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How To Become A Theoretical Physicist

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

It seems like there is no specific Theoretical Physics major. You can major in Astrophysics, Biophysics, Chemical Physics, Engineering Physics, and just plain Physics. At the master/doctorate level you have to specialize in astrophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, geophysics, material science, nuclear physics, optics, particle physics, or plasma physics. Theoretical Physics isn't listed as a particular field. Can you jump into theoretical physics from any physics discipline (such as astrophysics or particle physics)? And theoretical physicist are employed mainly by universities, correct?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Silverbackman said:
It seems like there is no specific Theoretical Physics major. You can major in Astrophysics, Biophysics, Chemical Physics, Engineering Physics, and just plain Physics. At the master/doctorate level you have to specialize in astrophysics, biophysics, chemical physics, geophysics, material science, nuclear physics, optics, particle physics, or plasma physics.
All of these fields have both theorists and experimentalists. In phyics, you work as one or another, but usually not both, unless you are a super genius like Enrico Fermi. If you want to work in theory, then take as much physics and math as you can as an undergrad. You can decided what to specialize in when you get to grad school. IMHO, the most important thing to do as an undergrad is get the broadest exposure as possible to different sub fields of physics (both lectures and labs) and their associated mathematical techniques. Read ZapperZ's "So you want to be a physicist" sticky thread in this forum for great, detailed advice on becoming a physicist:

https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=51406"
 
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  • #3
Dr Lotsawatts
Why don't you look into Applied Mathematics programs? You can learn the tools there and then later on maybe choose which physics field you want to theorize in.

Theoretical physics can be just as vague as experimental physics, and you can imagine that one can hardly consider researching superconductivity one day and cell membrane potentials the next.
 
  • #4
btw what is meant by major and minor??
 
  • #5
Dr Lotsawatts
AlbertEinstein,

When you do Bachelor's degree in arts or sciences, you have to choose which field is your specialization. This field is your major and it is mentioned on the degree as such.

It is possible to have a degree with two specializations mentionned, one as the major, the other as the minor. Courses must be chosen accordingly.
 
  • #6
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I also want to be a string theory and theoretical physicist .. can anyone please give some name of the institutions from where i can get gud guiding in it and which provides better scope for this field .. thank you
 
  • #7
eri
1,034
20
There is no scope for string theory. Try a different topic. Theory is a way of studying something, not a field of study.
 
  • #8
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For what it's worth, most of the people I've encountered who call themselves theoretical physicists work in the particle physics/relativity/string theory kind of area. But I think theoretical physics is more about how you handle the subject matter than the subject matter itself. So if you specialise in particle physics, there'd still be a choice between experimental particle physics and theoretical particle physics, if you could find a supervisor in both. Your university may only offer experimental, in which case you should seriously consider applying elsewhere for graduate studies (you probably should anyway if you aren't already)!
 
  • #9
I'm learning about IT. But I want to learn phd about physics(study loop quantum gravity). So, can I do that thing?
 
  • #10
15
0
What I can't understand is why people want to study theoretical physics at graduate level but aren't even doing their undergraduate degree in physics and/or maths. I mean, surely you have more of a chance if you just switch your degree to physics and/or maths.

I guess too many people have been reading Brian Greene/Lee Smolin books.
 
  • #11
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People like Greene and Smolin likely did undergraduate math/phyics.

I think some particle physics is almost manditory to do new stuff in theoeretical physics,
but If I went back in time and was starting out again I might consider semi-conductor physics as a way into theoretical physics
because a large amount of quantum phyisics is involved in the ground breaking computer chip developments.

---------

My experience is noone takes you seriously until you have at least one degree, and ideally one related to the topic of interest.

It supposedly takes at least 10,000 hours (or was it 100,000 hours?) to become an expert or genius at something.

Doing a degree shows the world you know the basics and know how to learn.

I was able to do research related to theoretical physics via philosophy and showing enthusiams and providing sample work.

