Theory vs. Experiment

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twistor
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Theory vs. Experiment

Postby twistor » Tue Apr 24, 2007 8:33 am

Does anyone here think going into theoretical physics is impractical? I've talked to a few graduate students about my plans to go into theory, and they pretty much told me that if I ever wanted to get a job I'd better consider experimental physics. Of course, they were going into experimental physics so that may just be their bias. What does everyone think?

somebody
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Postby somebody » Tue Apr 24, 2007 12:20 pm

i wouldn't say its impractical, but all things being equal your chances of finding a job are much better as an experimentalist because they bring in more grant money which means more $$$ for the universities you work for. also if your trying to get a job in industry the skills you acquire as a theorist are not as applicable to the real world.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Tue Apr 24, 2007 7:06 pm

Is there some way to strike a balance between developing theoretical skills and experimental skills? Maybe some kind of middle ground?

somebody
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Postby somebody » Tue Apr 24, 2007 8:32 pm

i think in smaller subfields in physics there is alot of crossover between theory and experiment because there are fewer scientists working on the problems, but in bigger fields like CM and particle physics its almost impossible to be both a successful theorist and experimentalist because there are so many specialized people out there working. in the end an experimentalist has to have a good grounding in theory to produce good results and a theorist has to understand the experiments to base theory on them, its just that the original research being done by an individual is either theoretical or experimental.

Jia
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Postby Jia » Sun Apr 29, 2007 8:55 am

Do not come to theoretical physics unless you are truly in love with it. Once you have made your decision of going into theoretical physics, you should not put too much of your attention on such a problem about "impractical". Stop wondering, otherwise you won't achieve nothing.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Mon Apr 30, 2007 10:06 pm

Jia Posted: Sun Apr 29, 2007 12:55 pm Post subject:

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Do not come to theoretical physics unless you are truly in love with it. Once you have made your decision of going into theoretical physics, you should not put too much of your attention on such a problem about "impractical". Stop wondering, otherwise you won't achieve nothing.

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One main problem is that how do you know if you love something unless you have the opportunity to do it? I love the "idea" of theoretical physics, but there are essentially no opportunities to work with it at the undergraduate level. So it's difficult to assess exactly how much I love it......

What I do know for sure is that one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) I hope to achieve gainful employment, have a family, house, etc. and I need to know that there is a future career for me in the field.

There are some interesting articles on this subject on CosmicVariance.com, search for "unsolicitied advice".

Also, I've been told by numerous experimentalists that if I ever want to work I'd better not go into theoretical physics because there is essentially no demand for it outside of acadamia, and within acadamia there are very few jobs.

Thoughts?

Jia
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Postby Jia » Tue May 01, 2007 3:47 am

I understand your problems, I really do, and I guess everybody (including me) in this field had been in the same situation. It is true that for theorists there is essentially no demand outside of academia, and within academia there are very few jobs. The point is that if you have decided to be a theorist you should be able to bear this situation and focus on your career. This might sound idealistic but I think this is what we should do.

I am a graduate student myself in theoretical physics, and I still find that this subject interests me the most. Maybe it is because I have not met those realistic problems about jobs and future, but I think theoretical physics is something I just cannot give up.

A suggestion. I think you should go to experimental physics, which is a very interesting field and much more "theoretical" than it used to be. I respect those great experimentalists for their exploration about our universe, which is something I think I will never have the ability to do.

Cosmic Variance? Nice. I am a fan of it and I think I have read those articles.

P.S. About how to know the "love", I know a guy who finished the three volumes of The Quantum Theory of Fields by Weinberg in his undergraduate years. Sure this is a special case and this guy cannot represent most people. I just want to offer an example of how people can do stuff.

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Postby tnoviell » Tue May 01, 2007 7:58 am

It depends what you want to get into after you graduate...theoretical is decent for finances...

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Wed May 02, 2007 12:12 pm

Posted: Tue May 01, 2007 11:58 am Post subject:
It depends what you want to get into after you graduate...theoretical is decent for finances...

Ouch! Ideally I would like to do physics.

Posted: Tue May 01, 2007 7:47 am Post subject:
I understand your problems, I really do, and I guess everybody (including me) in this field had been in the same situation. It is true that for theorists there is essentially no demand outside of academia, and within academia there are very few jobs. The point is that if you have decided to be a theorist you should be able to bear this situation and focus on your career. This might sound idealistic but I think this is what we should do.

----- snip

Well, I have accumulated a number of books on theoretical physics, including Kaku's "Introduction to Superstring Theory". My goal was to be able to read that book, and after 4 years of undergraduate studies the first 8 equations only now make sense to me......

I also have attempted to read "Quantum Field Theory In a Nutshell", but whenver I read books and I don't have a class associated with it I always feel like I'm missing something. It's nice to have someone to tell you what's important and what's not, and I think that is my main impediment to self-study.




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