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Really confused on the academics of physics

  1. Oct 15, 2008 #1
    Hi there!


    Im new to the forum. My names Rana, I live in Seattle, and Im currently enrolled at a community college right now where for the last year or so Ive been dedicated to going into the feild of neuroscience,...but...I had one of those college "mid-life crisis", and now all I want to do is study particle physics.

    Since of course, I am a LONG way from getting a PhD, and I fully understand that it's very possible that I might change my mind for my major, or go back and forth, I DO know that whatever feild I go into will be that of Neuroscience or Particle physics or Cosmology (but hey...I might be wrong!:))


    So, my question is-

    Ive heard a couple different idea's of MAJOR's one has to choose to go into the realm of particle physics.
    One being majoring in Mathematicas, and the other was Physics? So Im just curious if anyone could tell me what the path to someone like myself would be if I decide to dive into this feild.

    Im curious to know what I'd have to be mentally and emotionally prepared for if this happens for me. I have a lot of self doubts of my mathematics skills, but I am definetlly trying very hard! I have this misconception that because Ive been raised by artists, done art for many years, attended art schools my whole life until now, that I might not have "what it takes" to be in the realm of science(which bums me out, and depresses me). This is totally a personal fear Im experiencing probablly because everything is so new to me, but I'd liek to know if I do go for it whats ahead of me. THanks! looking foward to hearing your thoughts
    -Rana
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2008 #2
    speaking fro ma physics major's perspective, upper div physics will be very mathematical (you prolly already knew this)

    Its alot of solving diff. eqtns with boundary values....over and over again.

    I tink you got what it takes. There are systematic ways to solve the DE's and you're not really expected to solve hard ones. So the math is doable, no special talent needed at all. the problem is, the math gets quite annoying and tedious, and you will get turned off by all the math. Again, its not hard math, it's just boring math. And this is what you keep doing for 2 yrs as a upper-division physics major.

    One thing i looked for while majoring in physics is that there would be a lot of cool and itneresting concepts. Thats not what i found. Not that much interesting concepts comapred to lower-division intro physics courses. You learn a anew concept, and its backed up by tons of more long/tedious math. These concepts aren't difficult to understand at all--no special talent/ brain to comprehend them.

    I will say you'll have what it takes, but theres a good chance that you won't enjoy it when you get there. It's not as exciting as reading physics from a popular science magazine on particle physics for laymen.

    Hoep this helps, just fro mmy perspective
     
  4. Oct 15, 2008 #3

    tgt

    User Avatar

    are you a student at the moment? grad student?
     
  5. Oct 15, 2008 #4
    Is there any way one might be able to describe in detail what courses someone would take?

    I guess what I mean is, once you develop skills in a certain maths, then you would go on to...?

    And do you have to major in physics OR maths to go into particle physics? Or does it not really matter which one you choose? Is it really that boring? It sounds great to me!
     
  6. Oct 15, 2008 #5
    You have to major in physics if you want to go into particle physics eventually. The higher you go in physics the more math you'll need. There is a basic set of math skills and subjects you need to know (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, maybe others can add more), and then there's other stuff you pick up yourself. The math is not as hardcore or pathlogical as it would be if you were a maths major. Physicists do ask mathematicians/applied mathematicians if they are really stuck.

    I would like to ask you how much you know about physics and particle physics particularly. Pop science books are not a good guide as to what physicists really do. Maybe ask someone in particle physics about the stuff they do etc.

    As for the courses:
    You start off with a general physics course in your first year, whic will be based on single-variable calculus. It covers broadly and at an elementary level the major topics of classical physics: dynamics, electricity, magnetism, thermal physics, optics, an perhaps a few other things.

    Then in the rest of undergrad you typically do:
    Classical mechanics, from an advanced calculus and variational standpoint (Newtonian and Lagrangian formulations).
    Electromagnetics, which deals with electricity, magnetism, electromagnetism, electromagnetic waves etc. using a lot of vector calculus and differential equations.
    Thermal physics, thermodynamics, statistical physics etc.
    Introductory course in quantum mechanics, non-relativistic. Usually quite elementary (as far as quantum mechanics goes), using differential equations, quite a bit of linear algebra and advanced calculus.
    And usually a course in modern physics, which may be elementary particle physics.

