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Other Would this be appropriate, or too early? Poking around

  • Thread starter opus
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opus

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I've been going to school now since Summer 2017, doing all of my generals. Last semester, I was allowed to declare my major to Physics (was a General major previously). When I first started going to classes, I emailed a professor that does research in Plasma Physics as I think that's very interesting. I asked if I could maybe shadow him in his research and do anything helpful that he would need. His response was that he'd like me to have completed Classical Mechanics first, otherwise everything would be over my head and it wouldn't be helpful to me. His explanation made total sense and I thanked him and said I look forward to eventually being able to learn from him when the time comes.

In looking at other areas of research at my school, I see a lot of other really interesting things. I am only just now taking Physics I, so I have tons of time to find what I find most interesting and would eventually want to study in graduate school.

My question is, would it be out of line, or maybe too early, to email the professors in different research areas and ask if I could meet with them to learn about what they study and pick their brain a bit? For example, I think I would be really interested in Mathematical Physics, and we have a couple here, but the description on their page is a little vague (for example, "Computer Algebra Systems in Differential Geometry"). They all sound very interesting and I just would like to know what their days look like doing these things, and the applications that they have, etc. I think it would also be good to meet them, and show my face a bit so I could get to know the professors in my department.
 
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Let's first look at it from your perspective: If you just stand around and have no background you won't learn much. You get an impression how much time this group spends in the lab, on the computer, in meetings and whatever, but that you get easier with a simple question. You want at least a few physics courses, and you need someone to explain to you what they are doing. Often this doesn't work without too much background information, so they have to think in advance what they can do where you have a chance to understand what is going on.

Now consider the view of the professor: Someone has to volunteer (or to "be volunteered") to show you what they are doing. They probably have to start with a general overview for you. Even after that it distracts from their work (even someone just standing around would), it might need additional paperwork if something in the lab could be dangerous, it needs coordination what when where and so on. What do they gain from it? Maybe a student in the future if it is interesting what they show. To make that interesting you should be able to contribute to some work in the not so distant future - and that again means you need some background knowledge.
and I just would like to know what their days look like doing these things
Probably programming, using some programs and meetings.
 

opus

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Thank you for that reply. It wasnt easy for me to see their point of view since I didn’t know what exactly they did. But I totally understand.
What do you think of contacting them for a one time sit down to ask about what they do so I can learn a little bit about their field?
 
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Instead of meeting with the professor, how about talking to some graduate students (or undergraduate students) in the group? I'm a grad student, and I do occasionally get e-mails from undergrads wanting to learn more about the research our group does. No harm in asking to meet up for a cup of coffee or a lab tour, in my opinion.
 
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As others have mentioned, you lack the fundamentals that make such shadowing meaningless. However, you are in a very good place. Use this time to dig deeper into course material, strengthen math knowledge, and to become more curious of the physics. You now have a realistic and obtainable short term goal. The goal of being able to shadow someone. Use this to you're advantage and try you're best.

Learn some Linear Algebra, more rigorous calculus, and some ordinary differential equations.
 

opus

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Thank you guys. I'm sure I'm jumping the gun a bit, I am just very curious about the different fields and I want to research as soon as I can. There are a couple of grad students in my SPS chapter that I'm associated with, so I'll ask them for more specifics.
 

CrysPhys

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Thank you guys. I'm sure I'm jumping the gun a bit, I am just very curious about the different fields and I want to research as soon as I can. There are a couple of grad students in my SPS chapter that I'm associated with, so I'll ask them for more specifics.
Does your SPS chapter hold regular meetings in which they invite professors to talk about their work? If not, you should consider starting such a program.
 

jtbell

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If it's a decent sized department, it probably holds regular colloquia for faculty and visitors to present their current research. You might get something out of the first few minutes (after that they'll go way over your head). Also, if there's a refreshment period, that can be a good time to chat up faculty members informally.
 

CrysPhys

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If it's a decent sized department, it probably holds regular colloquia for faculty and visitors to present their current research. You might get something out of the first few minutes (after that they'll go way over your head). Also, if there's a refreshment period, that can be a good time to chat up faculty members informally.
I was thinking more along the lines of talks geared towards physicists-in-training than colloquia geared towards research peers.
 

opus

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Thanks guys. Unfortunately our SPS chapter is extremely dull at the moment. We only met two or three times last semester. But that is a great idea in having the professors come and talk about their research. The SPS here is overseen by a professor so I'm definitely going to bring this up to him.
 

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