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A choice within condensed matter theory

  1. Aug 22, 2005 #1
    I will begin physics grad school this fall. I am pretty well decided on studying condensed matter theory. But, within CM theory, I'm not sure which area I should choose.

    On one hand, there are three professors at my school who mainly use field theory to solve many body problems. Ideally I'd like to work for one of these three professors because I find there work quite interesting. Unfortunately, so do most of the other students in my grad school. So, trying to get one of these three as my advisor will no doubt be rather challanging.

    On the other hand, there are 5 or 6 CM theorists that work with non-field theoretic areas like non-equilibirum stat mech, density functional theory, computational methods, complex systems, etc. There won't be as much competition to work with these professors, and I may not find there research as interesting as the field-theory guys (though, I don't know that yet).

    My long-term goal is to work in Academia. So, one of the things I'm trying to look at are long-term career prospects. My perception is that it is much easier to find a job within academia if one works in one of the areas that the non-field theory professors. This is because the non-field theory profs research involves many fields: biophysics, chemistry, materials research (i.e. more job opportunities). On the other hand, it seems like if one wants to work in CM field theory, one needs to be some sort of genius or rising academic superstar (which I seriously doubt I am).

    So, I guess my question is the following: Is my perception about long-term job prospects accurate? If so, I'm not so sure I want to kill myself trying to work for one of the field theory guys. That would be a lot of extra work to essentially limit my job prospects. I mean, I like physics. But, I don't want it to be my entire life.

    If you want any other info from me, let me know. Otherwise, thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

    Matt Lorig
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2005 #2


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    It appears that you are describing the methodologies, but not specifically the area of CM that these people are working in. That is actually quite a significant factor that can determine what area of CM that methodology is applied to. DFT, for example, isn't widely used to describe a Mott insulator ground state in the study of strongly-correlated systems. Yet, the area of strongly-correlated system is one of the most significant area of CM with wide-ranging applications. So knowing what area of CM these methodologies are being used is rather important.

    Secondly, as a theorist, you are also expected to know a lot of these methologies, even if you are not working in it. People who work using DFT needs to know field theoretic method simply to know when it fails. In fact, you will need to know QFT when you do many-body physics.

    Thirdly, the clearest way to know what kind of jobs are available now, is to look at the job ads for physicists (I have listed this a few times). It is quite difficult to predict long-range demands. It is also something out of your control once you have made your decision on the area of physics you want to go into (2nd guessing at this point is not a good idea).

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