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Old 09-30-2012, 07:45 PM   #1
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Theoretical physicist????

Anyone on here do this for a living or know anyone that does? My DS13 says this is what he wants to do so I wanted to get any info anyone may have! Colleges, how many years of schooling, etc....
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Old 09-30-2012, 07:55 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by N&B'smom View Post
Anyone on here do this for a living or know anyone that does? My DS13 says this is what he wants to do so I wanted to get any info anyone may have! Colleges, how many years of schooling, etc....
is it because of the Big Bang theory???lol......... i was a scientist but in biochemisty / pharameceutical ................i think he would just need to major in physics........if u go into science the best thing to do is to continue thru PhD......so i would guess 7 years.....
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Old 09-30-2012, 07:55 PM   #3
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Jobs are few and far between for physicists. You pretty much have to get a PHD in it to get employed. It requires lots of calculus so he better have some AP classes in highs school. If he is that good in math he would have better luck being an engineer.
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:01 PM   #4
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Most Universities will have good physics and math programs.

To be a theoretical physicist is 4 years of college, maybe a master's degree, definitely a Ph.D, and a lot of post-graduate work.

How long something like a Ph.D takes is really up to the student. Mostly the coursework is a year or so, but the research and writing can be a lengthy process. Depends.
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:04 PM   #5
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Dh is a physicist, not theoretical but works with them every day. A PhD would be recommended.
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:11 PM   #6
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also at age 13??? has he had a physics class....at our schools they dont take Physics till Junior ( if u are accelerated ) or Senior( college prep).....if he hasnt maybe he can take something over the summer???.............i luved all the sciences/maths.....biology....chemistry.. calculus...etc etc.........me and Physics did not get along at all.....my mind did not work that way .......lol.................
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:16 PM   #7
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He better really really REALLY like math.

I have a Ph.D. and I am encouraging my kids, at least the two older non-geeky ones, not to pursue Ph.D.'s. The youngest one, in grade 2, who complained the second day of school, that there wasn't enough math, is another story.
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:20 PM   #8
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Theoretical physicists focus on predicting behaviors of things using mathematical modeling (in a nutshell, brief description). Many of them work on things that are not tangible in our world... predicting behavior of particles that cannot be seen with any kinds of instruments (like bosons and muons), predicting behaviors under extreme conditions (like the inside of stars), looking at interfaces of things. All of the calculations that led up to the explosion of the first nuclear bomb was theoretical physics. It was modeled and predicted mathematically (by German theoretical physicists), but none of it had ever been done until it actually happened.

Obviously your son would need to major in physics in college. He would take a huge number of physics classes on top of the 2 semester general/intro physics sequence, as well as a fair amount of chemistry and probably a minimum of three semesters of calculus as well as differential equations (aka multivariate analysis) and maybe linear algebra. All of his upper level physics classes (like electricity & magnetism, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics- 2 semesters each) are just a continuation of calculus, really. That's just as an undergrad. After that, it'll take at least 4 years to get a PhD, and then there's post-doctoral work after that. Yes, PhD's happen in fewer than 4 years, but don't count on it- those are usually geniuses and they are few and far between.

REgarding schools- in our experience, the school that matters THE MOST is the school that awards the PhD, so don't think you have to go to MIT or Harvard as an undergrad. I am not saying go to a crappy undergrad school, but go someplace that won't cost an arm and a leg, that has a good academic reputation, and where your kid will work hard and learn. Many state schools (Indiana, Ohio State, UConn) have GREAT undergrad physics programs. Getting into the best PhD program possible is what is important in the sciences, so get the best grades possible as an undergrad and do really, really well on the GREs.

