stuart_aitken
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Genuinely wondering about this, so I'm wondering if people can tell me of the popularity of these subjects at their own schools and colleges.

I'm an adult, doing A-level Physics as an evening course at a college in Waterloo. The college is very big with lots of science rooms. There are only 5 of us in the class, which is fine because it's an evening class and we had to pay for it, so obviously it's not gonna be super popular.

However, today was exam day. I expected to be sat with a bunch of students who were also studying Physics during the day at this college, but nope. In the end three of us sat the exam. THREE, all adults, there by choice, in a college in the heart of London?! (Southwark College - about 500m from Waterloo station). So yeah, just to confirm, this is a full sized college, but the only candidates for the Physics exams were three adults, in a college that can probably host 50-100 science students at a time.

Also, I'm doing A-level Maths, self-taught at home. I sat my maths exams at a local college and was again surprised by how few there were. There was myself, another adult candidate, and only about 7 school student candidates, and a few of those were just doing re-sits.

I'd love to know how popular these subjects are at other peoples' colleges? Also, of the people who are studying Maths and Physics, who is intending to use it in later life (eg wants to studying Engineering, etc)?

I really am quite shocked at how few people seemed to be doing these subjects. No wonder Britain isn't going anywhere these days! Haha. As an example - Graphene was discovered/created/invented in the UK, yet this country only has 50 graphene-related patents pending. To compare, the US has about 500, Chinas has 2000.

Is the UK scientifically... dying? Or maybe its still popular among high-calibre school students, but after university graduation they go where the money is and work in finance, standard engineering, and other skilled-but-not-special-yet-highly paid jobs, instead of towards innovation?

Thoughts?
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heyimbored
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In my year there were about 20 A level physics students, and 30 A level maths students, a few more in AS, and a few more again when it started, but then dropped out. This was in a sixth form with a couple of hundred students, in the west country.

I went on to do astrophysics at uni, and am currently in my third year of four. However, while the door isn't completely closed in my mind, I doubt I'll go on to be in physics research, and I'm looking at going into engineering of some kind. The reason is that going on to be a university research physicist for example requires a PhD, and in all likelihood, at least 2 or 3 post-doc positions, with little security and not the best pay. Unless I'm incredibly lucky, I'll be at least 35 before I'm in secure, well paid work, whereas I could go into another field straight out of uni and earn better money in the short term, and comparable in the long term. This is still using the skills I learn at uni as well, finance positions have further earning potential.

As a result of that, the only ones who really make it through are the ones who are super passionate about the subject, because it really does require that commitment, because the workload is heavy, with very few rewards in the short term.
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Pinkhead
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There are a lot of people doing chemistry and biology, less doing physics. This is to be expected as the career prospects in physics are rather difficult and 'stale' to most people, so it isn't going to appeal to a majority.
Having said that, I did the exam yesterday as well and there were 30+ students there, so perhaps it's just your area.
Also, subjects like engineering and physics are predominantly 'male' subjects. I don't see a lot of girls doing physicsand especially not engineering. That brings the overall number down too.

EDIT: I am applying for engineering at university and many of my friends are doing the same. A good chunk are applying for a physics course as well.
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User990473
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What I find more interesting is not whether we are low on numbers for physical science classes but why people aren't interested in those sciences.
I am doing A Levels atm and hope to do AL chemistry, physics and maths and AS biology and FM. I hope to do physics/comp sci/maths/engineering/chemistry (Yeah, I can't narrow it down :/) at Uni but I feel like a minority.

Most people doing these subjects seem to be aspiring to medicine and therefore won't really contribute to the physical sciences.

I think people are just scared of maths and are even more scared when engineering/physics/comp sci/material science etc are labelled extremely hard and applied maths.

We probably are declining in interest in the UK relative to the US, China and Germany however the US is also declining in people opting for science according to studies taken out last year and this year in terms of prospective college majors.

Maybe people are opting for what are famous for money-making-careers? ie. business/economics etc. or IT. Basically degrees/majors that have a high turnover of jobs in the current economic climate... I'm sticking to academia though!
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stuart_aitken
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(Original post by Occams Chainsaw)
What I find more interesting is not whether we are low on numbers for physical science classes but why people aren't interested in those sciences.
I am doing A Levels atm and hope to do AL chemistry, physics and maths and AS biology and FM. I hope to do physics/comp sci/maths/engineering/chemistry (Yeah, I can't narrow it down :/) at Uni but I feel like a minority.

Most people doing these subjects seem to be aspiring to medicine and therefore won't really contribute to the physical sciences.

I think people are just scared of maths and are even more scared when engineering/physics/comp sci/material science etc are labelled extremely hard and applied maths.

