The Should-I-Become-A-Theoretical-Physicist-or-Experimental-Physicist? Thread!

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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

1. What does an experimental physicist do? What does a theoretical physicist do?

2. What does it take to be an experimentalist? What does it take to be a theorist?
(In terms of ability, courses taken, skills, etc.)

3. Work conditions, career options, financial freedom, intellectual freedom, etc.



Please post so that us undergrad newbies in the field of physics would know what we're heading for. Much thanks! Keep the ball rolling and start posting!
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Can we please get some responses to this? This is probably the most important question I've seen in the Academic Guidance forum in a month. We should get some excellent responses from those who have been down this road before and then sticky it!
 
  • #3
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This has to be one of the most insightful threads to have been created in a while.
 
  • #4
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Great thread, perhaps all the posts can be congratulating what a great thread this is without addressing the question at hand.

I'll only answer #2

It doesn't "take" anything besides hard work to become either type of physicist.
 
  • #5
Despite what anyone claims i believe theorists are by far more important that experimentalists. Theory lets you UNDERSTAND the deepest ideas in the universe. Experiment is only important in that it tests out theories and allows us to whittle them down. For the true beauty of physics you should become a theorist.

You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented. I am not a theorist yet, but i believe i have a spark of the talent required for it.

Just make sure you go into theoretical physics, if you can, everything else is stamp collecting.
 
  • #6
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Despite what anyone claims i believe theorists are by far more important that experimentalists. Theory lets you UNDERSTAND the deepest ideas in the universe. Experiment is only important in that it tests out theories and allows us to whittle them down. For the true beauty of physics you should become a theorist.

You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented. I am not a theorist yet, but i believe i have a spark of the talent required for it.

Just make sure you go into theoretical physics, if you can, everything else is stamp collecting.
I'm not necessarily sure how you can make this judgement since you are neither and many people on this forum would disagree with you. Experimental physics is just as difficult as theoretical physics. Just as biology is to physicists. You are good at what you are most skilled at. For instance I am absolutely terrible at experiments due to the fact that there are so many factors for error and I feel constrained where as I feel liberty in free thought and theory.
 
  • #7
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Despite what anyone claims i believe theorists are by far more important that experimentalists. Theory lets you UNDERSTAND the deepest ideas in the universe. Experiment is only important in that it tests out theories and allows us to whittle them down. For the true beauty of physics you should become a theorist.

You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented. I am not a theorist yet, but i believe i have a spark of the talent required for it.

Just make sure you go into theoretical physics, if you can, everything else is stamp collecting.
Dude you are ridiculous I'm sorry I took your previous posts seriously and gave you considered responses. Please go away.
 
  • #8
Just because you disagree with me does not make me wrong. If you had studied any mathematics you would be aware that you must prove your assertions.

Theory is more abstract than experiment. therfore it is "harder" on average.
 
  • #9
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Theory is more abstract than experiment. therfore it is "harder" on average.
If you had studied any mathematics, you would be aware that there is no theorem stating abstract translates to hard :shy:
 
  • #10
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Just because you disagree with me does not make me wrong. If you had studied any mathematics you would be aware that you must prove your assertions.

Theory is more abstract than experiment. therfore it is "harder" on average.
You've just made an entirely unsupported assertion.... Where are you getting this information from?
 
  • #11
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Despite what anyone claims i believe theorists are by far more important that experimentalists. Theory lets you UNDERSTAND the deepest ideas in the universe.
An understanding of the theory is critical in constructing experiments.

Experiment is only important in that it tests out theories and allows us to whittle them down. For the true beauty of physics you should become a theorist.
Not if your interest in how the physical world IS. If you are just interested in "beautiful" mathematics than fine but guess what? If experiment and theory disagree the theory needs to be changed not vice-versa.

You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented. I am not a theorist yet, but i believe i have a spark of the talent required for it.
You need to work hard to do either. With your attitude unless you are remarkably genius you will never be any kind of scientist. Never mind that you will never have any kind of job...

Just make sure you go into theoretical physics, if you can, everything else is stamp collecting.
Because your personal preference is basically fiat for what every person should do? How logical! Sorry maybe the distinction between theory and experiment is not "abstract" enough for your delicate genius.
 
  • #12
Humans on average have trouble coming to grips with ABSTRACT ideas. I am not saying that you or i do, well maybe you do, but the set of skills required to suceed in experiment belong to more humans than the set of skills which are required in the field of theory. How do i know this? Experimental means mostly tinkering with machines and the physical work of observing. With enough time even morons such as you could be taught to observe correctly. It takes a true mind to be able to grasp the concepts of theory and make it easy for the experimentalists to know what they are looking for.
 
