Getting into theoretical Physics after multiple setbacks

In summary, the person is considering whether to pursue a career in theoretical physics or reconsider doing physics altogether. They have had a few setbacks, including no publications and bad marks on the last exam, but they are still interested in theoretical physics. They also consider when they will need to make the decision, if they will be competitive for admission, and what they would need to do to get into a PhD program.
  • #1
Hi all,

I'm a theoretical physics hopeful, and I've had a couple of major setbacks in my undergraduate studies. I'm thinking of whether I should pursue a career in TP, or reconsider doing physics entirely.

My background:
  • I've always had an interest in Physics. I got a bronze medal from IPhO 44. I've done extensive teaching.
  • I've a half-finished Bachelors in Nanoelectronics. I've done exactly two out of four years.
  • I've done a Bachelors at Cambridge and graduated this year.

The setbacks:
  • I've got no publications. Not a single one of them.
  • I've got pretty bad marks on the last exam I took. Most people are automatically transferred to MSci if they get high enough marks. I was one of the worst in my year.
  • My country has mandatory national service, so I'll need to be away from anything Physics related for at least three years. I might be able to do some reading in the off-time but it's minimal and nothing compared to the amount of work we did at Uni.
Why do I want to do Theoretical? Because I like doing it. Sure I might be bad at taking exams, but I do still manage to do good marks in project-based work. I love spending time reading books, I used to enjoy solving problems (until recently).
 
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  • #2
You seem to be setting yourself up on a "theoretical physics or bust" approach. I understand you're attracted to "theoretical physics." But why are your only options to either do this, or get out of physics altogether? (As an aside, it might help if you define a little more specifically what "theoretical physics" means to you. Pretty much all branches of physics have theoretical components to them.)

The next thing to consider is that the decision you're facing now is whether to pursue graduate studies in physics. That's not necessarily the same as choosing a career in theoretical physics. Remember, that even if you successfully complete a PhD, the odds are still against you getting a permanent academic position. So if you eventually get into a PhD program, you'll need a solid backup plan.

I would also consider 'when' you need to make this decision. If you need to complete three years of national service, you might want to delay making any decision until that's done with. That's not to say forget about physics for three years. Keep the door open by doing as much reading as you can. Try to get involved in something technical for your service so you'll develop a valuable skill set that commensurate with your future goals. Toward the end of your service you can make the best decision for yourself.

Finally, there's the question of how competitive you will be for admission at all. By the sounds of it, you weren't admitted to an MSc program. You might want to try to map out what you would need to accomplish to eventually get into a PhD program from where you are now. If your undergraduate grades or admission exam marks aren't up to snuff, what will you need to do to get them there and how much time will that take? Its great to believe in yourself and follow your dreams, but be don't be afraid to accept critical, objective assessment. Academic advisors can often help with this, if you have access to one.
 
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  • #3
Choppy said:
As an aside, it might help if you define a little more specifically what "theoretical physics" means to you. Pretty much all branches of physics have theoretical components to them.

I'm currently undecided about Astro or Condensed Matter. I find it easier to deal with maths heavy physics, my best result was in relativity. The maths heavy part of QCM is also fine (e.g. operator algebra on the lattice). I have a feeling that both would be extremely competitive.
 

1. What are some common setbacks when trying to get into theoretical physics?

Some common setbacks when trying to get into theoretical physics include not having a strong background in math and physics, not having access to resources or opportunities for research, facing stiff competition for limited positions, and struggling to find funding for graduate studies.

2. How can I overcome multiple setbacks and still pursue a career in theoretical physics?

One way to overcome multiple setbacks and still pursue a career in theoretical physics is to persist and continue to improve your skills and knowledge. Seek out mentorship and networking opportunities, apply for scholarships and research grants, and consider alternative paths such as working in related fields before pursuing a graduate degree.

3. What skills and knowledge are important for success in theoretical physics?

In addition to a strong foundation in mathematics and physics, skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to think abstractly are crucial for success in theoretical physics. Knowledge of computer programming and familiarity with advanced mathematical techniques are also beneficial.

4. How can I prepare for a graduate program in theoretical physics?

To prepare for a graduate program in theoretical physics, it is important to focus on strengthening your math and physics skills through coursework, self-study, and research experiences. Stay up to date with current research and theories in the field, and seek out opportunities for internships or research assistantships.

5. What are some potential career paths for someone with a background in theoretical physics?

Some potential career paths for someone with a background in theoretical physics include working as a research scientist in academia or industry, pursuing a career in data science or finance, or using your analytical and problem-solving skills in fields such as engineering or computer science. Additionally, some theoretical physicists may choose to become educators and teach at the university level.

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