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

  1. Jun 27, 2015 #1
    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. Jun 27, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

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  4. Jun 27, 2015 #3


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    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 cant expect to start at your goal right away, you need to work up to it.
  5. Jun 28, 2015 #4


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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.)
  6. Jun 28, 2015 #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.
  7. Jun 28, 2015 #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.
  8. Jun 28, 2015 #7
    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. :/
  9. Jun 28, 2015 #8
    Yeahhh... you have my sympathy.
  10. Jun 28, 2015 #9


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    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.
  11. Jun 28, 2015 #10
    I hope so. We're a couple weeks into the project. Maybe it'll get more fun.
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