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Is it a good idea to go into M-theory

  1. Feb 16, 2010 #1
    I am just out of high school and ready to go off to college. I want to go to UCSB for theoretical physics or more precisely String Theory but I first would like to know if string theory is a realistic career, if UCSB is the best college to go for this field, and how much one would make starting off in this career.

    Please help I would like to have an idea by August 2011 thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2010 #2
    At the undergraduate level you will not meaningfully specialize in "theoretical physics", nor will you approach having the background needed to seriously study string theory. For graduate school, there are numerous good universities, UCSB being one of them; "best" doesn't exist when your goal is still this broad.

    Money-wise, check out the http://www.aip.org/statistics/". Also do yourself a favor and find out what the job market is like and what your chances are of actually getting a permanent job in this field (hint: not good). This isn't to discourage you from trying, but way too many would-be scientists don't bother looking at job prospects before they start down the long road.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Feb 16, 2010 #3
    There are numerous complications to the question you ask. Essentially, you've still lots of basic physics to cover: now isn't the time to necessarily worry about what type of research you will eventually go in to.

    Don't be thinking about the standards school offer in specific research areas: this doesn't correlate with the quality of the undergraduate, which is what you're looking for. Focus on picking the school that offers the right undergraduate programme for you, rather than any sort of reputation in research. Getting a good foundation is the start to a good career. You won't touch anything like string theory at all at undergraduate level.

    It is also difficult to predict where research will be in a few years time. That said, if you're set on preparing yourself for something like string theory, make sure to take alot of math courses: though you likely won't have any meaningful choices in math classes until you're a couple of years in, come back to us then and we'll let you know what to select.

    Otherwise, jobs in something like string theory are few and far between. And, at least in the UK, the amount a researcher (post-doc or otherwise) makes is standardised, and doesn't really depend on the research area, bar a few exceptions.
  5. Feb 16, 2010 #4


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    It doesn't hurt to have an aim like going into string theory, so long as you don't close off doors during your undergraduate education. What you want to study and what you actually study are almost completely uncorrelated until probably your senior year of a physics major. So keep your mind open when you go through classes that seem to have nothing to do with string theory, you never know what might capitivate your interest.

    Additionally, and this is true of all theoretical physics jobs (as opposed to experimental), there are very few positions. To do research in string theory requires a position at a university, and there are precious few needed for those doing pure research. Many more people are employed in experimental areas (working with particle accelerators and the like) then purely theoretical jobs. So just know that it is an extremely competitive road to go down (Physics as a whole is very competitive, but this advice is especially true).
  6. Feb 16, 2010 #5


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    You will not be in a position to make the decision of whether to "go into M-theory" until you enter graduate school.
  7. Feb 16, 2010 #6
    Well then where would be a good place to go for an undergrad program that would help me through out my life, career, and grad program weather I go to string theory or any other section of theoretical physics?
  8. Feb 16, 2010 #7
  9. Feb 16, 2010 #8


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    The content of an undergraduate program in physics will be essentially the same in any university, so where you go as an undergraduate won't really effect your future prospects of entering any particular field like string theory. Go to the best place that you can get into. UCSB is a pretty great place for physics.
  10. Feb 16, 2010 #9
    but is UCSB better than like MIT, Harvard, Princeton, or somewhere else?
  11. Feb 16, 2010 #10


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    Better in what sense? Definitely those places have students that are on average better prepared, and therefore the teachers will be able to teach more material and at a faster pace, but in the end how much you learn depends mostly on how much effort and energy you put in, and like I said before, the particular university doesn't matter a great deal as an undergrad.
  12. Feb 16, 2010 #11
    Yes but for a grad program it matters not only how much you put in, work wise, but after graduating do they help you find jobs and areas of interest? Does UCSB or any other colleges for that matter look better on an application than another? Because for undergrad I will probably look at somewhere in state because in nature they are cheap by comparison. On the other hand though for grad school I would prefer a college that will help me not only in school with work, goals, and knowledge but also help find a job or place to put an application after graduating so what I'm asking is what is the best school to help in all of these areas and helping me to be the best I can be. (In the field of theoretical physics)
  13. Feb 16, 2010 #12
    stop stressing about it. go to a college, a decent one. UCSB is a top tier school for physics. you won't be doing m-theory as an undergrad, or even well into your grad career most likely. you won't even be able to do any real substantive theoretical physics work as an undergrad, outside maybe some basic modeling/code jockeying. if you want a job in theoretical physics, then you can look to academia or some government labs; that's basically it. you're school doesn't need a huge career services department to tell you that (but every decent school still has one for all those helpless business majors).
  14. Feb 17, 2010 #13


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    Without even knowing them and the field (but similar questions asked of other places) there is no student so good as to get everything that could be got out of any of these places, in other words the limitation is you not the place so don't worry ranking them. Decide therefore by practicalities like cost, location and your life, and the feel and atmosphere if you get a chance to visit - trust your feelings.

    About the field, your aims and ideas are quite likely to change as you get to know more. And even then training, even Ph.D. and eventual field of work can be different, not even physics or the kind you imagined at all.
  15. Feb 17, 2010 #14


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    I believe I've already written a "standard" response to a question like this:


    And if you are considering a career is such a related field, especially in theory, then you should also read this:


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