Degrees in Astrophysics or Anthropology?

(38 Posts)
PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 13:51:04

I'm looking at doing a degree in a few years time with a local university. I'm currently trying to work out what route I'd like to go down but I'll need to do an Access to HE or Advanced diploma first. I'm going to spend the next year/18 months doing free online courses across both subjects to get a feel for them and work out what I which subject I prefer, but if anybody can share experiences on either subject (or suggest what more in-depth subjects would be worth studying over the next year within Astrophysics or Anthropology!) I'd really appreciate it!

I have always had a vague interest in both subjects, and the only thing that puts me off of Astrophysics is the more technical mathematics, but DP had similar issues and he's now doing a degree in Engineering, so I have hope that I may be able to pull it off if that's the route I go down! I loved the planets and learning about them as a teen, but I like history and languages/language development too, hence anthropology.

Cardinal Thu 03-Jul-14 13:55:41

What's your academic background? Astrophysics is a seriously hard slog if you are not familiar with the maths involved.

chockbic Thu 03-Jul-14 13:57:47

Have you an idea of what you'll do with the degree?

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 14:11:55

cardinal Crap academic background. Hence taking a year or so to start studying and get into it again before even thinking of applying to the access courses! Ideally I'll start access courses in either September 2016 or September 2017. DP is happy to tutor me in maths, he's going to start doing that when I have a bit more time available and I plan to do quite a bit of independent study in it, I was planning on doing that regardless of whether I go down the physics route as I want to improve my skills in the subject.

chock Research, both subjects would allow me to get into research type work. I'm not fussed on earnings from it as long as it's enough to live on. I just enjoy doing research, writing essays, working things out and studying new topics.

I've been holding off on a degree as I actually started one at 18 that my college pushed me into, I managed 2 months before realising that the subject and course were just not right for me (a childcare degree that had a heavy emphasis on primary teaching) and dropped out.

uiler123 Thu 03-Jul-14 15:21:16

It is very hard to get research positions. You would need a first from your undergraduate degree to get funding for a PhD. Most PhD students don't get offered research positions when they graduate, and there is another cut between research positions and permanent staff positions in academia. Very few people get the latter without passing through top rank universities (Oxbridge, Harvard) etc, writing a large number of papers and generating a lot of research income.

Generally a student who can't easily get A/A* in Maths A level will struggle with the Maths needed for (astro)physics. Astronomy as a hobby is also very different from academic astronomy/astrophysics - the latter involves knowledge of maths and physics, high level computing skills etc etc.

Astrophysics is SERIOUS maths - not just big sums, but advanced calculus of at least A level standard. I think you'd find the anthroplogy more enjoyable, and also less limiting in job serches.

deepbluetr Thu 03-Jul-14 15:44:01

"I loved the planets and learning about them as a teen" quite a leap from that to astrophysics. Are you aware of what astrophysics actually is?
You need a hard core understanding of maths and physics, if you struggled at all with either at school then you may find astrophysics quite undigestable.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 15:52:32

Ulier: interesting to know, thanks. Academic astronomy is what I am interested in, my local uni doesn't offer it singularly though. I like astronomy as a hobby too, but I'm interested in the science behind it as well.

Melanie: I know, which is why I'm not rushing into the decision and will spend the next year or so studying. I want to get up to a level standard in maths at least anyway. The uni offers a foundation year for physics that gets you up to the standard they want if you're lacking, which is what I would aim to do.

The wider options of anthropology are what appeal to me about that, and the links between the subjects involved and the links to every day life. I do worry that if I went for astrophysics I'd get a bit bored eventually of just one main topic, which is another reason why I'm taking time to do some broader studying. But I have no idea where to start with anthropology, I need to look in more depth as to what unis want you to study for that. If I did anthropology I could see myself continuing study beyond a BA, whereas I'd want to work with astrophysics sooner.

DocDaneeka Thu 03-Jul-14 15:53:57

Came on to say what the others said.

You have no chance with astrophysics maths if you didn't find A Level a breeze.

