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Are you a physicist?

  1. Jul 26, 2007 #1
    I've recently found myself filling out a lot of customs and immigration forms in which I'm confronted by a blank for "occupation". I'm in the middle of making the transition from "student" to "researcher" - on one hand I'm really getting too old to be writing "student" but writing "physicist" makes me feel slightly giddy and a bit silly, like I'm only playing at being a grown-up.

    There is also the issue of, when passing through customs, one wishes to make oneself seem as boring and normal as possible - and writing "physicist" on your forms does not seem the way to do this!

    I'm reminded of a road-trip I did with one of the post-docs in my group when I was working on my M.Sc. We pulled drove up the the border control station and handed over our passports. The border official asked for our occupations and I said "student" while my friend said "physicist". It was one of those moments where I realised I might one day tell someone that I was a physicist too! Later I asked my friend why he said "physicist" instead of "postdoc" - turns out that the last border officer he'd talked to thought "postdoc" was some sort of medical job - the official wanted to know what hospital my friend worked at!

    Anyone else have a story about when they decided they were a physicist? (or a mathematician? or anything!)
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2007
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  3. Jul 26, 2007 #2


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    The way I see it, if you are paid for doing physics, then you are a physicist. So, are you getting paid, or going to be paid, to do research?
  4. Jul 26, 2007 #3


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    Or just list your actual job title. That's least likely to get you in trouble crossing the border, because someone can verify it easily with your employer. "Postdoc" is actually an abbreviation. If that's what you're currently doing, "Post-doctoral researcher" might work. If you're at a university, university researcher might be safer sounding.
  5. Jul 26, 2007 #4
    But that makes me a physicist! :bugeye:
    Truly, good sir, I am but a lowly intern; surely the name Physicist cannot be applied to such a one?
  6. Jul 26, 2007 #5
    Well, I've been getting paid to do physics research since I was 19 - I don't think that made me feel like a physicist (but it did help me to feel less poor!)

    Heh. At the start of my second year of university I was helping a girl in my dorm move her things upstairs. She asked what I was studying - when I said "physics" her response was "oh! you look like a physics major!" I got a huge kick out of that at the time, but I'm still not sure what it was about me that made me look like a physics student.
  7. Jul 26, 2007 #6


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    Do you have a PHD in physics or are you a grad student? If you're a grad student, put grad student.
  8. Jul 26, 2007 #7


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    A colleague of mine got turned back at the US border because he put Astronomer which wasn't on the list of NAFTA jobs the border guard had.
    He had to come back the next day and put researcher.
    I liked having a business card with astronomer on it.

    ps. Who else puts Dr in front of their name when booking flights in the hope of getting upgraded/not getting bumped?
  9. Jul 26, 2007 #8
    Different educational systems have different terms for someone who is working on a PhD - in British systems people are "post-graduate students", while in American and Canadian systems you've got "graduate students". The Dutch term is "promovendi", which connotes status as a PhD candidate but not studentship. In fact, Dutch promovendi are treated as staff members at universities and do not pay tuition!

    It's actually sort of interesting how nomenclature changes your identity - and it's also interesting how filling in customs forms and putting your identity into a box makes you question your identity!
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2007
  10. Jul 26, 2007 #9


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    Just put christmas and national holidays.
  11. Jul 26, 2007 #10


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    If you're entering the US and you are aware of the difference in status, it would make sense to put what the American equivalence is, if you are concerned about it.
  12. Jul 29, 2007 #11
    when i was a little child,i had promised someone to be a physicist.and now i think a physicist must has his own paper about his personal opinions or work.it's must not something about money. although it's still far from i can reach.
  13. Jul 29, 2007 #12
    You'd of thought if he was doing research he'd have at least an MSc. Probably a research fellow, which is a paid scientific position. If that is the case he should call himself King Of Um Bongo or Research fellow or scientist or physicist. I like King of Um bongo but it's not to everyone's taste.

    I don't have a passport, I need one badly. Luckily I'm a pleb atm, so I can just write Mr x, do you think anyone will question King of Um Bongo?
  14. Jul 29, 2007 #13
    Interesting question. I really have no idea what I am. I still think of myself as a student, even if a graduate student. But I do have a bachelor's degree in physics, and I certainly get paid both to teach and do physics, which by G01's definition would make me a physicist.

    I just say "physicist" to impress people.
  15. Jul 29, 2007 #14


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    There are several situations I remember when I didn't want to say that I am a "physicist".

    When I started graduate school, folks thought I was in the business school. When I revealed I was in physics, I got the usual "Oh, do you do nuclear physics?"... or some other conversation killer. After that, I was not so willing to reveal my affiliation so soon... back then.

    I recall an after-seminar dinner attended by a few relativity folks at a local restaurant. Near the end of our dinner, we heard two guys on the other side of the room start talking loudly about black holes... possibly based on reading some pop-science book. Upon hearing this, we all hushed up a little bit until we left the restaurant. (It's great to hear folks enthusiastic about the subject. However, we were too tired to engage in a probably long conversation with them.)
  16. Jul 31, 2007 #15
    Well, my letter of offer arrived today, so my identity has been settled: I'm a "Junior Scientist". I feel like I need a khaki uniform and a little red kerchief to go around my neck.

  17. Aug 2, 2007 #16
    If you get paid for it you are. By which standard I'm a petroleum engineer, which just goes to show how misleading job titles can be. For general information I'm a first year math/physics student.

    The closest I've come to being a physicist is being mistaken for a lecturer last week. Something I am quite proud of, which is apparently what happens when you're the first in a lecture theatre, playing with the demos for electricity and wearing a semi-presentable suit.
  18. Aug 2, 2007 #17
    In USA is there a difference between someone who has a bachelor degree in nuclear engineering and someone who has a PHD in nuclear engineering?
  19. Aug 2, 2007 #18
    A Junior Scientist?? :rofl::rofl::rofl:
    Well, just remember your Super-Secret-Spaceballs-Decoding-Ring to go with that spiffy uniform and red kerchief!
  20. Aug 2, 2007 #19


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    That's just demeaning.
  21. Aug 2, 2007 #20
    I heard this once (Unfortunately, I'm completely serious).

  22. Aug 2, 2007 #21
    Heh. During the last year of my undergrad I was using a microwave in the student lounge and a couple first-year students wandered in and asked me if I was a professor. So apparently you just need to use an electrical device to be a physicist!

    The professor/student mistaken identity also runs the other way though. I used to be a teaching assistant for a very young-looking professor who was often mistaken for a grad student.... During final exams the university would bring in an external invigilator to ensure everything ran according to protocol - one of the rules was that a student had to be accompanied to the bathroom by a proctor to ensure they hadn't invented an elaborate scheme for cheating! The professor confessed that during the final exam for a previous course one of the invigilators, assuming that the prof was actually a grad student TA, had asked him to take a student to the bathroom. Magically, the student no longer had to go!
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