My brother is a qualified "spacecraft engineer" mostly working with saletelites. He started as a surveyer. Almost any paths are possible but the well worn roads are usually the smoothest.
 
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  • #12
@matt91a "I guess too many people have been reading Brian Greene/Lee Smolin books." LOL, but he does open windows for some people...

Does anyone think it is unreasonable to major in applied mathematics with a physics minor before going to grad school? I too am interested in the areas of particle research and theory, but also as much in all things cosmological, same numbers, just the little matter of the negative sign on the exponent ya know :)
 
  • #13
so, you can't work in string theory?
*sad face
 
  • #14
Hey guys im new to this forum.. To be frank, I love to be a theoretical physicist too.. The teachings at my school level and college level sucked to the core so i really dont have an essential mathematical background.. I mean i dont have that understanding for now but do possess some computational background.. I tried self studying the topics or subjects quoted.. It really took a long time to just solve some 20 pages of a math book of Tom.M.Apostol as i dig into a problem a lot as i believe understanding is the major priority to become theoretical physicist.. I do posess imagination.. I dont have a tool called maths to shape up my goal.. I dunno what to do.. When i dig into problems, i somehow solve it but the time it takes frustrates me.. I really need a solution to overcome this.. please help with this guys.. As im new to this forum, I dont know where to post this particularly..
 
  • #15
What I can't understand is why people want to study theoretical physics at graduate level but aren't even doing their undergraduate degree in physics and/or maths. I mean, surely you have more of a chance if you just switch your degree to physics and/or maths.

I guess too many people have been reading Brian Greene/Lee Smolin books.
Because when I graduated high school, I hadn't determined what I am really interested.
 
  • #16
15
0
What i'm saying is, if you haven't studied physics or maths at undergrad level then how do you know that you want to do theoretical physics?
 
  • #17
What i'm saying is, if you haven't studied physics or maths at undergrad level then how do you know that you want to do theoretical physics?
Its not the course that u take which makes u feel interested with the topic.. So please suggest a way than saying this.. I can self study.. Lots have done that
 
  • #18
Its not the course that u take which makes u feel interested with the topic.. So please suggest a way than saying this.. I can self study.. Lots have done that
That's weird. In an undergraduate program in physics or math, a serious student should expect to spend thousand(s) of hours dedicated to their subject. This time is spent completing assignments, listening and participating in discussions with peers and professors, passing examinations, reading relevant material out of one's own initiative, and more. These thousands of hours (assuming diligent study; not all students spend even 1k hours) give a student plenty of time to really get a feel for what physics/math really is.

You're saying that courses don't matter? Courses don't make you love/hate your subject? I'm sorry, but reading a little popular science and then watching documentaries/movies or reading novels about physics does not cut it. A physicist/mathematician is someone who has dedicated a large portion of their life to their subject.

It is uncommon and almost unheard of nowadays to not have an undergraduate degree in science and go on to get a phd. Going back to the quote above; it IS the courses which you take that make you love or hate a subject. You spend months working with a few ideas and solving sometimes very difficult problems. You sometimes have to stay up late at night, or not go out on weekends, or maybe even skip thanksgiving with the family (I've done that too). It's all these times that make you realize how much you really like your subject.
 
  • #19
That's weird. In an undergraduate program in physics or math, a serious student should expect to spend thousand(s) of hours dedicated to their subject. This time is spent completing assignments, listening and participating in discussions with peers and professors, passing examinations, reading relevant material out of one's own initiative, and more. These thousands of hours (assuming diligent study; not all students spend even 1k hours) give a student plenty of time to really get a feel for what physics/math really is.

You're saying that courses don't matter? Courses don't make you love/hate your subject? I'm sorry, but reading a little popular science and then watching documentaries/movies or reading novels about physics does not cut it. A physicist/mathematician is someone who has dedicated a large portion of their life to their subject.

