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Studying Research Opportunities as an Amateur

  1. Oct 22, 2016 #1
    Hello everyone!
    My goal has always been to be a researcher in physics. I am graduated in Electrical Engineering. My idea was to perform a master's degree and then a PhD, both in physics, with the aim of becoming a researcher. However, at this time I need to work, but I always have the night off and always study at this free time (physics and mathematics). It would be possible to perform some type of research? It would be possible to be accepted by a research group at some university around the world as a collaborator? My research interests are general relativity and cosmology. My goal is to learn and research! Any response would be of great value!
     
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  3. Oct 22, 2016 #2

    Orodruin

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    To be honest, you will need the training of a PhD in physics to get the experience and knowledge required to make meaningful contributions to those fields. Even with a PhD, you will still need to obtain a postdoc position and later a tenure track to be able to do research as a job. I do not see the prospects of doing it as a side hobby as very promising - doing research is demanding and will often even eat up the free time of people who do it for a living.
     
  4. Oct 23, 2016 #3
    Those fields are tough for your level of training. We mentor a lot of amateurs (students mostly, with a few older amateurs from other fields working for love rather than for money). But we keep an eye out for projects where meaningful contributions can be made with skill sets within the range of undergraduates and high school students. You might find a group that does this too, but it is less likely in cosmology or general relativity than in our fields of blast physics, ballistics, and fisheries science.

    Your best approach is most likely to take one course per semester and get to know a few faculty at a local university. See what you need to do to get into the "Senior Research" (or upper level undergrad research) course most physics departments have. This is the formal framework most departments have for involving amateurs in research.

    We get a number of cold emails each year from parties asking to collaborate with us on things. Most amateurs don't show much promise for making meaningful contributions to our projects, because they lack the technical skills of a junior physics major with a good work ethic and GPA. However, we've always found a way to work with students who needed a mentor for a "Senior Research" (or even earlier) project, but couldn't find a match for their interests and skills at their home university. A couple of calls or emails with the faculty running the course clarifies expectations and arrangements, and we can reasonably expect a consistent effort over 1-2 semesters, because the student knows a grade is coming.

    Most faculty will at least give 5-10 minutes of consideration to an amateur who is a student at their University making a cold approach. I doubt many citizens off the street are even going to get that much attention.

    We've also mentored a number of students making cold approaches of faculty trying to pry the doors open for research opportunities. We have them put together a two page resume making a strong case that they can contribute quickly, and we have them do a thorough background on the scientist's interests, publications, and likely talent needs to decide who and how to move forward. A cold email attaches the resume, and is brief and to the point in requesting a face to face meeting. The success rates of our students in finding opportunities is not too bad.
     
  5. Oct 23, 2016 #4
    Hello everyone!
    Before anything else thank you very much for the answers!
    I understand that to attempting any type of research, especially in areas such as general relativity and cosmology, would be necessary to have a training equivalent to that PhD students receive. It would be possible to acquire at least a part of this knowledge through books and materials that are available online?
    In my case it would be more interesting to try to get into the senior research gruoup at my university. The problem is that in my university there is not a research group that fits my interests. It would be possible to contact other research groups at other universities in order to participate as a collaborator? How can I find these groups? Could you provide me tips on how to find potential research groups in general relativity and cosmology and which have the willingness to accept amateurs? An important point to emphasize is that my expectation is to attempt to in the future to complete a master's degree and a PhD in physics in order to become a professional researcher. Just did not want to stay too long away without studying and researching.
     
  6. Oct 23, 2016 #5

    Orodruin

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    It is not so much the actual topical knowledge that you will learn that will be missing as much as learning the process of how science is performed in an academic setting. For this, you essentially need someone to show you the ropes. From learning what sources to read to keep up with current research to the procedure of writing a scientific paper. Of course, the topical knowledge is also easier to obtain if you have someone who can point you to the correct references.
     
  7. Oct 23, 2016 #6
    Cosmology and GR are not my areas of specialty, but I've been thinking of your post and considering the historical example of Michael Faraday. Faraday applied the proverb, "A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men." He attended lectures of Sir Humphry Davy, took meticulous notes, and eventually prepared and presented Davy with a carefully bound 300 page book based on his lecture notes. A short time later, Davy took him into his employ, and the rest is history. The question is how to apply the same principles to open doors to a 21st century research opportunity for an amateur.

    Most research scientists have several unfunded side projects on a back burner waiting for a combination of available resources and circumstances to pursue them. Free labor on various programming or EE type tasks could be the "gift" that opens a door for you, especially if a scientist has a side project he's been unwilling to interest a grad student or post doc in where tasks could be outsourced to the amateur.

    So your immediate choice might be whether you can get remotely involved in a group that "fits your interests" directly, or whether you need to view involvement with a more local research group as an intermediate stepping stone. Getting a co-authorship or recommendation from a more local research group may help getting the attention of the more remote groups. We've mentored research of amateurs both locally and remotely, and the amateurs in the remote situations really need to want it more to be able to be sufficiently disciplined and focused to contribute much of value. A remote research mentoring relationship seems less likely to succeed for amateurs who are unfamiliar with the needs, demands, and time line of real research. We've had more success with amateurs who have done some research before.

    We're a bit wary of amateurs who offer nothing more than words about how badly they want it and how hard they'll work. We are now more likely to give them a challenging task that they should be able to complete relatively independently. For example, write a program to convert data from some NASA database or file format into something we can more easily input into our software. If they could get this done right in a couple weeks without more investment from us than a couple emails and a half-hour Skype or two, they'd probably have our attention. We'd then figure out how to parcel out another sub-project. At some point, we'd put them in the critical path of projects intended for publication, especially if they are willing to keep working for free. We have lots of unfunded side projects.

    It is tough to know how many GR/Cosmology groups might be willing to work with an amateur or which ones might have tasks they could farm out to you. You just need to do the legwork of google searches, web site reviews, and review of their papers to figure this out. If you have good programming skills, this is most likely your "gift", and you need to find groups who can make use of it and are willing to take the gamble of trying. I would focus first on groups that are close enough to you so your cold email could request an in-person meeting to make most of your sales pitch. But you need to STOP thinking about what they can do for you and START thinking about what you can do for them.
     
  8. Oct 23, 2016 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    I am not allowed to accept work for free. In fact, I not only need to pay someone, I need to pay them at least the prevailing wage. The legal exception is students, because this can be argued by the lawyers that this is part of their education, but my institution tries to avoid trouble by insisting that even students need to be paid. There are also liability issues - even though much of what we do is in an office environment, there are still slips, trips and falls. Because of that, I can't have a long term visitor with no affiliation.

    All of these raise the barrier to entry.
     
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