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Research as a hobby

  • Thread starter Umaxo
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51
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Hello,

I would like to ask you opinions on working in reasearch in physics as hobbiest in my spare time. Right know i am just looking around for options, so any opinion would be appreciated.

I have masters degree in theoretical physics. After finishing the study i started working and - long story short - soon i will be something they call "mathematical programmer". From what i gathered we will be numerically solving (usually optimalisational) problems for various companies that don't have capabilties to find best solution themselves.

Right now i don't want to get back to academia to be profesional physicist, but i still want to be in contact with physical research and community. I simply love physics:)
I have no illusions to make serious contributions to physics (especially theoretical) as hobbiest, but i still think i could contribute in my spare time somehow and remain in touch with modern physics. Perhaps in numerical modeling, that should be relatively close to my actual job...

One of the problems i am sure i will face is that i cannot really promise anything since i don't know how much time i will have or how effective i would be. I am confident to have 5-10hs a week for physics, which is not much and i also cannot really guaranteed it, and it makes me little reluctant to send emails to various research groups wheter they seek volunteers. Of course I will send those emails at some point, but i would like to hear you opinions first.

The areas that i am interested in are QFT and general relativity. I wrote my thesis in GR and i managed to pass the exams on QFT and gauge field theory, but i must admit i did not really understand those (but i really want to!). I managed to do the computations though... So i would like to stay in contact with these theories since they really interested me. I thought about QFT on curved spacetimes? There was some lecture on it at my UNI which i did not attend, but could perhaps combine both of my interests?...

Again, i don't look for any winnig prize research, just some hobby to keep in touch with physics and its community. I don't really know what to ask, but i would love your opinions and views on the matter. How do you think the physics community/research group would react to my proposition of being a volunteer? What kind of research do you think i could manage? Is something like this even possible? Could i stay in touch with the community even if my free time is not so big? Any other comments you would like to share?

Thanks
 

CrysPhys

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I have masters degree in theoretical physics. After finishing the study i started working and - long story short - soon i will be something they call "mathematical programmer". From what i gathered we will be numerically solving (usually optimalisational) problems for various companies that don't have capabilties to find best solution themselves.

Right now i don't want to get back to academia to be profesional physicist, but i still want to be in contact with physical research and community. I simply love physics:)
I have no illusions to make serious contributions to physics (especially theoretical) as hobbiest, but i still think i could contribute in my spare time somehow and remain in touch with modern physics. Perhaps in numerical modeling, that should be relatively close to my actual job...
<<Emphasis added.>> Before you pursue this hobby, you should find out what your current employer's policy is for moonlighting on projects, even as a volunteer, that may even be tangentially work related.
 

Dr. Courtney

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In the past 15 years, I've published more papers from "hobby" projects than I have from "paying" projects. It's definitely possible, but it has been greatly facilitated by not having to spend 40 hours a week earning a living. My teaching jobs have left lots of time for research and didn't seem to care too much whether the work was funded as long as it produced publications more often than not. The stakeholders in my consulting company are similarly minded, but they do like to see connections between unfunded research and potential future consulting work. But on the whole, they take sort of a "Bell Labs" attitude with me. They've seen such a track record of success, they don't need to be convinced that every idea will pan out.

It takes lots of time to become a sufficient expert to make real contributions. Keeping the ship afloat with the paying work is the big challenge most face.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Additional thoughts:


When considering accepting volunteer help, most groups are weighing whether the volunteer's contributions will outweigh the effort and labor needed to get you up to speed and provide the needed guidance for your project. The burden is on the volunteer to convince the decision making parties that you will. Opportunities may also depend on whether the group you approach already has defined side projects that can help them determine your productivity while keeping you out of the critical path for more important projects.

We've found that it usually takes between 1000 and 4000 hours of effort to come up the learning curve to truly be productive in a new area of science. Easier projects do exist that allow productivity with fewer hours of investment, but finding them requires a different way of thinking. In our group, a lot of these easier projects are reserved for students, because their available time tends to be 100-400 hours per year or so. This article gives a flavor for the shorter learning curve projects:


Students tend to be flaky and about half that start a project with us don't really complete it or get anywhere with it. But that's OK, since the satisfaction of the productive ones outweighs those that flake out, and most scientists feel a burden to be working with students in training up the next generation of scientists.

Not being able to commit is a stumbling block. After assessing your background and skill set, most groups will have an idea of how long (hours per week, months, years, etc.) it will take you to be productive on the tasks or projects they have in mind. Who will want to take the time, energy, and effort to give you a chance if they can't even assess the probability of some successful return. My experience is that 5 hours a week is about the minimum needed to make steady progress even on the easiest of projects in our group.
 
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Thanks guys.

Yes, i am sure not being able to commit on projects that the groups actually want to do is a problem. But i thought there could be some projects that are perhaps interesting or would be nice to do, but not really worth the effort for profesional scientists or inapropriate for advancing your carreer. In that case i could work on the project entirely on my own without blocking it to others (because there are no others).

Some thoughts about this?
 

Vanadium 50

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If you don't know what you are doing, you are taking away time from people who have to watch over you.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Thanks guys.

Yes, i am sure not being able to commit on projects that the groups actually want to do is a problem. But i thought there could be some projects that are perhaps interesting or would be nice to do, but not really worth the effort for profesional scientists or inapropriate for advancing your carreer. In that case i could work on the project entirely on my own without blocking it to others (because there are no others).

Some thoughts about this?
Group leaders have different approaches to assigning available labor to available tasks. Unknown commitment and availability levels will be a significant constraint that many scientists will simply prefer not to deal with. Personally, 4-5 hours each week is the minimum commitment level I look for when taking on students. I can't imagine I'd be eager to lower that even further for other volunteers. If I'm supervising research, I'm looking for reasonable milestones of progress to be attained at a reasonable rate. This requires a predictable level of effort. One of my core principles is that achievement is the integral of effort over time.
 

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