Theoretical vs. Lab Work: Evaluating Grad School Options

In summary, as an undergraduate, I have the choice of working with two different professors in the Physics department. One focuses on theoretical research and the other has a lab. I have chosen to work with the theoretician due to their active recruiting and my interest in the research. However, I am concerned about how this decision may affect my chances of getting into a good grad school program. It is possible to switch from theoretical to experimental research after undergrad, as long as you do a good job in your chosen position. Admissions committees understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do research in their specific subfield during undergrad and that academic interests can change.
  • #1
The Head
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As an undergraduate, I have a choice between working under two different professors in the Physics department at the university that I am enrolled in. One is theoretical, so my work would be in helping derive equations, and the other has a lab (not a super high-tech one, but a lab nonetheless). I have essentially started working under the theoretician, mostly because he has taken a much more active role in recruiting me and he is a bit more organized, and also I am slightly more interested in the research. However, I have a question.

Essentially, if I wanted to do grad school research, how will choosing not to work in a lab affect my chances of getting into a good program? Will it confine me to the theoretical field, or is it easy enough to make the transition once there? Do grad schools evaluate those with theoretical vs traditional lab backgrounds differently?

Many thanks for reading!
 
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  • #2


I did theory as an undergrad and then did experiment in grad school. They know that you often take what you can get for undergrad research. If your undergrad research is right inline with your grad research, that is a plus. But otherwise I don't think it would be looked at poorly to switch from theory to experiment after undergrad (or vise versa).
 
  • #3


I agree with ModusPwnd.

What's more important is that you do a good job in the position you take. Most people on admissions committees won't expect you to have already done research in the specific subfield that you're interested in. This is because:
- not everyone has opportunities to get involved in a specific subfield at the undergraduate level
- not everyone knows at the end of their second or third year in undergrad where their academic interests lie
- undergrads are allowed to change their minds, particularly based on specific experiences.
 

Related to Theoretical vs. Lab Work: Evaluating Grad School Options

1. What is the difference between theoretical and lab work in graduate school?

Theoretical work in graduate school involves studying and analyzing existing scientific theories and concepts, while lab work involves conducting experiments and collecting data to test and expand upon those theories.

2. Which option is better for pursuing a career in research?

Both theoretical and lab work can lead to successful careers in research. It ultimately depends on the specific field of research and the individual's strengths and interests. Some fields may require more theoretical knowledge, while others may require more hands-on lab experience.

3. How do I decide which option is right for me?

Consider your strengths, interests, and career goals when deciding between theoretical and lab work. If you enjoy working with data and conducting experiments, lab work may be a better fit. If you prefer analyzing and interpreting theories, theoretical work may be a better fit.

4. Can I switch between theoretical and lab work during graduate school?

It is possible to switch between theoretical and lab work during graduate school, depending on the program and research opportunities available. However, it is important to carefully consider the time and resources required for each option before making a decision.

5. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to choosing one option over the other?

Both theoretical and lab work have their own advantages and disadvantages. Theoretical work allows for a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and theories, while lab work provides practical skills and experience. However, theoretical work may be more time-consuming and require strong analytical skills, while lab work may be more physically demanding and require good technical skills.

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