String Theory after grad school??

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Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

String Theory after grad school??

Postby Galois2199 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 7:38 pm

So I got into a school that is rather reputable for string theory/quantum gravity and a few of the professors seemed very willing to let me work with them on projects going forward. However...I talked to a lot of the current string theory grad students and they pretty much frightened the heck out of me! Apparently, none of them are continuing on with string theory because there is zero chance of getting a faculty position somewhere. In fact, most of them aren't even continuing on with anything related to theoretical physics.

So my question is, if I really don't want to be in this position, should I do something a little more concrete like maybe quantum field theories or QCD or particle physics or something? To be honest, I'm more of a math guy, but just for philosophical reasons, I've always wanted to study physics at the most fundamental level so string theory seemed like the natural thing. But now I'm questioning it quite a bit.

Any tips will help! Thanks a lot

bfollinprm
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Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby bfollinprm » Sat Mar 22, 2014 8:44 pm

If you want an idea of how hard it is to get a job in academia as a physicist, all you need to do is compare the number of matriculating grad students to the number of new faculty each year. Here at Davis, the first number is around 30, and the second number is a bit less than 1. Assuming these numbers are representative, you should expect at most a 1 in 30 chance of getting a faculty position. I've heard that at top 5 schools that number is more like 1 in 10, but the order of magnitude should be right.

That number gets worse the more abstract the work; most faculty hires are in condensed matter experiment, then probably astronomy/particle experiment, then various phenomenology/computational faculty, and lastly theory. In contrast, a bit under half of the grad students here work in fundamental theory or some sort of computation; for these students, the naive likelihood of getting a job hire must average out to something like 1 in 100*. But probably what you should get out of this is that if your motivator in grad school is an eventual faculty job at an R1 university, that's a lot of eggs to put in one basket. If your motivator is ''I'm going to do something I love for the next 6 years,'' then the 1 in 100 number shouldn't matter--you should do the thing you love.

TomServo
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Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby TomServo » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:23 pm

Is it "professorship or bust" for you or are you willing to study something interesting to you for six years and then look for a different position? Does this department encourage grad students to co-author with professors who are not their advisor? If so, then I'd say you might want to diversify yourself a bit. Maybe focus on m-theory and publish a few papers in another, more employable area of physics as well.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby Galois2199 » Sun Mar 23, 2014 10:51 pm

I am indeed willing to broaden my interests slightly if that would help. You mention M-theory, but what other sorts of areas can I expand to that would be perhaps more employable. I certainly don't want a professorship just to have some title, rather I've just always aspired to academia and I would not like to get a PhD in something very abstract, do a couple post-docs and then realize I have no other options in the field left!

I'm certainly not planning on selling out entirely, but I just would like to think about making myself a little more competitive after grad school if at all possible.

TomServo
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Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby TomServo » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:37 pm

Look at professors in m-theory you may want to work with, and look at their past grad students' careers.

bfollinprm
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Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Mar 25, 2014 1:36 am

?? m-theory is a type of string theory. I think the previous poster was talking about expanding into fields like physics beyond the standard model, or other model-building that leads to immediately testable consequences.

TomServo
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Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby TomServo » Tue Mar 25, 2014 5:24 pm

"M-theory" is more accurate, as a "string theorist" told me. String theorIES fall under the m-theory umbrella.

bfollinprm
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Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Mar 25, 2014 6:40 pm

To be clear, the supersedence of M-theory remains a conjecture that hasn't been proven. But this has gotten way off the topic the OP brought up.

I will say, to bring us more on to topic, that it's not a good sign that the OP doesn't recognize M-theory as a flavor (perhaps the superflavor) of string theory. It would lead me to question if they have enough experience in string theory to know what research in string theory actually is. I've offered this advice before, and I'll repeat it here: if you don't have a firm grasp of a specific subfield of physics (which predominantly comes from research experience) I would be general rather than specific on an application. In this case, if you think you want to do string theory, but don't know much more than the name and the explanation from The Elegant Universe, I would just mention your interests in formulating new and deeper understanding of the fundamental qualities of nature, and leave string theory out of the discussion altogether.


If this is totally not applicable advice and I'm misreading the posts below, my apologies.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby Galois2199 » Tue Mar 25, 2014 7:52 pm

bfollinprm, I am reading through Zwiebach in my last semester of undergrad to prepare for research going forward. So I do know that M-theory falls under string theory I was more so confused as to why that was being proposed as something to "expand" my horizons to. Thanks for all your help.

TomServo
Posts: 33
Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby TomServo » Tue Mar 25, 2014 11:45 pm

Galois2199 wrote:bfollinprm, I am reading through Zwiebach in my last semester of undergrad to prepare for research going forward. So I do know that M-theory falls under string theory I was more so confused as to why that was being proposed as something to "expand" my horizons to. Thanks for all your help.


Other way around, string theory falls under (or is a kind of) m-theory.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby Galois2199 » Wed Mar 26, 2014 2:39 am

Oh, thank you. I was under the impression M-theory was equivalent to 'superstring theory.' Is this not correct?

TomServo
Posts: 33
Joined: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby TomServo » Wed Mar 26, 2014 12:24 pm

Galois2199 wrote:Oh, thank you. I was under the impression M-theory was equivalent to 'superstring theory.' Is this not correct?


Don't know, I didn't ask about that. :)

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: String Theory after grad school??

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:13 pm

Superstring theory is a string theory that includes fermionic interactions, which as of now requires a supersymmetry of the standard model (SUSY). M-theory is a flavor of superstring theory that is postulated to be a generalization of the 7 'classical' superstring theories, normally associated with the 7 composition algebras on the real line.




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