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Guidance for an aspiring Field Theorist?

  1. Oct 21, 2005 #1

    I don't post here very often (except for the homework help), but I am aspiring to be a field theorist. Because I find quantum mechanics much more interesting than classical (or at least, so far) I suppose that would mean I am an aspiring quantum field theorist.

    Problem is, I wouldn't know where to start. I'm only a senior in high school. This is my first year of physics (though I am understanding it quite well, and it's AP), and I am currently in calculus. I plan to be taking physics and high level mathematics courses throughout college, but as to what types of these classes…

    So, basically, I need some ideas. What books should I read? What do I need to "master" to become a QFTist? Also, I have heard that physicists who want to deal in theory basically have to get a job at a college as a professor in order to be able to do any research — is this true?

    Lastly, what would you suggest I major in? I was thinking perhaps a dual major in math and physics.

    For those of you who saw me post before, asking about mathematical physics' applications; I have looked at a few, and this one seems to be the one most to my liking.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2005 #2


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    Quantum physics is very interesting, but so is the rest of Physics. Your only a senior in highschool. Don't narrow yourself down to only on section of the science. The are many interesting and phenominal things that can be learned about nature through physics and by narrowing yourself down to one specialized area so soon........you may miss out on some things. Its great that you've decided that Physics is for you... Now take it from there, one step at a time. Concentrate on you AP course now. Next Year, you freshman elem. physics course. The Year after that, modern physics.... it'll all come with time my friend. You never know when its time to do rigorous study in QM in your college career you may end up HATING it......Or.......It ma eb even greater and more fullfilling than you ever thought. One step at a time my friend. Good luck in your pursuit of physics!
  4. Oct 21, 2005 #3

    True, I have hopped around a lot. I do also find cosmology and relativity very interesting. I greatly enjoy physics because I see it as the most "basic" of all science. Within physics, I like to study what causes the most basic interactions, and to study these causes. Naturally, you can see why fields, relativity, and cosmology would interest me.

    Perhaps I am looking too far into the horizon…
  5. Oct 21, 2005 #4


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    I'm only an undergraduate myself, and I really don't know what field I want to go into yet, because I just love the whole science itself. I love understanding the world. Read as much on QM as you want it won't hurt. But just rememeber, basic fundamental physics is taught for a reason. You need to understand the fundamentals before you begin a rigorous study of more in debth topics.
  6. Oct 21, 2005 #5
    Of course, I realize I must learn the basics before I can progress to the more advanced. I just know I will want to get into some sort of physics job that studies the very basic, like the tiniest of particles, the most fundamental interactions, the beginning of the universe — something like this.
  7. Oct 21, 2005 #6


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    Well answering your question. What should you major in. Physics and Math sound good you'll get the background you need for graduate study (as I've been told anyway) (Don't expect to have time to party with a double major like that lol:) ) I myself am a physics major whose probably going to get math minor. It is hard work and you really have to love it, but from how you sound, I don't think that'll be a problem for you.
  8. Oct 21, 2005 #7
    I was actually surprised with myself. Initially I had been interested in astronomy (4th grade). I was pretty knowledgeable about the sky. I attended adult astronomy conferences in 7th grade, and put into the discussion as much as they did.

    Then I backed off of astronomy and delved into history and politics. I just lost interest. Just last year however, my love for the stars came back to me, however this time, I was more interested in the physics behind it, and the mathematics. WHAT causes the universe to be how it is? How did it begin? I feel that if I can understand the very basics, then I grasp the entire universe in some sense.

    I am more interested in becoming a theorist, versus an experimentalist. Any more suggestions you could offer me, not to say that you haven't given me a lot of it thus far!
  9. Oct 21, 2005 #8
    Some advice:

    Keep your mind open and focus on getting through undergrad with good enough grades to get into a good grad school. While an undergrad try and do a little research. That will give you a good notion about what doing research is really all about and what kind of physics you want to do. Then go to grad school, suffer through the qualifier and the classes, shop around for an advisor and do some research.
  10. Oct 22, 2005 #9


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    It's important to get good grades to get into graduate school, but also keep in mind that you want to be prepared for graduate school.

    Go to a school that will challenge you at the academic level, so you can be prepared for graduate school. This is very important if you want to succeed.
  11. Oct 22, 2005 #10
    I reside in WA state, and plan to attend the UW. From what I can tell, the University of Washington seems like a good choice. Has anyone had experience with UW's physics department and/or mathematics department?
  12. Oct 22, 2005 #11

    Physics Monkey

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    Hi Lucretius,
    I spent some time in the UW physics dept. a little over a year ago, and I can tell you that they have a good program there. Adelberger and friends have a nice set of precision gravity experiments, David Kaplan and Ann Nelson are good for cosmology/particle physics stuff, Strassler for particle physics/string theory. They also have a some interesting ab initio condensed matter people like John Rehr. This list is by no means exhaustive, there are lots more cool people out there. It's a good place and campus/physics building/Seattle is really beautiful. I almost went there for graduate school I liked it so much.

    Also, as far as the dual major, I personally wouldn't bother. Of course, a lot of people do it, and the majors complement each other for sure. You should definitely major in physics, but if you major in mathematics you'll find yourself taking a lot of classes that are too abstract and general to be of much use, in my humble opinion. For example, in a course on Lebesgue measure you aren't going to encounter much in the laundary list of theorems that you will use when doing practical work as a physicist. Much will turn out to work just like you expect it would from basic calculus and the pathological cases are often unphysical. Of course, some of the results are very useful and very important, but you don't need the whole theory to use them. You will find, however, that opinions differ wildly on this issue, and the times are changing too, much more abstract mathematics is often required for work in high energy physics these days.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2005
  13. Oct 22, 2005 #12
    Has anyone ever seen what the physics program is like at WWU (western washington university)? I am going to most likely go to either that or UW, depending on who has a better program.
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