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So is anyone here

  1. Nov 19, 2007 #1
    Actually a physicist? I mean, a few people here work in colleges and stuff right? Since Im interested in possibly majoring in physics, could anybody give me some information on the work conditions, I mean, I've looked it up but it doesnt really describe what physicists do. Do you guys work out equations and try to figure out new ones all day or what? Where do you work? Any information on the pay? Is it all in laboratories or do you work outside? What kind of physics do YOU do? Id really like to get some information on this if anybody doesnt mind answering.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 19, 2007 #2
  4. Nov 19, 2007 #3
    My guess is that most of the regular posters here are physicists. I am a physicist, an astrophysicist specifically, and I'm also a graduate student. I, too, and interested in what career physicists do. I created a website which includes interviews with various physicists, which might help you: http://www.astromiror.org/physicists.html . It's not complete by any means, but it should help you get an idea.

    My research is in the high-energy astrophysics field. I use observations from space observatories which are available to the public online. I use a computer and several computer programs and code to process that data (clean it up, adjust it, calibrate it, make it more useful). I manipulate the data to try to get the most information out of it. I model the data to compare the observations with current theories to try to gather evidence of physical processes that might be going on in space. I have no reason to leave my office building for work reasons unless I'm attending a conference or another special event, such as next year's launch of a space observatory I'll be working with (that's really work-related fun).

    I work in a joint university and government center, and the atmosphere is very friendly and close-knit. We're almost like a family here. As a graduate student, I'm in a bit of a unusual situation where everyone is willing to sit down with me and help me learn. Walking down the hallways, I'll pass by some brilliant and very, very busy physicists, but they really are willing to make time to help me with my work in every way they can. Actually, just about everyone here is always very, very busy. Physicists love their work so much that they tend to take on many projects at once, perhaps too many. There are frequent visits from visitors from other parts of the country and around the world who come here to collaborate and give talks.

    Good question about salary. I am paid from two graduate student fellowships which total $24,000 a year until one of the fellowships end. Both my advisers (one a senior university faculty member, one a senior government civil servant) have salaries in the 6-digits. A young assistant professor here who does very good work is paid in the 80k range. I'm not sure how typical that is. (If it matters, I'm in an area of the United States where the cost of living is low.)

    This is all my experience in the few years I've been working. I'd be interested to see how others respond.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2007
  5. Nov 19, 2007 #4
    awesome. I'd love to do something like this.
  6. Nov 19, 2007 #5
    Thank you, Laura1013, that is just about exactly the answer I was looking for. Your work sounds extremely interesting and you described it just the way I wanted. Thanks for your input, and the time you took to answer my questions.
  7. Nov 19, 2007 #6
    Oh, and Helical the link you gave me was very useful and gave me alot of useful information, thanks to you also.
  8. Nov 19, 2007 #7


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    I am a physicist and I am definitly not the only one here.
    I have only been a member for a short while but as far as I can tell there are quite a few "working" (as oppose to "just" students) physicst active here.

    I am an experimental physicist meaning I spend most of my time in the lab. I work in solid state physics, mainly superconducting circuits of various kinds and for the past two years I have been working on superconducting solid state qubits. I am a "measurement specialist" meaning I am (suppose to be) good at measuring electrical properties of these systems at very low temperatures and with very low noise. I work with all sorts of electronics (from dc up to microwave frequencies) and cryogenic systems (down to about 15 mK).

    I should say that I also do a fair bit of modelling (mainly numerical simulations of the systems I work with), probably more than most experimentalists, but I do not come up with "new" theories; I mainly use exisiting theories/models and adapt these to predict/understand the behaviour of the systems I then perform experiments on.
    The theory I use ranges from the very "theoretical" such as properties of dissipative quantum systems (at the moment mainly equations similar to the Jaynes-Cummings model but with Lindblad terms) to "engineering" meaning simulations of microwave circuitry (since the typical frequencies of the systems I work with are of the order of a few GHz I need to understand how the circuits will behave in real experiments, as oppose to what an idealized hamiltonian tells me).

    For the past two years I have been a post-doc at an NMI in England. So the applications of my work are suppose to be in metrology (better electrical standards, quantum enhanced metrology etc). Hence, I do not work in academia; although we do collaborate with several universities in the project I am working on.

    The salary could be better but it is not too bad (it is still above "average"). I would definitly make more money working as an engineer (my masters is in engineering physics) but money is not everything, I really enjoy what I am doing and -at least for the moment- that is more important .

    Typical day:
    Today I have spent a few hours measuring. I then started up some cryogenic systems I will use on Wednesday. I read a couple of papers related to some modelling I am doing at the momeent (tomorrow I will write some Matlab code). The last thing I did ( I am about to leave my office) was to solder togheter a LC filter that I will install in an experimental setup next week. I think it was a pretty normal day.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2007
  9. Nov 19, 2007 #8
    ah, awesome again.
  10. Nov 19, 2007 #9
    f95toli, your job seems extremely interesting, thanks for your input.
  11. Nov 20, 2007 #10


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    Definitely read Zz's article Z Factor. For someone wondering what a physicist does and what it takes to become one, that essay is essential!
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