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Advice on what to do after my masters

  1. Apr 13, 2014 #1
    I am doing Part III of the Mathematical Tripos in Cambridge and am focussing mostly on theoretical physics. The trouble is that I have no idea what to do next and so far do not have any PhD offers.

    Before this I completed a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics elsewhere in Europe. In Cambridge I took a courses such as QFT, advanced QFT, GR, Symmetries, Field and Particles (mostly group theory), Standard model, string theory, but also tried following Differential Geometry, Symplectic topology and even algebraic topology. I am also doing an essay on massive gravitons.

    Although Cambridge is an amazing place to study and some lectures have introduced me to very exciting ideas, I feel unsure about what to do next and even feel unsure about starting a PhD for a few reasons.

    I am hesitant about doing research in high energy physics. I focussed a lot on getting the necessary background for doing HEP and think I will have sufficient theoretical knowledge to get started on a PhD after this year. However, I have also gotten the impression that the field is overly ambitious and competitive, and I did not like always like the 'culture' among HEP students and staff. I have also become less excited about string theory and am afraid it might be a waste of time to commit to a PhD on a theory which is so speculative.

    Also, I did not enjoy working alone for so much time without getting any feedback. Whereas my undergraduate course was heavy on tutorials, Part III only has example classes in groups without hand-in homework. So far I have no clue how well I am doing and whether I have kept up well enough - there simply aren't any assessments until the final exams!

    As for my interests, I think out of the courses I have taken, quantum field theory suits me best, although I find some of the more advanced topics conceptually rather difficult. It was interesting to learn how the standard model is built up using QFT, although I am less interested in techniques such as lattice field theory to study particle interactions in detail. The pure maths courses were also very interesting, but I doubt I would like to do research in geometry-related areas. Generally, I find differential geometry a pain to work with and only because through GR and symplectic topology to a lesser extend am I willing to study it. String theory is interesting but perhaps a bit too speculative for my taste. I think most of applied mathematics suits me quite well, but I know little about other applications of mathematics.

    I would consider myself unprepared to start on the job market and ideally would like to study a few more years. I am not in a rush to do a PhD unless it really interests me. However, the difficulty is in finding an interesting programme which will not disappoint after doing Part III.

    In the end I think I would like to do research and teach at a university, and in fact I am doubting whether Part III is the best preparation for this. It has certainly effectively taught a good amount of theory in short time, but also feels too rushed and does not offer research opportunities (e.g. a thesis).

    I would be grateful to get any advice on what to do next.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Reading your description, gives me the impression that you don't like the stress of competition and yet you don't like working alone. You do like theoretical physics but for various reasons don't like the topics you've studied.

    My suggestion then is to look into computational physics and see if that would satisfy you as well as get you prepared for the job market knwoing some level of programming. The collaboration is there and the competition may be a lot less with many interesting problems. Also you could look to other areas of physics like biological physics to see what kinds of problems may be of interest like protein folding ...

    Another area might be computational origami ala Dr Robert Lang's research. It may be more mundane and less theoretical for your tastes though:



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