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Working environment. This is important.

  1. Mar 6, 2010 #1
    Could a working physicist or astronomer post old documents, calculations, scratch work, memos, projects, publications, or anything else pertaining to their past work? It doesnt need to be something that i can comprehend. Just something representative of the problems you face on the job. Any areas where you were forced to do some creative/critical thinking would be especially illuminating. I must know if i can see myself doing the things that make you guys successful. I know you all are compettitive so there is no need for recent or unpublished findings :). Anything in the past 10 years would be perfect. Any materials you provide will help to educate me and let me know if i am on the right path. I am prepared to do substantial reading and technical jargon does not scare me. It would just be more to learn and discover. Besides, i have teachers to help with things that are beyond google.

    Also what is the competition between research teams like? How does one face criticism? Does one mistake tarnish a reputation? What is the standard of credibility? What determines worth in the feild (with respect to personel, not data)? How are tasks delegated?

    Thank you to the professionals who frequent this place rehashing the same topics over and over. Your patience is a treasure to stuents.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2010 #2
    "I am prepared to do substantial reading and technical jargon does not scare me. It would just be more to learn and discover. Besides, i have teachers to help with things that are beyond google"

    What i was struggeling to say here is "you are gonna have a hard time overwhelming my curiosity so pour it on"
  4. Mar 9, 2010 #3
    Apparently noone else thinks this is important
  5. Mar 9, 2010 #4
    It is important to me also
  6. Mar 9, 2010 #5


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    If you want to look at the work done in this field, your best option would be to read some journals. You could start with journals like Nature or Physics Today to get an idea of some of the more popular topics in the field. They would give you a better picture of some of the interesting ideas that people are looking into today, and likely provide you with a better introduction that someone's scratch pad.

    You have a lot of other questions with answers that depend on a large number of variables. With respect to competition it can get tough at times. I worked closely with a few students who have seen their project appear in a paper at about the time they are ready to start writing up. When patents are involved, you sometimes have to walk a fine line between presenting your work academically, but not giving away any trade secrets. The good thing about competition is that it tends to foster productivity in my experience.

    Facing criticism can be difficult. One of the facets of research is presenting your work - be it in a paper or in a conference presentation. Academics isn't a great area for those with a fear of public speaking. Generally, you have to remain objective enough to accept when a reviewer has made a valid point, and thick enough to ignore it when one is just blowing steam; this is a skill that comes with experience.

    I'm not sure exactly what you mean my "standard of credibility." Generally, each subfield will have its own journals that essentially define the state of the art in that field. Having your work accepted and published under the peer review process for these journals essentially vouches for the credibility of the work (although this system certainly isn't perfect).

    What determines the worth of personnel? That's a can of worms. There's a lot of factors at play - current demands in the research, your individual skill set, creativity, ability to solicit funding, how hot your area of expertise is at the current time, how quickly your skills become obsolete, etc. Even "artificial" factors can come into play like being married to the right person at the right time can increase or decrease your worth to a research group.

    I'm sure there's a PhD Comics chart somewhere that explains all too clearly how tasks are delegated.
  7. Mar 10, 2010 #6
    I'll post something if I find something in the attic. One thing that would be interesting is to just do a snapshot of someone's white board and you'll find calculations that were done a few months ago that people have forgotten.

    One thing about this is that a lot of the actual work involve conversations and those tend to be ephemeral.

    One thing that I've found is that there usually isn't a "eureka" moment but rather just plowing through a problem. One thing that you'll see in my notebooks (if I can find them) is lots of scratched out areas as I do a calculation about five or six times before getting it right.

    I think what you'll find when you go through the materials is that there is no real path.

    It's weird because you are working with and competing with another group at the same time. In computational astrophysics, people are quite willing to share information, because sharing information helps groups compete with each other.

    Your harshest critic should be yourself. The best analogy that I can think of is that criticism in physics is like when someone tries to punch you in boxing. Any time you come up with an idea, you really want a dozen people stomping on it.

    Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to make creative, original, and interesting mistakes. Also, usually by the time you present findings to the wide world, it's gone in front of so many eyes, that it's unlikely that there will be any silly mistakes in it.

    That's an interesting question. What matters in the end is what your peers think of your work. Also, what matters a lot is what *you* think about your own work. By the time you are doing professional research, you've had thirty years of brainwashing in which you've been drilled into your brain what constitutes "good" work and what constitutes "bad" work.

    That's also an interesting question. Usually they aren't. What happens is that you get a lot of freedom to work on whatever problem you are interested in, so it's not a matter of delegation. There are some rules that determine what gets done, but one problem is that I think I've internalized them enough so it's really hard to explain how things work.
  8. Mar 10, 2010 #7
    One problem with journal articles is that they provide a very misleading view of how science is actually done. By the time it goes through peer review and gets published, what you have is an extremely polished work, but what I think the OP is more interested in are the steps that it takes to get from an idea to the journal article. Once you see that, you quickly figure out how messy the process of discovery really is.

    One thing that I find interesting is that to get it to work, you really need a pen and pencil, so that you can doodle.
  9. Mar 10, 2010 #8
    exactly my point. scratch work can give insight into exactly how someone thinks about or approaches problems. It can also tell you how organized a persons thoughts are (or, as in my case, how disorganized). Thomas Ed. said Genius is "10% inspiration 90% perspiration". I guess I want to that fact in front of me.

    When i struggel with anything its always a blow to my confidence, even if its just making errors that are simply careless. Im always thinking that the classes im taking should be a breeze for someone who has the talent to be an astronomer or a physicist. Im only an undergrad ofter all.
  10. Mar 10, 2010 #9

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm not sure anything I have, other than published material, would make any sense once it has been stripped of all context. A sketch of an apparatus, a draft protocol, half-a$$ed derivations, silly ideas... all would be meaningless to you. And I would be loathe to send them out into the world anyway- because they are stripped of context.

    Your second paragraph asks really good, important questions- namely, how does one act in a professional manner? There are 'official' standards:


    This is just an example- nearly every professional society has a similar statement.
  11. Mar 10, 2010 #10
    I don't think that you'll be able to make much sense out of my scratch work, but the fact that you won't be able to make sense out of it could be used information. I'll see if I can find something. Also something useful to you might be a page from the rough draft of my dissertation, and you'll see *tons* of corrections.

    Nope. It's always hard, you just get used to it. You might want to see "Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius" by Robert Weisberg.

    One reason I think you may find it hard to find rough drafts of things is that one thing that helps you come up with an idea is remembering that you are only doing a rough draft, and if you come up with something totally stupid, then no one ever is going to see it.
  12. Mar 11, 2010 #11
    allright thats food for thought. ill certainly check that book out if i can find it. the rough draft sounds interesting and i cant wait to read it.


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