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How to Be a Highly-Recommended Physicist?

  1. Aug 14, 2009 #1
    How to Be a "Highly-Recommended" Physicist?

    I'm doing work for a professor, and I want him to sing the praises of me when I inexorably ask him for a letter of recommendation. What are some do-s and don't-s for someone in my situation? I think I've found out a "don't" already: don't try and assume you know more than you actually do. I was assigned research in relativistic quantum mechanics, and all I knew was that moving clocks slowed down, lengths contracted, and also the moving clocks got heavier. I was afraid to be like "I don't know any of that stuff", because I didn't want to slow the research down with my ignorance. Needless to say, I erred on the side of "I know this stuff already", and may have inadvertently come across as arrogant and perhaps incorrigible, both of which "impressions" would warrant mention in a letter of recommendation I would have sent to PhD programs I will eventually apply to.

    I guess I have two questions:

    1) Given that I'm a physics M.S. student (at an M.S.-only school) without a physics B.S./B.A. (admittedly, a very unique situation: your best advice is still welcome), how do I strike a balance between "admit what you don't know" and "use what you do know to not look like a screaming physics-dunce, and not hold up research"?

    2) More generally, what are some good practices for me to engage in, such that my present adviser sings praises of me being a "good" and highly-recommended student?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2009 #2
    Re: How to Be a "Highly-Recommended" Physicist?

    First of all, is this theoretical or experimental? Sounds like the former.
  4. Aug 16, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: How to Be a "Highly-Recommended" Physicist?

    The best advice I can give you is to demonstrate that you can learn from your mistakes. That's surprisingly sufficient in most cases.
  5. Aug 16, 2009 #4
    Re: How to Be a "Highly-Recommended" Physicist?

    In general try not to be arrogant. And don't assume it is a sine qua non to have a physics (B.S) to do research in physics.

    In research there's always vast territories where your knowledge is very limited, and what you master is an infinitesmall piece of land.

    My suggestion is not to be obsessed with what you don't know, but to focus on things you need to clear off ASAP to move forward in your research. Picking up the material as you go along is the best time management possible... Knowing lots of textbook stuff or an incredible amount of math. may not move you an inch, if you can't define your NEXT ACTION... So set your priorities very carefully.

    Relativistic QM is a broad field, so stop worrying about the details and try to figure out what the absolute essentials FOR YOU are, before delving into more theory.

    A professor "singing praises" for a newbie M.S student is not a common thing to be observed, so stop worrying about this kind of thing also.

    Try your best and hope for the best, and in the end things will work out.
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