We probably are declining in interest in the UK relative to the US, China and Germany however the US is also declining in people opting for science according to studies taken out last year and this year in terms of prospective college majors.

Maybe people are opting for what are famous for money-making-careers? ie. business/economics etc. or IT. Basically degrees/majors that have a high turnover of jobs in the current economic climate... I'm sticking to academia though!

Yeah, totally agree. Everybody complains there are no 'good jobs', when the reason for that is they they all want the same 'good' jobs, so the workforce is diluted by substandard people who aren't even that clever anyway and just went along the path of money.

Good that you're doing it for academic reasons. Me too! As mentioned in the original post, I'm 24 so I've had my share of good and bad jobs, and to be honest it's all the same, so now I'll work any job regardless, and keep academic stuff as a personal interest. Maybe it'll get me a good job someday, but for now I just want to study for the sake of knowledge!
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Mbob
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(Original post by stuart_aitken)
Genuinely wondering about this, so I'm wondering if people can tell me of the popularity of these subjects at their own schools and colleges.

I'm an adult, doing A-level Physics as an evening course at a college in Waterloo. The college is very big with lots of science rooms. There are only 5 of us in the class, which is fine because it's an evening class and we had to pay for it, so obviously it's not gonna be super popular.

However, today was exam day. I expected to be sat with a bunch of students who were also studying Physics during the day at this college, but nope. In the end three of us sat the exam. THREE, all adults, there by choice, in a college in the heart of London?! (Southwark College - about 500m from Waterloo station). So yeah, just to confirm, this is a full sized college, but the only candidates for the Physics exams were three adults, in a college that can probably host 50-100 science students at a time.

Also, I'm doing A-level Maths, self-taught at home. I sat my maths exams at a local college and was again surprised by how few there were. There was myself, another adult candidate, and only about 7 school student candidates, and a few of those were just doing re-sits.

I'd love to know how popular these subjects are at other peoples' colleges? Also, of the people who are studying Maths and Physics, who is intending to use it in later life (eg wants to studying Engineering, etc)?

I really am quite shocked at how few people seemed to be doing these subjects. No wonder Britain isn't going anywhere these days! Haha. As an example - Graphene was discovered/created/invented in the UK, yet this country only has 50 graphene-related patents pending. To compare, the US has about 500, Chinas has 2000.

Is the UK scientifically... dying? Or maybe its still popular among high-calibre school students, but after university graduation they go where the money is and work in finance, standard engineering, and other skilled-but-not-special-yet-highly paid jobs, instead of towards innovation?

Thoughts?
The number of University students takings physical sciences had declined sharply but has started to edge upwards again in the last few years. Unfortunately, several physics and chemistry departments failed to survive the bad times, although a couple of Universities (Kent, King's) have restarted their chemistry programmes.

It's totally irrelevant to the Graphene patents 'news' though. The low number of patents is because Britain lacks large companies in related fields with significant R&D sections - it isn't really related to how many physics graduates we have.

Our industrial research strengths are in defence, aerospace and pharmaceuticals.
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heyimbored
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(Original post by Occams Chainsaw)
Maybe people are opting for what are famous for money-making-careers? ie. business/economics etc. or IT. Basically degrees/majors that have a high turnover of jobs in the current economic climate... I'm sticking to academia though!
This is true to an extent in that a lot of people who study for undergrad degrees in physics/maths etc...go into finance, however, as mentioned above, applications to the sciences are steadily increasing. They're increasing further at many universities (based on early signs) since the tuition fee increase, because they're sought after degrees in the general graduate job case; people aren't studying for these degrees to work in that field necessarily though.

I'd also place a certain amount of blame on GCSE sciences, and the teaching of sciences earlier on in school, because all of them become incredibly boring. I think kids would be far more engaged if more emphasis were placed on the exciting results of physics for example. The main focus of my GCSE physics was how lampposts are designed to bend when a car collides with them to increase impact time and therefore reduce the energy transferred, which really isn't a subject of any interest to a 16 year old. I know you can't cater for all tastes and interests, and there will always be bored students, but students would be more engaged, and could probably be stretched a little further if more emphasis was placed on more exciting stuff like the big bang, searching for life on other planets, obstacles faced in humans inhabiting other planets, how everything we see is made of atoms, and what they're made of, and how we can learn about this stuff by colliding particles travelling close to the speed of light.

Of course you'd need to make it more feasible with the level of knowledge that these students have at that age, but on the face of it, doesn't that sound more interesting than 'this is why lampposts bend when you drive into them'?!
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User990473
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(Original post by heyimbored)
This is true to an extent in that a lot of people who study for undergrad degrees in physics/maths etc...go into finance, however, as mentioned above, applications to the sciences are steadily increasing. They're increasing further at many universities (based on early signs) since the tuition fee increase, because they're sought after degrees in the general graduate job case; people aren't studying for these degrees to work in that field necessarily though.

