1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics Theoretical Physics: Flooded?

  1. Jan 13, 2017 #1
    I am 19 and have always been interested in being a theoretical Physicist, but I am worried that the field seems to have a great amount of people also taking this road. I'd imagine jobs are running short in this field, do it begs the question: should I choose another path?

    Or do I follow the flow and hope for the best?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2017 #2
    It's very saturated, if you want a job doing mostly or entirely theory you'll have to be prepared to either work for a very famous adviser or take a back door route (e.g. work in an engineering or math department).
     
  4. Jan 13, 2017 #3

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think the best advice it to pursue your dream, but do so with an open mind, a broad focus in your studies and some solid backup plans if things don't work out.

    At your age - I'm guessing early university years - the decision is usually what major to pursue, not which career you will embark on. If you really love physics, it's fine to pursue it. Learn as much as you can about it. But don't focus exclusively on "theoretical physics" at first. As you go further, you may discover a passion for some other kinds of problems or fields that you didn't even know existed.

    Make sure to take time and think about an exit plan. How will you market yourself when it's time to find a job? What skills will you bring to the table that employers will need?
     
  5. Jan 13, 2017 #4
    There are plenty of challenges along the way. At this stage, you need only choose to major in Physics and work very hard. Consistent hard work will separate you from the pack. You need not make firm decisions regarding applied, experiment, pure theory, etc. until your last year of undergrad, and even then decisions are not irrevocable. By then, you will be much better informed regarding what the work and career prospects really look like.

    At most undergrad institutions, there tend to be more research opportunities for undergrads in experiment than in theory. Get into one of those if you can and get a taste for how experimental physics really works. Even if you don't like it and become a successful theorist, the experience will be of ongoing benefit throughout your career. The skills needed to contribute meaningfully to a theory group usually do not mature until late in one's undergrad experience or in grad school.
     
  6. Jan 13, 2017 #5

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    Let's start from the very beginning.

    What exactly is this field called "theoretical physics" that you are interested in, and want to make a career out of?

    Zz.
     
  7. Jan 14, 2017 #6
  8. Jan 14, 2017 #7
    Comment ^Above, forgot to link them.
     
  9. Jan 14, 2017 #8
    I don't think theoretical physics is a specific field. One theorist can be working on a problem that doesn't relate to another theorist. It's probably more productive if you find what specific phenomena in physics interests you and follow the route down there.
     
  10. Jan 14, 2017 #9

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

  11. Jan 14, 2017 #10

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    There are several problems with this answer:

    1. You should be scared that you are using Wikipedia to plan your future.

    2. This tells me nothing about YOUR understanding of what you think you want to do.

    3. The APS is the organization that most practicing physicists in the US belong to. Look at the Division listed within the APS. Do you see "Theoretical Physics"?

    Zz.
     
  12. Jan 14, 2017 #11
    The guy asked what theoretical physics is, I replied in the easiest way. I hate typing on phones.

    I have a good I idea what I want to to, the subjects I want to focus on are theoretical cosmology and theoretical astrophysics.

    I assumed as there are many theoretical physics degrees it would be a recognised division of science in its own right. Their is also the perimeter institute, which focuses on theoretical physics, a place I dream of working.
     
  13. Jan 14, 2017 #12

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Theoretical physics is a very broad field. Some subfields of it include high energy theory (which breaks up into even more smaller areas like particle phenomenology, cosmology, gravity/quantum gravity, string theory, general quantum/conformal field theories), condensed matter theory(which again breaks up into quantum matter, soft matter, and much research is atomic molecular optical (AMO) theory is similar), quantum information, etc. The fields do have overlap though, for example, a lot of people in high energy theory (Ed Witten is a great example) are getting interested into problems motivated by condensed matter and writing papers with condensed matter theorists.

    So basically all you are saying when you say you want to theoretical physics is that you don't want to do lab work and would prefer to do computational or pen and paper work. I assume though you are referring to high energy theory since that is probably the only thing you have been exposed to via popular culture. You probably have a very romanticized view of the field and I would not use this to influence your career choice.
     
