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Choosing research dilemma

  1. Mar 12, 2009 #1
    i'm in my 4th year in college but will graduate next fall, double majoring in physics and applied math. i'm looking for applied math or mechanical engineering for grad school, probably computational fluid dynamics or heat transfer for ME. i really want to make weapons, missiles, etc for a defense contractor as the technology sounds very interesting (but not necessarily very moral)

    i hate experiemnts, and would rather do computation/modeling/simulation. i love my math/physics classes that use paper and pencil

    i'm thinking of doing research for this spring quarter and maybe next fall

    heres the dilemma:
    1. i've been doing research in biophysics/applied math/fluid dynamics right now. i started about 2 weeks ago. so far, i've just been reading research papers. so far, its pretty boring as its mostly biophysics and not really applied math.

    2. i spoke with another prof today about doing reserach in materials science modeling/applied math, and it sounded much more interesting. seems to use some stat mech, which is my favorite part about physics. but the applications are kinda lame: quantum dots, making lasers, etc. not really what i'm looking for.

    which one should i choose? i want to do something practical in grad school, and not do something too theoretical. i've found that i dont have a passion for any particular subjects, so i dont want to do something theoretical for a phD, hate it in the middle of it, and then drop out and not find a job
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2009 #2
    This can be a common issue, where someone likes working for something but its application is lame, disappointing, and far-fetched.

    I believe that no matter what the application is, you should do something that you love so much that you can do it while eating, walking, and so on. No matter how great the application may be, if you find it boring it is hard to make it your second nature.
  4. Mar 12, 2009 #3
    i dont like anything THAT much
  5. Mar 13, 2009 #4


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    It might be worth pointing out that if you've only been doing something for 2 weeks, you likely haven't given it much of a chance. And any project is very likely going to start out with a lot of reading.

    At the undergraduate level, your goal in getting involved in research shouldn't be so much about doing precisely what you see yourself going into for graduate studies. Rather, it should be about learning skills and expanding your horizons so that when it comes time to make the bigger decisions in life you will have a broad context of experience on which to draw.

    When faced with a decision between 2 research projects, I would ask questions along the lines of:
    - what skills will you develop by working on this project?
    - programming?
    - statistics?
    - practical laboratory skills, such as operating magnetic resonance equipment?
    - trade skills such as machining, circuit fabrication?
    - writing?
    - experimental design?
    - what areas of physics is this work going to reinforce?
    - ie. will you do a substantial amount of reading into a particular field?
    - what networking opportunities will this project provide?
    - will this lead to a decent reference if you perform well?
    - do you understand your role in the project?
    - will this work lead to any opportunities for publication, or conference attendance?
    - how will you be reimbursed for your time?
    - what is the time committment, and can you afford to take that amount of time off from your studies?
  6. Mar 13, 2009 #5
    both of them are applied math, so i wont pick up any lab/equipment skills

    for the materials modeling one, i understand the problem much easier and dont have to read nearly as many reserach papers as for the biophysics one

    i wont get paid for either one

    they both will mostly use programming. at least for the materials modeling, i will use stats as well.

    i think my biophysics prof just wants me to come up with ideas for how to solve the problem. whereas the materials modeling one wants me to run the program to solve the problem hes working on

    again, the materials modeling sounds MUCH more interesting than the biophysics one
  7. Mar 16, 2009 #6
    well, since i need a decision soon, i will most likely go with the materials modeling one
  8. Mar 17, 2009 #7
    ok, i will choose the materials modeling then
  9. Mar 17, 2009 #8


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    It sounds like that's the answer you've been looking for.
  10. Mar 31, 2009 #9
    ok, i have a fairly big problem here. when I talked with the materials professor about a month ago about doing research with him, his work sounded interesting but I told him that the applications of it (designing lasers, etc) didn't really interest me, so I told him that I would think about it. About a week ago, I told him that I decided that I'd be willing to help him anyways. He responded about a day later saying that's ok, but I won't get class credit for it, since I told him I don't need it. Then I told him that I'm ready to work and can stop by his office whenever he needs me.

    Well, its been about a week now, and he hasn't responded yet. As for the fluid mech professor, I haven't contacted him in a month now. The last time I contacted him, I asked him some questions about what he expects from my powerpoint presentation, and he still hasn't responded. The last thing I want is to have NO professors to work with...
  11. Mar 31, 2009 #10


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    I'm assuming this is all though email. Some people are better at relying than others when it comes to things like this. I would try to phone them or better yet, catch them in their offices and at very least, make an appointment during which time you can express your concerns.
  12. Apr 1, 2009 #11
    hmm, i will try to see him in person today, even though i have no idea what his office hours are
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