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Does research get boring?

  1. Jul 7, 2009 #1
    Superficially, when I think of physics researchers I think of super geniuses sitting around, drinking coffee, blathering on about strings and other drug inspired contraptions, having trouble only when asked to write them down legibly, or a bunch of guys in labcoats sitting around a giant trillion dollar machine smashing things and cackling.

    Basically, I think of it as a lot of fun and very intellectually stimulating.

    But I'm guessing that realistically, I'll get stuck working on very minor problems. I'll probably be increasing the accuracy on our knowledge of a particular constant, not figuring out the new particle (or if I am, I'll be doing it as a minor part of a 300 researcher team). I'm afraid that research will get very specific and very dull, and I'll end up spending more time on academic bureaucracy and being a paper mill than actually living the first paragraph. Or that I won't have the necessary brains to work on really fun "breakthrough" level stuff that you see on tv.

    So, be honest, do most physicists still enjoy their work even in relative obscurity? Or do a significant portion find their work dull enough to consider, say, getting a law degree and fighting patent cases for 6 fig. salaries (which is one option I'm still holding open right now)?

    Oh, and if you find a question more coherent than the one directly espoused in there, feel free to answer it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 8, 2009 #2


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    The short answer is: yes.

    Chances are you won't be the one to discover a bridge to a parallel world, develop practical cold fusion, build an FTL drive, or derive a theory of everything from first principles. Most research is very specific and can be rather dull to the layperson. However, I have found that the majority of researchers do have a driving interest in the specific problems they work on. Most of them have realized at some point that research isn't just a one man show: they're a part of a 300 person research team because it takes 300 people (and sometimes even more) to push that field forward, and they're willing to do that because they find personal fulfillment in doing that over other career options.
  4. Jul 8, 2009 #3
    I probably don't have enough research experience to truly answer your question, but I'll try...(Only 3 years into research so far..)

    I think it depends on whether or not you're interested in your research. If you find something that you absolutely love, then it won't get boring for you. But if you get stuck in a rut with something you're not thrilled with, then yes, it probably will get boring. It also depends on the people that you're working with. If you all get along well and have a good time working together, then it'll be more...fun, for lack of a better term.

    Why do you think you'll get stuck working on "very minor problems?" And if you know what you want to research on, why not start taking the steps to get there?

    Edit: Agreeing with Choppy too. :)
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2009
  5. Jul 8, 2009 #4
    I'll say "yes" too.

    Often you spend a lot of time taking data that ends up being worthless, or at least taking data to confirm reproducibility or narrow error. Maybe you even this in the dark, with no-one else around. Sometimes you perhaps don't get a good sample for a while (say you're making the samples via some photolithography/deposition method). Maybe in analyzing your data you fry your sample or figure out something wasn't turned on or working right, or that another setting might be better on a certain piece of equipment -- so you have to fix things and start again. But sometimes if you turn on the music, all this can be tolerable.

    I personally tend to get bored doing the same thing for more than two or three years. If you're lucky in your research position, hopefully you have two or more things going on and things rotate in and out. This tends to be the case in R&D for companies or for research labs... or even in academia when you get to supervise several graduate students. The unfortunate thing is that this isn't usually the case in graduate school, where you focus on one problem. I personally found graduate school hideous because it was so one-dimensional... but really loved a position I had as a research engineer for the Air Force Research Labs because I had my own research in the labs, and got to be involved in awarding some grants to small businesses and keeping track of their results.
  6. Jul 8, 2009 #5
    I don't really have enough research experience to comment on this, but the reality is that almost ALL jobs have their boring parts. This is true even for "glamorous" jobs: famous actors sit around for hours upon hours having make-up put on them, musicians drive all day long just to play at a show for an hour, high-up executives spend hours upon hours on conference calls... you get the picture. In my view, a job having a boring aspect isn't really a bad thing, because that's true about nearly all jobs.
  7. Jul 8, 2009 #6
    I am not into the research yet, but I'll tell my short experience on this.

    I study at a place mostly theoretically oriented. So mostly I see my profs staring at the computer screens with weird letters on it, or staring at the walls or at the board, writing weird things. And, they seem to be enjoying what they are doing. I have done this kind of stuff myself :P and if you really like the topic, all this comes naturally.

    On the other hand, I visited this place to do some supposedly high-end experiments. The guy there could expertly handle the apparatus and get very precise readings. And I was like, Why on Earth do I have turn this knob this way, or keep the specimen that way, or make graphs, etc.

    I guess both of these count as research, but depending on your interest, it could be an enjoyable experience or a nightmare.
  8. Jul 8, 2009 #7
    Yeah but if I wanted a boring job, I could get it without going through 6 years of graduate school and a postdoc or two :wink:

    And I could do three years of law school, take a boring job, and get paid three 6 times as much as someone still working for a PhD.

    So I think my point is if there's a good chance that I'd go into physics and find my days no more inspiring than if I'd gone to law school, then I ought to consider the latter option more carefully.
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