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Can you be a theorist on the side ?

  1. Jul 21, 2009 #1
    Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Say I go to graduate school for experimental physics, and eventually end up in a government or university lab.

    Now, I realize that theoretical physics is also a full time job, but what I mean is, is it still possible to publish one or maybe two papers a year in the theoretical realm, if I do that in my spare time? Has this been known to happen?

    What if I took my PhD to law school, and became a patent lawyer by day? Could I still produce and publish some sort of theoretical physics in my leisure time? (experimental would be hard w/o the equipment).

    Patent lawyer by day, superhero physicist by night maybe?
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2009
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  3. Jul 21, 2009 #2

    dx

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Obviously that depends on how good you are.
     
  4. Jul 21, 2009 #3
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Einstein did patent work by day and theoretical physics by night, so why not you?

    I've had programming jobs where I've looked closely at the techniques being used, and I've thought of ways to improve them, and written papers that have been published in reputable journals. Note, I wasn't expected or encouraged to write papers, i just did it 'for fun'.

    So you might get interested in some theoretical problem thrown up by your experimental work and work on that at night. I'd only try it if you really enjoy it though! You won't get paid for such moonlighting and you'll need a lot of intrinsic motivation.
     
  5. Jul 21, 2009 #4
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    "Patent lawyer by day, superhero physicist by night maybe?"

    Sounds like Albert Einstein! He worked in a patent office in 1905, his magic year where he published 5 revoultionary papers. Although he wasn't a lawyer.

    But I'm afraid this is a big exception, especially nowadays.
     
  6. Jul 21, 2009 #5
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Yes, despite bogus popular biographies which depict Einstein as "a lowly patent clerk" who overturned the world of physicists; Einstein essentially had a PhD in physics and, out of economic desperation, gave up his search for a teaching position and instead took a job that a friend got him as a patent clerk (who made and indeed still make a great deal of money)
     
  7. Jul 21, 2009 #6
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Well, depending on your field, not having access to supercomputer time might be a big obstacle. There is still lots that can be done without a supercomputer, though.
     
  8. Jul 21, 2009 #7

    dx

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Theoretical physicists don't really need supercomputers... what kind of theoretical physicist did you have in mind?
     
  9. Jul 21, 2009 #8

    Choppy

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    I don't think there's any reason why you couldn't pursue theoretical projects on the side, provided you have the time and the dedication. Once you have the Ph.D., you can diverge into other fields. The difficulty is usually in doing the necessary background reading and establishing any necessary collaborations.
     
  10. Jul 21, 2009 #9

    Doc Al

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Of course. One of my best friends does exactly that. He has a "real" job at a major research lab, but still manages to publish papers in an entirely different area by working in his "spare time". (Of course, you won't find him on PF goofing off all day, like some folks I know. :uhh:)
     
  11. Jul 21, 2009 #10
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Who fronts the publishing bill? Does he pay for it out of pocket?
     
  12. Jul 21, 2009 #11

    Doc Al

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Beats me. I'll check. (I suspect his lab foots the bill, if there is one, even though it's not work-related.)
     
  13. Jul 21, 2009 #12
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Some of the theoretical nonlinear dynamicists, astrophysicists, and plasma physicists here use supercomputer time.
     
  14. Jul 21, 2009 #13
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Even theorists use supercomputer time. I'm in computational condensed matter (although I'm trying to claw my way to theory) and even the hardcore theorists are always popping by asking for help with simulations/computations.
     
  15. Jul 21, 2009 #14
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    As a grad student in experimental physics myself (particle astrophysics), I too would like to know what my chances are of doing any theoretical work. I chose experiemental because it's more employable, and hey, I like to play with oscilloscopes. But I wonder if taking a bunch of extra classes would improve my chances of doing any theory.
     
  16. Jul 21, 2009 #15
    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    There's experimental astrophys? What exactly do you do?
     
  17. Jul 22, 2009 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: Can you be a theorist "on the side"?

    Can you "do theory" on the side? Of course. Can you do it well? I think one has to look at how difficult a job it is for people who have been trained at it and do it full time. If one puts in 20% of the effort, is it reasonable to expect a comparable level of achievement?
     
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