Stuck in a very numerical-based project....Frustrated.

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In summary: An undergraduate is doing research with a theoretical physics professor. The student is frustrated because they love physics but they are mostly doing coding all day long. The professor tells the student that it is a great way to get started with research and that it is important to learn all the fine details.
  • #1
quantum_smile
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I'm just here to rant a little...I'm an undergrad and working on a physics research project with a theoretical physics professor. I respect and trust my advisor's judgment with everything and would not considering trying to work with another professor at my university. She told me beforehand that it would be very numerical-methods-based because it's difficult to think of a short-term (think, year-long) research project for an undergrad that's purely math-based. But I'm basically doing coding all day long, and it's driving me a bit insane. I love physics, but pretty much only because I love applying math to physics problems. Writing code and debugging code and translating code from one language to another as a full-time job is not what I had in mind when I decided to study physics in college. <.<
Sorry for the very dull rant. It's just this plus other depressing life changes that are giving me a very bleak outlook on life for the next many months...
 
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  • #3
What kind of project is it and what year are you?

Computational projects are a great way to get started with research in theoretical physics. You can do useful work while at the same time learn the things you need to do more analytical work in the future. That is exactly what I did, I started a project using density functional theory methods for electronic structure calculations my sophomore year and then gradually got into analytical theory, doing a project at an REU after my junior year.

You really just need to be patient. You can't expect to start at your goal right away, you need to work up to it.
 
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Even after you get a Ph.D. it doesn't necessarily get any better. My most recent research experience, over twenty years ago, was monitoring pressure and flow gauges on a gas-handling system for a Cerenkov detector in a high-energy particle physics experiment. :-p

When I was in grad school, some years before that, my work was completely programming: coding, debugging, etc. (Which was fine with me, because I enjoyed programming.)
 
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  • #5
I can totally understand where you're coming from, but at the undergrad level most students that are going into theory do numerical research, not theoretical research. This does mean a lot of writing code. When I started out as a physics major, I had the same feelings you do... I wanted to discover the universe, to have notebooks full of math... but then they handed me a computer program and told me to optimize it.

Like radium said, projects like this are a great way to get a start into the world of theoretical research. The best way to understand what is going on physically is to write a program to represent it, because then you have to consider all the fine details that don't come up when you're just tossing the idea around in your head.
 
  • #6
Sure, the research is boring at this time. But look at it from the bright side. Now you know better what you like and what you don't like. If you're going to grad school now, you will now know you want nothing (predominantly) numerical. It is good to know that already. You will also have a good idea what research is about. Yes, it's boring, but most of the time, research is rather boring. But more importantly, you know what it feels like to spend time on the frontiers of human knowledge. Some find it exciting, others not so much (this depends on the specific subject too of course). You are also learning how to code, which is always important even if you're not going into numerical stuff.
 
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Thanks for all the replies. micromass, I took on that attitude too, and I agree with it. But I've committed myself to work on this project **full-time** for the next year. I'm not taking any classes, even. That's a long time to be reminded that I don't like something.
We're working on a quantum chaos topic, so it's inevitable that we need numerical methods. I guess the frustrating thing for me is that I've taken all the physics major classes and multiple graduate physics courses. Now I'm starting research at the same time as, for example, a 2nd year graduate student working for the same advisor. We've taken almost exactly the same classes and we know pretty much the same things. But she's handed very mathematical-physics-y books to study and understand and I'm stuck in front of my computer learning Fortran. My advisor said that we don't have time to do a very math-oriented project because it would take me months to learn the tools I need, and I'm only staying for a year and graduate school applications are coming up. So I understand that this is what I have to do. Doesn't make it more fun. :/
 
  • #8
quantum_smile said:
Thanks for all the replies. micromass, I took on that attitude too, and I agree with it. But I've committed myself to work on this project **full-time** for the next year. I'm not taking any classes, even. That's a long time to be reminded that I don't like something.

Yeahhh... you have my sympathy.
 
  • #9
quantum_smile said:
We're working on a quantum chaos topic, so it's inevitable that we need numerical methods. I guess the frustrating thing for me is that I've taken all the physics major classes and multiple graduate physics courses. Now I'm starting research at the same time as, for example, a 2nd year graduate student working for the same advisor. We've taken almost exactly the same classes and we know pretty much the same things. But she's handed very mathematical-physics-y books to study and understand and I'm stuck in front of my computer learning Fortran. My advisor said that we don't have time to do a very math-oriented project because it would take me months to learn the tools I need, and I'm only staying for a year and graduate school applications are coming up. So I understand that this is what I have to do. Doesn't make it more fun. :/

You are probably not missing out on much. The numerics should be very interesting if you understand why the question is interesting, and why even state of the art analytical mathematics has difficulty getting the results that you will obtain.
 
  • #10
atyy said:
You are probably not missing out on much. The numerics should be very interesting if you understand why the question is interesting, and why even state of the art analytical mathematics has difficulty getting the results that you will obtain.
I hope so. We're a couple weeks into the project. Maybe it'll get more fun.
 

Related to Stuck in a very numerical-based project....Frustrated.

1. What is the best way to approach a numerical-based project?

The best way to approach a numerical-based project is to first carefully read and understand the project requirements, and then break down the project into smaller, manageable tasks. It is also important to plan out your steps and keep track of your progress as you work through the project.

2. How can I overcome frustration when working on a numerical-based project?

It is common to feel frustrated when working on a numerical-based project, but there are some strategies that can help. Take breaks when needed, ask for help or clarification when necessary, and try to focus on one task at a time. It can also be helpful to remind yourself of the end goal and the importance of the project.

3. What are some common challenges when working on a numerical-based project?

Some common challenges when working on a numerical-based project include dealing with large amounts of data, working with complex equations or algorithms, and ensuring accuracy and precision in calculations. It is also important to consider any potential biases or limitations in the data being used.

4. What tools or software can assist with a numerical-based project?

There are many tools and software programs that can assist with a numerical-based project, depending on the specific project and its requirements. Spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can be useful for organizing and analyzing data, while statistical software like SPSS or R can help with more complex analyses. It is important to research and choose the appropriate tools for your specific project.

5. How can I present my findings from a numerical-based project effectively?

When presenting findings from a numerical-based project, it is important to consider your audience and use visual aids such as charts, graphs, and tables to help illustrate your data. It is also important to explain your methods and results clearly and concisely, and to provide context and interpretation for your findings. Practice your presentation beforehand to ensure a smooth delivery.

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