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Travel Opportunities as a Physicist?

  1. Sep 18, 2009 #1
    As a Physicist (I was thinking mainly about those employed in academia which is why I posted this here and not in Careers Guidance) how much opportunity is there to travel?

    Many publications by the IoP to encourage students to study physics emphasize the international nature of a research career and the opportunity to work/study abroad. Also there are all the seminars etc. that are sometimes abroad.

    But how much travel do you realistically get to do as a Physicist, or is it like 5% in some research areas get to travel whilst 95% of physicists just stay around one place.

    I am curious because if travel is as extensive as the IoP claim then it is quite an awesome career.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2009 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    There's a lot of travel opportunities, subject to the availabiltiy of funding. That's the practical limitiation- no money to travel = no travel. I try and attend 2 conferences per year, which I expect is fairly average. Longer term travel (i.e. spending a week or 10 in someone else's lab) is much less common.
  4. Sep 18, 2009 #3


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    Be careful what you wish for. Traveling it often not nearly as much fun as you think it is. Yes, I've been to conferences held at very nice locations, but for every such conference there are two that are held in a conference centre at the outskirts of some big city late in the autumn when it is always raining (and I am not joking, in order to save money most conferences are held at off-peak season where there are plenty of hotel rooms etc available).

    Also, when you go to a conference you are suppose to spend most of your time listening to talks etc so in most cases you will not get that much time to do much sightseeing.

    Don't get me wrong, traveling can be quite a lot of fun and it is an opportunity to meet friends. But if you want to travel to exotic destinations and stay at nice hotel you should probably choose another career (such as medicine..).
  5. Sep 18, 2009 #4
    I think one of the perks as a physicist is the opportunity to travel. We don't get paid as much as our industry counterparts or people in corporate america, but the opportunity for travel is excellent.

    But, as Andy pointed out, it all depends on your funding situation. Right now, my funding is very good and I get to travel about twice a year. Next year I plan on attend a conference in Germany. If I have enough left in my travel budget, I will attend a workshop in Rome. If I don't have enough left for Rome, I will attend a conference in Las Vegas instead. All the members of my group travel quite often. The lead researcher in our group travels very often and he really enjoys it. He usually travels a dozen times a year or so. He is on a few national committees and is working with a large national collaboration, so they need to meet a few times a year.

    f95toli does have a point though, you typically are not traveling in the lap of luxury. Whenever I travel I am restrained by the rules for use of federal money and have to follow the federal "per diem" for both hotel and meals each day. I usually take one evening, however, and spend some of my own money. In addition, conferences are not all about sightseeing. I go to present work, collaborate and learn what is new in my field and maybe pick up some interesting information on fields outside of what I directly work in. You go to work, but you take some time to relax and socialize.
  6. Sep 18, 2009 #5


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    The amount of traveling also depends on which field you pick. A friend of mine chose particle astrophysics and does more traveling than he wishes for. Additionally, this is not necessarily like usual traveling. He gets to be in La Palma quite often, which sounds pretty nice with La Palma having quite nice weather almost all year. However, sitting near a huge telescope in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with the not too unlikely possibility of getting snowed in waiting for the right weather to be able to work does not sound that good anymore.

    Generally speaking, you will get the possibility to go to conferences with varying fun factor and - if your boss does not completely hate you - will be able to add a few days at your own cost if you like. Until now during my phd I had "lucky" places for conferences like Rio de Janeiro and Madrid, but also places like a small 1000-people-town called Klink in the middle of nowhere in the poorest region of Germany.

    Longer travels are only common in particle physics and at "later" stages of a scientific career.
  7. Sep 18, 2009 #6
    Wow, thanks for the responses!

    I was more thinking about if you can pay for extra days yourself and just have the travel budget cover the flights and days of the conference. I wouldn't expect even the most generous budgets to pay for holidays :P

    Why is traveling such a big part of Particle Physics? I'm only an undergrad so I don't really have any idea what area I will go into, or if I will choose to go into academia at all. But what is the traveling like for Condensed Matter and Optics as those seem like interesting areas?

    I guess it isn't as good to go to some rainy city somewhere as it is to go to the Tropics etc., but tbh getting to meet other scientists in your field from all over the world sounds awesome, and even if it is in some grim town it is still more interesting than just doing the same work all day like IT or whatever.
  8. Sep 18, 2009 #7


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    Out of curiosity... what about physicists that are scared to take the plane? Can they just decide not to travel? Or they might lose their academic job?
    (It's not really my case but I might turn scared when I get older)
  9. Sep 18, 2009 #8
    Also what about working abroad?

    I hear post-docs often move from country to country, that sounds pretty cool as at that age I am unlikely to have a family to support and it would be nice to work in different places.
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