Physics as a Gateway to a STEM Career

English: The Fairy of Eagle Nebula. Français :...

English: The Fairy of Eagle Nebula.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always loved science.  My favorite classes throughout elementary, middle and high schools were science classes. I loved watching Cosmos and NOVA and Nature on PBS (which helped quite a bit with the science classes). The same cannot be said of math classes, which were my bane through college (see The Engineer Who Hated Math). Before my Physics classes, I never really saw the impact of science & math together — what a great set of problem solving tools they can be.

Separate, but (Not) Equal

Before Physics, math and science classes were very separate, with very little overlap.  We didn’t really use math in science, or vice versa (science was fairly observational and any math used was pretty simple). Science classes seemed to be about learning about the wonders of the world, while math was just straight-up memorization and busy-work.

Physics as a Gateway

My Physics class was the first time that I think we really did actual problem solving — not for some made-up, ridiculous situations (I’m looking at you, math classes), but for real experiments where we had to figure out what was going on. This required a combination of math, science and creativity. And it was fun! In my physics class, I first started to visualize how you could use science and math knowledge as a career besides just math or science — engineering seemed very doable and approachable, not just about engines. I started dreaming of being an engineer who designed cars.

The Universe Within Reach

My two Physics classes in high school (honors and advanced placement) were some of my favorite classes of my school years.  Even in Engineering school, besides a few awesome Computer Engineering classes, the one Physics class I got to take (I passed out of the others) was a stand-out that weaved together the concepts and equations of time and relativity into something that was almost concrete and definitely was cool. Abstract concepts felt within reach and the universe felt both unimaginably huge and within touch at the same time. What more can you ask of a class?


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