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Programs What kind of physics should I study?

  • Thread starter kelly0303
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Hello! I was accepted to one of the top universities in the USA for experimental particle physics, however after one year of going to talks and talking to people I don't think that any major breakthrough will be made in the next 15-20 years at least. By breakthrough I mean Beyond Standard Model physics.

There are still lots of things to be learnt about Standard Model and do precise measurements, but I don't really find that exciting and spending my PhD to just put a better bound on SuperSymmetry models, Dark Matter or sterile neutrinos doesn't really attracts me (although I am totally aware of how important these bounds are for Beyond Standard Model searches in long term).

I talked to some professors and I am thinking to switch to condensed matter experiment (I see that lots of major discoveries have been made there in the past decades). Another area that attracts me is AI and I see that more and more fields start to heavily use that in their research. What would you advise me to do? What area of physics (even beyond the ones I mentioned) would be the most promising? What path would you take if you started your PhD now? Thank you!
 
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symbolipoint

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kelly0303
I looked at your profile page and the ABOUT tab section.

The abbreviations you used in post #1 may not be understood by most people reading your post, so maybe write them in full instead. Better understanding of what your knowledge is could be known if you tell the readers how far along you are in your undergraduate study of Physics. This would improve the kind of advice from any of the qualified forum members.
 
kelly0303
I looked at your profile page and the ABOUT tab section.

The abbreviations you used in post #1 may not be understood by most people reading your post, so maybe write them in full instead. Better understanding of what your knowledge is could be known if you tell the readers how far along you are in your undergraduate study of Physics. This would improve the kind of advice from any of the qualified forum members.
Thank you for your reply! I wrote the abbreviations in full. I am finishing my first year of PhD in experimental particle physics. The experience I had during the first year in terms of research itself (I got good results, I work on a CERN based experiment, but I don't feel like LHC or any major experiment in the world will find anything major in the near future), but also from talking to other people about their views on the field, made be think of moving to some other area. I am allowed to do so, if I find a professor willing to work with me (which I did), but I am not sure if it is a good idea. So I was wondering what people working in different areas think about the future of different field of physics.
 

Vanadium 50

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I don't think that any major breakthrough will be made
If you are going into this field because you want to make a breakthrough, the odds are very very high you will be disappointed.
 
If you are going into this field because you want to make a breakthrough, the odds are very very high you will be disappointed.
Oh, that's not what I mean necessary. My point is that I want to go into a field where there is a chance for a breakthrough. Of course from the possibility of a breakthrough to actually doing it, is a huge step, but I want to at least have the motivation that I can aim for something. In experimental particle physics there are lots of things to be discovered, but I don't see (confidently) any experiment able to do so in the near future. So working in that field feels like going 99% sure that I won't have the chance to make something significant. But my main question is what do you think there are the fields with the biggest potential for breakthroughs given the current state of physics.
 

Orodruin

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The more certain you become, the less will it be a breakthrough.
 

ZapperZ

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Oh, that's not what I mean necessary. My point is that I want to go into a field where there is a chance for a breakthrough. Of course from the possibility of a breakthrough to actually doing it, is a huge step, but I want to at least have the motivation that I can aim for something. In experimental particle physics there are lots of things to be discovered, but I don't see (confidently) any experiment able to do so in the near future. So working in that field feels like going 99% sure that I won't have the chance to make something significant. But my main question is what do you think there are the fields with the biggest potential for breakthroughs given the current state of physics.
What EXACTLY is your definition of a “breakthrough”?

Zz.
 

StatGuy2000

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If you are going into this field because you want to make a breakthrough, the odds are very very high you will be disappointed.
This begs the following question: what do you feel should be the reason for going into this or any other field in physics?

What was your reason for pursuing your particular field within physics?
 

Vanadium 50

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I measure things. I knew that much of this would be incremental work. Yes, I was involved in 3 major doscoveries: Bs mixing, the top quark and the Higgs, but had nature turned out differently those searches would have come up dry.
 

f95toli

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This begs the following question: what do you feel should be the reason for going into this or any other field in physics?
Because you like the work. That is, the actual day-to-day work in the lab or in the office.
I do not believe it is a good idea to choose a particular field because of some grand idea of "contributing to science" . There are multiple reasons for this. One is that even if you do happen to work in a field where there is a breakthrough the resulting excitement will only be there for a very limited amount of time. The rest of the time you need to be able to enjoy (or at least not dislike) the work itself, irrespective of the goal.
Another reason is simply that most of the time the work you will not go anywhere; and if you are too goal oriented this can be hard to cope with. I've actually seen people leave science because this, the lack of progress can -literately- be depressing for some.

