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Studying How to prepare for a life in research?

Wrichik Basu

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I am student who wants to do research in physics, and aims for a life in research.

Being in the final year of high school, I do not get a lot of time to devote to my passion - physics and related experiments. About 30mins in a day can be spared for extra studies, and I utilise this time fully.

Whenever I study these "extra" topics that I am so passionate about, I want to learn them in a way that will grow a mindset for research. For example, I do not always focus on problem solving after attending lectures on some topic, but I also formulate some problems (not numerical, but mainly theoretical), and try to find a solution by myself, or ask the concerned professor through an email. Through this, I seem to have a better grasp on the topics.

I have sometimes seen people struggle to find a topic for research. For example, if I want to do some work in quantum, then I have to know first what progress has been made till date, and only then can I think of something in the field where no progress has been made. I have heard that people take six or seven long months to find themselves a topic for PhD.

For a student wanting to do research in physics later on, how should he study from day one so that he prepares himself for a research career bit by bit?
 

Wrichik Basu

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I think worrying about what topic you'll do a possible PhD in before graduating high school is putting the cart way, way before the horse.
I believe my question was a bit unclear. What I meant to say was, how should I study topics (any topic, physics, chemistry or maths) such that I have an advantage during research? Only doing problems and not thinking outside the Infinite Square Well might not always be helpful in research, at least that's what I feel. Can the process of how a person studies a topic, influence his research later?
 

berkeman

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Only doing problems and not thinking outside the Infinite Square Well might not always be helpful in research
I've found that one of the better ways to start thinking outside the infinite square well early is to do projects and build things on your own. (Apologies to those folks who've seen me say this before on the PF; sorry for the repetition.)

One of the smartest people I've ever studied with and worked with was a guy named Dan back in undergrad. He is now a Fellow at Tektronix, and has a long line of research and product development credits. When I first met him in undergrad, I was impressed at how intelligent and practical he was. By the time he'd graduated high school and finished his freshman year of undergrad, he had built an 8-bit computer from logic gates (it was about the size of a shoebox), a stereo Hi-Fi receiver from discrete transistors, and several other projects from the ground-up. So he already had learned to ask the right questions when studying new subjects, and he continued that theme in his studies and later in his career. He had already placed highly in several advanced Math competitions, and at least once I remember him seeing a rubber ball bounce accidentally off of a person's head, go up and back down and hit their head again (pretty funny). He paused, and I could see him thinking about it, and a few moments later when he was done, I asked him what he was thinking. He said he just wanted to be sure he knew how he would approach solving for the motion of the person and the ball in that situation, in case it ever came up in a competition or exam. :smile:

Anyway, by the end of undergrad, I'd built a lab-quality power supply (that met UL safety requirements), a nice digital clock and enclosure, a laser light organ with 2-D deflection by voice coils with a mechanism to display patterns on the wall, and several other projects. The laser deflection project in particular stretched my early knowledge about optics, electro-mechanical systems, mechanical bandwidths, and a number of other topics. I didn't see some of those topics for another year or so in my studies, but I'd learned to "ask the right questions" of myself and my instructors when being introduced to those subjects formally.

So it will vary by subject area (Math, Physics, EE, ME, Materials, etc.), but I think you can start to get the idea that you should look for extra projects that you can work on to learn more about the subjects. In Math, look over past competition questions, and try to figure out some of the harder ones. This will help you to stretch your knowledge and expand your ability to work on harder Math problems. In Physics and Engineering, try to come up with interesting projects or experiments that you can make/build on your own, and see how far you get before stalling out and needing to learn new things to complete them.

Anyway, that's one approach to learning to think outside the box, IMO. :smile: Have fun!

Dan Knierim:
https://www.edn.com/Home/PrintView?contentItemId=4439434

 
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