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Theoretical Physics

  1. Aug 25, 2008 #1
    I am 21 years old and after this semester I will be transfering to begin work on my masters degree. I have been pursuing electrical engineering but am seriously contemplating studying Theoretical Physics after I get my bachelors.
    My question is "What kind of job opportunities are there for Theoretical Physicists?"
    I have a minor in English Education so I would plan on publishing my work and probably becoming a professor if possible, but I was wondering what other careers were available in this field incase my books dont do well and there arent many teaching opportunities.

    Thanks for any help,
    Lorenzo.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2008 #2

    tmc

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    What kind of theoretical physics are we talking here? Theoretical work in, say, solid-state physics will have some job opportunities outside of academia, whereas theoretical work in string theory won't.
     
  4. Aug 26, 2008 #3

    Defennder

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    Hmm, I thought theoretical physics falls outside the scope of solid-state? They're separate fields, aren't they? You could call it condensed matter, but that's not the same as theoretical.
     
  5. Aug 26, 2008 #4

    Ben Niehoff

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    Jobs for theoretical physicists are few and far between. However, just because you get your degree in one branch of physics doesn't mean you can't get a job and kick *** at another.

    Also, your minor in English Education has nothing to do with writing papers. If you pursue a PhD, you WILL write papers (and hopefully, you will get published, once or twice). Writing and submitting papers are par for the course.

    If you're coming from an electrical engineering background, you may also find that you enjoy condensed matter, nanotechnology, or computational physics. Each of those has far better job prospects than, say, string theory. At least, until someone figures out a way to use string theory to blow things up.

    That said, though: If you have a dream you want to follow, follow it. That's what I'm doing; my undergrad was in computer engineering, and I just started grad school with the intent to get into high-energy particle theory.

    By the way, if you want to get an advanced degree in physics, you should go for a PhD (especially if you want to do theoretical work). A Masters in physics is practically useless, and pretty much a waste of time. (Contrast to a Masters in engineering, which absolutely does give you a leg up in job positions and salary; not so in the physics world). A Masters in physics and some really, really good programming experience, and maybe you can write videogames or something...but there won't be any job opportunities that involve actually doing physics.
     
  6. Aug 26, 2008 #5

    malawi_glenn

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    Ben Niehoff: The masters degree is included in the PhD = have masters degree before PhD = reducing time to get PhD since you'll have the courses...
     
  7. Aug 26, 2008 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Er.. this is not true. Phil Anderson and Bob Laughlin, for example, are theorists in condensed matter. The broken symmetry principle that is in such a wide use in physics came out of Anderson's theoretical work. In many condensed matter program, there are always theorists or theory group, very much like other areas in physics. For instance, here's the condensed matter theory group at Argonne:

    http://www.msd.anl.gov/groups/cmt/

    that includes, among others, Nobel Laureate (and theorist) Alex Abrikosov.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2008
  8. Aug 26, 2008 #7

    Defennder

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    So in that sense, theoretical physics isn't really a field on its own, but just a description of the type of role a physicist plays in specified fields?
     
  9. Aug 26, 2008 #8

    jtbell

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    Bingo! :smile:

    There are particle physics theorists and experimentalists, quantum optics theorists and experimentalists, condensed matter theorists and experimentalists, nuclear physics theorists and experimentalists, etc.
     
  10. Aug 26, 2008 #9

    ZapperZ

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    The only exception in here is String theory. There are only theorists there. :)

    Zz.
     
  11. Aug 26, 2008 #10

    jtbell

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    At least until we can build a PeV (peta-electron-volt) accelerator...
     
  12. Aug 26, 2008 #11

    ZapperZ

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    Alright, alright! Don't rush me! I'm working on it already!

    :)

    Zz.
     
  13. Aug 26, 2008 #12

    So as you see it, there is no reason why I cant be an electrical engineer and work on things like M-Theory as long as I have a PhD in Physics to back up my papers?

    That is the basic assumption that I have been making,
    I was just wondering if a fullout Theoretical(strings and branes an such) route was a good idea.

    And from what Ive gathered, it isnt a very good idea to put all your cards on just theoretical physics.

    Thanks for the guidance.
     
  14. Aug 26, 2008 #13

    tmc

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    Learning M-theory takes a lot of time; probably more than a practicing electrical engineer will have in his spare time...But yeah, nothing would technically stop you.
     
  15. Aug 26, 2008 #14
    I've just started Theoretical Physics, I'm 18. I know its early days yet for me, but i have my dreams set on studying string theory. I always knew that I will struggle finding a job but is there literally no jobs in this area? Will I be completely unemployed? To be honest I am not worried at all, probably because I'm still young and a bit immature.
     
  16. Aug 26, 2008 #15

    Dick

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    If by 'literally no jobs', you mean only a few, that's true. You'd better be prepared to compete with a lot of incredibly bright people for them. But if you are 18, you are right, you shouldn't worry about that, yet. Go ahead and try. And keep your mind open to alternatives.
     
  17. Aug 27, 2008 #16
    Thanks for the advice, it is much appreciated.
     
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