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What to do as an undergrad if I want to go for theory?

  1. May 27, 2009 #1
    Hey all,
    So, if I'm an undergrad, going onto his senior year, who doesn't have any research experience or anything shiny like that, and wants to be a theoretical physicist, what should I do? Should I just suck it up and do research in a lab?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 27, 2009 #2


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    Why wouldn't you try to do some work with a theorist if you believe that's what you're interested in?

    Also "suck it up and do research in a lab" is likely not going to be the most helpful attitude when it comes to a competative application process. At the undergraduate level, it's best to look at any research experience as an opportunity to further explore the field of physics. You never know what you might like, or, what might give you the skills that will lead to a career down the road.
  4. May 28, 2009 #3
    Well, my question is, what would I do if I wanted to work with a theorist? Just do like a directed study with them?
  5. May 28, 2009 #4
    Have you already taken all the math classes your school has to offer?
  6. May 28, 2009 #5
    Theoretical physicist in what specific field? I'm assuming you have grad schools lined up? Have you looked at Professors in the department and have any whose work you find interesting?

    If you haven't already talked with any faculty you probably have a slim chance of getting a spot for the Summer with someone. Given that, you will have to try to do some work during your two last semesters. It's doubtful a lot of people will be thrilled about taking you in in that case. But I think the answer is yes, you need to "suck it up" and take whatever opportunity you can find, especially since you don't have much time left.
  7. May 28, 2009 #6
    I think I'm interested in theoretical particle physics.

    I've looked at the professors in my department, but I've not had classes with any that do things I find interesting (I usually wind up with experimentalist professors).

    One guy is giving me a chance in his lab, volunteering for a bit, and then he'll decide if I can keep working, but I don't know how interesting I'll find all this.

    Also, I will probably be hanging around the university for an extra year, so I can polish off a CS major.
  8. May 30, 2009 #7
    I think you do understand that theoretical undergrad research posit is harder to obtain?
    I think that experimental particle physics might be a good place to start from, IMO. It is a related field (if not EXACTLY). And you know how things actually work out in the real world, etc, which could be some sort of supplement to theories.
    And at the end, experimental physics also require some theory development, and it also require some intensive paper reading.
    Well, I don't think this is a good attitude to start with? Be optimistic! It could only be a plus. And btw, you probably need more than one prof to write your recommendation letters. I have heard that people run out of choices of prof and couldn't obtain a good recom letter.

    That is also a possible path. I mean at the end of the day, you want the prof to know you well to write an excellent recom letter.
  9. May 31, 2009 #8


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    Why? If you want to be a theoretical physicist, it will be far more useful for you to spend your extra year learning more maths.
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