General pros and cons of being a Universalist as a physicist

  1. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    I'd like to hear some of the general pros and cons of being a Universalist as a physicist. I do have branch interets, but they're numerous. Mostly my interests are in plasmas and condensates.

    I'm curently a Junior Undergraduate Physics major.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    *bump* for replies
     
  4. I don't think anyone has replied because we don't know what you mean by "Universalist."
     
  5. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    Ah, sorry, forgot about the ambiguous connotations...

    From Wikipedia's Physics page

    "Since the 20th century, the individual fields of physics have become increasingly specialized, and nowadays it is not uncommon for physicists to work in a single field for their entire careers. "Universalists" like Albert Einstein (1879—1955) and Lev Landau (1908—1968), who were comfortable working in multiple fields of physics, are now very rare."

    I'm assuming it's not as good for your career to not specialize?
     
  6. If you are interested in becoming an experimentalist, you are probably better off forgetting about becoming a universalist. Each field utilizes very specialized set of experimental techinques.
    If you want to become a theoretical universalist like Einstein and Landau, go through your education in one field and become a tenured professor somewhere. After that, you can have the freedom to study whatever interests you. During your graduate education, I think chances are slim that you would be encouraged to do theoretical studies in multiple fields unless you consider yourself equal to or bettern than Einstein and Landau.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2006
  7. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 29,757
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    I would also strongly suggest that one does not base one's decision, especially in deciding a career, on stuff one reads off Wikipedia.

    Zz.
     
  8. Gokul43201

    Gokul43201 11,141
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    ...unless your name is Fermi.

    Pythagorean, training yourself in more than one field will require that you spend over a decade in grad school. With many depts. this will be especially tricky to accomplish.
     
  9. And within that decade one could cover maybe 3 or 4 fields at best and probably wouldn't be able to do decent research in more than one of them. I'd forget all about this and learn something well and focus on that. Having a clear main field doesn't stop one from looking into other fields for broadening ones horizons either.
     
  10. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    Actually, The Wikipedia page discouraged me, claiming universalists are rare, which brought me here, to ask if it was a bad career. Perhaps they used the wrong word, but they brought up an idea that seemed quite natural to me and then called it rare, as if it had little probabibility of surviving in the real world.

    My decision is far from based off of a page on the internet, I've always been hesitant to specialize, even into physics from general education. I finally went with physics because I was under the impression that it covered a a broad spectrum of things.

    Again, I don't see any reason not to be both an experimentalist and a theoretical physicist. I would think that a good theoretical physics would have some solid lab experience.

    Yes, this is very unrealistic. Academically, I will have a focus. I'm talking about career wise. If it means teaching as a professor days and working in a lab at night, I'm fine with that.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2006
  11. Hmm I think things were different in the last century and that they have changed. I don't know any "universalists" today, probably because research in almost all fields has advanced too deep for one person to be able to cover many fields simultaneously.

    But, you can of course, specialize in one field, then later on switch to other (I've seen many cases like that). Even if it's going to be transition from physics to biology. :smile:
     
  12. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    That's what I assumed. I remember hearing (by word of mouth) last summer that in the 18th century, one man could learn most of the known sciences in his lifetime, but today, one man couldn't even cover one whole field in his life time, but I wanted to be sure there wasn't any use for people with breadth (over depth) in the physics career fields.

    Thanks to everyone for their input, I will probably be going into condensates for now (which I assume means focusing in quantum and optics for now). It seems like the freshest frontier, with room to pioneer.
     
  13. hmm.. I think you are missing my point here. I was saying that it'd be very hard to become competent in multiple fields even after you decide to specialize in either theory or experiment, let alone become a theretician AND experimentalist at the same time...

    Well I guess I shouldn't try to discourage anyone, so I'll let your graduate advisor do the talk sometime in the future:redface:
     
  14. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,596
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    No worries, but I think my advisor is a closet string theorist, and I always thought the idea of just one advisor was a bit bias. That's why I like this forum.

    I'm pretty much sold on specializing in condensates/optics/quantum but as for experimental vs. theorist I sitll think that both are important.
     
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