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Is it worth it for a physics undergrad to take a non-physics research position?

  1. Apr 29, 2010 #1
    Hello Physics Forums, and thanks in advance for your help.

    I'm a physics and computer science undergrad, currently in my second year. I'd like to go to grad school, and I know the importance of having research experience, but so far I don't really have anything substantial. I've been looking for a research assistantship in physics but haven't had any luck. The funding always seems to dry up and or the professor just hired someone, etc.

    Consequentially I've broadened my search, and have found a potential research job with a theoretical ecologist. The job would consist of programming models of food webs and other ecological networks.

    It seems to me like I have 3 choices now-
    1. Turn down the Eco/Ev job and continue looking for a physics position.
    2. Take the research position in the short term, and switch to a physics job in the future.
    3. Stick with the Eco/Ev job for the duration of my undergrad degree and have a good chance of getting published by the time I graduate.

    So what do you think? How important is it to grad schools that your research is in the same field that you want to study? I'm leaning toward taking it, especially considering I need a job to stay during the summer, but I don't want to screw the professor over by ditching in the near future, but I also don't want to restrict my options in the future.

    Thanks again
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2010 #2


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    Education Advisor

    I would go for the position if you haven't found anything else for the summer. Commit to it - at least for this summer.

    I don't think that it's super-important any research that you do in undergrad be related to what you want to pursue at that graduate level. As a student you need the freedom to explore different interests. It's not uncommon for students who had their hearts set in one direction to change their minds upon getting some experience in a particular field. Graduate committees are also generally aware that students don't always get their first pick on research projects.

    I think it's far more important that you do a good job with the work that you take on.
  4. Apr 29, 2010 #3


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    What kind of physics is it you want to do - theoretical or experimental? If theoretical, the ecology job probably isn't a bad choice. Getting skills in modeling is always helpful for a theorist. It won't teach you any quantum field theory, sure, but it should still teach you an array of skills useful to a physicist who models phenomena - model building, programming, even paper writing if you can get a publication out of it. That's probably even useful for an experimentalist - being able to program and come up with or analyze simple models for the experiment is a handy skill.
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