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A reasonable topic for a write-up in theoretical physics

  1. Feb 17, 2015 #1
    I was recently shortlisted for interview ( for integrated Ph.d in Theoretical physics) at a research university in India. As a part of the admission procedure I am supposed to give
    "A write-up of 200-250 words describing your interest in your most preferred field of study. The write-up should particularly address questions such as: (1) Which particular area in your preferred subject appeals to you most? (2) Are there specific problems you would like to work on? (3) Can you suggest methods to deal with such problems? THE WRITE-UP SHOULD REFLECT YOUR ORIGINAL IDEAS. DO NOT WRITE A GENERAL ESSAY DESCRIBING THE AREA."
    I think this is an unfair demand to ask of a bachelors student. I am yet to know most of the existing ideas, let alone have original ones. All I know is, so far I like quantum physics the most, and generally all other topics minus the applications part (topics like AC circuits, Wave guides, Electronics, heat engines etc are examples of stuff i'm not fond of). I know I want to do research in theoretical physics but I am not in a position to understand most of the latest research going on in this field. As I am applying for integrated Ph.D, the first 2 years will consist of mainly graduate level coursework and research will start only from the 3rd year, so I will be more knowledgeable by then.
    But right now I would like to know some of the ongoing research topics in theoretical physics that won't be too hard on an undergraduate student, something that I will be able to explain if I am asked. Kindly give a few suggestions, so that I can look them up and find out something I am into.
    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    does not mean "go and ask a bunch of people on the internet and present them as your own".

    Even if you do think the question was unfair.
  4. Feb 18, 2015 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    It seems they want you to show them that you think like a PhD in Physics already. So you must pick an area you're interested in, do some research as to what's been done so far and then propose how you would attack the problem in a more novel manner. In essence, they may want to see if you've got a research topic in mind for your PhD already and if they can mentor you in that area.
  5. Feb 18, 2015 #4
    Sir, I did not mean to imply from my post that i am asking someone from the internet to do the write-up for me. That is why i carefully chose the words:
    I am not asking you to give me my research topic. I am asking you to give advice on how to get started, when looking for relevant research areas. I have only just completed my bachelors and that too in Mechanical Engineering and there is an overwhelming amount of information to look in. I am sure there are experienced people here who can give some advice.
    Moreover, the entrance procedure is same for people applying for Ph.d and intergrated Ph.D(which is M.Sc + Ph.d), So i am assuming this writeup is mostly directed towards Ph.D applicants. Plus, I am sure by 'ORIGINAL IDEA' they do not mean original research. If one could do groundbreaking research just to get admission in a univ for masters, all further degrees would be meaningless.
    My point is, I am not sure which PARTICULAR area in theoretical physics I want to work in at this point in my life. In order to decide this, I have to know how many options there are first, and then think about them and choose. I am asking for help in this regard.
  6. Feb 18, 2015 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Perhaps if you propose areas of interest then we can provide pointers to known problems in that area. As an example, you might say cosmology and then we'd say the frontier research is in dark matter and dark energy.

    From there though you'd have to dig in deeper to see what actually is being done to determine the nature of dark matter and dark energy and that is where the real fun begins. That would probably be the beginning of your essay and what ideas you have to resolve the issue. I think this will be an exciting time for you.
  7. Feb 18, 2015 #6
    Thank you. Believe me, I am quite excited about doing research. As of now, my most favorite subject is Quantum physics and I would really like to probe in deeper into QM. So far I am good with QM formalism, dirac notation, basic 1d potentials, 3d potentials and solutions to SE, hydrogen atom Wave function, spin, angular momentum, Perturbation theory, Variational method (almost upto Masters level). I studied from QM by shankar and mit lecture by prof Allan Adams.
    And I have Bachelors level knowledge in classical mechanics, EMT, Statistical physics and Mathematical methods. I also know superficially, basic Particle and nuclear physics and atomic , and atomic spectroscopy.
    I am largely self taught and I have no personal connection with physics faculty anywhere. So I come to PF whenever in doubt.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015
  8. Feb 18, 2015 #7


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    If you feel that it's an unfair question that might be a flag suggesting that the program may not be the right fit for you - at least not at this point. The program is obviously looking for students who have clear ideas of the projects they would like to work on and the methods they will be using

    You become a student like that by:
    1. Reading up on your own interested outside of assigned class material. Good places to look for review articles that should be accessible by upper year undergraduates include Physics Today, Nature and Science. They may not be entirely accessible, but the point is to look for review articles on topics of interest that can serve as a starting point for further reading.
    2. Attending departmental colloquia. Listed to talks given by visiting speakers and those from within your own university about their research. Most universities will have these on a regular basis.
    3. Attending conferences. Some conferences are targeted specifically at undergraduate students. Otheres are field-specific. I know these can be expensive to attend, but students can often get reduced fees, and sometimes even get fees waived entirely if they volunteer to help.
    4. Talking with your professors and graduate students in your department. Ask them about the research they are doing. Graduate students can often be particularly helpful as they will have a better idea of what yoru level of knowledge currently is.
    5. Getting involved in a research project. Volunteer to work in a lab. Do a senior thesis project. Apply to an organized undergraduate research program like the REU.
  9. Feb 18, 2015 #8
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