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Programs How do I decide which sub-field of Physics I want to pursue?

  1. May 15, 2016 #1
    I'm a freshman at UT Arlington and I will get my undergraduate degree in Physics from that university. Now, I am sure that I want to pursue Physics, but not quite sure of the sub-field. I lean towards Astronomy a lot, and I will probably end up doing that. The problem is that my university doesn't have a lot of Astronomy going on (it is relevant, but not exactly great). Though, It has one of the best High Energy Physics (HEP) departments in the country and there's tonnes of research happening there. Based on these facts, there are three clarifications I require and I'd highly appreciate it if you could help me out:

    1) How do I decide which sub field I like the most? The reason why I ended up picking Astronomy is because I took an online 1st year course from ANUx and loved it so much.

    2) Will it be a good idea to switch from Astronomy to HEP because my university is focused more in that field?

    3) Will it matter which sub-field I did my research in when applying to Grad School? Like, if I do some research in HEP during undergrad and then apply for an Astronomy program, will it count?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2016 #2
    You should end up taking quite a few classes that'll help you decide which sub field is most interesting to you. You could also look into doing research with some of your professors. As you may know, sometimes when you actually see what research is like in a subfield, you may end up loving it or hating it more than you thought.

    I've been told that research experience in and of itself (along with corresponding letters of recommendation) are more important than research in a particular sub field.
  4. May 15, 2016 #3


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    Education Advisor

    I think that your first year of college is too early to be that set on a sub-field, unless you have to declare it for some reason. Your research interests are likely to change as you learn more physics. My best advice is to take a diverse range of physics courses, and to do as much research experience as you can reasonably do (don't neglect coursework!). Also, don't do all that undergrad research with one group. Move around a bit, see what you like. Knowing you don't want to do something is also valuable.

    Having research experience is more important than the sub-field.
  5. May 16, 2016 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Try to read about a wide range of fields. For example, the news and feature articles in Physics Today magazine. Even if you don't understand most of the details, you'll get an idea of what physicists actually do besides astrophysics, string theory, etc. which get all the coverage in the popular press.

    If UTA has a Society of Physics Students chapter, join it and you'll get Physics Today as part of your membership fee.

    Also, if UTA has regular colloquia where faculty and visitors talk about their research, go to them. You probably won't understand much beyond the beginning of the talks, but again you'll see what physicists actually do research in. You'll have the chance to talk to people and sound them out about research opportunities. And there may be refreshments. :biggrin:
  6. May 16, 2016 #5
    All the responses were extremely helpful, thank you so much! So I guess I'll go to the university, take a variety of courses and then decide which area I wanna pursue. And at the same time, I'll grab any research experience I would get, be it in Astronomy or any other discipline. Is it all right?
  7. May 17, 2016 #6
    Just go in with an open mind and try to get started with research early. You may end up hating astronomy and loving something like solid state for all you know. Or, you may love astronomy more than you thought.
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