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Is it possible to pursue theoretical physics investigation if that's not my job?

  1. Jul 5, 2011 #1
    Hello, much probably my job won't be research in theoretical physics, but that's what I'd like to do. I'll get out of university with a master's degree in some area of physics.

    Is it possible to do research even if that's not my job? Does anybody do this?
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2011
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  3. Jul 5, 2011 #2

    fss

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    You probably won't have time or energy.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2011 #3

    Nabeshin

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    Short answer: No.

    Long answer: Nope.
     
  5. Jul 5, 2011 #4
    Of course it's possible.
     
  6. Jul 5, 2011 #5

    chiro

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    I remember a while ago there was a guy (a web developer) who eventually got some research published that he was doing on black holes. I'll see if I can dig it up. Here it is:

    http://www.physorg.com/news73573958.html

    From the sounds of it, it sounds like he has the same kind of background as yourself.

    So there's at least one example of it being done!
     
  7. Jul 5, 2011 #6
  8. Jul 5, 2011 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    And in five years, that paper has gotten exactly zero citations.
     
  9. Jul 5, 2011 #8
    So the entire purpose of research is to be cited? Not to discover?
     
  10. Jul 5, 2011 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm not sure what a theorist "discovers". But in any event, if this work was something that the rest of the community found useful, there would be citations. There aren't.
     
  11. Jul 5, 2011 #10

    ZapperZ

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    I think what some people are trying to convey here, and what some others just don't get, is that there is a difference between what is "interesting" versus what is "important". Some things may be interesting (to some people), but is it important?

    Knowing what is important requires not only a tremendous amount of knowledge, especially in a particular field of study, but also knowing the state of knowledge at that given time, what others are talking and discussing, the topics that are being published, the news on a given topic or discussion, etc.. etc. One needs to interact with others in the field, attend conferences, do a lot of survey of publications, pay attention to relevant experimental results, keeping an eyes on the news, etc. All of these play a role in someone figuring out if something is important, rather than just merely interesting. You don't get this simply by being good in a particular subject.

    There is also a frequent misunderstanding, at least in this forum, of what a "theorist" is. I often see people, especially those who don't know how the world of physics works, thinking that "theoretical physics" is string theory, high energy physics, elementary particle, etc.. etc. This is a severely wrong view of physics, and physicists. Robert Laughlin and Phil Anderson are two theorists who have won Nobel Prizes in physics. They are condensed matter theorists! In other words, they study about materials properties! There are also theorists in optics, atomic physics, accelerator physics, detector physics, etc.. etc. I mention this because theorists in many of these fields have to be extremely aware of results coming out of experiments. Unlike string theory, these other fields of study can be directly accessed and tested via experiments, and more often than not, there are surprising and unexpected results that come out of experiments. If you are a theorist and you are not up to speed on the latest results, you get left behind VERY quickly. This is especially true in the field of superconductivity and other strongly-correlated electron systems.

    So if one wants to pursue "theoretical physics investigation", one has to figure out if what one is doing is not only new and original, but also if it is even important. Publishing something 5 years ago, and with ZERO citation, implies that what you did was irrelevant to the body of knowledge! The one skill that separates a practicing physicist versus an amateur physicist is that ability to get a sense on what is important, and not just merely "interesting".

    Zz.
     
  12. Jul 5, 2011 #11
    That doesn't matter. The OP asked if it were possible to pursue theoretical physics investigation if that's not his job, and two posters provided examples of people that had done so.
     
  13. Jul 5, 2011 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    If you want to argue, "yes, here's an example of someone who have done this, just not successfully" I guess you can. I kind of assumed that the OP was interested in pursuing theoretical physics successfully, not just doing it.
     
  14. Jul 5, 2011 #13
    I suppose that depends what is meant by succesfully.Some people practise a subject as a hobby,because they find it interesting and fun.
     
  15. Jul 5, 2011 #14
    Thanks for the answers. When I meant to pursue theoretical physics investigation I really meant sucessfully, not just as a hobby.

    And what does one need to do that? I guess you need to work on an university or have a job related to the area of physics you wish to do research on, in order to go to conferences, have discussions with other physicists, etc, right?

    Then I don't see how not doing theoretical physics as full-time could make someone a sucessful theoretical physicist. I couldn't work 6-8 hours a day and still go do research on physics.
     
  16. Jul 5, 2011 #15

    ZapperZ

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    That is why there aren't a lot (any?) "successful" amateur theorists. For that matter, there aren't many successful amateur physicists in general. I certainly don't know of any.

    Like many professions, being a professional in some field doesn't JUST mean knowing the "content". There are a huge amount of intangibles that's involved. In my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay, I've tried to convey many aspects of the process of being a physicist that isn't covered in textbooks and in the school's graduate curriculum. There are huge amount of things one should do that doesn't count towards one's grades in class, yet, these are some of the most important factor in not only getting a job, but also in being a successful physicists. The profession should NOT be trivialized into nothing more than just grinding out equations.

    Zz.
     
  17. Jul 5, 2011 #16

    chiro

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    So what are you implying? That only good researchers get cited? What about people outside academia that use ideas to build new things that don't publish in public journals?

    What about the people that 20 to 50 years from now rediscover something that the older generation thought wasn't "important" only to find out that it had been suggested before?

    It sounds like a kind of social insecurity that in order to for your research to have value, that other people have to cite your work.

    You should know that you can't predict how things will be used in the future no matter if its a year, five years, twenty years, maybe even a hundred years from now.
     
  18. Jul 5, 2011 #17
    The problem is time, money, and social networks. If you have someone willing to pay you money then yes it's possible, but then if they pay you money then it's your job.

    My current plan is to make a ton of cash, then spend the rest of my life doing astrophysical simulations.
     
  19. Jul 5, 2011 #18
    Great. I'll be the first (seriously).

    One curious thing is that there aren't any successful amateur condensed matters physicists that I know of, but I know of a ton of successful amateur astronomers and they are critical for getting data.
     
  20. Jul 5, 2011 #19
    I could work 6-8 hours a day and still do research on physics. The trouble is that my job requires me to work 12 hours a day. Once you add in family matters, then no energy left.

    Also, it's possible. Albert Einstein managed to do it, and one reason he managed to do it is that he had a government job that took eight hours a day.

    Also rather than asking "is it possible?" I find it more useful to ask "what are the barriers?" The only real barrier that I can see is time and money, but those are non-trivial ones. One problem is that there are apparently no high technology jobs which allow you to work half time (and yes I've looked).
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2011
  21. Jul 5, 2011 #20
    Also, you can fix the problem of citations. One thing that people do is to cite each others papers, but that involves going to conferences and meeting people.

    The problem with a lack of citations is that it means that you aren't "networked" in. Even if people think your paper is rubbish, if they cite it that means that you are connected with the community enough so that someone is willing to reference your paper and call you an idiot. If some one things that your ideas are important enough so that they will mention them to talk about how bad they are, you've won.

    So it's a symptom of a problem.

    But it's true. What's the point of discovering something if no one knows about it? Also, even if it is a good idea, what will likely happen if no one else knows about it is that someone will come up with the exact same idea, and they'll get credit for it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2011
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