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Aspects of theoretical physics

  1. Jun 21, 2010 #1
    After 3 years of udergraduate study I need to decide on my Master Degree program (which is very specialized here in EU). I really hate programming and experimental stuff while I am very interested in mathematical approach so I want to do theoretical physics (with no computional aspects). However I am not sure which subject should I choose since courses or REUs are not enough for me to know certain subject very well. I am interested in some ("fundamental") aspects of quantum gravity, quantum computing and superconductivity. Could you tell me sth more about this subjects in terms of job prospects (in my country job in academia isn't as hard to get as in US but it's good if your field has some real-life applications especially in bio and nano (some mathematical methods used in HEP are useful in bio so you can get money and still do astrophysics), breakthroughs, results confirmed by experiments, chances for not doing numerical modelling and much more. I would like to hear more about those subjects from people who are (or used to be) in those fields.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2010
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  3. Jul 6, 2010 #2
  4. Jul 17, 2010 #3


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    The best advice for you is to get over your hatred of programming. Even theoretical physicists make extensive use of numerical simulations and other types of programming in their work. If there are any who don't, the job market for them is bleak, as they will be outclassed by anyone who can do both good math and programming.
  5. Jul 17, 2010 #4
    If you are talking academical then no, mathematical physicists are still needed and they can't be replaced by normal numerical ones. It is the same as how most who do pure maths don't need programming, one of our maths professors can barely use a computer! He handwrites his stuff and copies, and puts all of the info for his courses in a pile of paper outside his room instead of having homepages for the courses etc.

    But of course all real world jobs wants you to program stuff, at least simple numerical simulations.
  6. Jul 17, 2010 #5
    I would not choose the first two. I would choose anything related to electronics industry. Electronics industry have private industry , Institutional research, academic research and education and many other employers
    Quantum gravity is an old theoretical branch of physics with no successes and many applicants. Quantum computing is more adequate for mathematicians with computer skills
    Other than electronics in the coming years is nuclear industry rise again and their use of physicists with computer skills
    First choice is energy or technology related subjects ends you one day with more secure job than quantum gravity for example because it is more or theoretical maybe compared to experimental yes
  7. Jul 18, 2010 #6
    I do not hate programming because i don't like it. I struggle to pass an exam because I can't code. It's the same with hands-on lab work. I may destroy whole lab one day. But I'm perfectly fine with doing programming or experimental stuff on a piece of paper. And I should say that I do not look for science job in industry. If I don't manage to find research position in academia I will leave this field and do non-science stuff full-time which also fascinates me. I don't care if it's university or other place. If I can do research in field that fascinates me, it's enough. So my questions were academia-related. I'm interested in high-temperature superconductivity, LQG and some aspects of quantum computing. However I'm much more interested in physics than in math. Math is interesting but not as much as physics and I want to choose theory because its tools are the nicest for me to use and it's most interesting approach for me. So I want to know academia job prospects in those fields and know more about general stuff. I would prefere to stay close to experiments because I want to know if I'm right or wrong and be able to fix my theory after seeing real-life results. LQG suits my interests best but I'm afraid of hitting dead-end because I won't be able to confirm my results. And even if I manage to find research position I won't get funds or climb academia ladder because I will lose to bio and nano people.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2010
  8. Jul 18, 2010 #7


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    Being able to program is not an "all-or-nothing" skill. It takes practice to program well. If you want to go into academia in physics you're going to need to be able to write basic computer programs. They don't need to be fully optimized programs that a comp-sci major would write, but you either need to be able to write a half-decent program or be absolutely fantastic at doing things entirely analytically, and being "absolutely fantastic" analytically is pretty damn hard. Lots of problems are just too hard to be done entirely by hand alone. Using a computer to solve or simulate problems, even if it's only to get an intuition for what your system is doing is common. And again, even if your ability to do things by hand is pretty good, pretty good isn't going to cut it if your prospective employer finds someone else who is pretty good and can write a computer program.

    That said, if you want to try, I would guess quantum gravity-esque fields are perhaps the most likely to be more mathy and not as program-y, but you might also find that they do programming too. I don't know any specifics about these fields, though.

    Now, going into academia is a risky gamble on its own; trying to get into a field like quantum gravity is going to be very very hard unless you are very, very good. It's a good idea to be able to program in the event academia doesn't work out, because then you at least have a marketable skill when looking for jobs.

    An exception that's increasingly rare these days. How old is this professor? If he got tenure when computers couldn't comfortably fit in one's backpack, then it's not so surprising that he can't use a computer very well. These days it's becoming rarer and rarer for a graduate student in science to not have any programming ability, so one is going to have to be very good doing things by hand in order for a complete inability to program to be overlooked.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2010
  9. Jul 19, 2010 #8
    it's not like I can't code at all. I've had to take 4-5 c/c++/matlab courses so I can write simple code. I just feel that programming in my case is a waste of time. I need to work hard with little results. Should I waste my time like that? I can learn math and improve myself in much greater way during that time. Like I said before - I do not look for science job in industry. I am polishing my skills and gaining experience in non-science related field which fascinates my as much as physics. It's not as marektable as programming but still allows me to make a living. And even if my plan doesn't work out I still can do many things which aren't programming related. Doing sth that you hate? Even if you are bad in it? I'm not masochist. But still I'm curious about programming in academia. Will it help me to get a job in those 3 fields that I've mentioned?
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
  10. Jul 19, 2010 #9
    I don't know if I understand correctly but that's what I think:
    1. LQG
    - allows you to work on fundamental aspects of universe
    - almost no programming
    - no experimental results
    - high chance of dead end
    - no major discoveries
    - no job prospects
    - too much math and almost no physics
    2. High-temperature superconductivity
    - interesting, fundamental subject but not as much as gravity or quantum computing
    - better job prospects because it's condensed matter physics
    - close with experiments
    - very high chance that it will involve programming
    - not so great job prospects
    - math which is used there isn't very interesting for me
    - high chance of doing sth related but different and boring
    - experiments more intersting than theory
    3. Quantum computing
    - promising field
    - finding job is the easiest
    - suits my interests in both fundamental aspects of physics and information theory
    - close with experiments
    - can avoid programming
    - can work on interesting technology
    - may not be able to work on fundamental aspects of physics or on physics at all

    The point is I may be totally wrong. About my scientific interests: It's hard for me not to think in microscopic scale. I used to be EE major during my first year and wanted to learn about information theory, telecommunication, superconductivity, cryptography and fundamental aspects of universe. However EE was too much hands-on and superficial for me. I want to use creativity and imagination in my work. I love to know and understand how does everything work: universe, electronic devices or people. If I don't have to code and do hands-on stuff I am happy. And I want to confirm my results. That's it.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
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