Physics graduate school advice

In summary, the conversation revolved around a first-year international student at Denison University who is majoring in physics and mathematics. They are currently taking their second course in undergraduate physics and a course in linear algebra and differential equations. The student is trying to decide on a concentration or path for their future in theoretical physics. They seek advice on different areas of theoretical physics and the best way to structure their math major to prepare for graduate school. The conversation also includes advice on exploring different research opportunities and learning to use algebraic packages for computations.
  • #1
vassalloef
6
2
Hello everyone,

I'm a first-year international student at Denison University double-majoring in physics and mathematics (or that's at least the plan). I'm currently taking my second course in undergraduate physics here and at the same time a course in linear algebra and differential equations.

This semester has been pretty great because I'm getting the sense that I really love physics and I also really love math, so I've been trying to decide what to do about it. I feel like doing theoretical physics in grad school would be ideal for me, since I suppose that combines math and physics more than experimental does.

However, I feel like "theoretical physics" is pretty broad, so I wanted to ask here what different concentrations/paths someone like me might take in that discipline (for example, I've heard about string theory, also about general relativity, but not much beyond that). In other words, what are the different areas of theoretical physics that I might be interested in if I have a particular liking for abstract mathematics (or at least what feels like abstract stuff that I've seen so far in linear algebra).

This is not really so that I'll make a decision right now, but so that I know how to structure my math major (i.e., the classes I take to complete it) so as to be as prepared as possible for what I might pursue in graduate school.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to your advice :)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
I would suggest that you keep your eyes and ears open, but not to try and plan your entire life now. If Denison has research for undergrads, get involved soon, and don't be afraid to explore different groups.
 
  • Like
Likes mpresic3, wukunlin and Dale
  • #3
Vanadium 50 said:
I would suggest that you keep your eyes and ears open, but not to try and plan your entire life now. If Denison has research for undergrads, get involved soon, and don't be afraid to explore different groups.
Hello, thank you very much for your advice, I will definitely keep it in mind. And I'm doing research this summer, so that's pretty cool! As I mentioned above, it's not that I want to make a huge decision on where I'm going to end up, it's just so that I know which options are available for following my interest. For example, I know that one would be doing research on string theory, but I don't know much beyond that, and I'm unaware of the many other areas that I'm sure exist. In addition, it's so that I get a better sense of which math classes to take to fulfill my math major. As I said, thank you for your contribution :)
 
  • #4
Practically every branch of physics has both experimentalists and theoreticians: elementary particles (high energy physics), nuclear, atomic/molecular, condensed matter (including solid state)...

A large university physics department (e.g. Ohio State down the road from you) has faculty working in a wide range of fields, and you could simply look at posters in the hall, attend presentations, talk to people, etc. A smaller school like Denison has a smaller range of research, but you can still get a feeling for other fields by reading widely. If you belong to the Society of Physics Students, you'll get a subscription to the monthly Physics Today magazine, which I found to be very useful when I was an undergraduate at a small college long ago. It has articles and news briefs covering all of physics.
 
  • #5
The one thing I'll recommend that I wish I told myself when I was younger is: Learn to use algebraic packages like MATLAB or mathematica. They're not your enemy, and you don't need to know how to do EVERY integral by hand.

When I was younger, I felt it was "cheating" to use these for whatever reason. So take the best of both worlds, learn to solve them by hand AND re-do the same problem on the computer (if time permits of course). It doesn't matter if you go into experimental, or theoretical, you'll need to know how to do big computations.

So, to sum up my sob story, take more courses on numerical methods while you're young.
 
  • #6
jtbell said:
Practically every branch of physics has both experimentalists and theoreticians: elementary particles (high energy physics), nuclear, atomic/molecular, condensed matter (including solid state)...

A large university physics department (e.g. Ohio State down the road from you) has faculty working in a wide range of fields, and you could simply look at posters in the hall, attend presentations, talk to people, etc. A smaller school like Denison has a smaller range of research, but you can still get a feeling for other fields by reading widely. If you belong to the Society of Physics Students, you'll get a subscription to the monthly Physics Today magazine, which I found to be very useful when I was an undergraduate at a small college long ago. It has articles and news briefs covering all of physics.
Hi, thank you for your response! I hadn't considered the possibility of visiting Ohio State — I guess with all the restrictions I haven't considered leaving school for anything. But I'll go visit as soon as it's possible. Thanks again for your contribution!
 
  • #7
romsofia said:
The one thing I'll recommend that I wish I told myself when I was younger is: Learn to use algebraic packages like MATLAB or mathematica. They're not your enemy, and you don't need to know how to do EVERY integral by hand.

When I was younger, I felt it was "cheating" to use these for whatever reason. So take the best of both worlds, learn to solve them by hand AND re-do the same problem on the computer (if time permits of course). It doesn't matter if you go into experimental, or theoretical, you'll need to know how to do big computations.

So, to sum up my sob story, take more courses on numerical methods while you're young.
Hello, thank you for your advice. Actually, I'm glad you say that because we learned to use Mathematica in multivariable calculus last year and it did kind of feel like cheating, but what you say is true too. I haven't had a chance to try matlab, but I'll have to check it out now! Thanks for sharing!
 
  • Like
Likes romsofia

Related to Physics graduate school advice

1. What are the requirements for getting into a physics graduate program?

The specific requirements for admission into a physics graduate program may vary depending on the university and program. However, most programs will require a strong background in physics, mathematics, and other related sciences. They may also require letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a competitive GPA and standardized test scores.

2. How can I stand out in my application for a physics graduate program?

One way to stand out in your application is to gain research experience in a relevant field. This could be through internships, research assistantships, or independent projects. Additionally, strong letters of recommendation and a well-written statement of purpose can also help set you apart.

3. What are some tips for succeeding in a physics graduate program?

Some tips for succeeding in a physics graduate program include staying organized, managing your time effectively, seeking help when needed, and actively participating in discussions and research projects. It is also important to maintain a strong work-life balance and take care of your mental and physical health.

4. How can I prepare for the rigorous coursework in a physics graduate program?

To prepare for the coursework in a physics graduate program, it is important to have a strong foundation in physics and mathematics. You can also review undergraduate materials and brush up on any weak areas. Additionally, networking with current graduate students or professors in the program can give you insight into the specific coursework and expectations.

5. What are some career options for physics graduate students?

Physics graduate students have a variety of career options, including research and teaching positions in academia, as well as opportunities in industry, government, and non-profit organizations. Some common career paths for physics graduate students include research scientists, data analysts, engineers, and science communicators.

Similar threads

  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
32
Views
478
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
24
Views
2K
Replies
6
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
7
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
4
Views
801
Replies
7
Views
926
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
8
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
8
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
4
Views
2K
Back
Top