Why Physics – What Inspired Me To Study Physics?

Hi, Lily here! Today I’m going to be chatting about why I decided to do a Physics degree. What inspired me and ultimately how I made my decision to apply to university to study Physics. Did I listen to my head or my heart? Were there any particular events or moments which helped me make my decision? What or who inspired me?

I first started thinking about what I might want to study at university when I was choosing my A Level options, so that would have been just before I took my GCSE exams. At this point I was pretty set on going to university as I loved learning and wanted to study something in more depth but I wasn’t entirely sure what that was going to be quite yet!

The first time I submitted my A Level choices I definitely went with the subjects I most enjoyed, I definitely went with my heart! I chose Maths, Physics, Chemistry and History. I knew quite early on that although I loved the sciences, I was more passionate about Physics and Chemistry than Biology. However this caused me a bit of a dilemma!

At school, because I was good at the sciences I was never really encouraged to study anything apart from Medicine. In general, schools often steer you towards becoming a doctor if you are good at the sciences and towards becoming a lawyer if you are good at the arts. This meant I felt quite confused as to what I should do! I found there was not a lot of advice or direction given to me beyond that and of course ‘Do what you enjoy!’.

Although I definitely believe you should follow the advice ‘Do what you enjoy!’ you do need to think a bit more deeply than that! I think the important questions you need to ask yourself are ‘What interests you the most?’, ‘What are you the most intrigued by?’ and ‘What do you want to keep learning about the most?’.

I am really glad that I decided to follow my heart and went on to study physics, however there are so many other options available if you think you would be interested in doing something more applied or specific!

I didn’t have a lot of experience when it came to something more applied like engineering (which my sister decided to study a couple years after me!) or computer science. Looking back I think I would have also enjoyed these, but at the time I definitely made the best decision for me! When I finished my physics degree I had lots of career options open to me and I am very thankful for that! It also meant I got to learn a really broad amount of content at university which again I really enjoyed!

However if you feel that your interest lies in something more specific then I would definitely recommend pursuing it! When you complete your studies you will have a really deep knowledge of that particular field which will put you at an advantage when looking for jobs in your particular area. However if you are more undecided on what you think you might want to do in the future, like I was, then a broader choice might be the better way to go!

During the summer before I started my A Levels I had pretty much decided I wanted to study Physics at university! In particular I had read some brilliant Physics books which inspired me and opened my eyes to the incredible things I could learn about. Studying Physics gives you a better understanding of everything in the world around us, from the very small (e.g. quantum physics) to the incredibly vast (e.g. astrophysics)! I realised there was so much more for me to find out and learn about. So many unanswered questions and brilliant theories yet to discover!

Once I was set on studying Physics at university, I decided to reassess my A Level choices. I talked to my teachers and agreed it would make more sense for me to study Further Maths instead of History. I made the decision based on the fact it would benefit me in the long run as I would have a better mathematical knowledge as I started my degree (looking back I think it definitely made the maths content in my degree easier to get to grips with!).

Over the years I think my passion for Physics was sparked by these key events and sources of inspiration:

  • Reading physics related books, in particular this one ‘The Particle At The End Of The Universe’ by Sean Carroll – It is all about particle physics and the hunt to find the Higgs Boson particle, it really inspired me and got me thinking more deeply about physics!
  • Visiting the Science Museum, London – throughout my childhood I was incredibly lucky to visit a few times! I always loved the ‘Exploring Space’ gallery the most, seeing all the rockets and space suits right up close like that!
  • Visiting CERN when I was 15 – we were staying in France just across the border from Geneva, Switzerland. We made a pretty unplanned trip over there and looked around the visitor centre and I was absolutely fascinated by it all! CERN is the The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the site of the Large Hadron Collider  – the world’s largest and highest energy particle collider (I will go into much more depth in a future post!)
  • Discovering Richard Feynman – a brilliant physicist and science communicator, Richard Feynman’s lectures opened my eyes to what university level physics might be like, you can watch videos of him lecturing on Youtube and all his lectures are free to read online!

Looking back and reflecting on the things that inspired me has been so, so interesting! I don’t come from a particularly science – y family so never felt compelled to study science, or to follow anyone I knew into science! I followed the path I did purely because I was interested and passionate about it! I wanted to learn more and I believed I could do it because of the support I was given from the amazing people around me!

Reflecting on this makes me even more passionate about increasing the visibility of female role models working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)! So young people can see people that look like them or come from the same background as them, studying or working in an area they are passionate about! It makes something you might think is impossible, seem much more possible!

What do you think inspires you?

Lily

2 Sisters in STEM

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