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What do you do with a degree in theory?

  1. Sep 4, 2012 #1
    I've just started graduate school and have long had the intent of specializing in high-energy experiment, but lately I'm giving some thought to theory. First, here are some provisos. I know that academia is a very competitive game to begin with and that the competition in theory is absurd, even compared to that in academia at large (according to some sources at least). I don't necessarily want to continue in academia after getting my Ph.D. I'm doing a Ph.D. because at this point in my life I don't want to do anything that's not physics. That feeling probably won't last forever. Furthermore, I'm not interested in strings. When I say high-energy theory, I mean electroweak symmetry breaking, QCD, etc., i.e., things that are known to exist. I don't have some notion of being the next Paul Dirac. I just think that I might enjoy spending some time doing theory. Does that make any sense?

    Anyway, my real questions are the following. How does one get started in theoretical research in grad school? Since I'm a first-year, I don't know field theory, so what could I contribute? Do theorists wait until they've had four semesters of quantum mechanics before beginning any research? I do know C++. Could that help matters in any way--maybe for lattice QCD or something?

    Also, what kind of job prospects does someone with a degree in theory have? Again, I'm willing to explore diverse paths. I don't necessarily see myself as a lifelong academic. I just am wondering if there's any type of Ph.D. I could get that would leave me basically unemployable. Certainly knowledge of physics, mathematics, and programming is worth something?
  2. jcsd
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