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What is it like to be a physicist? The duties? Responsibilities?

  1. Apr 22, 2004 #1
    I seem to have grand, romanticized notions of what a physicist does during the day. If you are a physicist, I would like to hear from you.

    What do you do day in and out?
    Do you enjoy your work?
    What level of education do you have for your physics job?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 22, 2004 #2

    I am a physicsist...yeah!

    Hell yeah!
    Uhh...Well, I kinda taught myself(with books helping me along the way)...
  4. Apr 22, 2004 #3
    Well, I'm a twelve year old...But anyone can be a physicist, just maybe not a professional one!
  5. Apr 22, 2004 #4


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    I'm not a physicist but I can tell you it's not exciting at all. You probably have an idea that you come up with things every day. The reality is that you might come up with something.... in 20 years maybe.
  6. Apr 22, 2004 #5
    Yes, that is what frightens me. Any uplifting comments though?
  7. Apr 23, 2004 #6
    In recent years we've seen enrollment dropping in physics programs. Do you have any comments as to the cause of that problem and how we can solve it?

    I don't really know what the cause of that problem is, but I think one key way to keep enrollment up and to make it grow is to have the ideas of science communicated at a very early age to students. Because the ideas are terribly exciting. But sometimes I do get the sense that students are put off by the difficulty of the technical side of physics and of mathematics. But I think students would be more willing to engage with that difficult technical material if they were real fired up about the ideas. And the ideas themselves are so rich and rewarding that if they are presented in a way that can be absorbed without the technical side at an earlier stage, I think the willingness to go forward in these difficult areas would be stronger. - Brian Greene

    Bottomline: Get yourself fired up with any idea in Physics, and learn the Math behind it.
  8. Apr 23, 2004 #7

    I'm a physicist (of the medical radiotherapy variety) and I'd be happy to share with you, though "physicist" is a broad term and their answers to these questions could be very different to mine.

    My day is usually comprised of 2 things: Technical duties and research/project work. Here in our hospital we have 4 linear accelerators which we use for treating cancer, along with an HDR brachytherapy unit and two orthovoltage treatment machines. These things are compicated beasts, and there are many things that can go wrong (especially the linacs), so one of my main duties is to check properties of the machines to ensure they are working within tolerances. There are far too many to list. The technicians in the department are here to fix things, but everything needs to be checked/double checked before being used clinically.

    My research/project work is mainly programming. I'm currently writing software for film analysis/radiation QA/IMRT comissioning, and have several other side projects that get worked on when I get inspired.

    Yes, thouroughly. I will never leave my field.

    I have a BSc, an MSc, and when funding arrives in the deparment, I'll begin my PhD. I'm also required to go on regular training courses to keep up to date with standard practice.
  9. Apr 23, 2004 #8
    Durn, I'm having heck trying to post.

    I am not a physicist. I was married to physicists before, one for a long time, one for a short time.

    I'm describing the typical workday for a PhD physicist in research as observed by a non-scientist:

    If on tenure track or tenured at a big university:

    Go to your lab whenever you like.
    If you're teaching a class, go teach it. If anything needs to be graded, a grad student will do it.
    Do lots of paperwork related to your grants.
    Do work in the lab, check the work of your own grad students.
    Work on papers you are trying to get published.
    Plan ahead, tell secretary if you need travel requests, etc to attend symposia. If you're presenting a poster, get it ready.
    Look over honoraria offers to present topics at other universities and such.
    Talk on the phone alot to colleagues, plan to go to their labs and them to come to yours.
    Do your office hours.
    Help your grads with their dissertation projects. Talk with grads hoping to get you to be their major professor.
    Go eat lunch when you like, go running, goof off with your fellow profs, the ones you can stand.
    Sometimes you'll stay at your lab all night or most of the night, depending on what you're doing.
    Be aware that an experimentalist is very handy...does machine work, wiring, programming, plumbing even, lots of troubleshooting with the machinery. Lots of tinkering around with the equipment. Lots of calls chasing down this or that part needed. Some salespeople will call.

    Working at a government lab is more constrained. Working in industry is more constrained.

    Good luck!
  10. Apr 23, 2004 #9


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    I generally awake in the early afternoon in a stupor. If my head is clear, I drive one of my custom made Bougatti's to the lab. Usually I get driven to work in the Rolls. I have to enter the lab through a secret door, to avoid the crowds. I sit at my desk, solve some boundry value problems, normallize a wave function or two then hit the lab. I fire up the lasers and the superconducting magnet and that machine that goes "PING!". Make a major discovery, jot it down and off it goes to Phys Rev letters. I walk out of the lab through the front door, where my adoring fans are already waving pre-prints for me to autograph. I sign a few while I check out the groupies. I send the lab techs out to reel in the best of the lot, and arrange for tommorrow's awakening stupor.

    Well ... some of it's true.

  11. Apr 23, 2004 #10
    holly hit the nail on the head. I couldn't describe it better. The work breaks up, you'll spend a few weeks-months in the lab doing experiments, then you'll spend a few weeks-months in the office doing paperwork for grants, papers, etc.. THere's a nice ebb and flow over the year.

  12. Apr 23, 2004 #11

    jimmy p

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    Sounds like my day apart from the Bougatti, the Rolls, the lab with the secret door, the desk, the problems and functions, the lasers, the superconducting magnet, the "PING!"ing machine, the discovery and letters, the autographs, the groupies and the lab techs...

    (for those who cant be bothered to read all that i wake up in a stupor!)
  13. Apr 23, 2004 #12
    I was thinking about getting a stupor to wake up in. I hear they are comfortable, but I'm sorta attached to my funk.
  14. Apr 26, 2004 #13
    Do any of you physicists' work in a black mesa type facility... if so will you date me.
  15. Apr 26, 2004 #14
    I think Njorl's is all true. Except for the "waking up" part.

  16. Apr 26, 2004 #15
    Half-Life anyone? For those who are not familiar with this game, you play the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a MIT-educated physicist working at Black Mesa research facility. After working a boring shift pushing objects around, you were instructed to push a crystal into a high-energy laser. The device starts screwing up and suddenly alien things end up all over the lab. It is your job to help out your fellow (but wimpy) scientists and escape from the lab while attacking aliens and the army.
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