REgarding cost, mostly all you'll have to pay for is the undergrad education. Any grad program worth attending will offer a teaching assistantship or research assistantship, which will cover tuition and pay enough for living expenses. In return for this support, a grad student works for the physics department or his major advisor. BEing a TA is hard, because you usually have to teach undergrad labs in addition to taking your own classes AND starting working on a research project, but by the time you are a second or third year student, you usually have found a research advisor who has funding to pay you to do research for him... and yourself. PhD students work HARD and life is not always much fun; I lived with DH while he got his PhD in biophysics, so I know that of which I speak, all too well. Post-doc work is better.... because it pays better, and because, although you work for a faculty person, you are actually taking the lead on the research projects and learning how to be an independent researcher, as well as continuing to learn how to write grants and journal articles.

Careers... usually in academic or government research. Positions are few and far between, the competition is stiff, and the pay is low. I agree with a PP who said if your son has the math skills to be successful as a physicist, he really should do himself a favor and major in engineering instead. Fewer years of school (a Master's is the terminal degree in many engineering fields), way more job openings, and SIGNIFICANTLY better pay!!
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Old 09-30-2012, 08:28 PM   #9
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My son is getting a PhD in physics-he will finish in May. He is actually going to work in finance not science but his PhD is in a theoretical field-his disertation is actually on the expansion of the universe and he has done a lot of research on dark matter. He has learned to HATE physics over the time he has been in school but its largely because his advisor ( at the university of Michigan) has a tendancy to abuse his graduate assistants. His undergraduate degrees ( math,physics and economics) are from the University of Colorado at Boulder where he was lucky to do undergraduate research with a nobel prize winner and be published as an undergrad. He graduated from CU in 07. He got his masters in physics from U of M in December of 09 and will finish his Phd in May of 13-6 years of graduate school. If he were going to work in physics he would need an additional two years of post-doctoral research ( actually what the guys on Big Bang Theory do-they are post docs) perferably at a third Univeristy or at Cerne in Switzerland. So realistically to work in Theoretical physics your son would need 1) top grades in HS ( my son was valedictorian of his class) 2) at least 4 years of undergraduate work in physics and 5 to 7 years in a PhD program followed by 2 years of post-doctoral research-11 to 13 years of education. He will need to truely love the discipline since there are few high paying jobs and most of those are in acedemia. My son said he seriously wishes he had gone into engineering-way less time in school and better employment propects-his younger brother graduate from a concurrent BS/MS in aerospace engineering on the 19th of December and sat down at his desk at Lockheed Martin for a respectable salary on 9 January.
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Old 09-30-2012, 10:27 PM   #10
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My BFF's brother is an astrophysicist and I've got to agree with the PP's; it is totally NOT worth it to go into a "scientist" math field these days. Engineering is a much better choice - less education, 3 or 4 times the pay and job security.
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Old 09-30-2012, 10:33 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njcarita View Post
is it because of the Big Bang theory???
Nope, he's never even watched that show. (neither have I)

Quote:
Originally Posted by leebee View Post
Theoretical physicists focus on predicting behaviors of things using mathematical modeling (in a nutshell, brief description). Many of them work on things that are not tangible in our world... predicting behavior of particles that cannot be seen with any kinds of instruments (like bosons and muons), predicting behaviors under extreme conditions (like the inside of stars), looking at interfaces of things. All of the calculations that led up to the explosion of the first nuclear bomb was theoretical physics. It was modeled and predicted mathematically (by German theoretical physicists), but none of it had ever been done until it actually happened.

Obviously your son would need to major in physics in college. He would take a huge number of physics classes on top of the 2 semester general/intro physics sequence, as well as a fair amount of chemistry and probably a minimum of three semesters of calculus as well as differential equations (aka multivariate analysis) and maybe linear algebra. All of his upper level physics classes (like electricity & magnetism, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics- 2 semesters each) are just a continuation of calculus, really. That's just as an undergrad. After that, it'll take at least 4 years to get a PhD, and then there's post-doctoral work after that. Yes, PhD's happen in fewer than 4 years, but don't count on it- those are usually geniuses and they are few and far between.

