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Some question before the final choice.

  1. Jul 21, 2011 #1
    Well, I am 16 years old and when I graduate high school I want to study theoretical physics. I have some question about that.
    I live in Bulgaria. Here the level of education at that sphere is not well developed, so I would prefer studying abroad in countries like Germany or the UK. Please, recommend some nice universities in these countries.
    Another question is how much mathematics do I need in this kind of physics. See, I am not a mathematical genius and I am not the best in mathematics in my class, but I am the best in physics in my school. Practically, there is not a physical sum, which I can't solve.
    Thanks a lot!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2011 #2
    I could mention a few German universities, but that would be rather moot. You can as well pick up any random ranking and look them up - the differences between German universities aren't very pronounced, anyways (unless you start talking about very specific subfields, which often exist at only a few of them). You should also be aware that there's more to life than the university. So city, environment and price may also play a role. For example, the two universities in Munich have an excellent reputation, but Munich is also by far the most expensive town to live in in Germany; accommodation is about twice as expensive as everywhere else - and not guaranteed to get at all. I don't really believe that the undergraduate education actually can differ much within a country - in my opinion all the fuzz about Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, ... is just a hype at undergrad level (although I definitely acknowledge that differences do exist at the research level).

    Generally, being good at math is much more important for studying physics than being good at school physics. In school I was excellent at math, but barely had any physics education at all. I never felt that I had missed anything in school physics, but at the same time realized that others had had a much better math education. I've recently read a post somewhere in this forum where the poster said that according to his experience many students who say "I have problems with physics" actually have problems with the math, and not the physics.
    Also I wonder: If you're good at school physics but less good at math then why do you want to go into theoretical physics, which has the reputation of being more math intensive than the other branches of physics?
  4. Jul 21, 2011 #3
    Germany would be a good choice especially in terms of tuition fees (currently 542eur per semester in Munich, some universities have lower or even no tuition fees).
  5. Jul 21, 2011 #4
    Well, that is a kind of very difficult question. I have fallen in the trap of physics since I was 6 years old. In the kinder garden I used to play with magnets from the figures in the metal board. Later on I was fascinated by stars, planets and the whole Universe. While I was growing, my knowledge about the matter and the universe was extending and piece by piece I touched theoretical physics. I was and still I am fascinated by Einstein' theories, the quantum mechanics and the string theory. The thing is that I adore physics and basically this is the thing I live for.
    As for mathematics, I am excellent student there, but I study in a language school and therefore my teachers are not very..... in some way capable enough. But I am interested also in mathematical analysis and lineal algebra. Since I have been highly focused on theoretical physics, my mathematical skills have become 3 times wider and better.
  6. Jul 21, 2011 #5

    You don't have to be a mathematical genius or anything. All the advanced topics will be introduced at the university.
    What is most critical is having the capability and the willingness to learn.

    So if you want to do Physics, then just go ahead with your plan, and don't try too hard to find reasons why you want to do it, interest in it suffices.
  7. Jul 21, 2011 #6
    That is about the answer I expected, and the reason I asked. There is two issues (not necessarily problems but issues) with it:

    1) What you are describing is general relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory; not theoretical physics. I do work in an institute for theoretical physics. While we happen to have a small group for quantum mechanics and an even smaller group for cosmology in the early universe most of us deal with completely different things: properties of polymer structures, pattern formation under sputtering, electric properties of nanodevices, fluid flow properties in confined geometries, jamming transitions in granular systems, computer simulations of cell processes ... . Theoretical physics is a method (if at all), not a field. Considering your original question: you should definitely check the homepages of prospective universities whether there is research that sounds interesting to you. Every university will have a theory department (or theory groups embedded into the departments), but not every university may have research that is on your "interesting"-list.

    2) You probably know relatively little about the fields you are interested in (I'm just assuming that, since I would not know how I should have known anything about it at the age of 16). So your interest necessarily is not in the field but in your imagination of it. From my experience these fields sound super interesting when you hear about them, and I still sometimes go to the seminars of the colleagues in the field to enjoy an hour of nice story-telling about the newest if-we-add-this-one-free-parameter-then-we-could-explain-X model, but can at the same time be completely boring to actually work in. That's not to say that e.g. string theory is nothing for you - obviously, there are people who like working in string theory. But finding something interesting when reading about it and actually doing it are different issues, and it might help you to keep that in mind.

    EDIT: And since I said "just look at a random ranking for the German universities" above: Here's a random link to a ranking: http://ranking.zeit.de/che2011/en/
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2011
  8. Jul 21, 2011 #7
    There is something more I want to say. When I get my degree, I want to work in the field of the Unifying theory (this would be the whole aim). Actually, right now I have a lot of ideas about the real origin of our Universe.
  9. Jul 21, 2011 #8


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    Yes, that's what most students on here say. While it's great to have ideas (you'll need that in science), you probably haven't done much reading on what's actually going on in these fields (as in actual scientific literature, not speculative books written for the lay person) - it's not like there's a unification group at most schools. What you'd really end up doing is something extremely specialized (narrow), and theory does get frustrating after a while. I did a theory postdoc, and even after 6 months I was realizing how futile the whole thing was. There were few practical applications for my work, and I didn't feel all that useful to the field doing it. While it's certainly easier to take with you wherever you get a job than experimental or observational work (I didn't need a lab or telescope time, just a computer), I didn't enjoy it like I thought I would when I was your age.
  10. Jul 22, 2011 #9
    OK. Thanks a lot for your answers. Now can you offer me definite universities in Germany for theoretical physics because I can't find the best one by myself. It should be free.
  11. Jul 31, 2011 #10
    Hello again! I have some new questions. Nowadays, when I get my degree, if I want to have my own research in the Unifying theory, it is best to get a job at university, right? In general, how much does a theoretical physicist make per year?

    P.S. I just want to say that recently I had an IQ test - my IQ is 130 and I am 16 years old. (I am saying this because I wrote that I am not a math genius.)
  12. Aug 1, 2011 #11
    Speaking for Germany the current wages for employment in the public sector are approximately 1800 to 2400 EUR/month for a PhD student, 3600 EUR/month for a post-doc, and 4500 EUR/month for group leaders, and possibly more for professors. All numbers are before taxes and insurances, as a rule of thumb you can expect a bit more than half of that to end up on your bank account. Numbers for other countries are probably comparable.
  13. Aug 1, 2011 #12
    OK. In which countries are the best payed physicists?
  14. Aug 1, 2011 #13
    In countries that have the highest salaries overall. Sorry, but what kind of question was that?
  15. Aug 1, 2011 #14
    Indeed, what sort of question is this at all? The original poster has clearly read none of the stickies, done no research of his or her own, and now is demanding information based on some vague posts and an IQ score.
  16. Aug 1, 2011 #15
    Hey, don't kindle!
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