I am currently a junior going for a B.S. in physics and math in a public midwestern university. I plan on applying to some of the top 10 graduate schools for physics. I know that on the graduate school applications, one has to specify whether they're applying for experimental or theoretical physics. I also heard that the resume needs to be consistent with that choice  if I choose theoretical I better have proof that I'm good in this area.
At the moment, I'm working for a prof in experimental high energy physics. It's mostly simulation work on the computer. But what if I eventually take interest in theory? Can I apply to grad school for theory, but have experimental research on my resume?
undergraduate research  experimental vs theoretical physics

 Posts: 3
 Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 12:31 pm
Re: undergraduate research  experimental vs theoretical physics
the general rule is that theory is harder to get into... i just see in the theory people here. They have 1 grad student per professor maybe 2, while the experimentalists run around with 3 to 5 or even more depending on the project.
Any research experience is good. May it be theory or experiment. Experiment is more "appropriate" fir the undergrad because you can do a lot more in a lab per se rather then converting coffee into formulas, so it shouldn't really hurt. The fact that it is simulation work shows that it is more theory oriented anyway. I hope you understand what you are telling the computer to do.
The problem lies in that you usually need a strong mathematical background and most undergrads don't have that till the very end of their undergrad, i.e. Analysis, Advanced Linear Algebra, etc. I am auditing a grad math methods course at the moment and all the entering theory students are in it. You can see that even before you start they will first put you in that before you can really start working.
Any research experience is good. May it be theory or experiment. Experiment is more "appropriate" fir the undergrad because you can do a lot more in a lab per se rather then converting coffee into formulas, so it shouldn't really hurt. The fact that it is simulation work shows that it is more theory oriented anyway. I hope you understand what you are telling the computer to do.
The problem lies in that you usually need a strong mathematical background and most undergrads don't have that till the very end of their undergrad, i.e. Analysis, Advanced Linear Algebra, etc. I am auditing a grad math methods course at the moment and all the entering theory students are in it. You can see that even before you start they will first put you in that before you can really start working.

 Posts: 3
 Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 12:31 pm
Re: undergraduate research  experimental vs theoretical physics
Thanks, that's really good advice. Actually, I'm covered on the math front because I'm also a math major.
Re: undergraduate research  experimental vs theoretical physics
Well I mean I have seen math stuff too from friends and it is just different to be honest. it deals with stuff that math classes do not handle as much. it is weird to explain. the whole dirac notation thing and things like transformation between different spaces is something i haven't seen that much. maybe it is just the math courses i have sat in (topology and analysis)