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How to get on a career path for a particle physicist

  1. Aug 12, 2013 #1
    I am currently in 8th grade. Particle physics fascinates me, and I would like to know ways to get on this career path. Working at LHC/CERN is all I think about. Recommended books, high school programs, extra curricular activities, colleges, internships, and websites would be very helpful for me. Thank you so much for any information you can contribute!
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  3. Aug 12, 2013 #2


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  4. Aug 12, 2013 #3
    I would also like to point out this this guide on how to become a good theoretical physicist, by a noble prize winner. It also provides links to free course work for everything so it should work great.
  5. Aug 13, 2013 #4


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    OK, so this is where the ogre in me comes in and deflates the ambition of a young, impressionable person.

    The purpose of this is not to discourage you in pursuing what you wish to do. The purpose here is to inject some reality into your decision (or plan) to already want to do something specific, all in the hope that you WILL be open to considering other options that you may not know of.

    There are several factors to consider here.

    1. You have not been exposed to other, more exciting field of studies. I've written about it here.

    2. The reality here is that, what you wish to do when you decide at your age, will probably be NOT what you will end up in.

    3. It will be quite a long time before you will be done with school (undergraduate, graduate, postdoc) and will go into the job market. Hopefully, the environment you will encounter will be significantly different than what it is now. However, the scenario right now for high energy physics in the US is bleak at best! Funding for this field of physics has steadily declined for the past several years. It means that there's less funds to do stuff, less funds to hire, and the number of available positions will shrink in the new coming years.

    These are the realities that one has to face when choosing this area of physics. It is OK if you know all this, and you still choose to pursue it. At least you'll be going in with your eyes wide open. The problem here is if you go in blindly, oblivious to all the issues surrounding it, and then suddenly find yourself with no clearly employment at the end of it simply because you were expecting the situation to be that bad.

    I've always felt that one of my missions here on this forum is not just to introduce to people what physics is and what physicists actually do, but also to remove many of the myths surrounding this field. And one of the most popular myths here is that physics only deals with esoteric subject areas. Physics isn't just the LHC! Physics is also your iPhone, your MRI, your GPS, your microprocessor, etc. The esoteric physics that you see popularized on TV and print media is only a SMALL part of what physics is! Don't be fooled by the sexiness of the story, because the beauty is only skin deep.

  6. Aug 13, 2013 #5
    Thank you, I completely understand where you are coming from. Thank you for telling me the reality, because that helps me more. l will remember to keep my eyes open to all the other careers science has to offer!
  7. Aug 13, 2013 #6


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    The good news is that your exact career goal won't make much difference in what you need to do for the next several years, so long as it's something in science/math/engineering. Up to the end of high school, it really shouldn't make any difference at all. Just take math up to calculus, along with chemistry and physics (biology would be nice, too, for variety). Then you'll be ready to start any science / math / engineering major in college.

    Then after you've picked a major, you don't have to worry about specific fields until at least your junior or senior year.

    Read a lot about stuff that interests you, and don't worry too much about whether you "get" all the details. I read about Schrödinger's equation when I was in high school, but I didn't actually actually learn how to work with it until second year of college. I didn't get to the Dirac equation until I was in grad school. But at least I knew something about that stuff from a conceptual and historical viewpoint, so it wasn't completely new to me when I encountered it in school.
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