  14. Jan 14, 2017 #13

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    "The guy" was me. The medium you used to participate in here should never be an excuse to not providing the necessary information. And BTW, "the guy" is also a physicist and doesn't need a lesson in what a "theoretical physics" is, especially not from an entry in Wikipedia.

    Then you should have been explicit with this from Post #1! What you want to do is go in "Cosmology and Astrophysics", and you prefer to do the theoretical part of this subject area. This area of study in physics, if you notice, is listed as a APS Division!

    This makes zero sense. People tend to flock to the subject area, not "experimental" or "theoretical". Someone doing theoretical astrophysics tend to have less interest in someone doing theoretical condensed matter physics in topological insulator than someone doing experimental astrophysics. After all, as a theorist, you'd be MORE interested in seeing the experimental results in YOUR field that might confirm or contradict your ideas! Thus, conferences and workshops are all organized under the subject area rather than the broad and vague banner of theory or experiment.

    Zz.
     
  15. Jan 14, 2017 #14

    Dr Transport

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    you need to read Zappers "So you want to be a physicist"

    https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/early-physics-education-in-high-schools/#toggle-id-1

    Here are the quick and dirty facts. Each and every area of physics, for example condensed matter, atomic, nuclear etc.... is comprised of primarily three areas, theoretical, experimental and computational, although in this day and age, the line between computational and the others is very blurred because both experimental and theoreticians do a huge amount of computational work. Basically a theoretician either comes up with new models or applies existing models to experimental data. An experimentalist, devises ways to either prove or disprove the existing models or while doing an experiment sees results that are unexpected, i.e. something new and novel never seen before that can't be reconciled with existing models.

    In all the years I have been in this arena, I have not seen a degree that said "PhD Theoretical Physics" etc....
     
  16. Jan 14, 2017 #15

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

  17. Jan 14, 2017 #16

    Dr Transport

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

  18. Jan 14, 2017 #17
    I apologise for misunderstanding your earlier post, I took 'What exactly is this field called "theoretical physics" that you are interested in'. I thought you were asking what it is. I meant no affront to your knowledge.

    And I am not people, I am me. People may tend to choose by subject but for me, I much prefer using mathematics and abstractions. however poorly my abilities may be, I find it enjoyable, more so than observation and experiments. Although I have my favourite subjects, I would happily do anything in this way. So,for me, labeling it theoretical Physics is in my case,an apt name for what I want to do.
     
  19. Jan 14, 2017 #18
  20. Jan 14, 2017 #19

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    In some cases theoretical physics may have its own designation in the physics department which usually includes areas like the one you are referring to (for some reason condensed matter theory is often just in the physics department even a lot of people in CMT are doing things that could overlap with people in high energy theory. This is the case at Imperial College and Oxford and maybe other universities in Europe. At Cambridge for historical reasons theoretical physics is in the applied math division condensed matter theory still being in physics, again even though people in theoretical physics also do work on more field theoretic condensed matter topics.

    Perimeter Institute is an independent institution (although faculty are affiliated with the University of Waterloo and take PhD students from there) that receives money from the private sector and the Canadian government. They do not grant undergraduate degrees and PhD students receive their degrees from the University of Waterloo. They do have a one year master's program called Perimeter scholar international. Their research areas include high energy theory in general, but they also have a lot of quantum foundations and information and condensed matter theory (although they are having trouble retaining faculty in that area).
     
  21. Jan 14, 2017 #20
    Science is about the physical world not mental gymnastics. That's math or logic or something. If you're interested in cosmology that's the physical world and you'll need to get used to observations, data, hypotheses, experiments....

    Even in this Perimeter Institute you'll see the areas are very very diverse: http://perimeterinstitute.ca/research/research-areas
    It's easier I think if you find specific research projects you're interested in and then think from there. I feel like you'd be interested in TOE (Theory of Everything) research. From my understanding a lot of the progress in that is done in quantum gravity and QFT type research. Or you could be interested in like early universe stuff I don't know.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted



Similar Discussions: Theoretical Physics: Flooded?
  1. Theoretical physics (Replies: 1)

  2. Theoretical physics (Replies: 1)

  3. Theoretical Physics? (Replies: 7)

Loading...