REgarding schools- in our experience, the school that matters THE MOST is the school that awards the PhD, so don't think you have to go to MIT or Harvard as an undergrad. I am not saying go to a crappy undergrad school, but go someplace that won't cost an arm and a leg, that has a good academic reputation, and where your kid will work hard and learn. Many state schools (Indiana, Ohio State, UConn) have GREAT undergrad physics programs. Getting into the best PhD program possible is what is important in the sciences, so get the best grades possible as an undergrad and do really, really well on the GREs.

REgarding cost, mostly all you'll have to pay for is the undergrad education. Any grad program worth attending will offer a teaching assistantship or research assistantship, which will cover tuition and pay enough for living expenses. In return for this support, a grad student works for the physics department or his major advisor. BEing a TA is hard, because you usually have to teach undergrad labs in addition to taking your own classes AND starting working on a research project, but by the time you are a second or third year student, you usually have found a research advisor who has funding to pay you to do research for him... and yourself. PhD students work HARD and life is not always much fun; I lived with DH while he got his PhD in biophysics, so I know that of which I speak, all too well. Post-doc work is better.... because it pays better, and because, although you work for a faculty person, you are actually taking the lead on the research projects and learning how to be an independent researcher, as well as continuing to learn how to write grants and journal articles.

Careers... usually in academic or government research. Positions are few and far between, the competition is stiff, and the pay is low. I agree with a PP who said if your son has the math skills to be successful as a physicist, he really should do himself a favor and major in engineering instead. Fewer years of school (a Master's is the terminal degree in many engineering fields), way more job openings, and SIGNIFICANTLY better pay!!
Quote:
Originally Posted by jsmith View Post
My son is getting a PhD in physics-he will finish in May. He is actually going to work in finance not science but his PhD is in a theoretical field-his disertation is actually on the expansion of the universe and he has done a lot of research on dark matter. He has learned to HATE physics over the time he has been in school but its largely because his advisor ( at the university of Michigan) has a tendancy to abuse his graduate assistants. His undergraduate degrees ( math,physics and economics) are from the University of Colorado at Boulder where he was lucky to do undergraduate research with a nobel prize winner and be published as an undergrad. He graduated from CU in 07. He got his masters in physics from U of M in December of 09 and will finish his Phd in May of 13-6 years of graduate school. If he were going to work in physics he would need an additional two years of post-doctoral research ( actually what the guys on Big Bang Theory do-they are post docs) perferably at a third Univeristy or at Cerne in Switzerland. So realistically to work in Theoretical physics your son would need 1) top grades in HS ( my son was valedictorian of his class) 2) at least 4 years of undergraduate work in physics and 5 to 7 years in a PhD program followed by 2 years of post-doctoral research-11 to 13 years of education. He will need to truely love the discipline since there are few high paying jobs and most of those are in acedemia. My son said he seriously wishes he had gone into engineering-way less time in school and better employment propects-his younger brother graduate from a concurrent BS/MS in aerospace engineering on the 19th of December and sat down at his desk at Lockheed Martin for a respectable salary on 9 January.
Thanks to ALL of you for the info!! I'm going to pass it along!!!
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Old 09-30-2012, 10:37 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leebee View Post
Theoretical physicists focus on predicting behaviors of things using mathematical modeling (in a nutshell, brief description). Many of them work on things that are not tangible in our world... predicting behavior of particles that cannot be seen with any kinds of instruments (like bosons and muons), predicting behaviors under extreme conditions (like the inside of stars), looking at interfaces of things. All of the calculations that led up to the explosion of the first nuclear bomb was theoretical physics. It was modeled and predicted mathematically (by German theoretical physicists), but none of it had ever been done until it actually happened.

Obviously your son would need to major in physics in college. He would take a huge number of physics classes on top of the 2 semester general/intro physics sequence, as well as a fair amount of chemistry and probably a minimum of three semesters of calculus as well as differential equations (aka multivariate analysis) and maybe linear algebra. All of his upper level physics classes (like electricity & magnetism, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics- 2 semesters each) are just a continuation of calculus, really. That's just as an undergrad. After that, it'll take at least 4 years to get a PhD, and then there's post-doctoral work after that. Yes, PhD's happen in fewer than 4 years, but don't count on it- those are usually geniuses and they are few and far between.

REgarding schools- in our experience, the school that matters THE MOST is the school that awards the PhD, so don't think you have to go to MIT or Harvard as an undergrad. I am not saying go to a crappy undergrad school, but go someplace that won't cost an arm and a leg, that has a good academic reputation, and where your kid will work hard and learn. Many state schools (Indiana, Ohio State, UConn) have GREAT undergrad physics programs. Getting into the best PhD program possible is what is important in the sciences, so get the best grades possible as an undergrad and do really, really well on the GREs.

REgarding cost, mostly all you'll have to pay for is the undergrad education. Any grad program worth attending will offer a teaching assistantship or research assistantship, which will cover tuition and pay enough for living expenses. In return for this support, a grad student works for the physics department or his major advisor. BEing a TA is hard, because you usually have to teach undergrad labs in addition to taking your own classes AND starting working on a research project, but by the time you are a second or third year student, you usually have found a research advisor who has funding to pay you to do research for him... and yourself. PhD students work HARD and life is not always much fun; I lived with DH while he got his PhD in biophysics, so I know that of which I speak, all too well. Post-doc work is better.... because it pays better, and because, although you work for a faculty person, you are actually taking the lead on the research projects and learning how to be an independent researcher, as well as continuing to learn how to write grants and journal articles.

Careers... usually in academic or government research. Positions are few and far between, the competition is stiff, and the pay is low. I agree with a PP who said if your son has the math skills to be successful as a physicist, he really should do himself a favor and major in engineering instead. Fewer years of school (a Master's is the terminal degree in many engineering fields), way more job openings, and SIGNIFICANTLY better pay!!
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Old 10-01-2012, 06:43 AM   #13
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My DH is a physics prof at a university. Not theoretical though. LOTS of school, as someone else said - at least 4 years after college for a Ph.D., then a few years for a postdoc.

The job field for physicists that want to go into academia is NOT GOOD. Funding has been slashed at DH's university and a lot of people have been let go. (Funding for higher education is not a priority in this state!). It is a grueling job. Yes, my DH doesn't have to be in an office from 8-5, but he works most nights at home and all during the weekend.

That being said, my DH encourages his students to pursue degrees or take coursework in math and science. There are so many great options for students with these skills. For example, at this university there is a master's program in medical physics, focusing on getting graduates to work at hospitals, doctor's offices, etc. in nuclear medicine, calibrating MRIs, stuff like that. We've heard that the graduates of that program are doing great and there is a need for them.

It is great for your son to have that as a goal - of course it may change, but if he is driven to excel in science and math, he'll have so many great opportunities, whether he chooses to go into physics, engineering, medicine, or something else.
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Old 10-01-2012, 06:58 AM   #14
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I wouldn't be discouraging a kid from wanting to pursue a life in academia, especially in science, especially at this stage.

There may not be a big market right now, but the OP's son is 13. We're talking about 15-20 years from now. Who knows what it'll be like then. Maybe there will have been some big breakthrough and science funding will have increased and departments will be looking for professors and researchers.

I'd let him know about all different fields, but if he's interested in theoretical physics, I'd be getting him some Brian Greene if he doesn't already have, and seeing what lectures or camps or whatever he might attend in your area.
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Old 10-01-2012, 07:19 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snarlingcoyote View Post
My BFF's brother is an astrophysicist and I've got to agree with the PP's; it is totally NOT worth it to go into a "scientist" math field these days. Engineering is a much better choice - less education, 3 or 4 times the pay and job security.
This isn't always true, it really depends on the field a physicist (or any scientist) goes into. The engineers where dh works do not make 3-4 times what the physicists make, and while neither have 100% job security, physicists aren't as easily replaced as engineers. He works in the research dept of a fortune 500 company. They depend on their researchers to stay in business, so they definitely make it worth it.
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