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How and what does it take to be a theoretical physicists?

  1. Jun 29, 2006 #1
    how many years of colleges should be good enough for a physicists active in researches and stuffs?

    mostly ph.D right? but usually, when does the "real" research begin?

    i love physics... but im not all that smart. Do theoretical physicists scratch their brains all the time to figure out theories in their office?

    and could i sustain a decent life entering this field?

    and what happens if a physicist do not have some significant researches done?

    I'm worried about "what if" i couldnt come up with some theories in physics in the future when i put my whole life on it... would i be screwed pretty badly?

    i mean i really really REALLY like physics...
    so, do theoretical physicists find jobs easily? are there many demands for 'em?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2006 #2
    Facing similar dilemma here. I also really really, really like physics, especially the mathematical/theoretical side, but worry about career prospects. My solution is rather than dedicating my entire life to just maths, to get myself interested in more economically viable areas, notably plasma and materials physics, with the eventual hopes of both making money and being an `armchair' string theorist :)
  4. Jun 30, 2006 #3


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    This is mostly conjecture on my part mixed with a little input from advisors/mentors, but here goes:

    Theoretical Physics and Money:

    There is little money in theoretical physics. Some physicist or another (I think John Gribbin quoted the unknown in his book, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat) said about the 1920's "Back then, it was easy for a second rate physicist to do first rate work; nowadays it's hard for even a first rate physicist to get second rate work" Gribbin quoted that in the 80's, I think, and I'm pretty sure the situation is only mildly better for now.

    Theoretical Physics Process:

    Perhaps for some, it is easy to imagine everything discussed in their physics class, and actually see the math in some sort of sync'd animation in their mind, but that's rare. That's Albert Einstein, working as a patent clerk, fiddling in his spare time.

    More realistic (especially for undergrads working towards a physics degree) is to get involved, in any aspect of physics you can around your university, and as you expose yourself to other physicists doing their job, assisting them and helping them, you won't be able to help but come up with your own ideas eventually.

    I haven't done any research yet, I'm actually working at the research library for our Geophysics Institute for the summer. Physics is a big subject there, and we serve researchers, so it's a bit of a foot-in-the-door oppurtunity. I just recently saw a past physics professor of mine and asked him if he had any small research projects I could chew at on the weekends, and that I didn't expect pay, just because I've boggled over it so long, "What in the hell would I theorize about?"

    I'm assuming that I have to 'get my hands dirty' before I can really start asking questions worth researching.

    I also think it would be nice if there was a weekly newsletter published on current questions in physics for each university so that experienced researchers who come across interesting, but irrelevent questions in their research, can offer the idea up to a young, fresh grad student looking for his own research project.
  5. Jun 30, 2006 #4


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    You guys wouldn't go far wrong in reading PRL every month.


    It will it give you an insight into the latest research.

    Plus, each article is limited to 4 pages - and the refereeing is extremely strict. Therefore, quality is usually guarenteed.
  6. Jun 30, 2006 #5
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2006
  7. Jun 30, 2006 #6
    so do physicists have many jobs available? how hard is it to become a professor at a university?

    i dont need to be like a millionaire... i just want to be a professor and be able to have a somewhat decant living. and i wanna be happy doing physics.
  8. Jun 30, 2006 #7
    Do not worry about money. Find something that you are good at doing, like to do, and find a way to get paid doing it. If your biggest concern is money, obtain a PhD in physics and move to a large city like Chicago or New York and make mathematical models of stock markets. Other than that, I think most schools pay their professors enough money so they can afford a descent living, it is not as if theoretical physicists are living in underpasses: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/
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