Stigmas against "physics of matter"

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Having completed my undergraduate degree in Physics, I was pressed to take a Ms immediately after. Despite my aspirations, since it was not a good time for me and it was difficult for me to study, I decided to take an address, "physics of matter", that is less prestigious than "theoretical physics". Actually I regret that decision now, since my situation has improved and I feel ashamed to take low-quality courses.

What I want to know is the extent of the stigma. How much, and by whom, is somebody who went more to the applied realm, considered "one who couldn't make it to theoretical physics"? Is there a strong crystal ceiling? I'm interested to know what people in physics, engineering, finance (the careers I am considering) think of it.
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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I am a professional physicist who has been on many hiring committees, and have never heard of "physics of matter" before.
 
  • #3
Choppy
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I wonder if the poster is referring to condensed matter physics (experimental side) and there's a bit of a language barrier?

Most physicists that I know don't look at the different sub-fields as striated in terms of prestige. I suppose there may be a few, but bothering to spend any time even thinking about that is wasting time.
 
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Vanadium 50
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He could be, but if so, then we also might well have a language barrier with "stigma".
 
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In my (Italian) university it is called "Fisica della materia" (I just don't know if I am allowed to translate it as "condensed matter physics", maybe I should say "physics of materials"). My theoretical courses were Condensed Matter, Statistical Mechanics, Physics of Materials, Semiconductor Physics, Quantum Optics.....

Sorry for the misunderstanding, but what is it that is wrong with the word "stigma"?
 
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"Stigma" is very negative, not merely less positive.
 
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f95toli
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Condensed matter physics is by far the biggest field in physics so there is definitely no stigma attached to studying it. It is also a huge field that involves many, many different specializations.

It is actually the "pure" theoretical physics you come across in pop-sci books (string theory etc) which is "odd" in that there are very few people working in those areas and it is difficult to find work.
It is also true that there are many more experimental physicists than there are theorists.

Hence, the "average physicist" works in experimental condensed matter physics. This includes me and (I believe) quite a few of the other physicists who are active in this site.
 
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All the public get to see are the "odd" pop sci books and TV programmes. And students are drawn from the public, and might be a bit narked when forced to study condensed matter physics, rather than string theory. I was such a student, and so were others. The staff approach was to simply not allow students to study string theory, and divert them into required courses in solid state theory and medical physics, and other "job worthy" subjects. A few decades on, I realise that "string theory" isn't "all that", and solid state physics is just as worthy a field of study as anything else. But that message needs to be got across to the general public, and entry level students.
 
  • #9
cgk
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OP, there is a good chance that no one will ever ask you what courses you take, unless the courses would be directly relevant to the job you are taking up. There is nothing wrong with studying experimental physics. I did lots of experimental physics in university, and I ended up with a theorist job. And, besides, the "prestige" that some people seem associate with saying "I'm a THEORETICAL physicist" does not actually exist outside of the general public. Industry cares about specialists with knowledge in their working area (which most certainly will be neither quantum field theory nor general relativity), and academics care about anyone who can contribute to their own field.
 

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