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How is Research?

  1. Jul 23, 2015 #1
    I'm a high school student and I've been an intern at a university for a couple of weeks. We do research and things like that in physics and astronomy. I've realized that research is something that takes a long time and is frustrating, but at the end result is usually enjoyable? Is this true? What else should be added? I'm asking this because I am considering a career in physics and research, but I don't know for sure how research would be like.
    Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2015 #2
    The exciting thing about research is: no one knows. Your idea could produce no results or stellar results. One can usually get a feel for whether or not something will work, but not always. The thing is, when you learn about the history of science, everything seems like it happened so neatly and quickly. In reality, research is tedious, slow, and filled with false starts, and it's honestly not for everyone. That's not a bad thing. Just keep exploring and you'll learn if it's something you like or not.
  4. Jul 23, 2015 #3


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    There is no one style of research. It depends on the field, and most importantly, the vision and management style of the people with whom you work.

    In some fields like elementary neurobiology, good luck can also help a lot.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
  5. Jul 23, 2015 #4
    I don't quite understand what you mean. Could you please elaborate?
  6. Jul 23, 2015 #5
    Yes that is true. It is a long and tedious process. And I'm assuming that with the knowledge of physics that we currently have, it is very unlikely to publish some paper that will "revolutionize" science. Research right now is more about building on ideas and improving them in my opinion.
  7. Jul 23, 2015 #6
    Who knows? Maybe someone will come along and revolutionize science, but think about it: how many individuals have done that?


    Everyone else was working with others and building off of each other's work. Science is a team sport. Einsteins are rare, but you don't need to be an Einstein to contribute.
  8. Jul 23, 2015 #7


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    Maybe you can get a taste by reading some stories.

    I've been reading https://www.amazon.com/Innovators-Hackers-Geniuses-Created-Revolution/dp/147670869X, which includes an account of how the transistor was invented.

    One of my favourites is the beautiful account in https://www.amazon.com/The-Invention-That-Changed-World/dp/0684835290 of how the interstellar 21 cm line was first sighted. Yes, great research can be done in one's underwear. And some logician can make a joke here: )

    Another interesting one is http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201505/physicshistory.cfm about how cosmic radio waves were first observed.

    nsaspook posted a link to the history behind the blue LED https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/the-2014-nobel-prize-in-physics.774618/page-4#post-4877831.

    And bad management is sometimes needed for great advances http://nanoscale.blogspot.com/2015/05/people-you-shouldve-heard-about-john.html!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Jul 23, 2015 #8


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    Yes, and revolutions can be a team sport too - the quantum revolution and the computer revolution were at least as revolutionary as classical mechanics or general relativity, but they were obtained by "teams". String theory too, I dare say.

    Another very interesting revolution is Wilson's revolution, which in a sense is no revolution, since it changed no calculation, yet after it physicists say we understand quantum field theory.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
  10. Jul 24, 2015 #9
    Thanks a lot guys. It helped so much :D
  11. Jul 24, 2015 #10
    I think you should be able to get satisfaction from the big picture you form in your mind. Often, you are doing repetitive experiments over and over to get one meaningful dataset to make inferences that are a puzzle of the bigger picture.

    The experiments themselves can be boring on their own. If you don't care about where the boundary of scientific understanding is and if you don't get a special feeling about crossing it, then maybe you can do measurements in industry that are more exciting.

    It is kind of like instant gratification vs the slow and subtle. It is a bit like atonal classical music that you need to force upon yourself before you get to like it.

    The good things about science are that often times you get to think creatively, in a way, and this is encouraged. You are allowed to try out long shots.

    You also can be doing completely different types of experiments, depending a bit on the field and your background. You may have to use approaches from very different fields, learn them, master them, carry then out many times to get the right data, or then abandon them altogether and move on.
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