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Research Decisions

  1. Nov 2, 2009 #1
    I am a physics masters student, I have the following choices of research:

    Experimental Research in nuclear physics


    Theoretical Research on the foundations of quantum physics

    Everything else being equal, meaning If I choose the experimental route, I will get equal grades, equal physics GRE scores, and equal letters of recommendation in comparison to the theoretical route. Which area of research will maximize my chances of getting into a PhD program?

    Or phrased another way, which area of research do most PhD programs look for?

    Thank You
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2009 #2
    It's really hard to say because things are school specific.

    If you had to really pin me down, I'd say that the nuclear physics would be more useful, since there is an larger overlap between experimental nuclear physics and other seemingly non-related physics. For example, if you know nuclear physics, then you can get into a school in astrophysics which is interested in nucleosynthesis. If you can build instruments then you might be able to get somewhere where their is an opening in particle physics experimentalists.
  4. Nov 2, 2009 #3
    Also you wouldn't happen to be at the College of William and Mary? If by "fundamentals of quantum physics" you mean stuff like what the Delos group is doing there, then that's a different situation since what they are doing there is generally applicable to unrelated fields of physics.
  5. Nov 3, 2009 #4
    Oh no, I am not at College of William and Mary, but you mentioned their work on fundamentals of quantum mechanics may have applications to other fields? How applicable is research on the fundamentals of QM to other fields if at all?

    So, if I understand your correctly, it is the applicability to other fields that, for the most part, determines which field of research has a higher chance of being accepted at a PhD program?

    Thank You
  6. Nov 3, 2009 #5
    It's applicable to philosophy :smile:. If "fundamentals" means "foundations" then philosophers will tell you that it actually just is philosophy. But then again you probably weren't considering philosophy as one of the other fields QM is applicable to.

    See this guy for example: http://www.princeton.edu/~hhalvors/papers/ (yes, philosophers do publish in "Journal of Mathematical Physics" and "Physics Review A")
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
  7. Nov 3, 2009 #6
    You tell me :-) :-)

    The way it works is that (assuming that you have decent grades and a good basic background) what determines whether you get into a particular Ph.D. program is how well your skills and background fit with the schools research program. If you are absolutely interested in AMO physics, and the school's focus is string theory (or vice versa) you are less likely to get in.

    So if you have research background which you can argue is relevant to the school's research interest, this will help. If you do nuclear physics, and the schools that you want to apply to are involved heavily in plasma physics, one thing that you do need to do in your statement of purpose is to explain how your background in nuclear physics will help the school's program in plasma physics (which is less difficult than it sounds).
  8. Nov 4, 2009 #7
    Well, I can't think of any graduate work I've ever seen done that I think is more useless than the above. I've seen a few things that tie it.

    Quantum mechanics is 70 years old. There's been a tremendous number of incredibly valuable physics that is important theoretically and practically discovered since then. There have been some marvelous advances in the past 15 years.

    Why anyone would sit around "researching" vanilla QM is beyond me. What a waste of office space.
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