It is hard by even degree level physics standards.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 15:58:09

Deep: yes I am, that sparked the interest in astrophysics and I was talked out of pursuing it at school because I was better at chemistry and biology and I could only take two sciences at a level.

I am just going to add that I'm not stupid. I haven't just woken up thinking "I want to do astrophysics or anthropology!", every time I think about going back to uni these two subjects come back to mind. I was told that I was too stupid to do maths, yet so was DP and he's now doing highly specialised mathematics whilst studying electrical and electronic engineering, which is what made me realise that if I put my mind to it, I could do it too. In school I was seen as intelligent but I didn't have any drive to achieve because I didn't know what I wanted in life. Now I am considering what path to take and have come back to these two choices.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 18:58:18

doc I have never said that I did an A Level in Maths, I never went further than GCSE with it. Not because I struggled with it (I didn't) but because I was pushed into sciences and my Maths teacher wasn't my biggest fan (and I hated his class because I was bullied senseless in it by my peers and he refused to say or do anything about it, but heyho) I have no idea how I'll find it. If I decide to go with Astrophysics I'll work my arse off and do my best to understand the maths. If I can't do it then I'll know long before I end up investing time and money into a physics degree and go with the other choice instead.

It is more than likely that I'll go with Anthropology just because of the broadness of the topic and it catches my attention more, however I'm not dismissing Astrophysics because of the mathematics, I'm just acknowledging that it may be something that I struggle with.

teaandthorazine Thu 03-Jul-14 19:12:00

You want a career in astrophysics research but think you may struggle with A level maths?

Honestly, you need to rethink this.

Kantha Thu 03-Jul-14 19:14:22

I did A level Maths and then a combined Social Sciences degree where Anthropology was an element of it. A confident grasp of Maths (statistics in particular) is actually very useful in Social Sciences. I ended up doing a Stats paper for part of my finals and it was this that helped most in the subsequent job search and how my career has developed. It's always good to have a foot in the sciences as well as 'wooly' (as some perceive it) arts.

Even if you decide that Astrophysics isn't for you, I would say that developing your maths now will help you long term.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 19:19:34

I think I may struggle with university level maths at first, not A Level maths. Even then if I do I can work that out at the time because I will aim to get to that point before even applying for astrophysics.

I haven't even had a chance to learn maths beyond GCSE yet and have at least a year, more likely two and a half years, to work out if I can do maths.

Goodness me. I am asking for other people's experiences in both subjects and maybe pointers as to what topics within the two subjects to study over the next 18 months or so, not for my current maths skills to be dissected because currently, I have no academic background opr particular maths skills. My time in school (which I left nine years ago!) was shocking and I was more concerned about keeping myself safe from bullies than trying to get decent grades. We all start somewhere. If I cannot cope with the mathematics I will not go forward with astrophysics. I am not stupid, I know that there would be no point in me desperately struggling to keep up with maths, but I've got to give myself a chance first.

titchy Thu 03-Jul-14 19:26:44

Ok in that case enrol on an A level maths course at a local FE college starting this September, that should then give you a good six months to see whether you are up to it, and as others have said its good to have decent maths in social science anyway. If you can't hack it then you could do a social science or humanities Access course next September.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 19:27:04

Kantha I do intend to do maths even if I wasn't going to university smile I've always been annoyed that I never got a chance to actually properly study it thanks to class circumstances. I would also like to be able to talk to DP about what he does and a lack of understanding about mathematical concepts can make that difficult when it comes to more technical bits he's doing.

So I fully intend to study it, possibly take an A Level in it in a year or so depending on what access route I am considering. I did think that statistics would be a factor in anthropology, but didn't realise other areas of maths would help too.

SevenZarkSeven Thu 03-Jul-14 19:35:55

If I were you I would keep options wide open and see where your online / access courses over the next 18 months take you.

I have a degree in Physics and did some Astronomy / Cosmology / Astrophysics and the maths was quite tricky, I did a few engineering courses (degree level) more recently and the maths was much more straightforward.

