Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

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siroyslily
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Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby siroyslily » Mon Apr 27, 2009 10:08 am

Hi,

I am in a dilemma whether to choose Experimental Particle Physics or Theoretical Particle Physics as a research career.Please suggest considering possible pros and cons.

Basically I belong to kind of guy inspired by profound personalities like Stephen Hawking, George Gamow, Richard Feynman, etc.So I am naturally inclined to theoretical physics and love to engage in problem solving.However, some professors working in theory suggest me not to come into theoretical particle physics, instead ask me to do experimental particle physics.They told me that they sometimes feel like quitting theory as their prospects are very limited as compared to experimentalists.Their lives could have been different if they were in experiment,now that huge particle accelerators are around, so do they say.

So, I am wondering if I will be better off by moving into experimental particle physics rather than struggling to publish papers as a young graduate with no hope for employment prospects.Moreover, I am thinking that the mathematical rigor involved in theoretical particle physics or string theory research is light years ahead of our present knowledge.Wouldn't it take another 2 to 3 years time for us to come up to the level of the people working in this field ? Will the graduate schools in States train us to be in this standard? I would like to mention that I have finished my Master's degree in Physics in India with just above average result and attended couple of schools in cosmology and theoretical particle physics and preparing for 2010 graduate school entry in US.

This confusion forces me to think sometimes that I would first do experiment and later on, after developing right mathematical skills, I would move to theory.I am not sure what to do.Is it okay to switch from experiment to theory? Should I continue with theory right from my graduate school? What could be my future prospects such as jobs,employment, etc if I now move into theory? Please kindly suggest your experience and ideas.

Regards,

Siroy

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xudis149
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby xudis149 » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:30 am

Well, many of these questions have been bothering me as I am going to grad school this Fall. There is a discouragement from well settled theoreticians to young students wanting to do particle theory. Especially string theory seems to be a victim. But every year there are budding young minds wanting to do string theory in grad school. In a naive way, I sort of feel that it is a good idea to do string theory for PhD and then later move towards phenomenology, qft OR gravity with the insight gained [if any ?] from string theory study.

It would be nice to hear what more knowledgeable guys/gals here think abt theory v/s experiment..

PS: The above paragraph is written by someone with very limited knowledge in advanced physics topics.

Mataka
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Mataka » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:37 am

Switching from experiment to theory is "ok" as long as you do it early, and I'm afraid that after a phd it's way too late. So you should really decide now.

Theory prospect are not good, I remember checking some statistics and only one out of 4 students who does his phd at Harvard in hep-th end up with a faculty position (after in average 6 years of postdoc). For other institutions it's even lower, Berkley, yale and colombia had a 1 over 15 placement. (if there is an interest I could try to find where I saw these statistic, but I remember is was a link on the "not even wrong" blog)

I'm guessing that it's easier to get a faculty position for experimentalist but I don't know the stats.

On the other hand, I think that if you like theory enough jobs prospect shouldn't scare you that much. People with a phd in theoretical physics are rarely unemployed, but some of them are simply not doing physics anymore. The bottom line is, do what you like, if you like theory do theory, if you like experiment do experiment, if all you want is a faculty position then hopefully you like experiment ;)

blackcat007
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby blackcat007 » Wed Apr 29, 2009 11:06 am

Mataka wrote:Switching from experiment to theory is "ok" as long as you do it early, and I'm afraid that after a phd it's way too late. So you should really decide now.

Theory prospect are not good, I remember checking some statistics and only one out of 4 students who does his phd at Harvard in hep-th end up with a faculty position (after in average 6 years of postdoc). For other institutions it's even lower, Berkley, yale and colombia had a 1 over 15 placement. (if there is an interest I could try to find where I saw these statistic, but I remember is was a link on the "not even wrong" blog)

I'm guessing that it's easier to get a faculty position for experimentalist but I don't know the stats.

On the other hand, I think that if you like theory enough jobs prospect shouldn't scare you that much. People with a phd in theoretical physics are rarely unemployed, but some of them are simply not doing physics anymore. The bottom line is, do what you like, if you like theory do theory, if you like experiment do experiment, if all you want is a faculty position then hopefully you like experiment ;)

hmm so what do those theorists do? i mean where do they get job?

Mataka
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Mataka » Wed Apr 29, 2009 12:17 pm

yes of course, they can work in mathematical finance (that's what the majority do, or at least that's what is used to be), in education (also quite common, butusually in a lower level than university), in engineering (usually requires some additionnal formation) and so on ...

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noojens
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby noojens » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:26 pm

Yep, jobs in theory are tough!

A friend of mine graduated last year with a string theory PhD from a fairly reputable institution. Crazy bright guy -- 990 PGRE, aced the entire core graduate curriculum while still in undergrad, tested out of all his required grad classes and passed the quals in his first semester. Finished his PhD in three years with a brilliant thesis under a well-respected advisor.

And now... he can't even find a postdoc position. He's been looking for teaching jobs, but because he lacks teaching experience due to RA funding for his whole PhD... he can't even find work at a community college.

I mean yeah, the economy's rough and all, but ***.

cato88
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby cato88 » Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:54 pm

Mataka wrote:yes of course, they can work in mathematical finance (that's what the majority do, or at least that's what is used to be), in education (also quite common, butusually in a lower level than university), in engineering (usually requires some additionnal formation) and so on ...


Have you read the news recently?
Theirs a recession currently going on and it begun with finance.

