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Other Do I have any chance of becoming a theoretical physicist?

  1. Aug 15, 2016 #1
    I am a senior physics student. Since high school I have been mainly self-taught in physics. I’ve hardly had any success in university, with an average score of about 74. The reason partly has to do with my terrible algebra skills, with the vast majority of exams being algebra-oriented. However, to me this seems like a symptom of an extensive illness: I have no motivation to prepare for exams.

    I found that the correlation between my grades and my level of understanding of each courses ranked from 0 to 10 is slightly negative (albeit so small as to be considered insignificant). Even if I invest considerable efforts in exam preparation (which I do), the preparation is doomed to be inefficient, as I perceive it as a waste of time which could ironically be used for physics education. In fact, I study more physics on my summer vacation than I do during the entire semester.

    My studying style thus been entirely devoid of focus on grades. I took graduate level courses (relativistic quantum mechanics, statistical physics of interacting systems, quantum field theory, introduction to the standard model, general relativity) because I thought they were important and interesting, despite them being considered difficult. Just for fun I have written four unpublished papers on topics ranging from quantum foundations to Brownian motion. I have read books and papers not related to any courses I was taking.

    I know I have no chance of getting accepted to a reasonably decent graduate school in the standard fashion. Thus, I've considered sending my papers with a brief introduction to as many relevant professors as possible. It seems to be this has the advantage of subjecting me to lesser competition and being more reliable in determining my potential as a physics researcher. It has the disadvantage of me being possibly perceived as a crank (or perhaps I am a crank?). Naturally, since this course is a nonstandard one and to my knowledge not covered by bureaucracy, I deduce that the variance for the answer of each professor is quite large. However, the more numerous the professors contacted, the smaller the relative variance (and hence the risk involved) becomes.

    Does my plan have any chance of succeeding? Are there any (other?) plausible ways for me to pursue a career in theoretical physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2016 #2

    Charles Link

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    Your communication skills seem reasonably good. If you were able to follow in any detail the material in the graduate level courses that you took, I think you would do well to try teaching and/or tutoring physics at some level. I think any career you might have as a theoretical physics person would involve working your way into it. The universities tend to be very busy places, but if you do have good command of the physics concepts, you just might get your foot in the door in some capacity. Without the GPA, etc., I think you will need to demonstrate a considerable skill level, but I would encourage you to try knocking on a few doors and see what returns you may get. The jobs and positions aren't going to find you=you need to put the effort into it.
  4. Aug 16, 2016 #3


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    "Theoretical" physics positions in graduate school are quite competitive. So even if you have written some interesting papers and there are professors out there that would consider taking you on, the question that you'll have to face is why they should take you OVER someone else who has a higher GPA (and has also done graduate coursework, etc.)

    If you have no motivation to prepare for exams, this will also draw into question your ability to prepare for critical stages in a PhD program such as a comprehensive exam, candidacy exam, and finally the thesis defence. Most departments want to eliminate as much doubt as possible for these.
  5. Aug 16, 2016 #4


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    Very slim chance. My suggestion is to start looking at your other options and get into action. You probably should look at the private sector, land a job in some type of corporate research (nearly anything and don't be picky). In two to three years you might have gained the kind of skills and experience to re-enter the academic world with real world experience. I believe that is your best route to success at this time.
    If you try to secure a graduate slot, you will likely fail with your current record and proven academic performance. That is your track record and it will hurt you today. You need to refocus and step away as you are probably suffering from a mild case of academic burnout or attention deficiency. Once you mature a bit, you should be able to focus more on your class studies. As for myself, the library WAS the WORST place for me to study (pre-internet) as I would browse the books and NOT do my homework. If I were a student today, I would have to keep my computer OFF for my time allocated for studying. It's just so easy to look this up or confirm this factoid while NOT actually doing anything to improve my classwork or grades. Am I learning? yes, and I could be very good at jeopardy. But does that help me succeed academically? NO, not in the least. You have kind of cut yourself off from an academic path and need some time in the real world to motivate yourself. You might consider teaching. In the US STEM teachers are in such demand that their teaching credentials can often be deferred while they teach. And it is something that you might actually enjoy. Something to consider.
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