Thursday, November 19, 2009

Picking A Research Advisor

Some time ago I talked with Professor Wu about becoming a graduate student under him and he told me to attend their group meetings and seminars. It turns out Wu's group has 3 seminars that they are currently doing. One in quantum computation, one advanced solid state physics one, and one on tensor category theory. I have been attending the solid state and the quantum computation one and somewhat humorously I understand more from the quantum computation seminar than from the solid state seminar. This past Saturday though there was a big meeting where all of the faculty (and in some cases soon to be faculty) who are looking for new graduate students to work under them gave short presentations. The event went from 9:00 to 1:30 though it was only supposed to go to 1:00. There were 17 presentations overall.

About of the presentations weren't really of interest to me. To be clear that is to say that most of the presentations were about research that I would have no interest in doing. Of the seventeen I would give serious consideration to 10. Basically there were two types of research position that were represented solid state physics and astronomy. I find it somewhat of a surprise that I find myself drawn so much more to the astronomers than to the solid state but there we are. I still find myself drawn to being a theorist instead of experimentalist and although there were a number of solid state theorists looking for students there was only one cosmological theorist looking for students, namely Paolo Gondolo.

Paolo spends his time working on theories explaining dark matter dynamics. Through looking at gravitational interactions such as gravitational lensing we have been able to get a very good picture of the density of dark matter in the universe and also its distribution. However the only effects that we know are coming from dark matter are just gravitational effects. We might be detecting other effects of dark matter but simply don't know it. At the moment there are things we are observing which don't fit with the predictions of standard models. For instance we can predict the expected flux of cosmic ray positrons but the standard prediction doesn't fit with the observations. Paolo and a number of other people are trying to think up theories of dark matter interactions which could account for observations like this.

Paolo and company has created a fortran package called dark susy which is used to make calculations for the parameters of SUperSYmetric dark matter theories. Thus dark SU-SY. While I feel more attracted to working on the dark energy problem than the dark matter problem I thought working on dark susy might be just the right thing for me to do. My physics knowledge is nowhere near the level that it would need to be in order to really begin working on dark susy. For one thing I don't even have a good knowledge of the standard model of particle physics much less its supersymmetric counter parts. But of course I would run into the same problem in any field that I decided to start research in.

This morning I took the opportunity to go and talk to Paolo about becoming a grad student of his. He started off the discussion by trying to scare me off. Rather, he said he was trying to scare me off but really he was just trying to make sure I understood that there are major disadvantages to being a theorist. Being a theorist takes more work and longer hours and requires you to know more. As a theorist it is harder to get away from your work since anywhere there is paper and/or you have your laptop you can work. On top of that there is very little money in theory. Theory is cheap but that means theorists are underpaid. As a theory grad student the chances of getting an RAship are almost null so not only are the research hours generally longer as a theorist but you have to keep a TAship and teach in order to support yourself. But I knew all of that already so it wasn't really much of an eye opener.

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