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What type of physics to pursue?

  1. Jan 27, 2007 #1
    Hi can anyone tell me about he different pros and cons about pursuing different types of physics for a career? E.g. Quantum, Nuclear, String Theory, etc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2007 #2
    Its based on what you enjoy... and you don't really have to make a decision under graduate school because it is typically then when you specialize. I will say though, something like a condensed matter experimentalist would probably be more employable in industry than a theorist, and especially more than a string theorist. This is not to say that someone who studies string theory couldn't get a job in industry. Its just that it would probably be a job more along the lines of using your math and perhaps computer simulation skills for an unrelated topic.

    Of course, if your goal is to be a professor then all are definitely valid considerations.
  4. Jan 28, 2007 #3
    going into any field of physics is a pro because physics can be applied to many fields

    If you go into string theory, there is only one thing you should know.

    Would you like fries with that?
  5. Jan 29, 2007 #4
    When trying to decide where to specialize, you could follow the advice that was given to me: If you like doing simulations and mathematics (to the extend that you will do mathematics for its own sake from time to time), than you should look into being a Theorist. If you like getting your hands "dirty," and enjoy lab work, being an experimentalist would likly be your style.

    Also take into account your strengths and weaknesses when judging between the two.

    Personally, I like Theory quite abit.

    And then of course you have to note that within these to categories are many other sub-categories, and figuring out which one you want to do requires finding material from that sub-category and reading through it and making sense of it.

    Myself, I like biophysics and optics. Haven't yet decided which one I intend on doing for the rest of my life; however, I don't need to pick just yet.

    Besides there is always room for change. Heck, my Biophysics professor use to be a particle physicist in Chicago.
  6. Jan 29, 2007 #5

    Dr Transport

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    Look for an area of physics that you enjoy and more importantly one where you can make a living afterwords. Condensed matter is a good choice, so is optics and biophysics. The best advice I can give you is this, when you get into the working world be prepared to learn a new area every 5 years, it will make you more desirable to keep around when teh economy takes a tank. This advice was given to me by a friend of mine who after getting his PhD in theoretical nuclear physics and worked at Los Alamos for about 10 years, then set out to work in computational electromagnetics, fluids, back to nuclear then back to electromagnetics before he retired. He never faced a layoff during his 40 year career which included 3 recessions.

    Stay flexible in your plans, when I went back to graduate school for my PhD I had intended on working in experimental nonlinear optics, I did that for a year or so, figured out that I wasn't a very good experimentalist then went into theoretical condensed matter. Been working ever since in applied physics and optics and have been fairly sucessfull so far in my chosen profession.
  7. Jan 29, 2007 #6
    Which fields are really growing, and which ones are stagnating or getting outdated?

    Which fields have too many people interested in it due to the name (e.g. string theory) and which ones have potential but have fewer students applying?
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2007
  8. Jan 29, 2007 #7


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    what is "really growing" is often hard to judge for someone who is not actually in the field. because you are simply ignorant to the real facts such as empolyment opportunities, govt fundings, frequency of journal papers appearing etc.... besides just like politics, things can change in a few years, what is stagnate now may be growing in a few years time when you graduate. Sometimes, that's luck of a draw. For instance, a few years ago, Information Technology in my country was really growing and no IT graduates are unemployed, but now many IT people are forced to change fields....

    to decided which area of physics you may want to pursue: you may consider,
    what interest you most, what you are most capable of (eg. string theory requires that you are VERY strong in mathematics, but Astronomy may require great data analysis skills and computing skills), and what may give you more flexibility (ie. things that won't lock you down as much...)
  9. Jan 29, 2007 #8
    :rofl: i never thought of it as people joining due to the cool name. Basically a few people became convinced they would become the next einsteins, made a cool name for the "theory" and got people to jump the bandwagon
  10. Jan 29, 2007 #9
    lol I meant "name" as in "everybody including Uncle Joe's heard of it, therefore it must be good"

    What I'm worried about is when I was younger, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. But that was before I realized that most nuclear physicists are retired! So I think it's important to know which fields have a lot of promise and are being funded by the government
  11. Feb 24, 2007 #10
    I met a guy, about twenty eight who is had his masters in chemistry and was within a year of getting his PhD in Quantum Chemistry. He worked in this field (which is esentially physics) and says that the key to getting gov't funding is linking what you want to study with some type of biology. That's the buzz word now.
  12. Feb 24, 2007 #11


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    That won't be for long, especially if the President's FY2008 budget is approved. The NIH will have a substantial cut in funding for the next several years in order to get the physical science funding for NSF and DOE to double in 10 years.

  13. Feb 24, 2007 #12
    In addition to what everyone else has already said, I've found that there's a bit of a social aspect to consider as well. Some branches of physics allow you to work alone, and others require you to work in groups. So the social setting in which you work best might also be a determining factor. For example, I'm starting my Master's degree this summer, and I was looking into two areas of research within the department I'm going to: atomic force microscopy, and MINOS (which would fall under high energy physics). If I worked with the AFM, I'd be in a basement all day taking data. If I went with MINOS, I'd have to go down to Illinois every so often to meet with the people who work at the neutrino source, and I'd need to attend a lot more meetings. So this just goes to show that your social interactions can vary greatly with the sort of research that you do.
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