Career advise: theoretical physics PhD?

In summary: You need to have the right mindset and be prepared to work hard and make sacrifices. It is also important to find a good balance and maintain your curiosity and enjoyment of the subject.
  • #1
igard
1
0
When I was studying the bachelor in physics, I was happy and got good marks (not the best, but good). I always liked the more theoretical and mathematical subjects. Then I did a masters in Theoretical Physics in Spain. At the beginning I was happy: all subjects were hard but interesting. I spent my free time studying all the new mathematical concepts. But this happiness didn’t last long. Soon I couldn’t study on my own anymore, since I had to do assignments, and these took all my time outside class. Then exams, then more assignments… Until I finished the master, tired of not having time to fulfil my curiosity and feeling I hadn’t learned all I could have learnt. My final marks were not bad, but I felt I had only passed, I didn’t remember enjoying any moment of study because I couldn’t go till the end of anything. Everything had to be done so fast.

This was a hard experience. So much so that I decided not to do a PhD in theoretical physics, which was the plan before starting the master. I am afraid theoretical physics is actually hard and it requires not only hard work but also good aptitudes (maybe I’m not intelligent enough). So I’ve thought perhaps I should try something simpler like quantum computing. I don’t find it as interesting, but perhaps it is a balanced option.

What do you think? Maybe my experience is biased by the particular master I have studied, and I should pursue my original plan somewhere else? Or is theoretical physics really a hard world, where you really need to be intelligent and give all your time, otherwise you don’t enjoy at all?
 
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  • #2
I would start with the assumption that any PhD in physics is going to be challenging and will have long hours of work on stuff that's not immediately interesting to you. So the strategy of going for something you think might be less challenging could quite easily backfire and you'd end up studying something that is equally as challenging that you didn't really want to study in the first place.

If it was the pace of the work that was really the challenge to you, maybe you could consider strategies to slow that down, or ways to make time in your week for your own reading and projects. Talk to some current graduate students and professors too. I'm not familiar with the Spanish educational system, but I'm assuming that the master's degree was largely course-based. A PhD tends to be a different animal where the focus shifts from courses to research projects.

And all of that said, I think a lot of people do end up quite successfully pursuing a field that's different from their first love, and for a number of reasons. Often there's a balance between what you think you'd really like to be doing and what you think you'll end up getting paid to do.
 
  • #3
igard said:
Then I did a masters in Theoretical Physics in Spain.
igard said:
Maybe my experience is biased by the particular master I have studied, and I should pursue my original plan somewhere else?

Was your Spanish master a one or two year master?

igard said:
Or is theoretical physics really a hard world, where you really need to be intelligent and give all your time, otherwise you don’t enjoy at all?

It would not be too much to say that it is a harsh world. The entire academic structure with finding PhD positions, postdocs, and tenure track positions can be very unforgiving. That does not mean you cannot have other interests or enjoy the journey.
 

Related to Career advise: theoretical physics PhD?

1. What are the job prospects for a theoretical physics PhD?

The job prospects for a theoretical physics PhD are generally very good. Many graduates go on to work in academia as professors or researchers, while others find employment in industries such as technology, finance, or government. The critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed during a PhD program are highly valued in a variety of fields.

2. How long does it take to complete a theoretical physics PhD?

The length of time it takes to complete a theoretical physics PhD can vary, but on average it takes about 5-6 years. This includes coursework, research, and writing a dissertation. Some programs may offer accelerated or part-time options, which can affect the timeline.

3. What skills are necessary for success in a theoretical physics PhD program?

To be successful in a theoretical physics PhD program, strong analytical and mathematical skills are essential. Additionally, excellent problem-solving abilities, dedication, and a passion for research are important qualities to have. Good communication and collaboration skills are also beneficial, as much of the work in this field is done in teams.

4. Is it necessary to have a specific undergraduate degree to pursue a theoretical physics PhD?

While many students who pursue a theoretical physics PhD have an undergraduate degree in physics, it is not always necessary. Some programs may accept students with degrees in related fields such as mathematics or engineering. However, a strong foundation in physics and mathematics is crucial for success in a theoretical physics PhD program.

5. What can I expect from the application and admissions process for a theoretical physics PhD program?

The application and admissions process for a theoretical physics PhD program can be competitive. Most programs require applicants to have a strong academic background, including high grades in physics and mathematics courses. In addition, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and GRE scores are typically required. The admissions process may also include an interview or research proposal. It is important to carefully research and prepare for the application process to increase your chances of being accepted into a program.

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