"So You Want To Be A Physicist" Discussion


by ZapperZ
Tags: discussion, physicist, physics education, physics jobs
jbunten
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#37
Jan3-09, 07:20 PM
P: 87
Hi the last one finishes:

In the next installment, we'll go over the daily grind of doing graduate research work.

But I can't seem to find where the next instalment is! Could someone please direct me to it as I find these articles very illuminating.
ZapperZ
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#38
Jan4-09, 07:56 AM
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Quote Quote by jbunten View Post
Hi the last one finishes:

In the next installment, we'll go over the daily grind of doing graduate research work.

But I can't seem to find where the next instalment is! Could someone please direct me to it as I find these articles very illuminating.
Did you read the one contiguous article that I linked to at the beginning of the thread in Message #4?

Zz.
jbunten
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#39
Jan4-09, 08:08 AM
P: 87
ah, there we are! many thanks
Hunterbender
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#40
Jan11-09, 02:24 AM
P: 54
I am currently a high school senior looking into a dual physics-econ (maybe law?) major.

When I read the physics researches on arxiv and other collections, it never fails to amazed me the complexity of the problem and its solution. In additional, physics (or the non-traditional physics) had became really abstract and obscure (notably with the quantum loop gravity, superstring theory, etc) over the years. It appears to me that one needs to be exceptionally bright* in order to become a physicist (in the sense of doing research and securing fund). Is that so?

*bright in the sense that one needs to be flexible of the mind.

Thank you for the time! (and for a great guide)
ZapperZ
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#41
Jan11-09, 03:20 PM
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Quote Quote by Hunterbender View Post
I am currently a high school senior looking into a dual physics-econ (maybe law?) major.

When I read the physics researches on arxiv and other collections, it never fails to amazed me the complexity of the problem and its solution. In additional, physics (or the non-traditional physics) had became really abstract and obscure (notably with the quantum loop gravity, superstring theory, etc) over the years. It appears to me that one needs to be exceptionally bright* in order to become a physicist (in the sense of doing research and securing fund). Is that so?

*bright in the sense that one needs to be flexible of the mind.

Thank you for the time! (and for a great guide)
Please do not think of physics as being predominantly "superstring or loop quantum gravity". In fact, this area of study covers only a very small portion of the whole physics discipline. I would say they are barely 10% of the number of practicing physicists, even though they often get disproportionate amount of publicity.

There is also a tremendous difference between doing theoretical work and experimental work. This isn't to say that experimental work requires less mathematics or less theoretical understanding, but there are many who do not care that much about doing theoretical work that do very good work in experimental physics. In my line of work, I often find myself doing more engineering work than doing physics, and even less, doing purely theoretical work. There are many find physicists who are brilliant at designing some of the most sophisticated experiment to test some of the most difficult aspects of physics. This is also a BIG part of physics that many people outside of the subject do not realize.

So physics isn't just what you often encounter in the public media or the one that gets the most publicity. You'll get to see more of it as you learn more about it, and if you have the opportunity, visit a few places that do physics research work.

Zz.
atyy
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#42
Jan11-09, 03:51 PM
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Are there differences between experimentalists in eg. high energy physics and condensed matter or atomic physics? I recently read Martin Perl's comment about needing "sharp elbows". http://prl.aps.org/edannounce/PhysRevLett.100.070001. William Phillips essay left me with a completely different impression "that one can do physics at the frontiers, competing with the best in the world, and do it with openness, humanity and cooperation". http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/p...s-autobio.html. Or is it just the variability of human nature?
Hunterbender
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#43
Jan11-09, 08:51 PM
P: 54
Quote Quote by ZapperZ View Post
Please do not think of physics as being predominantly "superstring or loop quantum gravity". In fact, this area of study covers only a very small portion of the whole physics discipline. I would say they are barely 10% of the number of practicing physicists, even though they often get disproportionate amount of publicity.

There is also a tremendous difference between doing theoretical work and experimental work. This isn't to say that experimental work requires less mathematics or less theoretical understanding, but there are many who do not care that much about doing theoretical work that do very good work in experimental physics. In my line of work, I often find myself doing more engineering work than doing physics, and even less, doing purely theoretical work. There are many find physicists who are brilliant at designing some of the most sophisticated experiment to test some of the most difficult aspects of physics. This is also a BIG part of physics that many people outside of the subject do not realize.

So physics isn't just what you often encounter in the public media or the one that gets the most publicity. You'll get to see more of it as you learn more about it, and if you have the opportunity, visit a few places that do physics research work.