I'd also place a certain amount of blame on GCSE sciences, and the teaching of sciences earlier on in school, because all of them become incredibly boring. I think kids would be far more engaged if more emphasis were placed on the exciting results of physics for example. The main focus of my GCSE physics was how lampposts are designed to bend when a car collides with them to increase impact time and therefore reduce the energy transferred, which really isn't a subject of any interest to a 16 year old. I know you can't cater for all tastes and interests, and there will always be bored students, but students would be more engaged, and could probably be stretched a little further if more emphasis was placed on more exciting stuff like the big bang, searching for life on other planets, obstacles faced in humans inhabiting other planets, how everything we see is made of atoms, and what they're made of, and how we can learn about this stuff by colliding particles travelling close to the speed of light.

Of course you'd need to make it more feasible with the level of knowledge that these students have at that age, but on the face of it, doesn't that sound more interesting than 'this is why lampposts bend when you drive into them'?!
That is hilarious. What a ridiculous topic!
I agree that GCSE science is not engaging at all. I didn't go to most of my lessons during my year 10/11 because I was bored of the watered down subjects. I was more interested in what light was made of and why we think the big bang happened. Not the sort of stuff they were teaching which was bland. I ended up just reading pop science books. I am glad that we touch on some of the big topics at A Level but I think that if people had a feel for the subject at GCSE we would have more interest -- as you already said.

I'm glad to here the trend is reversing. Maybe there is promise after all!
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Cyclohexane
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For physics in particular, it seems to have gained this reputation as a "super tough" science. Across the year there about 20-25 at AS taking and there's about 14 of us left (I'm in northern England). People found my taking of AS Physics strange, and I would be constantly asked if it was difficult.

People don't bother to research into it; it's just gained a reputation of being difficult.


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scrotgrot
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(Original post by stuart_aitken)
I really am quite shocked at how few people seemed to be doing these subjects. No wonder Britain isn't going anywhere these days! Haha. As an example - Graphene was discovered/created/invented in the UK, yet this country only has 50 graphene-related patents pending. To compare, the US has about 500, Chinas has 2000.
If you'll forgive me, you're no scientist yet: UK population is 60 million, US population is 300 million, Chinese population is 1.3 billion.

So while it's true we are only half as good as the Americans and Chinese, it's not nearly as bad as you are saying, with statistical analysis like that you could be a journalist or politician!
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scrotgrot
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(Original post by Occams Chainsaw)
That is hilarious. What a ridiculous topic!
I agree that GCSE science is not engaging at all. I didn't go to most of my lessons during my year 10/11 because I was bored of the watered down subjects. I was more interested in what light was made of and why we think the big bang happened. Not the sort of stuff they were teaching which was bland. I ended up just reading pop science books. I am glad that we touch on some of the big topics at A Level but I think that if people had a feel for the subject at GCSE we would have more interest -- as you already said.

I'm glad to here the trend is reversing. Maybe there is promise after all!
Well yes but that's because you really have to learn Newtonian mechanics before you learn any of the proper stuff, if you did black holes and big bangs you'd have to talk about entropy and relativity and all the rest of it. That might be workable except with physics you have to test that the kids can reproduce the correct equations and you don't want to be grappling with relativity mathematics at too early an age. Even the electricity stuff was a bit complicated for me I seem to remember!
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(Original post by scrotgrot)
If you'll forgive me, you're no scientist yet: UK population is 60 million, US population is 300 million, Chinese population is 1.3 billion.

So while it's true we are only half as good as the Americans and Chinese, it's not nearly as bad as you are saying, with statistical analysis like that you could be a journalist or politician!
An excellent point haha. However, even looking at less-biased stats we can see a decline. I will look for the sources of my information later if I have some time and post them for you.
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User990473
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(Original post by scrotgrot)
Well yes but that's because you really have to learn Newtonian mechanics before you learn any of the proper stuff, if you did black holes and big bangs you'd have to talk about entropy and relativity and all the rest of it. That might be workable except with physics you have to test that the kids can reproduce the correct equations and you don't want to be grappling with relativity mathematics at too early an age. Even the electricity stuff was a bit complicated for me I seem to remember!
Sorry to double post. I didn't realise you were going to quote me!
That's fair enough I suppose. However I'm sure we could still throw some interesting stuff in there. Even if it's extremely vague. I would have loved it if we had a simple explanation for what evidence we have for the big bang at 14-16. Instead, I had to find out on my own. Some people just weren't as obsessive as me and so didn't learn.
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stuart_aitken
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Glad to have got some answers from this thread. My school was also in northern England. I distinctly remember spending gcse physics lessons sleeping under a pile of coats that people put over me when I laid my head down on the table. I then chose Physics at A-level because I thought we had to choose a science subject.