  • #13
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You are senior in high school and apparently not only have you mastered all the highest level mathematics and become bored with it . You also know pretty much everything about career options in physics. Dude give it a break you have to realize how naive you are acting...
 
  • #14
"An understanding of the theory is critical in constructing experiments."

An understanding of SOME theory is important. Infact theorists make it easier for experimentalists by dumbing down their theories.

Experiment is serves just the same function as proof does in mathematics. It must be made dreadfully obvious so that the previously unknown abstract idea is made concrete. But to actually come up with the theories and to derive the laws of nature seems far more rewarding then the one who counts the electrons on a screen.
 
  • #15
You are senior in high school and apparently not only have you mastered all the highest level mathematics and become bored with it . You also know pretty much everything about career options in physics. Dude give it a break you have to realize how naive you are acting...

The sad thing is i doubt you finished the calculus stream.

I am currently teaching myself galois theory.
 
  • #16
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I know of an experimentalist on these forums that would spank you silly for those idiotic, baseless assertions about theoretical physics in comparison to experimental physics. His name starts with a Z...

You don't know anything! Stop posting advice, you can't give it because you don't know anything. You haven't gone to college, you haven't worked in research, you haven't talked to any professors or worked with them, you haven't presented any posters, written a paper, given a talk, or anything relevant to the things you're talking about. You read hard books. Great.

Stop spamming your [wrong] opinions.
 
  • #17
Hadsed, are you even a physicist?
 
  • #18
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Philosopher_k said:
The sad thing is i doubt you finished the calculus stream.

I am currently teaching myself galois theory.
Philosopher_k said:
Hadsed, are you even a physicist?
Why are you so afraid to reply to the actual posts? You have no argument, you're caught out cold making ridiculous statements that don't even make any sense. If lubuntu or I have said anything wrong, please address the appropriate points. I don't ask you if you're actually a certified idiot because that has nothing to do with the points you make. It's called ad hominem and there's no place for that in debate.
 
  • #19
The question still stands. It seems to be you who is afraid of the question.
 
  • #20
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Theory is more abstract than experiment. therfore it is "harder" on average.
I am currently teaching myself galois theory.
Provided a counterexample to your claim? Mathematical implications are cake, physical ones are tough. I'm an aspiring theorist myself, but only because I'm too clumsy to be an experimentalist. You should try experimental research (if you haven't done so already) and compare the difficulty first hand.
 
  • #21
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You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented.
JIf you had studied any mathematics you would be aware that you must prove your assertions.
Pot. Kettle. Black.

Hadsed, are you even a physicist?
Pot. Kettle. Black.

Let me repeat what I said in your last thread - it is hard to believe you are as smart as you say you are when you keep posting such dumb things. It would be valuable for you to consider that other people might have valid points, particular those who have traveled farther than you on the path to being a physicist (which is pretty much everybody) and to think twice before you post.
 
  • #22
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1. What does an experimental physicist do? What does a theoretical physicist do?
Experimental physicists build and design experiments which provide data, which theorists look at. Theorists then build models, which them point the experimentalists in the direction to go in when the build the experiments.

2. What does it take to be an experimentalist? What does it take to be a theorist?
(In terms of ability, courses taken, skills, etc.)
Experimentalists tend to need more engineering skills. Theorists tend to be math people often with hard core computer skills. The coursework tends to be very similar. Experimentalists tend to be gadget people.

3. Work conditions, career options, financial freedom, intellectual freedom, etc.
Don't expect to get a research professorship but the skills that you get in either theory or experimental physics Ph.D.'s tend to be very useful in industry.
 
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  • #23
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Despite what anyone claims i believe theorists are by far more important that experimentalists.
And I think you are being foolish extremely here.

You need quite a lot of talent to become a theoretical physicist. Experimental physics is for those less talented. I am not a theorist yet, but i believe i have a spark of the talent required for it.
I think that you really have to seriously change your attitude if you have any hope of doing something useful in physics.
 
  • #24
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Theory is more abstract than experiment. therfore it is "harder" on average.
Theoretical physics really isn't that much more "abstract" than experimental physics. Theoretical physics is highly computational, and so most theorists have some level of computer skill.
 
  • #25
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Hadsed, are you even a physicist?
I have a doctorate in theoretical astrophysics, and frankly you don't have any clue what you are talking about here.
 

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