Undergrudate research dilemma

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irockhard
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:40 pm

Undergrudate research dilemma

Postby irockhard » Mon Sep 01, 2008 4:59 am

I am a junior in physics. I have been working with an AMO (atomic, molecular and optical) physics professor. He researches ultra-cold atoms and quantum optics. Since he's new to the university, his lab is still mostly in the infant stage. In fact the construction of his lab was just complete recently. For almost the entire summer, I was building circuits and other electronic equipments that will be used in future experiments. It will be quite sometime before the group starts doing any serious physics experiments. Optimistically, the group might have everything set up and start doing physics by the end of this year. But even by then, I am not sure if the professor will assign me some actual research project instead of just making me building equipments. The closest thing to optics that I might get to do in the near future is probably building a photodetector. The thing is that I am not even building from scratch. I kind of just copied what other grad students have built.

I do realize that the hands-on experiences gained from building the experiment equipments are valuable. But at the same time, I am not getting any exposure to any original research which I desperately need. A lot of my friends in the physics department seem to be doing actual science research rather than being lab technicians. I am a junior now and I have only a year and half left before I apply for grad school. I understand the importance of consistency and the close relationship you get out of a long commitment working for one professor. My professor also said that not everyone can say that they help build a lab from the very beginning. I do agree with him to some extent. But my lack of real research experience worries me. I don't have the luxury of the grad students in the lab who will be around for at least 3 or 4 more years to see actual ultra cold atoms research in full blossom.

Recently, I contacted this electrical engineering professor about research opportunities in his lab. He is very enthusiastic about having me working in his lab. He has had physics majors work for him before. One of the projects that the EE professor is very keen to push me into is laser-guided assembly of nanosystems in which one of his groups uses holographic optical traps to precisely manipulate atoms, molecules and cells into useful arrays. The nature of the research is basically biophysics. The leader of the that group is actually a physics Postdoc. The EE professor told me upfront that if I do join his team, it will be a serious commitment and the research will culminate in my producing a serious paper with him.

On one hand I am quite interested in my AMO physics professor's research even though it won't be carried out any time soon. I still have this hope that if I build whatever he asks me to build and wait a little longer, I might eventually get to do some research project. But on the other hand, I am very aware that my time is running out. And if I join the EE professor 's group, there's a very high chance that I will actually do some science and I might get a chance to publish a paper which in my understanding is a huge accomplishment for grad school application. However, I am a little unsure about the subject of the research. Biophysics and bio-nanotechnology sound fascinating, I am definitely interested. But they are not exactly the areas that I envision myself doing in grad school.

So I am really facing a dilemma here. Should I quit my current lab and join this EE professor's lab. Or should I be persistent and continue my work with my AMO physics professor. I would really appreciate your advice.

stardust
Posts: 109
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:15 pm

Re: Undergrudate research dilemma

Postby stardust » Mon Sep 01, 2008 6:03 am

If it were me, I wouldn't stay with the startup lab. You don't get anything out of
being in the lab from the beginning. You may just be setting things up for the later
students to come along. Real research skills can be transferable from the EE guys lab. In fact, it may make your more unique than a typical graduate school applicant in the speciality you want. But, whether you go with the EE guy or not, I wouldn't stay in the non-productive lab. You are already unhappy with it. That's just my opinion.

a bucket
Posts: 60
Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2008 9:02 am

Re: Undergrudate research dilemma

Postby a bucket » Mon Sep 01, 2008 2:18 pm

Hello and welcome to the world of experimental AMO physics. In the next few years, you will be building circuits, opening and closing vacuum chambers, cursing lasers, building more circuits, reading a truck load of papers, reading this, diagnosing buggy horribly written computer programs, building even more circuits, replacing dead lasers and finally one fine day after you've done all that you shall actually run the experiment and get useful data in about four hours. Then you give yourself a cookie, a pat on the back and graduate.... seriously, that's what experimental AMO is like.

If you decide to continue in AMO the more experience you have with electronics, the better. That being said, it's also important to make sure that you have good exposure to operating the experiment.

irockhard
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:40 pm

Re: Undergrudate research dilemma

Postby irockhard » Mon Sep 01, 2008 2:45 pm

a bucket wrote:Hello and welcome to the world of experimental AMO physics. In the next few years, you will be building circuits, opening and closing vacuum chambers, cursing lasers, building more circuits, reading a truck load of papers, reading this, diagnosing buggy horribly written computer programs, building even more circuits, replacing dead lasers and finally one fine day after you've done all that you shall actually run the experiment and get useful data in about four hours. Then you give yourself a cookie, a pat on the back and graduate.... seriously, that's what experimental AMO is like.

If you decide to continue in AMO the more experience you have with electronics, the better. That being said, it's also important to make sure that you have good exposure to operating the experiment.



That's the thing though, I don't know if I can wait that long.

User avatar
WontonBurritoMeals
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 9:43 pm

Re: Undergrudate research dilemma

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Mon Sep 01, 2008 3:11 pm

Hm... For me that sounds pretty strange. My professor basically built a working magnetometry setup from scratch in just two years. Even though we were just helping to build the setup, we had a lot of researchish things fall out.

I've read a few research papers on some things we can use the apparatus to do, I learned a lot about optics, how to use all of the equipment, lasers, D1, D2 lines, DAVLL's, and we even got a grad. student over here to help design the magnetic field coils. I even got to give a talk at a conference.

I'm a senior right now, but I feel pretty sure that we can get some papers out of it before I leave (I'm taking 5 years). This all happened in a state school where we (including the professor) only had time to work on it in like one day a week and durring the summer. We only had one full-time grad. student (the aforementioned field coil setup) and only for one summer.

Of course, I'm also doing reserach elsewhere to diversify and stuff. Why don't you talk to your professor? I think that the main thing is what you're personally interested in and more importantly, the people that you end up working with. It's very difficult to tell what kinds of opportunites will fall out of what kind of work that you do.

May the wind be always at your back,
-Wonton Burrito Meals




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