Hence, if you like coding you should probably not go into a field where you will spend most of your time aligning mirrors or soldering cables and vice versa.
 

StatGuy2000

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Because you like the work. That is, the actual day-to-day work in the lab or in the office.
I do not believe it is a good idea to choose a particular field because of some grand idea of "contributing to science" . There are multiple reasons for this. One is that even if you do happen to work in a field where there is a breakthrough the resulting excitement will only be there for a very limited amount of time. The rest of the time you need to be able to enjoy (or at least not dislike) the work itself, irrespective of the goal.
Another reason is simply that most of the time the work you will not go anywhere; and if you are too goal oriented this can be hard to cope with. I've actually seen people leave science because this, the lack of progress can -literately- be depressing for some.

Hence, if you like coding you should probably not go into a field where you will spend most of your time aligning mirrors or soldering cables and vice versa.
I get what you're saying. On the other hand, isn't part of the reason why someone wants to pursue science is the possibility that they will make progress in their field, as opposed to liking the actual day-to-day work in the lab or in the office?

After all, if progress was not possible, then pursuing that field would be a waste of time and resources, and they would have been better off finding another job requiring similar skills in which they would enjoy the actual day-to-day work.
 
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ZapperZ

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I get what your saying. On the other hand, isn't part of the reason why someone wants to pursue science is the possibility that they will make progress in their field, as opposed to liking the actual day-to-day work in the lab or in the office?

After all, if progress was not possible, then pursuing that field would be a waste of time and resources, and they would have been better off finding another job requiring similar skills in which they would enjoy the actual day-to-day work.
I do not believe that's what f95toli is implying. Of course one wants to make a contribution to the body of knowledge. But this is different than the goal of making a "breakthrough". Such things can't come up on demand.

There is a romanticized idea of what doing science is, and that it is all glamorous and exciting. It can be at times, but the significant portion of the time is not glamorous, not exciting, tedious, boring, sweat-inducing, etc... etc. When you are crawling on the floor under a spaghetti of vacuum lines trying to find a leak at 2:00 am in the morning, the last thing you are thinking of is making a "breakthrough".

This is the reality of the job.

Zz.
 

Vanadium 50

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progress ≠ breakthrough
 

f95toli

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I do not believe that's what f95toli is implying. Of course one wants to make a contribution to the body of knowledge. But this is different than the goal of making a "breakthrough". Such things can't come up on demand.
Indeed, it is of course important that you think the area of science and/or the problem you trying to solve is interesting and/or worth working on.
However, you can -generally speaking- find interesting problems in most areas of physics but the TYPE of work you do as a physicist can vary wildly even within a specific area. This is perhaps even more true today than it used to be since so much work involve experts with many different skills; all working on the same problem.
 
I measure things. I knew that much of this would be incremental work. Yes, I was involved in 3 major doscoveries: Bs mixing, the top quark and the Higgs, but had nature turned out differently those searches would have come up dry.
Thank you for this! Well, to begin with, that's what I would call breakthrough, for example. Now, searching for the Higgs boson, there weren't tens of experiments who tried and failed before. So being part of that was exciting. You didn't know if you would succeed, of course, but being a first was exciting on its own. On the other hand, joining an experiment that searches for dark matter, or neutrinoless double beta decay, or sterile neutrinos, the fact that so many failed before kinda made me lose the excitement. And makes me feel that no current experiment will do more than putting a better bound on masses or couplings. So I guess what I am looking for are fields where experiment or theory have still a lot to discover, but where people haven't already tried that for 50 years and failed. I would like something that is more recent.
 

ZapperZ

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Thank you for this! Well, to begin with, that's what I would call breakthrough, for example. Now, searching for the Higgs boson, there weren't tens of experiments who tried and failed before. So being part of that was exciting. You didn't know if you would succeed, of course, but being a first was exciting on its own. On the other hand, joining an experiment that searches for dark matter, or neutrinoless double beta decay, or sterile neutrinos, the fact that so many failed before kinda made me lose the excitement. And makes me feel that no current experiment will do more than putting a better bound on masses or couplings. So I guess what I am looking for are fields where experiment or theory have still a lot to discover, but where people haven't already tried that for 50 years and failed. I would like something that is more recent.
Sorry, but to me, that is still highly vague on what YOU mean by a "breakthrough".

Let me ask you this: Does a work that gets published in PRL can be considered as a "breakthrough" in your definition?

Zz.
 

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