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Other First year PhD in theoretical physics

  • Thread starter Silviu
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623
11
Hello! What can a first year PhD student (in an American university) do, research related, in the field of Theoretical (mainly high-energy) physics? I know in the USA you need to start research from the first semester of PhD (even if you formally choose a definite field of research at the end of your second year). I did research in several areas, mostly experimental and there you can more or less get started, without understanding all the details behind what is going on (I mean in the beginning), but for theoretical physics, you need to know this stuff (QFT, GR etc.) and this stuff is usually not even taught in the first year of PhD (in the first year for a PhD you usually need to take EM, CM, QM and Stat Mech). So what kind of work can a student doing theoretical physics do, without previously knowing these topics (which realistically speaking take quite a while to master)? Thank you!
 

CrysPhys

Education Advisor
621
316
What can a first year PhD student (in an American university) do, research related, in the field of Theoretical (mainly high-energy) physics? I know in the USA you need to start research from the first semester of PhD (even if you formally choose a definite field of research at the end of your second year).
Could you clarify your situation? Are you currently enrolled in an American university with the requirement to start research in the first semester; or are you a foreign student planning to enroll in an American university, and that's your understanding of what to expect? Because in some American universities, some profs will offer you a research assistant position starting in your first semester. But in many American universities, you don't get offered a research assistant position until after you pass your quals [after all, if you don't pass your quals (one or two shots), you're given the boot].
 
623
11
Could you clarify your situation? Are you currently enrolled in an American university with the requirement to start research in the first semester; or are you a foreign student planning to enroll in an American university, and that's your understanding of what to expect? Because in some American universities, some profs will offer you a research assistant position starting in your first semester. But in many American universities, you don't get offered a research assistant position until after you pass your quals [after all, if you don't pass your quals (one or two shots), you're given the boot].
I am in an American university, first year PhD. I need to pass my quals before doing actual research, but I also need to do some research to fulfill the number of credits from the first semester. I am a foreign student and I need 36 credits. I will have 24 from 2 classes and I need 12 from some sort of research. This research doesn't have to be the one I will stick to after the first 2 years, so I am allowed to explore different areas. I just want to know what kind of work is it expected in the theoretical physics for someone quite new. I know some QFT, GR, group theory, differential geometry etc. but definitely I don't know the most advanced topics (at least not formally). But leaving aside my situation, my question is quite general, what can someone do (in quite a short period of time say 6 months) in theoretical physics research? Will they expect me to master QFT or String theory formalism in 2-3 months and then apply it in the other 3?
 

ZapperZ

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Hello! What can a first year PhD student (in an American university) do, research related, in the field of Theoretical (mainly high-energy) physics? I know in the USA you need to start research from the first semester of PhD (even if you formally choose a definite field of research at the end of your second year). I did research in several areas, mostly experimental and there you can more or less get started, without understanding all the details behind what is going on (I mean in the beginning), but for theoretical physics, you need to know this stuff (QFT, GR etc.) and this stuff is usually not even taught in the first year of PhD (in the first year for a PhD you usually need to take EM, CM, QM and Stat Mech). So what kind of work can a student doing theoretical physics do, without previously knowing these topics (which realistically speaking take quite a while to master)? Thank you!
1. You should really talk to your Academic Advisor and see if this is something you should be doing in the very first semester or year of your graduate work.

2. Do you not have any TA responsibilities?

3. Shouldn't you worry more about passing your qualifying exams ahead of wanting to do research work?

Zz.
 

CrysPhys

Education Advisor
621
316
I am in an American university, first year PhD. I need to pass my quals before doing actual research, but I also need to do some research to fulfill the number of credits from the first semester. I am a foreign student and I need 36 credits. I will have 24 from 2 classes and I need 12 from some sort of research. This research doesn't have to be the one I will stick to after the first 2 years, so I am allowed to explore different areas. I just want to know what kind of work is it expected in the theoretical physics for someone quite new. I know some QFT, GR, group theory, differential geometry etc. but definitely I don't know the most advanced topics (at least not formally). But leaving aside my situation, my question is quite general, what can someone do (in quite a short period of time say 6 months) in theoretical physics research? Will they expect me to master QFT or String theory formalism in 2-3 months and then apply it in the other 3?
I can't advise you on this matter unfortunately. Just curious: what university are you at? It seems bizarre that you are taking only 2 classes. How many are required to fulfill your grad requirements? I've never heard of a program such as this.
 
623
11
1. You should really talk to your Academic Advisor and see if this is something you should be doing in the very first semester or year of your graduate work.

2. Do you not have any TA responsibilities?

3. Shouldn't you worry more about passing your qualifying exams ahead of wanting to do research work?

Zz.
I have a fellowship, so I don't have TA responsibilities. Also I passed my quals exams. I need to take classes now and I can also do research. I will of course go to the professors I am interested in working with, but I was hoping someone can give me some hints about what to expect in this field as a beginner. Thank you!
 
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Well, what will happen is youll read some papers, talk to people in your group, and then hopefully youll find a problem that you can work on! That is all you really do. Now, the tricky part is... how fundamental will you go? This is an issue i struggle with as I will usually want to go super fundamental, read some papers in the field, get discouraged because I dont understand anything, then talk to people in my group to see that I'm not the only one. Get unstuck for a little, then hit a wall again. So really, just find a problem that you think is interesting and dig at it for a little by little, and dont be afraid to look "stupid" by asking questions on papers youre reading. Whether it is mathematical, physical, or philosophical, dont be afraid to ask them to people in your group. Youll eventually find out who is the most helpful for each type. Youre not in this journey alone, ask around! Even now, make sure to ask some more senior grad students for what they suggest to do.

Good luck.
 

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