I think have a go at some maths courses and see how you go. The problem with maths that I have found is that (IMO) at a certain point you either "get" it or you don't. I genuinely think that when things get extremely weird, either your brain can handle it or it can't. I lost the plot about halfway through my Physics degree mathswise unfortunately, somewhere in reciprocal space grin

Have you considered Astronomy as opposed to Astrophysics? I don't know offhand (and can't really remember!) but you could look into it, I suspect the Astronomy might be a bit less intense in the mind-bending calculations department.

Check out the OU I found them excellent, they do "free" taster courses I think as well, or they used to. Also tests to see whether you are "ready" to take maths courses of various levels (info correct as at 3 years ago may be wrong but worth looking into).

I know nothing whatsoever about anthropology.

I think keep an open mind while you do some initial research and access/taster courses, as your interests might take you in a different direction to where you expect smile

Good luck!

SevenZarkSeven Thu 03-Jul-14 19:41:15

Sorry I see the astronomy / astrophysics question has already been answered!

Please don't be restricted by what your local uni offers though, you only get one crack at this (usually!) so make it a good one!

Online is all the rage these days and I am sure there are other options so please do keep an open mind especially if the course on offer locally isn't your actual preference just a close enough IYSWIM

LurcioAgain Thu 03-Jul-14 19:44:31

Starting a maths A level in September sounds sensible - as others have said, a sound grasp of maths is useful in social sciences, and 6 months in you should have a better idea of how strong your maths is. Check the syllabus before you start though. I would say it is easier to do pure and applied maths (the course you need for any sort of physics degree) and pick up stats later of need be than do pure maths and stats from the outset (which would leave you under prepared for physics.

I am a theoretical physicist btw with a background in general relativity (one of the main theoretical underpinnings of astrophysics) and the level of maths is mind blowing. Same for the quantum theory you'd need if you got into solar physics. As someone said up thread, if, 6 months in, you're not headed for an A probably astrophysics is not the right choice. But you'll only know if you give it a try.

PetiteRaleuse Thu 03-Jul-14 19:48:23

Just another idea. Look at the online MOOC available - free courses on line provided by universities. I have used coursera and futurelearn. They are both great and have all kinds of uni level courses you could try before committing to a course. In the last year I have done courses in psychology, law and management. There are lots of science and maths courses too. More in fact than non science/maths. Worth a look.

In your situation I would go for anthropology but I am far more interested in humanities than the sciences.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 19:50:22

titchy I will probably leave actual courses until next September, I'd start access courses in 2016/2017 so the next year is more just exploring the subjects for me smile But I will probably attempt an A Level in Maths from that point, as you say, I'll work out within six months if I can hack it!

I'm going to take my time and work it out slowly. Preferably I want to wait until DP has finished his degree in 2016 before starting one of my own, having one earner makes things easier! It also gives me time to start actually exploring the subjects as I haven't had a chance to do that thanks to hetic work/life situations since I left college! It's why I'm asking now, so I have time to work out what I want to do, what I need to do and have a back up plan!

seven Interesting to know about the maths being harder, I will keep that in mind! That's the issue DP has with maths, he won't get it for weeks, he'll get really frustrated, panic about failing his exam, and suddenly it'll click. grin

Astronomy would be preferable to astrophysics I think, but as the local uni didn't offer it I started thinking astrophysics would be a cool option too, more science based.

OU and their free courses are my plan for the next 18 months, along with hundreds of other unis that offer the same smile I figure that the best way to work out what subjects suit me is to do them, I have a massive list of sites and unis that offer free courses that I'm dying to start doing, I haven't had time until a few weeks from now! grin

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 19:52:26

X-post petite grin

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 19:58:29

lurcio I shall check the syllabuses of anything before I go ahead. I must admit that for now, my mathematics lessons are going to be from Khan Academy and DP. Khan academy is based on the American systems and splits the topics within maths, so I'll be working through topics on that for the next few months.

LurcioAgain Thu 03-Jul-14 20:15:25

Okay, topics you'll need:
Differential calculus;
Integral calculus;
Linear/matrix algebra;
Trigonometry and solid geometry.

Not sure whether differential equations are considered A level or first year undergraduate these days.

PixieofCatan Thu 03-Jul-14 20:31:13

Thank you smile That is very helpful!

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