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Nuclear and Theoretical Physics

  1. Feb 27, 2015 #1
    So I'm in Grade 9 and I have been thinking about careers and I've found myself to most interested in Nuclear and Theoretical Physics. I was wondering if I could do both as a career without dying from exhaustion. Also if I could work it out how many additional years of schooling is it after Grade 12. Plus what would classes would I take? Thanks in advance.
     
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  3. Feb 27, 2015 #2

    e.bar.goum

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    Well, there are lots of theoretical nuclear physicists! A theoretical physicist can be someone who studies theory in any number of fields of physics -- anything from plasma physics through to solid state physics -- there are theorists involved.

    Broadly speaking, there are three "kinds" of physicist - experimentalist, theorist and computational physicist. They will have some field of expertise, and that may be nuclear physics. Hence - theoretical nuclear physicist. I myself am an experimental nuclear physicist. Nuclear physics is a really great field, you should totally join!

    As to how many years of schooling, it depends on the country you are in, but in general: 3-4 years of a Bachelor of Science, 0-2 years of a Masters degree (which may or may not be part of your PhD) and 3+ years of a PhD program. In Australia (my country), it's 4 + 0 + 3.5 = 7.5 years on average. This is on the short end. In the US, you'd expect to spend a lot longer doing your PhD.

    ETA: As to what classes - in high-school, take the classes that get you into a bachelor of science. If you want to be a physicist, you should take the highest level of mathematics you can, as well as physics. Chemistry can't hurt.

    In university, you would get a physics major (or a theoretical physics major, if it's on offer. It doesn't matter too much), and take as much maths as you can fit in alongside. You want to do as high level quantum mechanics as you can. Some astro courses also can't hurt (there are a lot of applications of nuclear physics in astronomy). Then you'd apply for a grad program in nuclear physics.
     
  4. Feb 27, 2015 #3
    Theoretical physics is not a field by itself, despite what documentaries from Michio Kaku and the like might have you believe. There are different field of physics like Nuclear Physics, Plasma Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Atomic Physics, Astrophysics etc and there experimental, computational, and theoretical components to each area. So yeah, you could be a theoretical nuclear physicist by doing your bachelors in physics (where you'd want to get involved in doing undergraduate research with a professor whose work you find interesting) and then doing a PhD in nuclear physics where you'd focus on the theory part. ebargoum is slightly off on how long it takes to do a PhD in the US, the average it takes is about 5.5 years when you include coursework that would be at the 'masters' level and the thesis research/defense/etc. Taking over 7 years is on the high end for the US, but I'm referring to when someone starts the PhD to completion, I'm not including the bachelors component which normally takes 4 years but some people take longer for various reasons.
     
  5. Feb 27, 2015 #4

    e.bar.goum

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    Perhaps my phrasing was unclear - I meant that a PhD in the US is a fair bit longer than a PhD in Australia, not that it would take >7 years to do just the PhD component! Just to illustrate to the OP that there is regional variation that they will have to take into account in discussions like this.
     
  6. Feb 27, 2015 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Is that really true?

    Note that in the US, one starts a PhD program right out of an undergraduate degree, i.e. with a B.Sc. Most parts of the world, one requires a Masters degree first before continuing on with a Ph.D program. I've looked at the UK program, and in the end, the number of years one has to complete after the initial baccalaureate degree washes out to be roughly similar between the US and UK.

    Considering that Australia may follow roughly similar system as the UK, doesn't a similar description apply?

    Zz.
     
  7. Feb 27, 2015 #6

    e.bar.goum

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    Nope! There's no masters requirement in Australia, if your undergrad mark is sufficient and you do an honours degree. The "typical" path would be a 4 year BSc (Hons) + 3-3.5 year PhD (most scholarships are 3 years with possible 6 month extension). As far as I know, it's about as short as it gets in the world.

    We also don't do Quals, or oral thesis defences.

    While it certainly has it's upsides, there are downsides too - it's higher intensity.
     
  8. Feb 27, 2015 #7

    ZapperZ

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    Wow. That is intense.

    Do the 3-3.5 years involve graduate level classes, or are they purely research work? If it is the latter, does that mean that the graduate level courses were all covered at the undergraduate level?

    Zz.
     
  9. Feb 27, 2015 #8

    e.bar.goum

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    There aren't any classes required, no.

    The undergrad courses do include what in the US would be grad coursework (Jacksons EM, GR, QFT etc), but perhaps not as much as you'd get in a PhD. Then again, I do know people who managed to get the MSc requirement waived when going to Europe for a PhD.

    We don't have any "gen ed" type requirements here, so you can do more physics in 4 years of undergrad.
     
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