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Physics Looking For Physics Career Advice

Hi, I am currently an undergrad in physics/astronomy in my senior year. I am interested in doing work of a theoretical (or semi-theoretical) nature in the future. My reasoning for this is that it seems it does not require a lot of resources other than access to data and I think I would enjoy it. However my grades are not very good. I have had a very hard time as an undergrad. I also have no work experience. I am kind of a "shy person" so I haven't approached anyone to ask about this, and it also took me some time to come to this conclusion decisively. :) I know it is necessary to get a PHD in order to have a good understanding of the current research fields of physics but at this point I am worried I won't be able to get into grad school... Can anyone give me some suggestions of steps I can take to go in the right direction?
 
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Choppy

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Well the first step is to get your marks up so you can get into graduate school. If you don't make the cut, the fact of the matter is that you'll have to start considering other careers. It's not always the students with the highest marks who are the most successful in research, but you to have to get in first. While doing this, you also need to make sure you're not just learning for the sake of marks. Most of the stuff that you skip over in undergrad will come back to haunt you at some point in your career.

The next suggestion is to get some research experience. This can come in the form of a senior thesis project, a formal program (I believe REU is the acronym in the US), or simply knocking on a professor's door and volunteering your time. You do of course have to be serious about this and be willing to dedicate some time to this. This experience will (a) give you an idea of what graduate school is like, and (b) lead to those all-important letters of reference required for admission to graduate school.

Another thing that might help is teaching experience. Some universities allow senior undergraduates to instruct first year labs. Or you can always try some tutoring. This kind of thing also forces you to get really good at the fundamentals.

Don't worry about it being "too late" to start. You can't change anything about the past, but you can changes things around now.

If you're really passionate about going this route, the worst case scenario is that you don't get in on your first try, you take an extra year and do some additional courses and get that research experience that will get you in.
 
Thanks very much for your detailed and encouraging reply, Choppy! If I am able to do the three things you mentioned I think I will be more prepared for applying to grad school and have a better understanding of what it will be like.

Trying to learn for the sake of the marks is a familiar concept. It started to seem that way as the difficulty of my classes increased and my gpa decreased. Ironically, it made the situation worse because I skipped important things. I'm not really sure what to do other than try to study as much as possible from now on.

However, your post also helped me to understand that getting some research and teaching experience is important since those would be in a structured environment compared to when I am studying on my own and require me to manage my time differently, plus use the things I have already learned. I would also like to participate more actively in that way. So hopefully that will be the next step...
 

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