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Is research the right career path for me?

  1. Jul 31, 2008 #1
    I just finished my REU in solid state physics and must say that it was a little disappointing. I did some theoretical, but mostly experimental work. Though the theory behind it sounded very interesting when I first heard about the project, it turned out that our progress went very slowly, much slower than I expected. In addition, I did not find most of the work that my prof assigned to me to be very interesting or fun, as I had to use microsoft paint and excel alot. Also, I definitely feel that I'm not destined for experimental work because I certainly lacked motivation for experiments. For example, the other undergrad student working with me seemed alot more interested in the lab equipment and was always thinking of different ways to solve the problems with the project. he was motivated to do more than what the prof assigned to him, whereas I wasnt. I heard that a career in research is only for those who absolutely LOVE the work and are willing to undergo the many frustrations with little things and equipment not working. also, they think about the project on their free time. again, i found the project to be interesting and fun, but not that fun, and i LIKED it but didnt LOVE it

    or, is the case that i'm just not cut out to be an experimental physicist, but maybe research as a theoretical physicsit or mathematician ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2008 #2
    Motivation isn't something that just happens; no one is completely engaged in their project all the time. To me, it sounds like your lab mate made the best of the situation though; he might not have loved the project either, but he wanted to take something away from the experience.

    So it's not a matter of the job not inspiring you, but you not being inspired by the job. If you weren't inspired working in an experimental lab, I see no reason to pursue experiment, but if you're expecting to only work on things that drive you to the heights of intellectual satisfaction constantly then I see no reason to pursue physics at all.
  4. Aug 1, 2008 #3
    Machines. these wondrous things, that do all the necessary and the unnecessary work for us humans. If I could, I would collect them. Like having a bit of a machine-park in my backyard.

    But did I like machines before my engineering-studies? No not really. I wasn't that positive in that sense of technology.

    I actually find it soothing for the soul to tinker with lab equipment, machines at work that doesn't function properly, maybe taking a small afterhours course in lathe operations (turning), drilling, sawing that kinds of stuff. The prospect of building something new is like exploring the galaxy, whether with code, yours hands or your mind.

    The thing I am trying to convey to you mr. proton, is that a good researcher should be curious, wanting to learn, ask a lot of questions, and get this question from the squares "you sure ask a lot of questions, why do you even care about machine X or Operation Y?".

    Why do you want to be a researcher? the nobelprice? Are you trying to still your own curiousness? Money? Chicks? Fast cars? :cool:
  5. Aug 1, 2008 #4
    i guess my main curiousity lies in cosmology, learning more about the universe and the big bang. i'm also curious about how matter behaves at the atomic level, which is why QM and particle physics also look interesting. other parts of physics are less interesting, such as mechanics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, etc
  6. Aug 1, 2008 #5


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    It sounds like you got a taste of what life is like for a researcher. Unfortunately the vast majority of physics work is often tedious and mundane problem solving needed to get experiments to work, or code to run. You need to seriously consider this experience in any future decisions you make.

    That being said, it's fair to say that you're not necessarily going to fall in love with every project from the beginning. It's a lot like finding a mate. Some people are lucky enough to experience love at first sight. More often though, two people start out as friends or even strangers who are simply curious about each other and the relationship grows from there.
  7. Aug 1, 2008 #6
    the project definitely got more enjoyable as I progressed, as I enjoyed it the most my last week here. but i dont think i love it to the extent that i want to be a research experimental physicist, at least
  8. Aug 1, 2008 #7
    Something else to keep in mind is that experimental physicists design experiments; grad students run them. At an REU you get a taste for what it's like to work in an experimental group (i.e., be a lab monkey) but not really a taste of what it's like to lead an experimental group.
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