Skip to Content

  • Experiment or Theory
  • Research Guide

    Undergrad Research Guide:

    As an undergraduate student in physics the most important proactive steps you can take are to do anything and everything you can to expose yourself to as many tools and techniques as humanly possible. You want to give yourself the opportunity to explore and learn while trying to come to terms with what really interests you the most and what direction you want to take in your career. In the ideal case you also want to have some investment into an ongoing project that is scientifically relevant and not just busy work. In most RA positions you will be asked to do things that you can do with just a little bit of learning. It serves you more by asking to participate in a project that maybe fruitful on the time scale that you will be working on it. Its really good to start your research career early at the first year of your physics undergrad so you can start the exportation phase sooner. By the time you get to your third and forth year you want to settle into a direction in research. The optimal projects are those in which you are learning and that push you to try new things but that also have the potential for publication. Its also important to let the senior researcher your working with know what direction your interested in so they can help you get there. You can usually accomplish more by making sure and working during summer when you don't have classes to worry about. Going far in an undergraduate project can go along way to help you get in to grad school. In our group ask what type of project you can work on long term that might lead to a publication or might make you a candidate for the Outstanding Undergraduate Physics Research Award.

    Graduate Research:

    As a graduate student you really want to try to figure out what type of research you want to do sooner than later. To work this out its good to talk to lots of different types of researchers and ask as many questions as you can. Figure out what excites you. If you want to go into research as a career that is good to know early on. If you want to go into industry that is also very helpful to know early on and its a good idea to share this information with your advisor. If you know the direction that you want it good to start research as early as you can. Some groups will hire you even in your first or second year before you pass the qualifying exam. Passing the quals should be priority number one but coming in as a close second is starting some research and deciding your interest and direction. As a student your job is to learn as much about your field and specialty as possible. You are expected to work pretty hard as a grad student and learn as much as you can and become useful as soon as possible. The most important goals to keep in mind are producing publications and producing a complete research project that leads to a PhD. The details of both of these should be workout in detail with your PhD advisor so you know exactly what your path is. Weather your interested in staying in research/academia or going into industry you path may look a bit different and ultimately your overall goals at this level have to do with preparing you to be hire-able after graduation. Part of going on to the next level in academia require a good letters of recommendation so make sure you have a good relationship with your advisor and ask them how they think things are going and what needs to improve. Its also good to get lots of exposure to other scientists in your field so lots of meetings and connections to lots of collaborators can be invaluable. Another important skill to begin to acquire at this level is how to work smarter. Learn how to be productive not just hard working. Working hard is certainly valued but not nearly as valued as being more highly productive with less work. The imporant thing is to dive in and try to get good at doing research. Its also important to practice giving clear intelligible talks when you can. In our group you should expect to publish at least one lighter level publication like Nuclear Instruments and Methods and at least one Physical Review article. In this field you want to familiarize yourself with scientific-computing/analysis, the hardware/instrumentation and the theory/physics. Its critical to build yourself up in at least two of these three categories.

    Postdoc and Research Associate:

    At this level its important to know exactly what your shooting for. If you want to work in industry most of the time zero to one year of postdoc experience is required. For academia/research this of course is much different. Getting a lab staff or research position or an assistant professor position usually requires at least three years of postdoctoral research. More frequently to gain experience you should expect to need two postdoctoral positions. Even though this is the norm it is better to start applying for lab and academic positions after your first year of postdoctoral research especially if you have been able to make some headway in that time. Its good to get use to the interview process. At this level you should make sure you have completed your PhD publications and be exploring other ideas. The most important next step is to propose experiments and be highly active in ongoing projects/experiments. In whatever projects you are involved in make yourself visible and ideally make yourself critical for the success of the project/collaboration. There is no better way to secure a position than making it impossible to proceed without you. To make yourself a prime candidate have a handful of publications and a handful of approved proposals and/or letters of intent, as well as very good letters of recommendation from top researchers that you have worked with recently. Having a fewer high quality publications and proposals of high impact should be the goal. Make good connections and participate in as much as you can while maintaining focus and productivity. At this level you want to be pretty fluent in some scientific-computing/analysis, hardware/instrumentation and theory/physics. You will be much better off by being an expert in at least one of these three categories. You might find that to get ahead you have to put more of your own personal time into what you need to build your CV. You may also have to invest some of your personal time into your own interests so you can start to branch out as an independent researcher. Don't wait to be told to do things. If you can do it and it needs to be done, take it on. In most cases you will find that no one is paying attention to the amount of hours you spend, but there is a lot of attention paid to what you are getting done. Always feel free to talk with the people you are working for about how you can help them achieve their goals and how they can help you get to where you are going.