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What can I expect to be relevant when I graduate?

  1. Jul 17, 2014 #1

    BiGyElLoWhAt

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    I'm currently undergrad, about to finish my bachelors degree, and enter either a masters or doctoral program straight away. Things like quantum theory really spike my interest, but now that they've discovered the anti-hydrogen and the higgs boson, I'm not really sure what to expect when I get out in ~10 years.

    I know I can count on TOE to be there, as well as M/string theory, which are both interesting... but realistically, how feasible is it to expect to get into something like that? From where I'm sitting we have years and years (maybe decades, maybe longer) of basically throwing money down the drain before we can expect to have anything major happen in the field. With that in mind, the positions are probably limited and competative, so how worth my time would getting a theoretical degree be? I know there's an applied side to all of these, and I want to do both, but I really don't want to spend my life doing other peoples experiments without doing anything that I designed myself.

    Help? Advice? Words of Wisdom?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    You should not be a physicist. You will be miserable.

    If you divide physics into major discoveries (as in 1 or 2 per century level discoveries) and wastes of money, you will be spending the vast majority of your time on tasks of the second kind. That's true even for the people who made those major discoveries.
     
  4. Jul 17, 2014 #3
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    EDIT: Sorry I misinterpreted what you said, forget that.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2014
  5. Jul 17, 2014 #4

    George Jones

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    NathanaelNolk, you have misinterpreted what Vanadium 50 wrote.

    BiGyElLoWhAt wrote
    Vanadium 50's response to BiGyElLoWhAt: "Well, if you have that kind of attitude, then you will spend the vast majority of your time on stuff that is a waste of time."
     
  6. Jul 17, 2014 #5
    Oh, my bad! Sorry I completely misunderstood what you said, excuse me!
     
  7. Jul 17, 2014 #6

    BiGyElLoWhAt

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    I don't consider it a waste of money at all. I actually think that's what we should be putting money into.

    I'm just saying, since (to my understanding) most of the research that get's done is university/grant funded, how competitive is the job market? I really have no idea what to expect when I get out. How likely am I to get funded to/be able to work on something high energy/subatomic/etc... from a (partly at least) theoretical perspective?

    I want to do the experimental side, but can I reasonably expect to be able to collaborate on the design/"big question" of a project that I end up working on?

    I don't mind working on other peoples' stuff either, so don't get the wrong impression. I just think that, eventually, I'm going to want to sit down, and try to think my way through a question, come up with a solution to the question, and then design a way to test it. (I definitely don't want to work in industry)

    I can see myself teaching at a college to get funded for research as well. Is it as simple as finding a job at a school that has a project I'm interested in? How "easy" is it to get put on a project that you want to when you work for a university?
     
  8. Jul 17, 2014 #7

    Choppy

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    You probably already know roughly what you're looking at in terms of a career in physics. First you have to complete a PhD in the first place. This is no small accomplishment. If you're not really driven to dive into this head first and spend the next 4-6 years of your life on a very low salary, it will be a tough slog. While you may have (and should take) some opportunity for independent work, most graduate students do not start out in a position to choose a feasible direction for their project.

    Assuming you finish successfully, you then jump into the post-doctoral area. Depending on the field, a lot of where you end up depends on what's available when you're looking for work. You're hired on a contractual basis for a couple of years to move a larger project forward. Sometimes the project can jive with your personal interests. Sometimes it's just a job.

    After a couple of post-docs you're in a position to compete for the full-time continuing academic positions. The numbers that are often thrown around here are that if the average professor will mentor 10 graduate students over the course of his or her career, then 1 will be a replacement. Maybe one more will get a position through growth. But the majority of the leftovers will have to find something else. The 10-20% who do get in, are not necessarily the "top" 10-20% either. Among PhDs, the differences in drive and commitment and raw intelligence and creativity can be trivial, which makes the search and selection process almost random.
     
  9. Jul 18, 2014 #8

    BiGyElLoWhAt

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    Hey thanks a lot choppy, that's actually pretty much what I was looking for.
     
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