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Programs After a Phd in Theoretical Physics

  1. Nov 8, 2012 #1
    Call me crazy, but am I right in thinking that people with a Phd in Theoretical Physics could take up a position in a university as an experimentalist? Is it a strange thing for a theorist to do? Or is it not that black and white? Is it more of a blur? Would theorists be viewed just as capable when applying for a job as an experimental researcher?

    Thanks. Any information would be amazing.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2012 #2
    Do you think an experimentalist is viewed as just as capable as theorist at theory?
  4. Nov 9, 2012 #3
    Maybe not, no, just from the fact that it is harder to get onto a Theoretical Physics Phd program than an experimental program. Is it unheard of though?
  5. Nov 9, 2012 #4
    Theorists and experimentalists are trained to do different things, one does not necessarily supersede the other. It's not harder to get into theory because theorists are smarter/better, but simply because there is less money (and therefore less openings) than for experiment.

    It's harder to get into medical school at Harvard than at BU. If a brain surgeon was trained at Harvard and a heart surgeon was trained at BU, and you need open heart surgery, would you pick the brain surgeon just because he got into a harder MD program?
  6. Nov 9, 2012 #5
    Thanks for the reply. I think boths answers were sort of beside the point, but i think that was down to my poorly spoken question. What I am wondering is, when theorists apply for post doc positions after completing their Phd, do some take up experiemental research? For instance, a Theoretical Particle Physicist doing post doc research in Experimental Particle physics.
  7. Nov 9, 2012 #6


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    I guess it depends on how "experimental" the position really is. If it comes down to just analyzing data and doing programming, then maybe.
    However, in my area (condensend matter/low temperature) it would be almost unheard of to hire a theorist for an experimental post-doc. Experimentalists and theorists have very different skill sets, a theorist would be complettely lost in my lab.

    There are people who "drift" from theory to experiment or vice versa (I work with a few people who have done that), but it usually takes quite a while (years) and tend to happen later in their careers. Post-doc positions are usually 2-3 year long and you are suppose to be able to do useful work from day 1, there is no "training period".
  8. Nov 9, 2012 #7


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    I'm with f95toli here. If you think a theorist can immediately work an ultra-high vacuum systems AND knows how to build such a system, I haven't found one.

    I've written a little bit on what it means to be an experimentalist, and why, as has been mentioned, not all areas of physics have the SAME demand on the set of skills to be an experimentalist.


    So your question really depends on the area of physics. There are certain areas where the demand for PHYSICAL SKILLS in doing things is really crucial. These are not something you can just read up upon, but rather something that one must do often enough to have such skills.

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