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Torn between Two Research Oppotunities

  1. Jul 20, 2006 #1
    Well, right now, I'm in a very good position with the opportunities put before me, but now I need to make a tough decision as to what to do.

    I currently work as an undergraduate in an experimental astrophysics lab (mostly gamma-ray related). My advisor got me the job in his lab, and the work is decent, I really get along with all of the scientists and graduate students, and everyone seems to like me and my work ethic. But, I just don't know if experimental physics is for me. I have always been interested in theory, and I took this job as a way to get my foot in the door doing research--hopefully getting some really good recommendation letters when it comes time for graduate school applications. I'm involved in a lot of projects, and I'm heavily involved in one particular project that is going to have a hot air balloon flight soon, and I get to do a lot of the mechanical work assembling the detector etc. I also know that my name will be added to the next conference paper they write for the project, and if I do well enough over the next couple of years, I will most likely have my name added to a paper that is submitted into a peer reviewed journal.

    Here is where the dilemna starts. Last semester(spring)I worked with my physics professor doing extra challenge problems from the textbook etc. I did well in his course and he seemed to enjoy helping me with the challenge problems. I received an Email from him today asking me if I was interested on working with him and one of his graduate students helping out with research in theoretical astro and plasma physics. I'll also be getting paid more than the other job I currently have. This professor has a degree from one of the top schools in plasma physics, and its also the school that I'd eventually like to be at. If I do well, then a recommendation letter from him would look excellent on a graduate school application, but I'm not so sure that working with him will provide the opportunity to get published as an undergraduate. I know that working with him, my contribution to project will be less significant because of the differences between theoretical and experimental physics. I have a lot of hands-on skills and can work in machine shops and build just about anything, which is applicable to helping out in an experimental lab, but not necessarily with a theorist.

    I'm torn between which to choose for this up and coming acedemic year. I know that having my name added to published papers will look great on graduate school applications (especially since if I keep working in the lab, there is a good chance there may be several papers). Either way the research experience is valuable. During the school year, I typically work 15-20 hours a week in my current lab, and was wondering if you guys thought I should maybe cut this time in half, and spend the other half working on the theoretical physics with my old professor? Or, completely transfer over into the theoretical side, which is what I ultimately think I want to do in physics.

    I'm sorry for the long post and the rather incoherent way that it is typed. I'd like to know what you guys think!

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2006 #2


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    i do not know what others will say but it seems like a no brainer to me - a job you find uninteresting and which pays less, versus one in the area you are interested in, which pays more, and which is supe4vised by a prof who graduated from the school you want to go to?

    come on. this is obvious. having your name on a paper you care nothing about, in area you will not weork in, means s*** compared to what the second job offers.

    presumably you see this and just want confirmation.
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