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Motivation for research and careers in physics

  1. May 27, 2015 #1
    I've been struggling to find my own motivation for studying and researching physics, so I wanted to pose this question to anyone willing to answer.

    What is your motivation/drive/ambition to study physics? What do you hope to accomplish with a career in physics? And finally, was there a moment, event or person that sparked a fire or passion to the sciences?

    I am honestly interested in your personal experiences, as I'm still looking for mine. Perhaps I could gain insight for my own academic career.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 27, 2015 #2


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    My main motivation to study physics is a genuine interest in the material. I love learning about how the world works. As a kid, I was always asking 'why?' I wanted to know why things worked the way they did. I wanted to know why the sky was blue, why different liquids felt different, why different rocks could be so drastically different, and many other questions. As a child I got incredibly unsatisfactory answers to these questions (the sky isn't blue because of reflections off of the ocean, contrary to what I was told as a kid). As a physics major, I've gotten comprehensive answers to these questions that allow me to not only understand the nature of the phenomenon, but allow me to quantify them according to many different variables. As an adult, I still ask 'why?' quite frequently. When I found out why the sky was blue, I then had to find out why the things that make the sky blue work in such a way that they do make the sky blue. Physics has given me this answer as well.

    My career goals are still a bit up in the air. I'm currently an undergrad double majoring in physics and math, and I will be going to grad school for physics. My main interest is in particle physics, and more specifically my interests lately have been in the field of neutrinos and neutrino oscillations in particular. I also have a big interest in astrophysics and cosmology, and even more specifically, the intersection of the study of neutrinos and cosmology. I also have a huge interest in pure mathematics, which is why I'm double majoring. Given an ideal career path, I'd like to spend some time right after grad school working in the private research sector. After that, I'd like to move into a university setting doing a combination of research and teaching. As an undergrad though, this is all quite far off in the future. My interests and goals could quite easily change before then.

    I don't know if there was a specific event that inspired me to study physics. Space travel and the study of the Universe as a whole has always been of huge interest to me. I wasn't the kid that wanted to be a fireman or policeman...I wanted to be an astronaut. Although the dream of being an astronaut never came to fruition, my interest in space and the Universe continued throughout life. I've spent many long nights with friends camping and staring at the stars while speculating about the nature of the Universe. I didn't start college until I was 25, but through my early 20s an interest in physics and astronomy kept growing. After reading books like Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos,' Stephen Hawking's 'Brief History of Time' and other similar books, I decided that I wanted to study physics formally. Much to my surprise, I started my first course in physics and we weren't talking about Dark Energy, string theory, or the expansion of the Universe! However, I quickly found out how deeply beautiful Newton's Laws and Conservation of Energy and many other concepts really are. I've discovered that physics as a comprehensive field is an incredibly deeply interwoven system that will provide me with answers to all of the why?'s and the how?'s. I'm headed into my junior year this fall, and I can't wait to extend things to the next level.
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
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