Finance jobs are the hardest hits out of all jobs.
A large part of blame is due to derivatives at AIG(What alot of physics people going into finance seem to work on). Not to say derivatives shouldnt be trusted if properly conceived.
Financial Institutions in the future are less likely to trust complicated offerings that they dont understand and have to hire technical people to manage which honestly im not sure they should if the employees dont at least try to look at the big picture like at AIG.

Mataka
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Mataka » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:59 pm

Have you read the news recently?
Theirs a recession currently going on and it begun with finance.


yes of course, they can work in mathematical finance (that's what the majority do, or at least that's what is used to be),

cato88
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby cato88 » Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:25 am

In the spirit of what use to be I would suggest recording engineer, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer as possible job titles.

siroyslily
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby siroyslily » Sat May 02, 2009 1:41 am

Is that why one does PhD in theoretical physics? Just to get into jobs in finance.Why then do Commerce or MBA in finance from the very beginning? Thats crazy.

Are you guys serious? Isn't really there any prospects in theory?

Regards,

Siroy

cato88
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby cato88 » Sat May 02, 2009 2:11 am


Mataka
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Mataka » Sat May 02, 2009 8:42 am

No, one doesn't do a phd in theory because he wants to do finance. One does a phd in theory because he loves theory, no matter what will happen after his phd.

What's crazy is to think that people go in theory because they eventually want to end up in finance.

blackcat007
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby blackcat007 » Mon May 04, 2009 9:08 am

this discussion is really giving me a nightmare.. i am imagining myself sitting behind a desk doing a financial or actuarial bullshit using a calculator...

but i was wondering .. PhD in string theory might be a danger to ones career esp if any one wants to be a prof, coz i heard from a friend of mine who went to max planck for his summer project, that string theory is losing momentum especially after the advent of quantum loop gravity,
consider the case :i do a PhD in a more common theoretical topic like QFT, or conventional gravitational theory, instead of the more abstract topics like quantum gravity or like.. then will my chances of getting placed increase? in that case, i can work as a prof , and carry on my work of those abstract topics on my own. what do you say?

Mataka
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Mataka » Wed May 06, 2009 6:50 pm

No, your chances won't increase if you do that,quite the contrary, you will be considered out of fashion or will be seen as someone who is not doing cutting edge physics, out of mainstream science ...

String theory is not losing much momentum because of LQG, USA is still not doing any LQG, and I certainly don't think that this will change any time soon. Your friend at max planck institute has a really big bias; lots of people there are doing LQG, it's a bit like Perimeter institute ... but LQG is still a very small competitor to ST.

blackcat007
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby blackcat007 » Thu May 07, 2009 12:00 pm

so i just have to take chance with my life... and play a dice game? :?

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grae313
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby grae313 » Thu May 07, 2009 1:54 pm

blackcat007 wrote:so i just have to take chance with my life... and play a dice game? :?


blackcat007 does not play dice with his life!

Peter
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby Peter » Thu May 07, 2009 3:25 pm

Unfortunately, every major decision involves taking risk (playing dice if you like), it is impossible to say what kind of conditions you will find once you graduate. HEP theory is without doubt extremely competitive and has little practical value in the industry. The skills that you develop, however, can be extremely valuable if you have a clear idea about your alternatives. I am a theoretician myself and I also considered the finance industry as an option, which is pretty much gone right now. I think there are many interesting, rewarding, and well paying careers for a theoretician, but you have to prepare for them in advance. (Scientific computation, consulting etc.)

FNR
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby FNR » Thu May 07, 2009 8:12 pm

grae313 wrote:
blackcat007 wrote:so i just have to take chance with my life... and play a dice game? :?


blackcat007 does not play dice with his life!



Ah... it reminds me to the good old philosophical statements from Einstein and Hawking.... Who do you believe then? Einstein or Hawking?


Einstein said: “God does not play dice”,
Stephen Hawking says: “God does not only play dice. Sometimes He also throws the dice where they cannot be seen”;
we are able to say: “God plays dice and sometimes gets a bad roll”. :lol:

blackcat007
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby blackcat007 » Fri May 08, 2009 4:54 am

FNR wrote:
grae313 wrote:
blackcat007 wrote:so i just have to take chance with my life... and play a dice game? :?


blackcat007 does not play dice with his life!



Ah... it reminds me to the good old philosophical statements from Einstein and Hawking.... Who do you believe then? Einstein or Hawking?


Einstein said: “God does not play dice”,
Stephen Hawking says: “God does not only play dice. Sometimes He also throws the dice where they cannot be seen”;
we are able to say: “God plays dice and sometimes gets a bad roll”. :lol:

well when that dice has to do with the entire universe, then ... with the mathematical elegance and the experimental proofs obtained from QM .. i think hawking wins..

but when that dice has to do with my career .. hope it never gets a bad roll .. :|

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grae313
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby grae313 » Fri May 08, 2009 11:01 am

FNR wrote:
grae313 wrote:
blackcat007 wrote:so i just have to take chance with my life... and play a dice game? :?


blackcat007 does not play dice with his life!



Ah... it reminds me to the good old philosophical statements from Einstein and Hawking....


Yeah, that was the joke, Einstein.

:P

cato88
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby cato88 » Fri May 08, 2009 3:48 pm

grae313 wrote:
Yeah, that was the joke, Einstein.

:P



I think almost all physicist have hear those quotes and most have also read one of the Feynman books ie know about the lockpicking blah blah

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grae313
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Re: Experimental vs Theoretical Particle Physics as career ?

Postby grae313 » Sat May 09, 2009 2:17 pm

cato88 wrote:I think almost all physicist have hear those quotes and most have also read one of the Feynman books ie know about the lockpicking blah blah


Exactly, that's why I made the joke. OH MY GOD.




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