1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Computational Cosmology

  1. Nov 13, 2016 #1
    I am an undergraduate physics student. I am interested in pursuing a PHD in Cosmology. I still don't know which part, but for now I was curious about the computational aspect. Do you know some online course or book that treat well the subject?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Unfortunately, I don't really know of any books on that subject, but I can tell you a little bit of my experience (I did a Ph.D. in physics, with all of my research working being in cosmology, with a heavy focus on data analysis).

    The first year at physics grad school (this was at UC Davis, and I think it's pretty common in the US) was composed primarily of general physics classes. Basically the same classes as the upper-level undergraduate physics classes, but much more in-depth (Non-relativistic Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, Statistical Mechanics, etc.). Second year I started branching out, taking classes in high-energy physics, General Relativity, and some others. It was during this year that I selected an advisor, and finally made the decision to go down the road of computational cosmology. From there, I shifted focus to almost nothing but research, and only a few classes. I got my degree after 4.5 years (I was one of the first of my class to do so). I had almost no formal education at all in computation or data analysis. It was all picked up over time in my work.

    My feeling about pursuing this career is largely that it's often a good idea to keep your options open. Once you get to a good graduate school, you'll be talking with other students and professors, and getting a very good idea of what is involved in the various sub-fields, so you can make your final decision on the specific sub field after a year of graduate studies or more (not too much more: switching subfields too late will significantly lengthen your education).

    Finally, let me just say that if you like the idea of getting a career in academia, it really pays to attend an ivy-league graduate school. Academia is ridiculously competitive, and those who attend ivy league schools definitely have a leg-up. It is also really helpful to just have a huge amount of self motivation.
  4. Nov 15, 2016 #3
    Thank you for the answer. So I will try to learn more on computers and programming.
    On the other side, you opend an interesting topic, at least for students as me. For now I live in Italy, and I am in my last year of physics studies in a very good university(here we have 3 bachelor +2 master studies). So I am prospecting to finish at 24(we usually start university at 19 here in Italy).

    I still don't know if I'll get in academia or another type of carreer. You say that you finished PHD in 4.5 years, being among the first ones. Here in Europe usually PHD is 3 or 4 years. And I think you start in the first/second year research. And then my prospects in Europe are to finish at 27-28, in US at 29-30 because I would have to wait a year for US schools(I know thar there is a month of time but I would be impossible).

    So I want to ask you some questions:
    -I am 'thrilled' to retake some courses I took here in university. I know that in Italy we have a much stronger academic program than the majority of the other countries(including US). And in my studies I studied a lot of times on notes from graduate courses. So, I see that those first two years are a waste of time.... Or do you think that for an academic career it's better to stregthen background subjects?
    -I don't know very well US system and top schools. When I searched I only searched for the professors that make research interesting to me. I only know that maybe I will not be accepted in a top school(I was one of the top students nationally when I started but then I wasn't a model student, the type of one that studies everyday, although now I changed. maybe I can get in a top 20-30). Do you think that it's possible to make a good academic career also out of these schools? Because I always think that for science in general it doesn't matter in which school you studied. You ideas are the one that matters. For me entering a top school is only because maybe they pay more than others..
    -And related to this, the paying is US schools... Is this sufficient to live, save some money? (supposing to spend the average spending of the people living in the city you live)
    -The last but not the least... What to do you mean by huge amount of self motivation?? How is difficult the working PHD student life?
  5. Nov 15, 2016 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Ahh, yes. Italy is quite different! I did my postdoc in Trieste.

    Yeah, advanced degree programs are much shorter in Europe in general. Often Ph.D.'s in the US take 5-7 years to complete.

    I do know that the IASF Bologna has an excellent cosmology program:

    I was a postdoc at SISSA, which also has a good program:

    In particular, these places were central to the work surrounding the Planck satellite.

    Oh, definitely not a waste of time. The deeper understanding I got of the more basic physics was extremely useful.

    However, Ph.D. programs in Europe are quite different, and I believe they specialize much more quickly, which does definitely make the process of making a decision early more important!

    1. Permanent academic jobs are exceedingly hard to come by. This is why those going to the best schools have such an advantage. If you're good at what you do, it's pretty easy to bounce from temporary position to temporary position, but it's really hard to find a permanent one.
    2. The difficulty of finding an academic job shouldn't dissuade you from pursuing the degree. It's perfectly possible to change careers after school. I did. I'm currently working in software engineering and bringing in more than six times what I made as a postdoc.

    It definitely was for me, but you'd have to ask the school (my after-tax income, from about 2003-2008, was about $2000/mo, which was sufficient for a single person). There may be additional difficulties for people coming from outside the country, though. The US has dramatically reduced its investment in higher education over the past decade, while administrative costs have soared.

    Honestly, I think it's pretty great. The hours are flexible, and you should be able to find people to work with whom you get along well with. Some students tend to be workaholics, putting in 60+ hour work weeks, but that's definitely not required (at least not for long periods of time: there may be crunch periods, depending upon the work). It can be difficult if you don't find people you work well with, which is why talking to people at the university is so important.
  6. Nov 17, 2016 #5
    Thank you very much for your informations!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted