What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

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Izaac
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What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby Izaac » Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:03 pm

Hello folks,

I am a Physics sophomore (Frenchman, actually), and, as application season for graduate universities start approaching, I'm getting a little nervous. As a matter of fact, I still have no idea of which field I wanna work in, which looks rather annoying when choosing one's future universities.

So, I thought about asking you, in which field are YOU doing physics, and how did you come to do it.

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midwestphysics
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:42 pm

Izaac wrote:Hello folks,

I am a Physics sophomore (Frenchman, actually), and, as application season for graduate universities start approaching, I'm getting a little nervous. As a matter of fact, I still have no idea of which field I wanna work in, which looks rather annoying when choosing one's future universities.

So, I thought about asking you, in which field are YOU doing physics, and how did you come to do it.


Sophomore------> Graduate application season.... It's still a while off there for ya buddy. Don't worry about graduate school now, for the time being just learn physics and enjoy it.

bfollinprm
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:08 am

might be wrong, but in Europe a bachelors is 3 years? That makes now about right.

I chose cosmology to first order because I really enjoyed working with a particular professor (who was a cosmologist) at my undergrad institution. I stuck with it though because (a) cosmologists get to think about a wide variety of fundamental physical systems, and (b) the complexity of analyzing your experiments is much higher (more interesting) since you can't really do controlled experiments that isolate your variables.* I'm drawn to this for several reasons, not the least of which is that a lot of things that would be really nice to have working models for (like the economy, weather and foreign policy) it's impossible for one reason or another to have controlled experiments as well. If I don't get a job in academia as a physicist (a likely result since I'm not at a top 10 university, and don't plan on playing the multiple post-doc game), the analytical tools I learn in cosmology should have applications in those fields and help make me marketable. Note this last thing really isn't a reason on its own, since I could be marketable doing almost any kind of physics, but not necessarily for the kind of jobs I want to do (for instance, I could be marketable as a condensed matter experimentalist, but probably more for my engineering/solid state science skills, not for my analysis skills). But since I like what I'm doing now, and I know I can get a job by doing it, I don't have a reason to switch.

Convoluted, but you asked a complicated question. As far as picking your own field, think about what courses you enjoyed (were they mathematical in nature? Did they introduce cool properties of matter? Were they hands on?). This might let you know whether you drift more towards one subfield of physics or another; whether it's fundamental (speculative) theory/model building, more focused/phenomenological theorizing, or large or small scale experiments. Where you fit in this continuum can sometimes really help you figure out where you want to be; for instance, the main reason I stayed out of particle physics was the collaborations were so large, and I like to know my collaborators and have an important part to play in the project.


*Probably most true for cosmology/astrophysics, but not totally untrue for things like particle physics, biophysics, etc. Though with these things, you can normally come up with a suite of orthogonal experiments that let you isolate your parameters through decomposition of your parameter space; this is much more complicated in cosmology, since the number of useful signals is a small finite number, and their relation to each other is not as well understood.

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Izaac
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby Izaac » Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:00 am

Concerning the issue whether it is time or not, I'm actually not sure myself. I've seen a lot of applicants (in the famous sticky application posts) having done 4 to 5 years of study before applying, so I wonder if I'm not a bit early indeed.
In France, the division of courses is rather fanciful. In three years you got the licence (=bachelor), the fourth is called magistère (or master I) and the fifth is the master II (and after that are the PhDs). A bunch of US universities (Stanford, Cornell) don't accept applications before the magistère (so, in the end, maybe midwestphysics is right).

Anyway, thanks for your developped answer, bfollinprm, and thanks also for the advices.

Etranger
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby Etranger » Wed Jun 06, 2012 1:05 am

Izaac wrote:Concerning the issue whether it is time or not, I'm actually not sure myself. I've seen a lot of applicants (in the famous sticky application posts) having done 4 to 5 years of study before applying, so I wonder if I'm not a bit early indeed.
In France, the division of courses is rather fanciful. In three years you got the licence (=bachelor), the fourth is called magistère (or master I) and the fifth is the master II (and after that are the PhDs). A bunch of US universities (Stanford, Cornell) don't accept applications before the magistère (so, in the end, maybe midwestphysics is right).

Anyway, thanks for your developped answer, bfollinprm, and thanks also for the advices.


You mentioned that the "quality" of French universities is pretty bad. Is that a sentiment that is expressed everywhere? Has your experience been so bad that if you could do it again, would you go into a CPGE instead of a university? (I don't know where I'll end up for undergrad next year)

I'm not certain on the details, but the physics department at UJF (Grenoble) have an exchange agreement with BostonU. There was something about reasearch. Maybe you could look into that and see if students from elsewhere can participate.

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Izaac
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby Izaac » Wed Jun 06, 2012 2:07 pm

Hi Etranger, and thanks for the info about UJF.

Alain Connes (French mathematician) talked, in one of his conference, about a guy who spent "awfully lonely education years." That's exactly what I felt. So, about the 'quality' of French universities, I'd say there is a big grudge skewing my opinion. Now, I'm pretty sure I've been hearing, since before I went to college, that French universities have a reputation of poor quality, so, yeah, I guess that's a pretty general sentiment. Though, that's the common way to many professions, including researchers, so in the end it shouldn't be that awful for most of the students.
Also, a Brazilian friend of mine considers French mathematical classes (in college) to be a masterpiece of rigor. He went to the UK to pursue his Physics studies, but took a French correspondent course in Maths besides. That's just to say, quality is relative; hope that compensate my depreciative comments.

If I could do it again? I'd start directly by correspondent courses, from Paris 6 Univ., and would use my time preparing the exams to the grandes écoles, and looking for internships as well. But that's just because I work better on my own. For me, university is too slow, and CPGE too "military" (it wouldn't allow me to study Japanese, for example; besides I have panic attacks when dealing with stress, which is routine in CPGE, wouldn't have made it).

Etranger
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Re: What are you doing in Physics? (and why?)

Postby Etranger » Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:52 am

Excuse the late response.

I've looked into the correspondence courses from UPMC and it would appear that some courses need to be taken at campus. That is, the entire program (save for labs) can't be done away. I was thinking about that as an option. Living in Paris is expensive (heh - max. I can afford per month is ~400 euros) and that would really help lower down the costs if I could say, do the first two years here or something. Thanks anyhow!




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