what to study to be a string theorist?

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dschurmann
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what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby dschurmann » Sun Sep 14, 2014 3:59 am UTC

Im currently making bachelor's degree in Physics, and im interested in becoming a theoretical physicist, more especific, im interested in strig theory.
my question is, what degrees should i do to achieve it? what kind of maester should i do?
thanks for the help

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Re: what to study to be a strig theorist?

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:09 pm UTC

String theory being a theory of quantum gravity, the main things you'd need to study would be quantum mechanics (specifically quantum field theory) and general relativity, both to a high level.

I don't know much about the mathematical specifics, but my understanding is that having a bit more a background in group theory than you'd normally get on a physics course could be helpful as well.

(I'm just about to start my last year of physics before my masters and am also planning to go into quantum-gravity-y things)
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Re: what to study to be a strig theorist?

Postby doogly » Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:51 pm UTC

It would also help to take algebraic geometry and as much complex analysis as you can get.

But for a graduate degree you would (at least in the US) be solely in a physics dept rather than a math dept. And you would want a PhD, a master's in theoretical physics is silly.
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Re: what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Sep 15, 2014 3:56 pm UTC

You will probably want to pack as much math into your undergraduate as possible. A minor or even double major in math would probably be worth considering IMHO. Probably a good idea to take some coding or computational physics courses as well.

I agree with doogly... if you want to do theoretical physics, especially in a topic like String Theory, a PhD is required, and you might have a hard time finding places that even offer a Master's.

As far as String Theory itself goes, I will cautiously comment that this field is... very challenging... if your ultimate plan is to end up in an academic position as a professor/research scientist. This isn't the 70s where universities were desperate to hire as many string theorists as they could get their hands on. The academic field right now is tough in general, and String Theory in particular is one of the worst subfields for employment prospects. Not that should dissuade you if that is your passion, but if your interest is in at some point being gainfully employed... you might want to take a few finance/economics courses as well.

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Re: what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby doogly » Mon Sep 15, 2014 4:09 pm UTC

Or even within pure physics, make sure you have demonstrable modeling and programming chops along with the pencil and paper analytics.
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Re: what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby lgw » Mon Sep 15, 2014 6:30 pm UTC

For those of us who are a bit older, the Stanford continuing education series in physics will eventually get you to an understanding, if you have the math. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyX8kQ- ... 920B3A7B5A

Going through this now myself. Silly as it seems to think you could learn this from YouTube videos, the material is quite well presented (and of course I don't learn much without doing some exercises I set for myself to make sure I get the math right - no avoiding practice as part of learning). I'm still struggling through the quantum basics myself, but there are lectures there on general relativity, particle physics, and a bit of string theory.

Leonard Susskind bills these courses as "the theoretical minimum needed to start doing physics", and while you won't be launching a career from this, if like me you're a bit old to be launching a new career anyhow, they're pretty great.
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Re: what to study to be a strig theorist?

Postby dschurmann » Tue Sep 16, 2014 4:02 am UTC

doogly wrote:But for a graduate degree you would (at least in the US) be solely in a physics dept rather than a math dept. And you would want a PhD, a master's in theoretical physics is silly.

Thanks for responding, what kind of master would you recomend me? or go direct to the phd?
:)

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Re: what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby doogly » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:47 pm UTC

Go directly to PhD, they pay you for this one!

Doing a separate masters makes sense in not-USA places though, I think. If you are not a USAian do not take this as gospel.
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Re: what to study to be a string theorist?

Postby eSOANEM » Tue Sep 16, 2014 3:47 pm UTC

I was going to say that my understanding is that, in the UK at least, almost all PhD programs will expect you to have done a 4-year integrated master's and that, if you've done a bachelor's instead, they'll expect you to do a separate master's in order to be at the same sort of level as the people who did 4-year courses.
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Re: what to study to be a strig theorist?

Postby tooyoo » Tue Sep 23, 2014 9:55 am UTC

dschurmann wrote:
doogly wrote:But for a graduate degree you would (at least in the US) be solely in a physics dept rather than a math dept. And you would want a PhD, a master's in theoretical physics is silly.

Thanks for responding, what kind of master would you recomend me? or go direct to the phd?
:)


Outside the US you might want to look at what used to be called the Cambridge "Part III". They now call it Master of Mathematics/Advanced Studies. It's a one-year course giving you a wide range of classes to visit. It's moderately competitive to get in, but it's widely accepted as a great preparation for a PhD. So it's a good background to come from when applying.

Now, to flesh out previous posts on what you should study:
Quantum field theory (including renormalisation) and general relativity are indeed absolutely essential. As is a course on supersymmetry. Otherwise it depends a bit on what problems you want to work on. String theory & high energy theory have developed into a huge field demanding for rather varying skill sets depending on what one's working on. There's a continuous spectrum of people from experimental physicists to mathematicians and where you work on that spectrum depends on what you're interested in. Generally knowing more is better though. It's a bit of a tautology, but it's worthwhile to point out that you simply should study a lot of stuff. You find string theorists who are basically mathematicians, yet in other areas knowledge in physics is much more important. In general, knowing more maths is always good. I'd advise to simply pick whatever you find interesting or what is being taught by a good professor at your uni.

Pick from: Complex analysis, algebraic geometry, differential geometry, algebraic topology, differential topology, complex geometry, group theory, representation theory, black holes, cosmology, standard model phenomenology, condensed matter physics, differential equations (ordinary and partial). Functional analysis or algebra wouldn't hurt either.

In contrary to what some others wrote, programming skills are not that necessary. However, they're probably a very good idea to keep your options open.

Whether you should do a masters first will depend on where you do your PhD. Ask the departments you're applying to.


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