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As a college sophmore, what should my approach be for writing a research paper?

  1. Jul 22, 2011 #1
    I want to write a research paper on general relativity or mathematical physics.

    I am a college freshman (will become sophomore after this summer) belonging to an engineering major. In this summer break, I have managed to learn about tensors. Currently, I am following the Respected Professor Leonard Susskind's lectures on General Relativity via youtube.

    Before the end of my holidays, I plan to write a simple research paper on mathematical physics or general relativity. Regarding my goals, i want to ask a few simple questions:

    1. How should i approach? Are there any initial tips you would like to recommend?
    2. How should I choose a topic for my paper, especially when i want it to be simple, but have a choice of complex subjects to write on?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2011 #2
    I suggest you wait until you graduate, and pick a supervisor/school that is very active in research in your specific area.

    I'll give what I understand as a basic guide to publishing,
    1. study subject formally and graduate
    2. familiarise yourself with all relevant literature
    3. identify a gap in this literature and research it
    4. write up your findings and submit it to a journal

    It's pretty hard to do any of these steps without having done the step before. I suggest you keep working hard and talk to your tutor/course supervisor about when and where to begin looking for postgraduate options.
  4. Jul 22, 2011 #3
    Step 2 from MikeyW's post is the most important. http://arxiv.org/ will give you a great resource to read papers from the field. I try to get through at least one paper a day, but it's pretty difficult. Lectures certainly wouldn't prepare you to write a research paper...

    Can I ask what exactly you mean by research paper in the first place? I can't imagine that you're talking about publishable research, so why are you writing this to begin with?
  5. Jul 22, 2011 #4
    Thanks MikeyW; I really appreciate that :smile:

    And thanks a lot hadsed for the link.

    I want my research paper to be simple; I want it to be understandable by any smart high-school graduate. I don't dream of a competant or a publishable one, though, I want to cover a small particular area (e.g. tensors, partial derivatives, etc) extensively, in almost the laymen terms.

    Um, you can think of it as a show-off, but at the same time, I really want to get an idea how it is like being a theoretical physicist. I want this summer to be the beginning of what I want to become in future.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2011
  6. Jul 23, 2011 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you would get off to a much better start by reading papers than writing them.
  7. Jul 23, 2011 #6


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    Pick a hard problem. Sit at your desk in your room for hours at a time, alone, working on the problem. Stop working on the problem when you solve it, or when someone else beats you to the solution.
  8. Jul 23, 2011 #7
    This is a good suggestion vanadium; I was already following it :wink:
    Thanks. This is a very good suggestion :smile:
  9. Jul 23, 2011 #8
    Or find a better solution.
  10. Jul 23, 2011 #9
    Look into working in a lab under a professor. That way you will get guidence and good experience.
  11. Jul 23, 2011 #10
    That's good, but my vacations are soon coming to an end, so I don't have enough time right now. But sure, as soon as I get some substantial amount of time, I'll consider working under a researcher or a professor. Thanks :smile:
  12. Jul 23, 2011 #11
    I don't have guts to hope for it, but I can still give it a try :smile:
  13. Jul 24, 2011 #12
    You can do research during the school year (which is normal).
  14. Jul 24, 2011 #13
    My teachers will teach me engineering; not the deep theoretical physics. So I'd like to concentrate on that in the hectic school days o:)
  15. Jul 24, 2011 #14
    There are no simple research papers in general relativity.

    Something that would be more likely to get you somewhere is to look in Physica A and Physics Review E for some interesting topics. Also, if you have N weeks, you should aim at finding a topic and then talking to some professor that is working on that topic.

    You should know that for professionals active in the field to write a publishable paper typically takes three to six months.

    For a professional physicist to get themselves to the point where they are familiar enough with a new research field so that they can author papers typically takes about a year of full time study.

    Have realistic goals. You aren't going to get a publishable paper in general relativity out in two months. You should set your goals to something that you can do that would be useful. For example, in one month, you become familiar enough with the physics literature to find a problem that would be interesting.

    Spend a few hours a day in the library reading journals. The reason I think it's better for you to start with Physical Review E rather than Physical Review D is that if you go through a stack of Physical Review E papers you'll likely find something that you've have the math for, so that that point it's just a matter of learning the physics.

    Also look at what the professors at your university are doing. It will help a lot if you work on a topic that people at your university are also working on.
  16. Jul 24, 2011 #15
    There's a lot of deep theoretical physics in engineering. For example, if you want to do anything with general relativity, then you need to be very good at tensor calculus, and this is the type of stuff that you can get in advanced engineering programs.

    The problem is that it sounds a lot like you are suffering from the "Steven Hawking syndrome" and if you want to be a productive theoretical physicist, you need to get out of the syndrome.

    One reason reading Physics Rev. E would be useful is that hopefully you will find something research topic that is relevant to the things that your teachers are working on.
  17. Jul 24, 2011 #16


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    It sounds like you just want to right an expository on some topic you're now learning about -- put it in your own words. Why not just do exactly that?

    You're not going to be able to write anything anyone from the last hundred years would call a research paper, or even a review article. So really, this is for you more than anyone else. Just open up a LaTeX editor and start writing on whatever you want. It won't put you in the shoes of a real physicist -- you'll need an advisor to show you that.
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