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Should I do undergrad experimental research if my goal is theoretical physics?

  1. Feb 27, 2015 #1
    I'm currently an undergraduate double majoring in physics and math and hoping to go into theoretical physics. It seems to me that there is very little I can do now in terms of research on theoretical physics, simply because of the knowledge required (please correct me if I'm wrong). I can get research opportunities in experimental physics however. In terms of getting into a good graduate program, does this kind of research really matter or is my time better spent on just learning as much as I can so I can do actual theoretical research sooner?

    I should note that I spent over a year already working in a lab, and will get a published paper out of it, so my resume wont be just courses taken. I'm asking if I should go look for more research.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2015 #2
    What specific area of theoretical physics are you looking at? I agree experimental experience is more common and easier for undergrads, but depending on your field you may have some theoretical options open if you're a very advanced undergrad student.
  4. Feb 27, 2015 #3
    I'm not entirely sure, I'm really loving math and my gut instinct is that the interesting math is in theoretical physics. Topics that seem to catch my eye are primarily general relativity and high energy physics. I may be wrong but it seems like playing around with QFT seems like a lot of fun as the areas in math I really like are topology geometry and algebra and their intersections. That's why I'm wondering if I would best spend my time studying and learning as much as I can since as of now I still can't do research in the areas I'm interested in
  5. Feb 27, 2015 #4


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    Research experience during undergrad is almost a requirement for getting into the top grad schools for physics. There's a lot less work for undergrads in theory than there is for experiment, but that doesn't mean that the experimental research isn't relevant. I'm also double majoring in physics and math and planning on going into theoretical particle physics for my PhD, but this summer I'm doing an internship at Fermilab in accelerator engineering. This is a very experimental area, but it's still going to be an amazing experience that's going to give me a taste of the research world, even if it's not exactly what I want to do after graduation. Theory and experiment aren't always as separate as people sometimes think they are. The two are inseparable from one another.
  6. Feb 28, 2015 #5


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    Take ANY research work that you can, regardless if it is theoretical or experimental, and regardless of what you think you wish to do later. Even if it isn't in the area of study you want to go into, take it! The best theorists that I've met are the ones who have a deep understanding of experimental physics. Besides, what makes you think that you can easily get a job with your theoretical physics background? Do you think your knowledge of some experimental work might be a hindrance, or an asset, when you apply to graduate schools, or when you are seeking a job? Think about it!

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