    You make take other courses. The mathematics is usually peripheral to the physics, and not that interesting. The mathematics will not be overly difficult as an undergrad, and I reckn someone with a weak math background could be fine in handled correctly, and if they put in enough effort. I don't know what physics would be like in postgrad, so get someone elses view. But the best advice I can give is to take to a physicist or physics student first, maybe read an introductory physics book. There really is no point in doing physics if you don't really, really have a passion for it. You'll just end up poor and miserable.
     
  7. Oct 15, 2008 #6
    im currently an undergrad.

    Also if you want to kow what life as a particle physics researcher is like..heres my little glimpse. The reason its a glimpse is that i thot i wanted to research particle physics. i talked to a prof. for a volutneer position.

    I was told i would jsut sit in front of a compjter and analyze data. thats it. ur gonan do computer [programming to organize ur data. Now you will also work on building detectors too..but ocne thats done...it's al ldata analysis. I didn't want to do that. Seem kinda boring, and i wasn't paid to do it.

    What makes u want to learn particle physics so much? Wha inspired u?
     
  8. Oct 15, 2008 #7


    Thats exactlly what I wanted, thank you so much for that!

    I will ask around like you said, that is a very good idea to get more information on it.
     
  9. Oct 16, 2008 #8
    Does anyone mind telling me why everyone seems to think going into particle physics is boring?
    This isnt the first response Ive gotten when told I was interested in it. A lot of peope are telling me to stick to Neuroscience and as I said before, Im probablly going to switch back and forth until I transfer to the University of Washington, but I assume like any feild, there are boring parts and fun parts, right? It doesnt seem boring to analyze data...I dont know. Then again, Im not in the position to really know details. This is why I ask you guys lol
     
  10. Oct 16, 2008 #9

    tgt

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    Here is my guess. If you are really talented then you get to work on big problems and it isn't boring. But if you are average then it's boring as other parts of physics or applied maths.
     
  11. Oct 16, 2008 #10
    Well, I'll try to answer from my limited experience in physics (bear in mind I am a maths major so I may be biased :)). There is much slogging through boring mathematics in physics. There's lab work and data analysis, using numerical methods and computing, and I've found that terribly boring (for some people, very few, they find it exciting). However, all that aside, when you get down to the actual physics, not the maths, not the data or lab stuff, the physics and the physics problems, yes, that stuff is indeed very interesting. Or can be. But that's not all you do in physics. Some physicists have purely theoretical jobs, where they sit working on theories with a pencil and paper (quite a simplification, but you understand). Others are more involved on the experimental side, analysing data, conducting experiments etc. which can also be interesting too. It just depends what you like, so there is room there to explore. However, most people with physics degrees do not end up working in physics. They end up doing banking, insurance, stock markets etc. and I think it's important you know this. It's very unlikely you'll end up actually working in physics. But if you love physics (or maths !) then there really is nothing else for you and you have to study physics (or maths!). If you don't have a true passion for physics, rather not go the route of physics, just take some physics courses perhaps , or learn it by yourself. Ofcourse, there is always the possibility you can mix physics and biology. Who do you think built and designed the machines to do MRIs and CAT scans? You can use physics to analys biological molecules to see whether a certain drug will actually bind to the receptor it was made to bind to without conducting experiments, but looking at it from the physics (and using a computer) and other such things where you use physics in biology.
     
  12. Oct 16, 2008 #11
    honestly, i wasn't interested in nuclear and particle physics until just last two semesters (i am doing master's, btw), which was a mandatory course. i came to realize that there is A LOT of interesting and amazing things in there. just try to read about confinement and strong coupling constant, deep inelastic scattering, hyperfine splitting, cherenkov detectors, (weak/strong/electromagnetic) interactions etc.

    the only boring thing is data analysis as others have pointed out. but if you are patient and know what's happening, there shouldn't be any problems.
     
  13. Oct 16, 2008 #12
    honestly, i wasn't interested in nuclear and particle physics until just last two semesters (i am doing master's, btw), which was a mandatory course. i came to realize that there is A LOT of interesting and amazing things in there. just try to read about confinement and strong coupling constant, deep inelastic scattering, hyperfine splitting, cherenkov detectors, (weak/strong/electromagnetic) interactions etc.

    the only boring thing is data analysis as others have pointed out. but if you are patient and know what's happening, there shouldn't be any problems.
     
  14. Oct 16, 2008 #13
    Im glad there is light at the end

    lol I dont know it all sounds great to me I guess ill have to take all your words of advice in mind and find out
     
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