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Getting into theoretical Physics after multiple setbacks

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

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).
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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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 in to 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
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.
 

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