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I have a question about research for Physics

  1. May 22, 2010 #1
    As a first-year-student, does it immediately begin? Or do those things happen during 3rd year? Or does it depend on the university?

    I really do not know these things.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2010 #2
    When research begins ultimately depends on you. Some schools may make it easier by having specific programs which you can enroll in that find a research position for you, but I'm sure this isn't universal. The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is simply to approach professors yourself. Find out what professors in your department are working on. If something interests you, just ask if there is any way you can help. As a first year student you aren't expected to know much, but most professors (in my experience) are eager to have help of any caliber. As you progress towards your degree, you can apply to various external research programs, or simply continue working for professors at your school. Research is a great experience to have as it will help you narrow down what exactly you'd like to pursue in physics and it will be very impressive on a CV.
  4. May 23, 2010 #3


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    First year of WHAT? First year as an undergraduate, or first year as a graduate student? Where do you go to school?

  5. May 23, 2010 #4
  6. May 23, 2010 #5
    Research does not start at all during undergraduate. Undergraduate is about taking classes to learn material. In some places (US) it is possible to take a 'job' as an undergraduate research assistant - these positions are not a required part of undergraduate education however and are very competitive, whereas in the UK for instance, these positions generally do not exist at all. One may take research projects over summer but, again, they are competitive and you need to be very pro-active.
  7. May 23, 2010 #6
    I know of a couple guys in the physics program at my university who have published undergraduate research and are TAs. Yes, I know it's the exception, not the norm. lol.
  8. May 24, 2010 #7
    For the US, I disagree with this completely. Getting research experience as an undergrad is becoming increasingly important to gain admission to graduate school. If your plans are not to go to graduate school, then I would say research is not necessary.

    If I was in your shoes, I would not worry about research until you have been introduced to upper level undergraduate physics. This is because, until you have a solid foundation in the basics, even considering research is foolish. Even as an upper level undergrad, your research is likely going to be fairly mundane. But this is how we all started, so don't worry too much about it.

    One popular undergraduate research program, Research Experience for Undergrads (REU), is usually done the summer after your 3rd year in undergrad. There are some people, however, who do it after their 2nd year.

    Outside the US, research for a Bachelor's degree is usually compulsory. One typically has to complete a research project during the final year in order to graduate.
  9. May 24, 2010 #8
    I have to disagree with this. While it is true that during your first few years you probably won't have the educational background to contribute to a research project on a conceptual level, that does not mean there is nothing to contribute. Most of the theoretical work on a project is completed before the experimental component of research begins. The latter part typically includes running equipment, performing tests, solving engineering problems and looking at data. Even a first year undergraduate can be taught the skills necessary to assist with these parts of research.

    I'm going to begin my last year of my undergraduate education in the fall and I've worked on three different research projects under three different professors since freshman year. While I wasn't able to completely understand the conceptual workings of my first project, I was still able to contribute in the design and operation of a small reaction chamber and the experiments performed in it. My last two projects have allowed me to apply my background in programming to hardware interfacing, data collection and analysis.

    There is a lot more that goes into experimental research than just knowing the physics behind it. Becoming involved in research early introduces you to the way things work, provides opportunities to see the applications of things you will learn first-hand, establishes a network of connections, and potentially gets your name in publications (even if only as an acknowledgement.) At my particular US school, a little less than half of my classmates have participated in research.

    While research isn't necessary, it is definitely worth your while to try and find a position somewhere, but that is up to you.
  10. May 24, 2010 #9
    You make a very good point. But it really is highly dependent on the project and I believe the number of projects available at a freshman level is likely to be much smaller. I am a theorist, so I did not consider that experimental side when I wrote my response. I can definitely see more opportunity at an earlier point with an experiment than with some theoretical calculations.
  11. May 24, 2010 #10
    Certainly true - I never said it'd be easy :biggrin:

    However, this is why I suggest directly approaching a professor at your school. As a freshman, you probably won't be able to apply for research positions elsewhere; they typically seek upper level undergraduates. Most of the professors in my department are eager to have help if you're ambitious enough. After all, you're free help (I wouldn't hope to get paid for your work unless your school has a specific program for it or you're an upperclassman).

    My suggested course of action would be to find a project you might be interested in and do some research on it. You don't want to approach the professor and be completely clueless - show that you're serious about putting some effort in, even if it's only browsing Wikipedia and other online sources. Talk to the professor and express your interest in the project, asking if there is any way you could contribute. If he says no, just keep looking. Even just expressing interest should make a good impression on the professor (which will be useful when, say, they teach some of your courses :wink:).
  12. May 24, 2010 #11
    Thank you all for your opinions, and yes I will be taking first-year physics. I am going in for Theoretical physics, and I already have a vast mathematics background. I should be taking Calc IV (differentials) when I enter 1st year. I am also pretty sure I got at least a 4 (wasn't expecting solubility problems argh) on the AP Chem exam, so i can just throw that away. The only problem I have is English 101...(really sketchy about my AP English Lang...)
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