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This is my last semester as an undergraduate and I am taking a graduate course in a physics field I was interested in (won't mention the name since I do not want to offend anyone who is researching in this field). The class ends with a report in which we have to summarize research in a particular subfield. Looking over and reading papers to write this report, I realize I do not like this subfield at all. The papers are confusing and technical; I have a basic understanding of each of them but not a thorough understanding of all of them. So far I have read 7 papers and I am comfortable talking about and explaining the methodologies and results of 3 of them; for two of them I am comfortable talking about the methodologies but not the results; and for the last two I have a vague idea of the procedure. I also do not have the stamina to read more papers. I find the topic boring, complicated, and difficult.

What should I do? Should I abandon the idea of going to graduate school? I do not really want to go to industry that much and I really do like physics. Or should I try exploring a new field in physics? Or will an advisor in this field be helpful, since I am reading the papers on my own to write this report and no one is guiding me?

Any advice will be appreciated.

PS: I am not enrolled into a graduate program yet.

Update: If I go to another field in physics, what should I do to see if I like researching in that field? Should I read papers, introductory textbooks? What papers would be the best for a beginner like me? How can I find introductory papers on, let's say, arxiv (is there some kind of section called "Basic"). I am not enrolled in a graduate program yet, and thus I do not have an advisor, so I like to know what I should do in the meantime. Also, my parents and relatives are not researchers so I am kind of alone in this right now.

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    Then you should not do research in that field. Apr 13 at 0:26
  • @AzorAhai-him- I have some other questions about preparing for a new field, which I also posted above under "update." If I go to another field in physics, what should I do to see if I like researching in that field? Should I read papers, introductory textbooks? What papers would be the best for a beginner like me? How can I find introductory papers on, let's say, arxiv (is there some kind of section called "Basic").
    – user758469
    Apr 13 at 0:34
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    It sounds like the main reason you are not interested in the particular area is because you do not understand the papers?
    – kjacks21
    Apr 13 at 0:35
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    We can't list papers a beginner is physics subfield X should read Apr 13 at 0:44
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    @user758469 I'm not sure "introductory papers" exist. Textbooks, which exist to teach people new things, would be a better place to start. Apr 13 at 0:58
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Read material oriented to undergraduate- and graduate-level students:

  • Grab a year's worth of the American Journal of Physics.
  • Skim until you find articles of interest to you, ones you can latch onto.
  • Read them, understand them, work backward from the references they use, find appropriate textbooks.

Try to figure out reasonable entries to current research fields:

  • Hang out at Physics Stack Exchange.
  • See what interests you and ask questions as appropriate.
  • Ask for recommendations for good new and old review articles and read them.

Reflect and digest, concurrently with the above:

  • Explore what your attraction to graduate work is: personal satisfaction, a calling, career preparation, fear of leaving the educational system, and so forth.
  • Learn as you go and observe your reactions to what you learn.
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    +1 I think your penultimate bullet point is very important.
    – astronat
    Apr 13 at 7:51
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There're a few ways to interpret why you don't like research in this field:

First way: you don't like the particular field because the papers are confusing and technical. In this case I want to point out that from your description, you've done spectacularly well. I was barely able to understand one single paper when I was an undergraduate, and you understand seven! You have nothing to fear about graduate school in this field, in that case.

Second way: you don't like the particular field because the topic is boring. This is a more serious objection. If you genuinely find the topic boring (that is, you find the end goal boring, even if it is achieved; or if you find the problems that you'd solve daily uninteresting) you might want to work on another topic.

Third way: you don't like the particular field because the topic is complicated and difficult. Unfortunately enough, graduate study in virtually every field is complicated and difficult. That's a big part of the reason why many people never attempt it. If you genuinely do not like complicated and difficult things, you might want to avoid graduate school entirely.

If I go to another field in physics, what should I do to see if I like researching in that field?

Ask someone who's researching in that field. If you don't know anyone to ask, try asking the graduate students and/or professors in your department, even if they don't work in that field. It's possible your department will have a graduate advisor of some kind. Here's an example from Stanford. Even if you are not a graduate student, you could still ask the graduate advisor.

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I'm going to address your primary concern, which is that you are finding the papers in this particular area difficult to understand.

Let me be clear - this is perfectly natural, especially when you are not familiar with reading papers or a particular field. Reading papers is a skill you learn, especially in graduate school, so do not fret. In graduate school, especially for PhD programs in the USA, the may have introductory research classes that pair you with a professor. This allows you to explore research in certain areas with guidance and work through understanding papers together (hopefully).

My recommendations on next steps are as follows:

  • Speak with your class instructor or a professor at your institution about this area. Ask them about their thoughts on the state of research and starting materials to familiarize yourself.
  • Look at the references in these papers. Are they citing certain textbooks? Can you follow the chain of references back to the seminal works that they are likely building on?
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  • Thanks for your response. Another problem I have is that I have not been accepted to a graduate school this cycle and am still waiting to hear back from Masters programs (after my experience with these papers, I see why I was not accepted ---- I do not have any experience at all) and this dropped my morale A LOT this semester. What should I do in the meantime? Do you think your recommendations still apply for my situation
    – user758469
    Apr 13 at 0:59
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    Try not to get too discouraged, graduate school is meant to train you in more advanced topics. My recommendations still apply. I can't emphasize enough that what you are experiencing is normal. In the meantime, talk to professors you have access to about research areas they are interested in and where you can start reading.
    – kjacks21
    Apr 13 at 2:35
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    One may remark that some fields tend to advocate worse writing practices than others, often based on archaic rules that nobody has the courage to change, or because people just don't care. If one is a person who is easily frustrated by poor writing, that can be a valid argument against pursuing a career in a particular field. Apr 13 at 7:19

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