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Selecting a research topic

  1. Jun 25, 2009 #1
    How wise is it to make your Ph.D. topic on something that can be disproven experimentally maybe in a year or two?

    I tried to make this question as general as possible, so that it can apply to others who have the same question. Specifically, if I do some calculations or theoretical work in supersymmetry, and the LHC doesn't find supersymmetric particles, does that mean I have to start over and find a new topic?

    Is it safer to write a paper on something that has no hope of ever being proven or disproven in the however many years it takes to write a dissertation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2009 #2
    It is wise to choose your thesis topic in consultation with your advisor.
  4. Jun 25, 2009 #3


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    I think this is a very relevant question. I wouldn't pick a topic that had a good chance of being experimentally tested (if I wasn't involved in the experiment) before I expected to hand in the dissertation - not many dissertations could be called 'completely wrong' but yours would run the risk. That's not to say you should work on something that can't be tested, but may look a little further down the road (say, won't be tested until you have a permanent position somewhere).

    This could seem to really only apply to theory or modeling, but I felt I may be in a similar situation last year while picking a dissertation topic. One main area was modeling potential results from a potentially upcoming satellite mission - but I'm not convinced it will ever fly, and thought a dissertation centered around a potentially non-existent mission was pretty worthless. Now, if it had already been approved by NASA and funded, that would have been a different story.
  5. Jun 25, 2009 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Why on earth would you want to launch your scientific career by selecting a topic of study that will be irrelevant before you graduate?

    And also, why on earth would you want to launch your scientific career by writing papers- papers that serve to introduce yourself to the scientific community- that are so conjectural that nobody will have use for them?
  6. Jun 26, 2009 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    G_edgar and Andy Resnick make very good points.

    Additionally, the idea that the LHC could conclusively rule out supersymmetry 24 months from now is, frankly, laughable. Your advisor is not giving you a very clear picture of what is and is not likely to happen in the experimental world.
  7. Jun 26, 2009 #6
    Well supersymmetry is a hot topic, new articles and books come out, you hear people talking about them, so it's hard not to hear about it.

    But it does seem safer to work within the Standard Model, working within only experimentally verified physics (as much as possible), and then applying it to situations not considered yet, perhaps an astrophysical process.

    One of the bad things that I can imagine happening is that you work on your dissertation, and then someone publishes in a journal the solution to what you're working on. So maybe it's wise to do work in something no one cares about, something really obscure. Because you already have people who studied the subject more than you, who already have their Ph.Ds, and they have a huge head start on you, so that if the subject of your dissertation is something they decide to apply a grant for to solve, they'll be way faster than you - maybe you can refuse to read journals and publish your dissertation 2 years later and you can say you solved it independently; but that takes great discipline not to sneak a peak.

    I don't know. I'll talk this over with my professors.
  8. Jun 26, 2009 #7
    O no. I haven't talked to my professors yet. I wanted to be a little prepared so I asked here first. I'm just beginning supersymmetry, so I don't know much about it anyways besides 2 chapters from a general quantum field theory book (not a book just on supersymmetry, but a general QFT book- so nothing detailed).
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