What are some things that one can do to prepare for a career in Theoretical Physics

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  • #1
I am still in middle school, just getting inducted in the NJHS and hoping to get into the IB program. I really what to get into a career in Theoretical Physics, is there anything i can do to help make my dreams of becoming a Theoretical Physicist a reality?
Anything would help!



-Ben
 

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  • #2
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Hey Ben,
It's good that you have an early interest in academics. What I would recommend for you is to do lots of maths and excel as much as you can. A thorough background in mathematics is what makes physics a lot simpler. Especially at your age, there are a lot of math contests that offer challenging problems. In order to make your dream a reality, you should study supplementary physics and strive for olympiad-level mathematics skills.
Good luck.
 
  • #3
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Hey Ben, welcome to the forums. You're in the right place!

Check out ZapperZ's great "So you want to be a Physicist" post. It starts in high school and there is a lot of focus on undergraduate and graduate school, but it gives you an idea of what to expect and so will help you better prepare.

I wish I knew I wanted to be a physicist in middle school! That's great that you are interested so early.
 
  • #5
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One thing that I would strongly advise is not to focus exclusively on theoretical physics. You should get an education that includes a lot of art, literature, and philosophy. One reason for this is that you'll find that getting what you want involves developing social and political skills along with technical ones.

Part of learning to be a theoretical physics is learning about how to use your skills when you find that there are no jobs in theoretical physics.

Something else that would be useful is to do a lot of math puzzles, subscribe to some magazines like the New Scientist or Astronomy, learn programming and electrical engineering, and get used to reading/learning stuff that wasn't assigned.
 
  • #6


Cool, I was thinking about getting a minor in philosophy, now that seems like an even better idea. Thanks!
 
  • #7
jk
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One thing that I would strongly advise is not to focus exclusively on theoretical physics. You should get an education that includes a lot of art, literature, and philosophy. One reason for this is that you'll find that getting what you want involves developing social and political skills along with technical ones.

Part of learning to be a theoretical physics is learning about how to use your skills when you find that there are no jobs in theoretical physics.

Something else that would be useful is to do a lot of math puzzles, subscribe to some magazines like the New Scientist or Astronomy, learn programming and electrical engineering, and get used to reading/learning stuff that wasn't assigned.
Art, literature and philosophy do not give you social and politicTtyal skills. You learn those things on the playground, the locker room, church, etc.
You should study art literature and philosophy because they are worth studying on their own -just as physics is

Edit: Learn programming
 
  • #8
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Second jk's post. (So sure, go ahead for that minor in philosophy if it interests you, I think it is a nice combination with theoretical physics. That being said, be sure to check what kind of courses you will have to take for philosophy, because there are lots of kinds of philosophy, and it may turn out that you only like a small subset (at least that sounds logical if you're into theoretical physics; then I don't know if you'd like a course in, say, anthropology); also realize a physics degree is already hard work and it will sometimes prove to be more beneifical to take up extra mathematics courses, especially if you want to become a theoretical physicist)
 
  • #9


Theoretical Physicists need to be incredibly talented in mathematics. Richard Feynman was a Putnam Fellow, making him one of the most gifted undergraduate mathematicians in the nation at the time. There is a difference between the math you are doing now, which puts emphasis on a rather dull process one must use to find the answer and focuses on the memorization of equations, and the math that will help you with theoretical physics, which takes more insight and creativity. It would be beneficial for you to study a lot of mathematics, as advanced and rigorous as possible. Feynman was learning the intuition behind calculus at 15... I wish I could be 15 again. Regardless, it's very likely you won't be as talented as Feynman, as he is truly a genius, but with hard work and effort you can accomplish many things.

As for philosophy, some might even say that science at its highest, most theoretical level and philosophy are inseparable. Know that you don't need a degree in something to learn something, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to minor in philosophy, though a minor in math would be more practical.

Programming is a must as well.
 
  • #10
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Seconding what twofish-quant said, you want to have very good academic performance in science and math, but not only in science and math. Also, extracurricular activities and community leadership accomplishments will help you get into the best universities, which will help you get into the best grad schools, which will help you get the best postdoc jobs, and finally a permanent position at a major research university or national lab.

Keep in mind that the field is fiercely competitive. While you might be one of those who "makes it" as a theoretical physicist, you might not, and it's good to have a backup plan. Think of it like someone who wants to be a rock star or pro athlete.
 
  • #12


Wow, thanks for all the great feedback
-Ben
 
  • #13
ZapperZ
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I am still in middle school, just getting inducted in the NJHS and hoping to get into the IB program. I really what to get into a career in Theoretical Physics, is there anything i can do to help make my dreams of becoming a Theoretical Physicist a reality?
Anything would help!



-Ben
Might also want to start with this:

https://www.physicsforums.com/blog.php?b=3727 [Broken]

Zz.
 
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  • #14
jk
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I think you're missing the point of what two-fish is saying.

Working with other people and in fact being around other people means that if you know things like philosophy, literature or things that aren't related to just science then you have a perspective that you otherwise wouldn't have if you just read math all day which is important when you have to deal with people in general whether its if your working directly under them, or any other kind of situation.
I think it is great to read literature and philosophy as achievements of the human mind on par with science but to read them with a view to getting "practical" insight on day-to-day interaction seems to me to be misguided. In fact in the situations you describe, it is sufficient to be up on current events and know follow the local sports team and be able to discuss those with some conviction.
Reading things in the arts helps put things into a perspective that can help you not only understand yourself but also everybody else around you.

Also when you are in a hierarchy with some kind of authority structure like you find in a company, political awareness is a very good skill to have. Diplomacy is not just for foreign ambassadors: it is a life and survival skill and it comes in handy when you have to deal with many situations.
This sounds like something an academic would say. The study of art, literature and philosophy will not do you a whit of good in a company setting. What will help you is a study of people such as you will get from participating in team sports, volunteering, doing extracurricular activities such as debate team, Boy Scouts, etc.
Knowing what to say and what not to say is a life skill and it doesn't stop at work. Reading social situations, understanding what is going on and dealing in situations where you are not the one calling the shots is really important and it's not just for being a brown noser or a suckup.

The thing is, in life, people depend on other people and if you don't realize this, then you are going to get a big slap in face when you go out there and try to work with other people especially if they have never taken a calculus class, don't give a stuff about science and don't really care about math in the slightest: but they need you to give them advice which they understand or do something that while they need, don't care about in the slightest as long as you do what you do.
The OP may be the one who needs advice, even if it comes from people who have "never taken a calculus class"
Keep that in mind.
 
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(Edit) This thread was simultaneously derailed into multiple directions. Please keep this on topic in the future.
 
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