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Becoming a particle physicist?

  1. Oct 31, 2007 #1
    Becoming a particle physicist?!?!

    This is my first year in physics--as a mere high school student, but I absolutely love it. I think physics on a molecular level is really cool, and a subatomic level even cooler. But I think Particle Physics may be the path for me.
    I can only afford the local state school at this point (Kansas State University--which isn't bad for a state-school) however, I'm not sure where to go after that. Master degree this, PhD that, doctorate something or other. I'm simply unfamiliar with the system. I'm curious if anyone could give me a direction... a good program for the master's, and same for the PhD, I'm also curious about research programs.
    Could someone kind of give me an idea of where to look?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2007 #2
    What are the different kinds of work that somebody can do at a particle physics research center?
  4. Nov 2, 2007 #3


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    At the risk of being accused of bursting people's bubbles, I'll chime in.

    You are still WAY too early in your education to be making such definite decisions such as this. You still have not been exposed to all the different areas of physics to know that particle physics is what you find the most fascinating and what you want to devote your life to.

    What you want to concentrate on is to be a physicist FIRST, and be exposed to as wide of an area as you can. There's plenty of time later on to pick and choose what you want to do. You may be depriving yourself of other exciting field of studies if you put blinders on this early in your education.

    You may want to read my essay on the process of being a physicist.

  5. Nov 2, 2007 #4


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    When I was in your position I thought I wanted to be a chemist. Then, I changed my major to physics and decided I wanted to be a theoretical guy. Since, then I have had research experience in experimental solid state physics and that is my current favorite.:rolleyes: My point is that you have not had an introduction to all the different fields in physics. Give yourself some time to experience all the different areas and paths of study. You interests may change, and remember, I'm saying this from personal experience. As Zz said, focus on becoming a physicist first, then pick a field.
  6. Nov 2, 2007 #5


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    First off: I agree with everything everyone's said up to this point. Learn physics, and then go on to specialize.

    As to the rest of your question (for you and others who might be interested): what you want to do with physics can determine how you design your education program. Of course the first step is to get a bachelors. It almost doesn't matter where you go to do this: sure, it helps to go somewhere amazing, but at this level, most of what you learn is from books, and you can do that almost as well from Harvard as you can from Kansas. I have found that any disadvantage from attending a not-as-good undergrad program is quickly overcome after a year or two in grad school.

    Where you go after you get your bachelors depends on what you want to do. If you want to go into pure research, you are pretty much required to get a PhD. Armed with that, you can build your own lab in industry, or move on to teaching at the collegiate level. Keep in mind that a PhD is a *lot* of work: typically anywhere from 5-10 years of additional school, plus even more time as a post-doc, etc. If your intension is to teach at the high-school level, or if you would rather work in a lab, not necessarely at the top-brass level, you can get a Masters degree. That is often enough. That only requires 2-3 years of extra school, and no additional internships.

    As far as where to go: when the time came for me to apply to grad schools, I sat down with my academic advisor and we made a long list of places where we both thought I would do well. We then narrowed that list down to a few places, and then I applied. Those places I got into flew me to their department for a recruitment weekend, where I got to meet my potential colleagues and future research advisors, check out the city where I would spend the next several years of my life, etc. This process was very personal and soul-searching, and I think the only way it can be done well is when the time comes, to have a long talk with your advisor and do some personal research on the web. I don't think anyone here can give you a simple answer like "Go Here!" or "Don't Go There!"

    Anyway, physics_wtf: slow down, enjoy life, and when the time comes, make your decision. I'm very happy to hear you're finding physics so fascinating. Anyone else out there who's reading this post: I hope you find it helpful.
  7. Nov 2, 2007 #6
    I'll risk sharing a differing viewpoint from the others. This is my own experience, so please, no one bite my head off. ;)

    I've known I wanted to be an astrophysicist since I was 11 (although I didn't know the term astrophysicist at the time). Since middle school, I've known I wanted a Ph.D. Before I had any physics training or had a particular career in mind, I had those goals and passions. And here I am, an astrophysicist, about to get a Ph.D. I've changed a lot since I was 11, but my passion and goals are still the same.

    I agree with the previous posters that you really should not be making detailed decisions about your career field and advanced degrees at this point. Learn everything you can and keep an open mind. It's not a bad idea to keep a goal in the back of your mind and adjust it as you need to. The advice the others are giving is so that you don't lock yourself into a very narrow path before you've been exposed the broader field (and completely different fields). If you find that particle physics is still your passion a few years down the line, then keep going for it! It may work out that way, or you may find something else you love and want to pursue.

    There's a good balance to be found in setting goals and remaining flexible and open.
  8. Nov 2, 2007 #7


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    i thought this said "on becoming a particle!" from the abbreviated version on the previous page. i had visions of a scientist suffering a transformation like the one in the movie: the human fly. my apologies, ill go back now to becoming a singularity on a theta divisor.
  9. Nov 2, 2007 #8
    I think the main point people are trying to make is you need to focus on studying the basics right now (most importantly, math, at this age) so you can go to the next steps of fulfilling your dream. Instead of researching PhD programs, you should be studying math and physics books at your current level.
  10. Nov 2, 2007 #9
    It's great that you want to do particle physics. I'm working for my prof right now on a particle physics experiment and I had to read up on it to know what it is he is doing.

    The book I read was "Introduction to Elementary Particles" by Griffiths. It's an old book (1987), but it will get you on the right path.

    Until you hit the math. And the other physics concepts you need to know that you don't yet.

    Why am I mentioning those? Because if you still want to learn about particle physics (which I am encouraging), you'll have to learn all those things, too. It's very likely that along the way you'll find something else you'd also think about doing.

    Anyway, pick the book up (at your library or something) and read it a bit. You'll find out what particle physics is like (or at least get an intro to it) so you don't keep having wet dreams about it and when the day comes you are somehow disappointed because you thought it would be different or something.
  11. Nov 2, 2007 #10
    A book from 1987 is old!? Goodness, that's younger than I am!
  12. Nov 2, 2007 #11
    It still claims the Neutrino has no mass among other things. An old classical mechanics book might be fine, since nothing new has really been discovered about it, but particle physics is moving pretty fast.

    You wouldn't give someone a book from 1993 to teach them about computers, you know?
  13. Nov 3, 2007 #12


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    The book "Elementary particles" by Griffiths will be released in new edition march 2008 =)

    Also I've heard that "Quarks and Leptons: An Introductory Course in Modern Particle Physics" by Francis Halzen is good intro book.

    But the difference is that these two books goes into the math and as Poop-Loops said, they have things that we today know is wrong, due to new discoveries. But teaches the fondations about particle physics, still.

    I would instead recommend a book at intro level, so you have something nice to read when you are not studying the fondations of math and physics;)

    The Ideas of Particle Physics: An Introduction for Scientists - G. D. Coughlan, J. E. Dodd, and B. M. Gripaios

    Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics - Martinus Veltman

    You can be "fooled" by many books that says "intro to particle physics", because particle physics formally requires much knowledge about quantum phyiscs and are upper undergraduate courses / stuff.

    Also I say as the other; keep your passion alive, but make sure you learn the foundations and be open. Also try both experimental physics and theoretical (both theoretical and experimental requires much computer/programing knowledge).

    Good luck!
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