What is doing physics research like?

In summary, the conversation discusses the differences between undergraduate and graduate physics research, with the latter being more hands-on and allowing for more creative freedom. It is suggested to learn programming and get involved in undergraduate research to have a better understanding of what research is like. Additionally, it is mentioned that picking a course focused on environmental science may be beneficial for those interested in that field.
  • #1
Hi. I'm going to be a freshman at UCLA. I like physics and it is my major, but I'm considering changing to computer science, but I hate doing experiments and taking down data and all that stuff that you do in high school. Is doing physics research like that in undergraduate and graduate school? Thank you.

Also, do you think it is easy for a person with a B.S. in Physics to get a job in the environmental science area/energy?
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  • #2
When you start out as an undergraduate, your labs are fairly "cookbook" - meaning that you follow a specific set of instructions, fill out a spreadsheet (possibly one that's already prepared for you), answer some specific questions and write up a report.

As you progress, the labs become a lot more free form. By your senior year, they are a lot more the kind of thing where you're given a topic, and the basic equipment to investigate it is in the lab, but you're more-or-less on your own for what to do. At least that was my experience.

As far as actual research goes, it can vary. As an undergrad you're likely going to be doing the grunt-work of writing code, analyzing data, or running some experimental apparatus without completely knowing what it is you're doing. The further you go, the more you'll understand.

As a graduate student you get the freedom to pick your research area and supervisor. The two of you (with input from a few others) will decide on the details of your project. In some cases, you end up having to do what you're told. In others, you have a lot more freedom - to the point where many people struggle because no one is telling them what to do. You'll still do almost all of the grunt work yourself though. It will likely be a lot more interesting than first year labs though, because you're likely going to be measuring/calculating something that few, if any, have done before.
  • #3
After the first few years it will be very different and much more interesting. Learn how to program well and soon, and get involved with your professors as an undergraduate research assistant. Ask them what their research is like! Its what they do for a living.

If you like physics, do physics, and remember that no matter what you do, the beginning might seem slow and menial, even unnecessary, but after a while you'll be able to be more creative and spontaneous-especially if can get good at programming.
  • #4

In most universities the undergraduate physics labs are a drag,

Once you get past this you have the option to pick experimental research or theoretical research.

Theoretical research can (and mostly does) involve a ton of programming, you are basically given, or pick yourself a subject. You kind of have an idea of where you're going and what you want to end up with, you do some physics, get something useful which can be used to simulate the problem. You develop some code which will simulate what your problem, you look at the results over and over and over checking that what the computer has spat out looks correct, once it looks correct, you check it again, and again, tweaking parameters to see the effects, if these effects make sense. If it all goes well you can start adding to the code, complicating the problem, figuring out new physics or go on to a new problem.

As far as going into environmental science, I think it'd be best to choose a course more orientated towards that, they will teach you programming specific for the science.
  • #5

As a scientist who has conducted physics research at both the undergraduate and graduate level, I can tell you that the experience can vary greatly depending on the type of research you are doing and the specific project you are working on. While some physics research does involve conducting experiments and collecting data, there are also many other areas of research that focus on theoretical and computational work.

In terms of undergraduate research, it may be more similar to what you experienced in high school, as it often involves working in a lab and conducting experiments under the guidance of a professor. However, as you progress to graduate school, the research becomes more specialized and can involve a combination of experimental, theoretical, and computational work.

Regarding your question about job opportunities with a B.S. in Physics, it is certainly possible to find employment in the environmental science or energy fields. Many companies and organizations are looking for individuals with a strong background in physics to help solve complex problems and develop innovative solutions. However, it may also be beneficial to supplement your physics degree with courses or experience in environmental science or energy to make yourself a more competitive candidate.

Ultimately, my advice would be to explore different areas of physics and research during your undergraduate studies to see what interests you the most. Remember, it is important to choose a field that you are passionate about and enjoy working in. Best of luck in your academic and career pursuits!

1. What is the purpose of doing physics research?

The purpose of doing physics research is to discover new knowledge about the natural world and to better understand the fundamental laws and principles that govern it. This knowledge can then be applied to develop new technologies and improve our everyday lives.

2. How is physics research different from other types of scientific research?

Physics research is different from other types of scientific research because it focuses specifically on the study of matter, energy, and their interactions. It also often involves theoretical and mathematical modeling, as well as experimental testing, to understand and explain complex phenomena.

3. What is the process of conducting physics research?

The process of conducting physics research typically involves formulating a hypothesis or research question, designing and carrying out experiments or simulations, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions based on the results. This process may also involve collaboration with other researchers and the use of advanced equipment and technology.

4. What are some challenges faced by physicists during research?

Some challenges faced by physicists during research may include obtaining funding and resources, designing effective experiments or simulations, interpreting complex data, and communicating findings to a wider audience. Additionally, the nature of physics research often involves uncertainty and unexpected results, which can make the process both exciting and challenging.

5. How does physics research impact society?

Physics research has a significant impact on society by driving technological advancements, such as the development of new medical treatments, renewable energy sources, and communication technologies. It also contributes to our understanding of the universe and helps us to address global challenges, such as climate change and sustainable development.

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