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The Real Poop

There's quite a bit of gravity involved in a physicist's job. But that doesn't mean they can''t have a little fun, too.

Physicists are the geeks...er...um...guys who attempt to explain how the physical world works. They ask questions and then go about finding the answers. What are the immutable laws of nature, and what are the more mutable laws of nature that can be fudged slightly? How does matter interact and why does it behave the way that it does? Why does it…matter? How fast can we make a particle travel, and if it gets loose, could it break my windshield? (And is it covered by my insurance?)

While some physicists work in the theoretical realm—asking these broad questions so that we may better understand the world around us—others have more practical aims, such as expanding our technological base of knowledge to allow for the creation of advanced medical equipment, electronic devices, etc. The former are much more likely to be wearing tie-dye at any given moment.

It takes an inquisitive, mathematical, and scientific mind to become a successful physicist. But if that sounds like you, go for it, because you’ll be rolling in it—especially if you work for the Federal Government. They may not pay their postal workers all that much, but that doesn't mean they’re always tightwads.

Because physics encompasses such a broad area of study, and because an advanced knowledge of physics extends into so many different fields, few physics grads with only a bachelor's actually end up holding the title of "physicist." For the most part, they work in the private sector, often as an engineer, computer scientist, or physics teacher at the high school level. However, when asked by a stranger, they may still respond that they are a "physicist." You should just let them have that.

Physics majors who walk away with a master's degree work in many of the same places that those with bachelor's degrees do, but tend to take on more supervisory roles, while roughly half of those with PhDs are employed in academia. Academia, for the record, is the world of instruction and learning, and not a delicious nut. The other half of PhDs engage in long-term research projects, either in corporate labs or for the federal government. You may have the idea in your head that all physicists are rocket scientists, but as you can see, there is actually quite a bit of diversity among those with degrees in physics. Even if 94% of them do wear the exact same horn-rimmed glasses.

For lovers of science, being a physicist is pretty much the bee's knees. All scientific work is indeed important, but the study of physics incorporates the absolute basics. Without an understanding of how things work, biologists would be bewildered when butchering baboons, chemists would be confused when combining chemicals, and paleontologists would be perplexed when polishing paleoliths. Physics provides a fundamental understanding of all else. Of course, other scientists may feel that their field is the most important, but that's between you guys.