2. […] probably aren’t too many people like that in the first place!” Like I’ve said earlier, that might have been something I should have figured out at the end of high school. But I suppose […]

  3. […] I’ve mentioned before, computational chemistry seemed like a real option for me, something that doesn’t exactly get […]

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