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Doing very theoretical undergrad research?

  1. Mar 2, 2014 #1


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    I'm a junior in university right now, hoping to attend grad school for physics. At my school, all physics students have a senior research project, and the professor that I'm most likely going to do my project with is a string theorist. The project is very theoretical (i.e. no computers; purely pen and paper). I do enjoy the work and I am very close with the professor.

    However, I'm worried that I'm hurting my chances for grad school by not developing more useful skills with this project. The student currently working with him has had difficulty with grad school acceptances (though he has done no other research as an undergrad, for the record).

    I've done (gentle) computational research as a sophomore, and I've been accepted for an external REU this summer, probably with computation or possibly experiment, so I have other opportunities, but will I be taking a hit by not doing another project? There are many other ones to choose (with experiment and computation), but I am interested in this one and this professor if it's not going to hurt me. Any thoughts?
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  3. Mar 2, 2014 #2


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    Unless you have catastrophically bad GPA, getting accepted into grad school should not be an issue. The fact that another grad student had difficulty is not a good measuring stick. Did he have the same GPA as you? Did he apply to enough number of schools of various tiers? There are many factors here beyond just that you and him shared the same project or professor.

    What I would be MORE concerned, if I were you, is figuring out if you had a wide-enough experience as an undergraduate (and hopefully, when you are a graduate student) to make yourself "employable" in case you cannot get a job as a university faculty member! Do you have a back up plan, or have you equipped yourself with skills that make you attractive to a non-academic employer? Unlike experimentalists, where certainly physical skills come by default due to the nature of the area that they specialize in, as a theorists, there aren't a lot of inherent skills from strictly following the standard curriculum and research line that a non-academic employer would find valuable. So you have a bigger challenge here to ensure that you have some marketable ability by the time you graduate.

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