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Physics Thinking of dropping out of PhD program, need advice

  1. Sep 7, 2017 #26


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    I think I agree with the sentiment behind what Dr. Courtney is saying here, but I think a caveat may be warranted. Some people might read a statement like this and question the need for formal education entirely.

    On one hand many students can experience a kind of learned academic impotence - a feeling that they will only be able to do meaningful research in a field if the "golden hoops" are jumped through. And I think that's what Dr. Courtney is rallying against. It's critically important to be able to jump in and do the background reading on your own, generate your own ideas, pursue them, read how other people have approached your specific problem, etc. Because formal hand-holding is only going to get you so far.

    But on the other hand, it's also important to recognize the value of good mentorship, building a solid foundation in physics in general, and learning from high quality sources. The internet is a double-edged sword, which while allowing unprecedented access to information, is also filled with crackpots whose personal theories have "proved Einstein wrong," who are the result of the pendulum having swung too far to the other side of the spectrum.

    It sounds like prior to taking this course, the OP was doing a lot of reading. In my opinion that counts as research. One of the other dangers of jumping in too soon without guidance or having done enough background reading is that you risk doing a lot of work on a problem that's already been solved. Reading isn't going to earn you the PhD, of course, but it is critically important to it.
  2. Sep 7, 2017 #27
    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Not at all what I meant. I'm speaking in the context of someone who has completed a BS in Physics and is in a PhD program AND in a research group in GR.

    I was only able to do research in theoretical atomic physics in an analogous situation. My adviser (Dan Kleppner) was (and is) a leading light in atomic physics. He was available every day for students to go into his office, get advice, and bounce research ideas off of. I'd go in about once a week and he'd steer me away from rabbit trails and unproductive paths. Dave Pritchard and Wolfgang Ketterle were just down the hall and all the grad students were (more or less) a big fraternity helping each other figure things out. We met with most of the big theorists in the field on a regular basis AND these guys (and/or their grad students) would answer emails and always help you out to share ideas/code/brainstorms and keep projects moving along.

    The idea of a lone wolf doing real work in serious theory is not what I contemplated. But with real support, there is no need to wait to complete _coursework_ in a specific field before starting research.
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