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Aspiring Particle Physicist Requesting Advice

  1. Sep 25, 2011 #1
    For several years, particle physics has always been a fascination to me. I'm only 15, so that doesn't say much.... But I'm 100% positive that that is what I would like to study for the rest of my life. If anyone out there on this site could offer any advice or help about how I can reach this goal with more preparedness and/or just more easily, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, I am a junior in high school, and I'm starting to look at colleges. Hence, if anyone knows of any good colleges for either undergrad or grad schools specializing in particle physics, I would be very thankful if you would help me.

    -Thank you very much for reading this,

    P.S.: If the OPERA detector is correct about the FTL neutrinos, particle physicists have job security for life, by rewriting all of the equations! Waaaahoo!
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2011 #2


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    What kind of mathematical background do you have? Where are you from?
  4. Sep 25, 2011 #3
    At the moment, I'm taking AP Calculus. I live in New Jersey.
  5. Sep 25, 2011 #4
    You're on a perfectly good track then. Keep doing what you're doing.
  6. Sep 25, 2011 #5
    Just wondering: What part of NJ are you in? I'm going for theoretical physics and from Bayonne.

    By the way, your taking AP calculus of your junior year. Seems like your on the right track. I would personally recommend Rutgers New Brunswick if your living in NJ, from what I read on its site its department has "one of the strongest particle theory groups in the world." Albeit it isn't one of the top 10 universities in the world, its physics program is solid ranking in at 22 nonetheless and its math program is ranked even higher (if u care about ranking). They have good research programs also. Its professor to student ratio is a comfortable 15:1 on average, which is likely to be a higher student to professor ratio as u progress in study with physics and mathematics.

    Go here: http://www.physics.rutgers.edu/het/group-het.html
  7. Sep 25, 2011 #6
    You're only 15, I doubt you have done enough physics to realize what fascinates you.

    Physics is broad, don't limit yourself to becoming a theoretical particle physicists at such an age.

    Keep taking advanced classes since the standard classes are pretty poor in America. Also try to make it into a school like MIT or Caltec.
  8. Sep 25, 2011 #7
    Why? Because they have a prestigious name behind them? Its not necessary for an undergrad one bit and the loans can easily pile up.
  9. Sep 25, 2011 #8
    My big advice is to do undergraduate research. Once you do some research you can figure out if you really like it or not. Lots of people who think they do, actually don't, and if that's the situation it's better to find out sooner than later.

    For undergraduate, you just need a college that gives you a solid undergraduate physics education. Once you have that then you can worry about graduate school.

    I'll put money that it's an experimental error. Also it turns out that some weird things are pretty easy to accommodate with some tweaking.
  10. Sep 25, 2011 #9


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    ...or what makes you cringe.
  11. Sep 25, 2011 #10
    15...have fun kid...get a girlfriend, there is plenty of time to worry about your 100% certain career choice. You won't need to be worrying about particle physics until the end of your undergrad, in the meantime i suggest you simply do well at your classes. Take calculus and Physics in high school, get into a good university.
  12. Sep 25, 2011 #11
    ^ I've been in a few relationships, they are pretty overrated at a young age. But you also don't want to be that guy living on the top of a hill who wears a top-hat and monocle. Keep a decent social life at such an age. However, you want to stick to the path you're on, ala...
  13. Sep 26, 2011 #12
    I don't find many of these responses helpful for an earnest 15 yo.
    Firstly, I don't buy "you're only 15" as a useful remark.
    If you have a great desire to do particle physics then you should
    seek the best institutions for that subject - don't waste your time
    with second rate schools. Forget the advice about girlfriends,
    that indeed is a red herring and absolutely unnecessary - it will
    come naturally when you are ready for it. Just make sure you don't
    get sidetracked into the "fun" things that ruin the brain and limit
    your chances of success.
  14. Sep 26, 2011 #13
    I was 15 once before. The stuff that I tell 15 year olds is more or less they same things that I wish someone had told me.

    The problem here is that there is a good chance that at some point in your life, you won't get into the school of your choice. Also consider that you can influence your school as much as your school influences you.

    Bad idea. The thing about research is that you don't know where inspiration for a good idea is going to come from, so it's a good idea to just study random and interesting things rather than focus too much.

    The other problem is that you are going to have to learn a lot of skills in order to be productive. You may (and in fact you probably will) find some huge boulder in the road, and studying a lot of fun things will help you figure out how to get over, under, or through that obstacle.
  15. Sep 26, 2011 #14


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    I've written a response to questions like this a while back, so I'll just post a link to it:


    Replace the example I gave, i.e. "theoretical astrophysics", with "particle physics", and you get the same thing.

  16. Sep 26, 2011 #15
    I think I can be useful here because I've wanted to be a theoretical astrophysicist since age eight, and here I am age 41, and I still want to do theoretical astrophysics.

    The thing about life is that often it's not a matter of choice. I *want* to do astrophysics. It so happens that I *can't* do astrophysics right now, so I've had to be extremely flexible so that I can get as close to what I want as I can.

    I've had to study finance, literature, history, computer science, psychology, sociology, philosophy. I've had to study all of these things because I want to figure out how I can do astrophysics (and figure out why it is that I want to do astrophysics). At some point you were brainwashed into loving astrophysics. Getting a good liberal arts education will let you figure out who brainwashed you and why. (Blame Plato for a lot of this.)

    It's possible that you will go into college do research and figure out that you don't really want to do it. On the other hand, you may be like me, go to college, do research and that gets you even more obsessive about doing it. The more I've studied astrophysics theory, the cooler it is.
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