Zz.
Thank you for responding my question in such a timely manner.

I guess there are a lot more to physics that I have yet to learn. Hopefully as I continue onward with the study of physics, all these would come to me (and I shall become enlightened and ascend to..ok..moving on)

With regard to visiting places that do research work, do I just set up an appointment? I have never heard of visiting research areas (or considered it). So, do I simply find a research facility nearby and call them up for a visit?

Once again, thank you.
jbunten
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#44
Jan11-09, 09:28 PM
P: 87
I'd just like to add that although sometimes physics can seem extremely difficult, this is often because you need to understand the more basic foundations, and then it becomes a lot more clear. This is not to say it *isn't* difficult of course, but remember that when you were four years old maths which you now find trivial seemed very complex!
ephedyn
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#45
Jan13-09, 09:59 PM
P: 171
Quote Quote by withthemotive View Post
They're only well known and respected schools. It doesn't mean you aren't any less smarter if you didn't attend MIT.
I think you need to add another negative because you ended up implying the exact opposite of what you meant.
ZapperZ
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#46
Jan27-09, 05:32 AM
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We always get a bunch of very similar questions about physics academics and careers in this forum all the time. "Where should I go to school?", "How much can I make after I graduate?", "What kind of a job can I get with my physics degree?".

It would be helpful if there's a legitimate and well-researched place where one can go and look for answers to all these common questions. And there is! The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has a page that is meant as a "Career Guidance for High School and Undergraduate Students". The answers to many often-asked questions are based on what I believe is the most comprehensive survey of physics students and graduates in the US. It addresses all the questions above and more, and based the answers on the statistics that it has collected.

The best part of this also is that they will continue to collect and publish such statistics every few years, so the information will be updated.

Zz.
Electron17
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#47
Mar10-09, 10:14 PM
P: 19
What sorts of things would you recommend a person to do when he or she is in high school?
ZapperZ
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#48
Mar11-09, 05:40 AM
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Quote Quote by Electron17 View Post
What sorts of things would you recommend a person to do when he or she is in high school?
Stay in school and don't do drugs!

:)

Well, I did describe, albeit rather briefly, some high school preparations in Chap. 1 of the essay. Is there anything in particular beyond that that you wish to know?

Zz.
nSlavingBlair
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#49
Mar17-09, 04:57 AM
P: 23
Hi Zz, a wonderful overview of the life of a physicist you've done there! I haven't managed to read it all yet (there's a lot there), but I was wondering if by chance you knew how many Australian astrophysicists get to stay in Australia for their jobs?

As you may have guessed, I live in Australia. Perth actually, supposedly the most isolated city on the planet. Lucky me! I know the SKA has a 50% chance of being based only about 3 or 4 hours out from where I live, but the chances of me getting straight into that after I graduate are rather small.

I'm in my fourth year, though I'm taking a half load (so still doing second year units), otherwise I would have graduated last year. Part of the reason for that is so I can get really good marks, as I realise it's an incredibly competitive field.

Back to why I started this reply; growing up the only major places I knew of to study astrophysics/astronomy are in Germany and America. I know that's changed a little now, but astronomy isn't something Australia is known for. I really, really don't want to leave my country.

Also, if there's any Aussies here that aren't sure about how to continue onto physics at uni, I'll be happy to help. Though the Eastern states tend to have a different educational system to what I had. Actually WA's educational system has changed in the last couple of years while I've been at uni too.
ZapperZ
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#50
Apr3-09, 04:31 AM
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I've mentioned that my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay is skewered towards the US higher educational system since that is the one that I'm intimately familiar with. Thanks to a number of member from the UK who have posted in this forum, we also have some idea on the UK educational system and what one has to go through to get a physics degree there.

Now along comes this article from The Independent in the form of a Q&A with Peter Main, the director of education and science at UK's Institute of Physics (IoP). It describes in detail how one gets a physics degree in the UK, including a short description of career options. I only wish there was some description of the graduate program towards obtaining a Ph.D.

Still, a very good article for incoming physics students in the UK.

Zz.
vorcil
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#51
Apr6-09, 04:07 AM
P: 394
Quote Quote by Greg Bernhardt View Post
Last week I accidently deleted this thread. Luckily we have a copy at Physicspost.com so I'll link it here again.

Part 1:
http://physicspost.com/science-article-205.html

Part 2:
http://physicspost.com/science-article-206.html

Part 3:
http://physicspost.com/science-article-207.html

I will also include these two articles:

7 Keys to Success with a Physics Degree
http://physicspost.com/science-article-211.html

A Career in Physics
http://physicspost.com/science-article-17.html
it's a very good article, i enjoyed reading it thanks
ZapperZ
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#52
Apr19-09, 09:34 AM
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I have written a new chapter in the "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay. In Chapter XIX, I discuss what should be highlighted in your curriculum vitae.