So my experience of science was basically not the fault of the school as such, or of the subject, it was just me being too immature at the time. I messed up A-level Physics and dropped out after re-sitting the AS year, with a final grade of D. But that was all my own fault. Wayyy too young to take it seriously. Too busy trying to be cool.

So that's my story. Hah. (Now I'm doing A-level maths and physics, AS and A2 all crushed into one year of mostly self-study and am on course for A grades, woohoo).

I'd day the decline is more of a socio-cultural thing though. The nation is focussed on money, and how to live the easy life, which most people think should be handed to them on a plate. That's my take on why the real academic stuff is dying, anyway. The media up-sells this image of everything being possible, as long as you're cool enough, wear the right clothes, talk about the right stuff and fit in with all the other cliques, but don't actually do anything useful...

So yeah I just wondered if my thoughts were correct about the decline of sciences. Looks like I might be right! Thanks all.

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scrotgrot
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(Original post by Occams Chainsaw)
Sorry to double post. I didn't realise you were going to quote me!
That's fair enough I suppose. However I'm sure we could still throw some interesting stuff in there. Even if it's extremely vague. I would have loved it if we had a simple explanation for what evidence we have for the big bang at 14-16. Instead, I had to find out on my own. Some people just weren't as obsessive as me and so didn't learn.
I do agree with that - I'm sure there is enough room on the syllabus for a module or two about that sort of thing. I also learned all of that from pop-sci books I had when I was a kid.

And then ended up throwing it all away by doing the wrong A-levels/degree...
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heyimbored
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(Original post by scrotgrot)
Well yes but that's because you really have to learn Newtonian mechanics before you learn any of the proper stuff, if you did black holes and big bangs you'd have to talk about entropy and relativity and all the rest of it. That might be workable except with physics you have to test that the kids can reproduce the correct equations and you don't want to be grappling with relativity mathematics at too early an age. Even the electricity stuff was a bit complicated for me I seem to remember!
I agree with you to an extent, and that's why I said that it would need to be made feasible, but I don't think it's necessarily the case. Physics at pre A level is pretty basic and really does very little to prepare you for A level; starting A level physics is like starting a whole new subject because of the step up in difficulty (and it doesn't even take the physics very far on reflection). The more exciting stuff always has the complex maths behind it which obviously can't be taught to a 13 year old, but the conceptual stuff is the exciting stuff, and can be simplified down to be taught to that age group.

The fundamentals of physics need to be taught of course, and they can be included, but again needs to be made more interesting to prevent it from becoming a boring subject. It doesn't need to be the most exciting thing in the world, I hated science at school until quite late on, but the one time we had a vaguely interesting topic, I was interested by it. It wasn't drastically exciting, it was working out the speed/acceleration and stuff of a skydiver, before and after deploying the parachute. It's not exactly anything world changing, but it's more interesting to a 15 year old than lampposts.

Like I said, it would need to be made feasible, but students would take a greater interest in physics (and others) if more engaging subjects were taught. As a result you'd be able to stretch them further and come out with better scores. In all honesty I don't believe that much in pre GCSE physics at least is really that important, and I certainly remember there being a much stronger focus on biology and chemistry at my school during those years, so I think there could be plenty of room to introduce some more engaging topics.
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Nick1sHere
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(Original post by stuart_aitken)

So that's my story. Hah. (Now I'm doing A-level maths and physics, AS and A2 all crushed into one year of mostly self-study and am on course for A grades, woohoo).
Just thought I'd say fair play for doing this in one year
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stuart_aitken
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(Original post by Nick1sHere)
Just thought I'd say fair play for doing this in one year
Thanks bud! To be fair the maths has been about a year and a half, but I finished the AS modules in 5 months Only thing slowing me down is the wait for exam dates! Just shows that it really can be done if you want to. (A lot of people during school years are only half-interested. Or at least that's how I was...)

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PhysicsGal
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To the OP, my 6th form classes were fairly full at first - with 30 students in Physics and Chem at the start of AS studies, and atleast 12 in Physics and 15ish in Chem by the end of A2, so it varies by colleges I guess.

Also, I'm doing a Bachelor of Science (Physics major) so yeah I'm hoping to use Physics for the rest of my life!
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At my sixth form at least 65% do Maths.
Physics is the least popular among the sciences at my school, not sure how many people do it.

Chem and Bio are super popular. I go to a state school lol
Just too many aspiring medics here ^_^
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