listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

drkatzin
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listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby drkatzin » Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:39 pm

I've heard from various professors that citing high energy theory +/- string theory as a primary research interest is a nice way to get your application thrown in the trash, unless you're in the top ~0.5% of applicants. I'm an MIT undergrad w/ high GPA/GRE scores, but none of my research has been in high energy theory, or even theoretical physics at all (mostly working in MATLAB on experimental data).

On the other hand, I know that my greatest strengths are in raw "processing power," being able to do intense calculations by hand, and in formal manipulations. Certainly not experiment, although I have some programming background, and could do a more computational research position. I really like the mathematical structure (Lie theory, differential geometry) behind particle physics, and am planning to start QFT this fall.

Here's the dilemma: I'm not sure if I'm acquainted well enough with other areas of theory to be able to consign myself to a career in those areas (e.g. condensed matter, astro, plasma, cosmology). It's not that I don't like them -- I probably would like any of them, but it's hard to know which I would like the best. I am reasonably certain that I would be happy studying high energy theory (it's impossible to know for sure), but not if doing so would get me rejected from my top 5-10 graduate programs. I have also heard that it is best to be decisive, and not say "well maybe I want to do high energy, but I might want to do condensed matter, cosmology, or any other area of physics because all physics is awesome!" So given all that, should I go ahead and stick to my high energy guns? Or try to sell myself in another area of physics?

Note: I don't intend to lie in the SOP -- if I list another area of physics, it'll be because I really am planning to commit to it. The question is whether or not to change my actual research plans to help me get in, to layer fantasies of being the next Feynman with a touch of reality.

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midwestphysics
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Jul 27, 2011 4:08 pm

First, you're at MIT, so I'm guessing the profs there would be much better suited to answer this than us. I'd suggest that you sit down with a few and ask them one on one with your particulars available so that the question isn't so broad. If you can, also try and sit down with one that doesn't know, if there is one that doesn't, so that there isn't a relationship bias. For me though, I wouldn't change a thing, you're either setting yourself along a path you're not sure you want to travel or lying and there is no two ways about that. Grad school, and the career beyond is too much of a struggle as it is to guess at a path or start off by lying. I know a lot of people say that we can state anything in our SOP, because you're not supposed to really know what you want to do until you're in. Still, your supposed to have a general idea. For a student to state that they want to do for example CME and they try and do HET, it just seems like it was planned from the get go. Or that person had no idea what the subject meant, neither looks good.

drkatzin
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby drkatzin » Wed Jul 27, 2011 4:13 pm

Thank you midwestphysics, this is good advice.

CarlBrannen
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Jul 27, 2011 10:05 pm

drkatzin wrote:I've heard from various professors that citing high energy theory +/- string theory as a primary research interest is a nice way to get your application thrown in the trash, unless you're in the top ~0.5% of applicants. ...

On the other hand, I know that my greatest strengths are in raw "processing power," being able to do intense calculations by hand, and in formal manipulations. Certainly not experiment, although I have some programming background, and could do a more computational research position. I really like the mathematical structure (Lie theory, differential geometry) behind particle physics, and am planning to start QFT this fall.


All the techniques used in elementary particles were originally developed by solid state / condensed matter physicists. (uh, see below) So go ahead and talk about your strengths; those strengths are useful in all of quantum mechanics.

Vacuum: The state of a solid before any phonons are introduced.

Creation operator: How you add a phonon to a solid.

Feynman diagram: Okay maybe particle theorists came up with this one first, but it is widely used in solid state theory as well.

Symmetry Breaking: What happens when you look really closely at a solid that appears symmetrical at long wavelengths (low energies).

Renormalization: Electrons in a semiconductor have masses that are not the usual electron mass because of this effect.

Also, don't assume that you wouldn't be an ace at experiment. A famous example of a good experimentalist who became famous for his theory papers is John Bell, who worked on accelerator physics but then made amazing strides in the foundations of quantum mechanics:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stewart_Bell

drkatzin
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby drkatzin » Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:27 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:
drkatzin wrote:I've heard from various professors that citing high energy theory +/- string theory as a primary research interest is a nice way to get your application thrown in the trash, unless you're in the top ~0.5% of applicants. ...

On the other hand, I know that my greatest strengths are in raw "processing power," being able to do intense calculations by hand, and in formal manipulations. Certainly not experiment, although I have some programming background, and could do a more computational research position. I really like the mathematical structure (Lie theory, differential geometry) behind particle physics, and am planning to start QFT this fall.


All the techniques used in elementary particles were originally developed by solid state / condensed matter physicists. (uh, see below) So go ahead and talk about your strengths; those strengths are useful in all of quantum mechanics.

Vacuum: The state of a solid before any phonons are introduced.

Creation operator: How you add a phonon to a solid.

Feynman diagram: Okay maybe particle theorists came up with this one first, but it is widely used in solid state theory as well.

Symmetry Breaking: What happens when you look really closely at a solid that appears symmetrical at long wavelengths (low energies).

Renormalization: Electrons in a semiconductor have masses that are not the usual electron mass because of this effect.

Also, don't assume that you wouldn't be an ace at experiment. A famous example of a good experimentalist who became famous for his theory papers is John Bell, who worked on accelerator physics but then made amazing strides in the foundations of quantum mechanics:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stewart_Bell


Cool, so CMT may have just as much of what I want as HET. I'll have to talk to some professors and see if I can make a better-informed decision. Thanks!

CarlBrannen
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby CarlBrannen » Tue Aug 02, 2011 2:12 am

drkatzin wrote:Cool, so CMT may have just as much of what I want as HET. I'll have to talk to some professors and see if I can make a better-informed decision. Thanks!


Uh, for information on CMT, be sure to talk to CMT professors. A lot of HET professors think that the world revolves around HET. It's not uncommon for HET people to refer to CMT as "squalid state physics", google the phrase to find the history.

drkatzin
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby drkatzin » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:59 pm

Yeah, I realize it was a bit naive to be thinking about changing research areas just to get into a "better" school. The best school for me is going to be the one that has the most opportunities in my area of interest. Right now this is high energy theory, but I want to take a strong look at condensed matter once I get to grad school.

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HappyQuark
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby HappyQuark » Sat Sep 17, 2011 5:23 pm

Image

negru
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby negru » Sat Sep 17, 2011 7:06 pm

finally

The_Duck
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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby The_Duck » Sat Sep 17, 2011 8:26 pm

I have some firsthand experience that putting down HET as your interest can reduce your chances of getting in. I was waitlisted, and eventually rejected at Cornell because (I was explicitly told) of limited space in particle theory. But if I did it again I would still not misrepresent my interests; I wouldn't want to end up in a situation where there's no room for me in what I actually want to do.

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Re: listing high energy theory in sop: is it a trap?

Postby bfollinprm » Sat Sep 17, 2011 10:44 pm

HappyQuark wrote:Image


Just grab the new Star Wars blue ray?




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