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Pursuing my dream

  1. Feb 10, 2012 #1
    Ok so I actually have the opportunity to change my major (ch.engineering) to physics during my sophmore year. So the university that I will be applying to requires me to show that I am very "unique". How to do I do that. Do I talk about the things that I've learnt back at my previous university?
    And can someone who knows about stuff like this, give me advice on whether I should stick to my prev. major rather than physics because my ultimate goal in both cases would be to get a PhD. I really adore physics because it gives me chance of marvelling at how complex the universe is and it's one of the most fundamental sciences. I want to spend my life trying to solve mysteries that keep scientists' curiosity up in the air.
    But some people say that even with a degree in physics you may still be stuck on the applied side and given all the hardships of academia, is it better to pursue it at home, as a hobby. I dont think its very practical. For me this is it, that one chance to pursue your dream. Am I making the wrong decision?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 11, 2012 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Say something that brings together everything you learned or experienced and points you toward physics. My brother liked model planes and servos and computers and math and went into physics because he was fascinated by the concepts behind the. WhenI applie to grad school I said my math, astronomy, programming and physics was ideally suited to do astrophysicsl computer simulations and they bought it.
  4. Feb 11, 2012 #3
    Ok I thought they meant like some sort of official 'uniqueness' but I guess you'r right..Just curious though how do computer simulations help astrophysicists? You majored in physics right?
  5. Feb 11, 2012 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, we'll there star structure and modeling the nuclear processes inside.

    And then there galactic formation or galactic collision modeling.

    And even trying to determine how position dark matter to describe the galactic rotation through simulation.

    Checkout the open source physics website where they have a simple example of a swirling galaxy simulation www.compadre.org/osp
  6. Feb 11, 2012 #5
    Dyson and Feynman mastered the material in advanced college calculus texts when they were 15 - that's the kind of unique you need to show. Go through Boas' "Mathematical Methods" and do every problem in it - that'll impress them...

    Tell them you really enjoy the mathematical purity of physics and didn't feel extended by the math on your chem eng course (And you better mean this! They might point you to the blackboard and ask you to solve something hard...)

    It will also be a reality test, physics is not (mostly) about reading Brian Greene and feeling amazed by the far-out science. If you can't face the tough mathematics then you're probably best to stick to chem. eng...

    I'm reading Dirac's biography at the moment ("The Strangest Man" by Graham Farmelo) I'd highly recommend you read that - he started out as an engineer so you can have a good answer if they ask "Can you make the transition from engineer to physicist?" It also gives an indication of the kind of dedication and mind-set needed to be a top theoretical physicist (or, with the coverage of some Dirac's friends, a top experimental physicist...)

    You can't pursue physics at home as a hobby! Dirac was one of the most talented applied mathematicians who has ever lived, but he could only keep up by working non-stop six days a week... all those fast Germans were always trying to beat him to the prize...

    Hope you are getting straight A's in your math classes - if not you better start doing that now...
  7. Feb 11, 2012 #6
    First off, Thanks very much! that's brilliant advice! I will certainly try it out.

    Feynman is one of my greatest inspirations perhaps because he was great at teaching physics. But yeah, my main goal is to develop something a model, theory whatever that helps us understand a little more about the natural order in the universe. If I do devote the rest of my life to theoretical physics, will that be something I can acheive and I mean literally. Despite having a late start, which is going to be a hindrance.

    But the thing is I will seriously have to go through a lot of trouble to change my major and college, city etc which is fine but I need to know kind of urgently if I can acheive my main goal (the one abv) by doing computational physics for instance, because I could easily go into that field from ch.eng., just in case they dont accept me.
  8. Feb 11, 2012 #7


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    Hey absurdist.

    I just wanted to point something out that I think is important to say for someone in your condition and with your goals.

    The truth is that there are so many things we don't know that don't belong to things like a theory of anything or unification between quantum mechanics and general relativity. This is so far from the truth as to be misleading.

    There are so many phenomena that we just have no hope of explaining with the current paradigms we have and they are all around us in every form of investigative scientific endeavor from biology to physics.

    My advice to you is to keep an open mind on what constitutes a 'worthwhile' discovery. There are so many different areas that will give many important insights and they are not related to the romantic stuff you will see or hear about in popular science mediums.

    If you keep an open mind, as well as wide focus, I guarantee that you will discover something worthwhile for not only yourself but for other people as well.
  9. Feb 12, 2012 #8
    The most important thing is to get into a position where you can work with really good guys on fundamental problems - Feynman had Wilson, Salam had Dirac, but you don't need a mega-star like that - Dirac had Fowler, and Hawking had Sciama - not mega-stars (but definitely stars in the "hot" areas, Fowler in QM ,and Sciama in cosmology...)

    To get near them you need to do classes that will make them sit up and notice, and ace those classes. So you need to be doing the toughest classes in General Relativity, Quantum Theory, etc,...

    If you can only get in to do "computational physics" then sit in on the toughest classes - and *get noticed* - do all the problems better than the "official classmates", ask many sensible questions... Dirac did this at Bristol (apart from asking *many* questions.. he didn't talk much...)

