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Thread: Is it advisable to become a theoretical physicist?

  1. #1 Is it advisable to become a theoretical physicist? 
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    I am a 2nd year undergraduate student pursuing the course BS physics. It has been my life long dream to become a physicist and devote my whole life doing research in this wonderful field. But recently i came across an article by a physics professor
    http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html
    Coming from a physicist himself , this article was highly discouraging. Another is a following article from a PhD in physics.
    http://thomasswan.hubpages.com/hub/Reasons-for-Leaving-Physics
    Is getting a job (with tenure) really that hard? Is it true that we won't be able to do research and work on problems of our interest until and unless we land a tenured job which would most probably come only in 40s? And I have one more important question, can't theoretical physics be done even without landing a tenure , even without getting into a major top university as a professor because anyway he/she does not require funds as much as an experimental physicist does....???? The last question is especially important if the answers to my first two questions is affirmative and maybe if i am not able to make the grade to land a tenured position in future at a top university viz. Caltech, MIT, Berkeley,Stanford etc


    Last edited by pragnyajha; February 13th, 2013 at 08:19 AM.
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  3. #2  
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    The big issue is the difference, in the USA particularly and increasingly in several other countries, between tenured and adjunct staff. It's all very well to say you want to do "research" without tenure. But without tenure, or some other consistent income, the low pay per semester per course taught by adjunct staff means that, intentions and desires notwithstanding, their time and energies are all tied up in just earning enough to live during semester and to have enough set aside to last through the university's breaks. (And to maintain health insurance, rent and the rest for the whole of the year.)

    If you want to live a whole life with a partner and maybe children some time in the future - this can get to be a real problem. Even if you leave such things until you're 40+, you'll still need the means to do it.

    It doesn't mean Don't Do It. It does mean you have to get your ducks in a row to go for what you want and to have reasonable fall back plans for other income earning opportunities. Whether you only need them every now and again or for a couple of years at a time, you still need to be flexible enough to keep your academic knowledge and presence up and to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep body and soul together.

    Go to every relevant conference. Get to know everyone you can in your fields of interest. Be willing to do anything at all to get your qualifications. A good example of someone doing this is an undergraduate student here ClimateSight


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    Hello? *echo*
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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  5. #4  
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    Do you mean is it advisable to spend 5-7 years in graduate school to get a PhD for a chance at becoming a theoretical physicist? Faculty jobs are pretty tight/competitive, and I'm not sure how the market is in industry for theoretical physicists. But, if you can't imagine yourself doing anything else, as is the case for me, I would say it is totally worth it.
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  6. #5  
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    Is this thread broken? I can't see the first post from the OP.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Is this thread broken? I can't see the first post from the OP.
    I don't have any problem seeing it.
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    To me it looks like Flick Montana is the OP.
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by beefpatty View Post
    To me it looks like Flick Montana is the OP.
    I am not. Looks that way to me, too.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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  10. #9  
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    I had started the thread.. wonder how my post got deleted...
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  11. #10  
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    Okay, i guess due to some problem of this site, my question got deleted. I will ask it once again. I am a second year under graduate student pursuing the course BS Physics in INDIA. I am an aspiring theoretical physicist. Now i came across two posts one from a physics professor himself

    Don't Become a Scientist!

    My lifelong dream has to be a physicist trying to unravel the mysteries of our world my whole life... but the above post coming from a physicist himself was highly discouraging.

    The other post is from a person who left the field of physics after a PhD. Is getting a tenured position really that difficult? Do you have no freedom selecting and doing research on problems of your interest until and unless u land a tenured position with financial benefits? And last but not the least, is getting a permanent job in top universities like Caltech, MIT,Princeton etc really of great help. The last question especially because if maybe i fail to make the grade to land the job of an associate professor, then my work primarily concerning theoretical physics and mathematics, i guess it may not require a college at all to do research??? In the end it's the motivation and dedication that counts, isn't it? Please do enlighten me on these queries. It would be of great help.
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  12. #11  
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    The other post of PhD student can be accessed via the following link..
    Reasons for Leaving Physics
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  13. #12  
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    Faculty positions will always be tight. Think of it this way. A professor may train 10 or so PhD students over his lifetime, but he only needs one to replace him. I'm pretty sure this is true in any field, not just physics. As I stated in my first post, if it truly is your passion and you cannot see yourself doing anything else, then I would say it is worth it. If you're worried about starting a career and making money, then you should probably not do a PhD.
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  14. #13  
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    yeah, well i will be lying if i say that such stiff competition does not scare me but it's not the primary of my concerns. What actually is, by the time (if i do) i get the job of an associate professor, i would be already in my 40s. So till then , whether as a PhD scholar or as a post doctoral researcher, will i get the freedom of working on the problems of my choice??? Or will the professor have complete control over me?
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  15. #14  
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    For those complaining about things being invisible, all should now be well. Don't know why my first umpteen attempts to approve the OP didn't stick, but no-one's missed anything vital I don't think.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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