The reason why I'm including this in the essay is that, after going through two different search processes to hire a postdoc candidate, I notice a general pattern that many applicants seem to be emphasizing the less relevant part of who they are, and under-emphasizing (sometime even completely missing) the most relevant part, based on the nature of the job. This is something that can be easily corrected, but it requires a little bit of thinking and a little bit of careful consideration of the nature of the job that one is applying for.

I'm hoping that by clearly clarifying what a potential employer is looking for, one can understand how to better write a more effective CV.

Zz.
ZapperZ
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#53
May5-09, 07:34 AM
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I cringe every time I read in here of kids still in high school, or barely starting college, who already either are focused on a particular career, or already made up their minds that on a particular, exact career that they want to do. Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having an ambition and aiming to want to be something. However, one needs to step back a bit and figure out if the "choice" being made here was made based on having all the necessary information (i.e. a well-informed decision), or made entirely based on superficial perception.

There are two important issues here that should be addressed and considered.

(i) It is highly unlikely that an 18-year old knows extremely well what is involved in being, say, a theoretical astrophysicist. So how did someone like that arrived at the conclusion that that is what he/she wants to be? More often than not, this person saw some TV shows, or went to some facility, or read some news coverage, and over a period of time, "fell in love" with the idea of being a theoretical astrophysicist.

(ii) It is also very likely that this person hasn't yet been exposed to ALL (or at least, a lot) of the exciting aspects of other field of studies. It is one thing to have seen all the "merchandise" and then make an informed selection, it is another to have only seen one or two and decided that those are sufficient to make a choice.

While there is nothing wrong with having a goal, there is a lot of things wrong when such a decision causes one to have blinders on and not even consider looking at other possibility. It is one of the reason why I conducted a non-scientific career poll here on PF. I wanted to see how many here who actually ended up in the VERY exact field that he/she envisioned when he/she was that young. If you simply look at the results, you'll see that only 15% of the poll participants ended up in the very exact career that they envisioned[*]! Significantly more of the participants end up doing roughly the same type of field of study, but not exactly the area of specialization that they had in mind.

What is the lesson in all of this? The lesson here is that, if you're just starting out in your academic life, there's a VERY good chance that you WILL NOT end up in the very exact specialization that you had in mind. That is a very important take-home message, and could be one of your first smack of reality. What this means is that you should NOT close the door on other subject areas just because you already have an ambition to be something. Just because you want to be a theoretical astrophysicist doesn't mean that you shouldn't at least look into solid state physics or read new discoveries coming out of atomic/molecular physics. There's a good chance that you will not be a theoretical astrophysicist, and you need to prepare yourself for such a possibility. It is why I've always tried to emphasize an undergraduate education that is as WIDE-RANGING as possible. Want to be a theorist? Well, take that extra lab class anyway! You'll never now that your ability to make that thin-film deposition might be the very skill that get you that job, or that graduate school admission. Idealism can only go so far before financial reality steps in and smack you on your face.

Zz.
[*] I am still skeptical of this number, and so far, only one participants have given an explanation on his selection. I think this number might be even significantly lower than what we end up with. I am guessing that many didn't actually read the full options posted in the first message of the poll. Of all the physicists that I've chatted with, I don't ever remember even one of them telling me that they are doing what they had in mind exactly when they were 17/18 years of age.
Heresy
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#54
May8-09, 02:38 PM
P: 54
Quote Quote by ZapperZ
(i) It is highly unlikely that an 18-year old knows extremely well what is involved in being, say, a theoretical astrophysicist. So how did someone like that arrived at the conclusion that that is what he/she wants to be? More often than not, this person saw some TV shows, or went to some facility, or read some news coverage, and over a period of time, "fell in love" with the idea of being a theoretical astrophysicist.
I blame The Big Bang Theory, haha.


As for me, I'm an 18 year old who just finished his first year of college - and still has no idea what he wants to do with his life =/ I'm trying out economics/philosophy courses in the summer after a year of math, physics, and computer science. Supposedly I'm going to have to pick between physics and economics by August with the experience of two first year courses - great. Is there any other way to get more information on what I'm about to decide on?

Even if I go into a second year of studies and decide to switch later it'll probably just set me back for a year - I know these decisions aren't final but I do like to be efficient with my time.


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