    You need to get a "major planet" to notice you and give you a great reference so that a "star" will take you on. For instance, Dirac was noticed by the most "turned on" mathematicians/physicists at Bristol, which helped him get into Cambridge under Fowler, and Fowler knew Bohr et. al., so Dirac got to go to the right conferences, and then the Nobel prize was easy :)

    All this, of course, will need a lot of hard work... Dirac and Feynman worked "all hours" and never did anything but physics. Dirac took a two hour walk on Sunday.. that was about his only break from work, apart from hurried meals...) Surprisingly, you don't need a mega-IQ. According to Csikszentmihalyi's book "Creativity", 120 should be high enough...
  10. Feb 12, 2012 #9
    1. Be humbled because you are geting this opportunity, don't be desperate and look motivated.
    2. Talk about your passions, your dreams and experiences.
    3. A university that dosen't value passion is no uni at all it is a factory.
    4. Some of the interviewers may try to give you a trick question or a question that can put you in difficulty, try to talk alot so they can put just a few questions... I tried this at the Police Academy, where 75% of the students interviewed where dropped, I passed :P

    Don't take my word for it, just take what you think releates to you.
  11. Feb 12, 2012 #10
    It's really hard to keep yourself driven, unless its all that romanticized stuff. It's fits so well existentially speaking into one's goals in life. It's almost an obsession for me. It will be hard to motivate myself to devote the rest of my life to a particular field in science or engineering. What keeps most people motivated to be the best at their fields? Its not that I don't consider discoveries in other disciples worthwhile: but studying nature has kind of become an addiction and its really disappointing if you get stuck in engineering with the hopes of studying nature!

    Devoting ones entire life to physics. I am prepared to take it on and will subsist on the pretext of pure interest (I'll give it my all, if I MAKE IT that is). Isn't this what most of my competitors (say) will be trying to do as well?

    You don't say age is going to make a huge difference though will it? Because I will be 2-3 yrs older than all my peers.

    Once again thanks! mal4mac I think you should write a book on how to become a brilliant physicist!
  12. Feb 13, 2012 #11


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    Motivation is not an exact science and although there is a lot done in this field in which people gain in career in giving advice to all areas of the world in every kind of condition you can think of, it isn't always something that is easy to reduce.

    I can say though one thing: it is a lot easier to get motivated when other people are involved.

    It really is this time old message that you see in bad soppy movies that you go with your girlfriend to see. You also see it when you watch a sports team win a game and the crowd in the stadium along with the players and everyone watching behind the TV goes absolutely nuts as well.

    But you see it in the home. The mother that just sacrifices herself for her child(ren) doing anything and everything to give that child everything so that they can make it in this world.

    All of these situations show that motivation is present in high quantities when you have other people.

    Now motivation does not need to be done for what you might call a bad or good reason because there is no distinction: this kind of environment helps people build atom bombs as well as build the technology for the society of the 21st century.

    My point is that if you connect with other people, you might find that it will help you become motivated and stay motivated. It's just a suggestion, but I have seen this time and time again in terms of real examples in the real world.

    Just remember from time to time to take a break if you need to. If you need to speak to someone else, even if it is not about physics, then do so.

    Also be honest with yourself. If you want to become the next Einstein in your mind then that is ok, but being honest will help you deal with the probabilities that you will face if you make a wholehearted commitment to this kind of endeavor and its important to really be aware of the probabilities as well as mentally preparing for them so that you stay sane if things don't turn out the way you thought they would.
  13. Feb 13, 2012 #12
    I think many (as I did!) just bumble along - don't go all-out to enter first-rate physics departments, don't seek out the best mentors, don't become seriously competitive, don't work quite hard enough, move into computing research, bumble along,...

    You can have fun doing that... but no Nobel prize :)

    I can't see 2-3 yrs making much difference. Note that Feynman & Dirac et. al. lost several years working at "war work" before getting down to do serious fundamental physics. Also the chem. eng. course isn't a waste, it will give you a different angle on things - Dirac always thought his engineering experience was very useful...
  14. Feb 13, 2012 #13
    YES I agree its all fun with or without nobel prizes.

    I actually have a very good chance of getting into Computational physics, stat.mechs and montecarlo simulation related work but I am curious about what you think abt computational work. Why havent we heard of any inspiring computational physicists yet despite the importance of the subject though? Is the field underrated and its role taken for granted?

    The thing you mentioned abt Feynman and Dirac et. al. is that they didn't lose time during the peak years did they (when your brain is fresh and full of youthful enthusiam), unless I am wrong but I suppose that losing years shouldnt be a major concern as long as I am fullfilling my dreams.Curiosity and hence the consequent hard work doesnt fade overtime does, it?

    Dirac's story is truly inspiring for me but how did he manage to get a degree in el. engineering by the age of 19? In case all this doesnt work out, I'll follow in his wake and develop skills in math.

    Thanks again!
  15. Feb 13, 2012 #14
    Seriously? That's like telling someone who wants to transfer into an English department to get cracking on memorizing the dictionary. Plus, I am fairly certain that if you put something that retarded on your statement of purpose, the admissions committee would laugh their faces off.
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