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What kind of people are suitable of doing research in quantum gravity?

  1. Feb 10, 2014 #1
    I am interested in both physics and biology but I have not decided which subject i will choose to do research in the future. I am now studying natural sciences in the university. When I was at high school, one of the biology professor that I met suggested me to choose biology and give up physics. He said quantum gravity belonged to theoretical physics and people who chose this area are super genius, they did extremely well in maths and physics competition. My maths and physics are good but I don't think I am a genius because I have never done well in maths competition and I always need a little more time to think than others. I am interested in both of these two areas because of their unpredictable nature. Once I am hooked by an area, I will buy books about this field and spend time reading and thinking to discover this new field with my curiosity. I think being curious is my significant characteristic.

    (Actually I read some books about quantum physics, relativity and biology.)

    Would you like to give me some suggestions about these 2 fields? which one should I choose?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2014 #2


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    Why is it that it is either study "quantum gravity" or biology? Is there nothing in between? Is physics JUST quantum gravity or bust? Is your understanding of what physics is THAT narrow?

    I don't get it.

  4. Feb 10, 2014 #3
    You should take freshman calc based physics and then re-evaluate...
  5. Feb 10, 2014 #4

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    The number of people getting permanent positions in this kind of formal theory (being even broader than 'quantum gravity') in the US and Canada last year was two. Something to think about.
  6. Feb 10, 2014 #5
    I'm confused about what you are doing right now. Are you still in high school or college? Have you taken any upper-level physics courses and succeeded? Or are you in grad school? It's hard to give you advice when you could be anywhere from a high school student to a PhD-holding professor.
  7. Feb 10, 2014 #6


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    To start out simply follow your nose.

    If you like Biology - do that. If you like Physics - do that. If you like both do both.

    You don't really have to worry until you go to graduate school and even then biophysics is available. You probably wont be able to do quantum gravity in biophysics but if that's what really grabs you will know that then and study that exclusively.

    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  8. Feb 10, 2014 #7


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    That would probably lead him to chemistry. "If it squirms, it's biology. If it stinks, it's chemistry. If it doesn't work, it's physics." :tongue2:
  9. Feb 10, 2014 #8

    I mean theoretical physics, not just quantum gravity.
  10. Feb 10, 2014 #9

    I am doing a 4-years natural sciences master programme at UCL in the UK,
    which includes a 3-years undergraduate curriculum and a 1-year graduate curriculum. This is my first year and I chose physics and molecular and cell biology.
  11. Feb 10, 2014 #10


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    It doesn't make it any better.

    "Theoretical Physics" is highly mathematical, requiring the full arsenal of mathematics. Biology, on the hand, isn't as much when compared to all areas of physics. So again, it seems to me that the choices you put out for yourself are too much of a polar opposites, as if there are not in between!

    What if you don't do "theoretical physics", but rather, do theory in condensed matter physics? Will that somehow make you feel like a failure, or ashamed that you are not doing "theoretical physics"? Phil Anderson, Robert Laughlin, and John Bardeen are all Nobel prize-winning "theorists", but they don't do stuff in the areas that you consider to be "theoretical physics".

    There are so many different "graduations" and areas between "theoretical physics" and "biology". I just simply trying to understand what makes someone have that kind of opposite-polarity of choices.

  12. Feb 10, 2014 #11
    There is such a thing as biophysics, look into that.
  13. Feb 10, 2014 #12


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    I think you're on the right track by simply pursuing sciences in general now that you're at university. You'll have to use what you learn in your first year to make a decision on which to pursue as you move forward. I suspect though that you're quickly approaching the point where you need to make a decision and you still think you'd enjoy both.

    Something that helped me was to factor in some of the pragmatic aspects of choosing a path.

    If you go with biology, you'll be lumped in with many of the "pre-med" types and this has it's good and bad points depending on your personality. I personally found that atmosphere to be very competitive and full of back-stabbing - at least where I went to school. I was really turned off by that. (Others thrive with that kind of competitive environment.)

    The physics track tends to be a lot less populated and more co-operative in my experience.

    Other aspects to think about include what your backup plan will be if your plan doesn't work out. Others have already given you some of the hard facts about doing theoretical physics as a career. It seems that a lot of people who start out along that path end up doing financial or statistical or programming work. Is that something that's appealing at all to you?

    I'm not sure where bio majors end up. Only a handful make it into medical school. Some go into graduate work of course. My brother-in-law went to community college after his bio degree and became a paramedic. I think a lot depends on the soft skills they pick up along the way.
  14. Feb 11, 2014 #13
    Another agree.

    Your chances of becoming an MD as a bio major are much higher than becoming a theoretical physicist.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2014
  15. Feb 11, 2014 #14

    I agree, there is a branch in natural sciences programme called condensed matter physics, I will probably choose that next year, I will choose molecular and cell biology as my major and physics as my minor. May be learning some physics such as quantum theory can help me design new experiment in biology?
  16. Feb 11, 2014 #15
    I found it quite straightforward to find research posts in theoretical magnetohydrodynamics with a good, but not stellar, BSc (i.e, 2(i) not a first, using UK terminology.) You see posts requiring theoretical modelling in many areas of science; check out http://www.jobs.ac.uk/ and type "theoretical" into the search box - scores of opportunities.

    Eventually, I did slip into doing computer science research, which was still theoretical science. So if you are interested in doing theoretical "something", and keep your options as wide as possible, I can't see that being too high to aim for.

    If you are most interested in quantum gravity, but are not the biggest maths whiz in your country, then, still, go ahead, study it. That is, find a physics course that culminates in teaching quantum gravity (look carefully, not all do!)

    After that, even if "the powers that be" decide you are not good enough to be one of the two physicists that get paid to do quantum gravity this year, there will be plenty of other theoretical posts available for you, as long as you scrape a good degree.

    In the UK there is no pre-med system, you get into medical school if you have *very* good A level results. Mine were probably not quite good enough. So, actually, becoming a theoretical physicist/computer-scientist was much easier, for me, than becoming an MD.
  17. Feb 11, 2014 #16


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    How about experimental physics? It requires more mathematics than biology, but less mathematics than theoretical physics.
  18. Feb 11, 2014 #17


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    Maybe, even if not very likely. But if you need your personal hero, did you know that Schrodinger was one of the most famous theoretical quantum physicists, but also wrote an important book on biology?
  19. Feb 11, 2014 #18
  20. Feb 11, 2014 #19
    Your chances of becoming an MD as a physics major are probably higher than as a bio major. Something to think about.
  21. Feb 11, 2014 #20
    There is a problem with causality and self selection with this.

    You probably arent likely to take the MCAT or apply to med schools as a physics major if you arent good at math relative to the person who chose to stay as a bio major(premed good at math and physics good at math are totally different standards) which means you will probably do well in the PS and other sections of the MCAT.


    quantitative majors do better
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