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Theory or experiment dillema

  1. Jun 24, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone. I have finished my third year of a Ph.D. physics program. I am currently working in a theoretical condensed matter group. Some individuals, in my current and previous institutions, have raised doubts about whether theory is a good fit for me, given my previous experience in an experimental group in photonics as an undergraduate. This has also caused some angst in me, even though I have taken most of the classes required for an understanding of the theoretical condensed matter research done by my department.

    There are some things that I have learned that I am really intrigued by, some of which have an overlap with photonics, which still is close to my heart.

    I am worried about the job prospects for theoretical physicsts as well. I certainly would like to continue working in physics after I finish graduate school.

    I am worried that I am too late to make an impact in any field that I plan to work on, and if I will make the right decision in the long run. The latter is what stifles my ability to think clearly about these serious questions. I appreciate any amount of advice that you might offer me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2014 #2


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    For most students, but the time they've completed three years towards a PhD, they're past the half-way point. In my experience this is when all courses are completed. The candidacy and comprehensive examinations are completed. The field-specific and project-specific learning curves have been (at least to some extent) climbed. At this point, the student is usually starting to make some decent progress on his or her project and this is usually about the time where the supervisor leaves the co-pilot seat and runs into the back to have coffee with the stewardesses.

    In most cases this is not a good time to re-write the flight plan - so to speak. It will significantly impact the time that it take you to finish. On the other hand, if your project is going nowhere - it's better to get things turned around now.

    With respect to other people raising doubts about whether theory is a good fit for you - a lot depends on who these people are. If one of them is your supervisor and the others are your committee members... then an about face is likely appropriate. If this is just other students, do they really have any insight that's better than your own?
  4. Jun 24, 2014 #3


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    There are information that are missing in your post here:

    1. Have you selected a Thesis Advisor?

    2. Are you being paid to work on your research already?

    3. Have your research work being planned, i.e. you and your advisor already have a rough idea on the area of your thesis?

    4. If #1 and #2 are yes, then have you considered the implication of you jumping ship to another area and another advisor?

    5. Are there any advisor available in another area that you want that would take you in and provide financial support to you?

    There are many of these questions that have to be answered, and any one of them could easily derail any plans that you think you can make.

  5. Jun 24, 2014 #4
    Thanks ZapperZ and Choppy for your input.

    I should have mentioned that I started graduate school in the Fall of 2011.

    I have a thesis advisor, but I am not being paid to do research. My advisor and I do not know the topic of my thesis.

    Also, the individuals who are advising me to discontinue theory are my undergraduate research mentor, and the physics graduate student advisor, both of whom are experimentalists.

    At one point I did ask my advisor if he would want to continue advising me, and he said that we could continue to work together, but that we would meet less often for the foreseeable future, since he has a large group of students working for him.

    At the moment I have not found a "backup" advisor in another area available.
  6. Jun 24, 2014 #5


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    Does your current advisor have plans to fund you? Are his other students funded? Follow the money.
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