It is uncommon and almost unheard of nowadays to not have an undergraduate degree in science and go on to get a phd. Going back to the quote above; it IS the courses which you take that make you love or hate a subject. You spend months working with a few ideas and solving sometimes very difficult problems. You sometimes have to stay up late at night, or not go out on weekends, or maybe even skip thanksgiving with the family (I've done that too). It's all these times that make you realize how much you really like your subject.
Im not saying courses are not essential.. It matters a lot as u quoted.. I cant afford that now.. Im doing my B.E in electronics.. So in that time i need to learn some stuff by my own.. I myself wish to be graduated in physics and like the way as u mentioned.. Till then, until i finish my undergrad degree i need to fill the gaps learning physics.. Thats what i meant..
 
  • #20
You're saying that courses don't matter? Courses don't make you love/hate your subject? I'm sorry, but reading a little popular science and then watching documentaries/movies or reading novels about physics does not cut it. A physicist/mathematician is someone who has dedicated a large portion of their life to their subject.
I agree with this perfectly bro.. Yes I need a way to didicate my life to this subject thats what i intend.. Private message me the courses i can take for now and the standard texts and links i need to go through.. I agree perfectly with you and im a scratch now.. Help me out.. Will be grateful to ya.. :)
 
  • #21
15
0
I'm still baffled by this. If you want to do research then i assume you would want to do a PhD? If you do, departments won't even look at you unless you've had a formal education in maths and/or physics. (This applies in EU and UK. Not so sure about the US)
 
  • #22
I'm still baffled by this. If you want to do research then i assume you would want to do a PhD? If you do, departments won't even look at you unless you've had a formal education in maths and/or physics. (This applies in EU and UK. Not so sure about the US)
I still can do graduation taking priliminary courses that cover undergrad topics and topic of interest and go with my graduation.. Thats what i have heard.. This is the only possibility i suppose..
 
  • #23
e.bar.goum
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
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It seems like there is no specific Theoretical Physics major. You can major in Astrophysics, Biophysics, Chemical Physics, Engineering Physics, and just plain Physics.
My university has a theoretical physics major!
 
  • #24
Dembadon
Gold Member
624
89
My university has a theoretical physics major!
I find that very odd. Usually, one doesn't major in "theoretical physics." They major in physics, then choose a specialty based on their interests. The specialty itself might be theoretical in nature, but I can't say that I've ever seen a program offering a "B.S. in theoretical physics" before. Are you sure it isn't just a physics degree that will encourage you to specialize at some point?


Note: I'm not sure about other countries; I'm speaking of the US.
 
  • #25
e.bar.goum
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
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I find that very odd. Usually, one doesn't major in "theoretical physics." They major in physics, then choose a specialty based on their interests. The specialty itself might be theoretical in nature, but I can't say that I've ever seen a program offering a "B.S. in theoretical physics" before. Are you sure it isn't just a physics degree that will encourage you to specialize at some point?


Note: I'm not sure about other countries; I'm speaking of the US.
Quite sure.

You'll be happy to note I'm not in the US though. We have two majors per degree, and you can get, say, a BSc in Physics/Theoretical Physics, or Physics/Astrophysics, or Astrophysics/Theoretical physics, or Mathematics/Theoretical physics etc. etc. A theoretical physics major obviously has a lot of overlap with the physics major, but has higher maths/computational modeling requirements, and you have to do all of the higher level theoretical courses (GR, quantum field theory etc).

Obviously, in either case, you specialise based on your interests, but an undergrad physics degree should be as broad as possible, and specialisation generally occurs through undergrad research programs. For instance, in my first three years of uni, I completed research topics (worth the same amount as a "normal" course) in black hole information theories, volatile element distribution in the solar system and in the effect of transfer on heavy-ion nuclear reactions. In your fourth year, known as an "honours year", you do a full year of research along with some (very) difficult coursework, and if you get a sufficiently high mark, you can go straight on to your PhD, which would be the equivalent of skipping all of the coursework in grad school in the US.
 

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