I am an incoming freshman to college. I am majoring in physics and math with the intention of one day becoming a professor specializing in theoretical physics. My question is: how should I go about deciding what exactly is my passion for research? Something I wouldn't mind spending so much time on. Specifically, something I would actually enjoy spending all my time on.

Thank you for your answers

  • 5
    Well, what do you like spending your time on? Jun 12, 2021 at 22:08
  • 3
    Out of curiosity, what particularly attracts you, at this point, to being a professor of theoretical physics? Jun 12, 2021 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


The best way is to get involved in research as early as you possibly can. Since you are about to enter college this fall, as soon as you can, get involved with whatever project that seems most interesting to you. It may not be directly related to what you will eventually research in your graduate studies, but by getting involved in undergraduate research earlier, you will know what you may be interested in, as well as what you may not be so interested in. You may have to jump around a few times to find out what you are interested in, and you'll also learn the great and not so great things about academic research in the process as well.

It is somewhat less common for freshmen to get involved in research, but before you know it you'll be a sophomore, junior, senior then graduating college. So make sure to get involved in your classes first (by asking questions and going to office hours, or OH), this way you'll get to know your professors. If you find yourself interested in their research, read up on their papers, then go to OH and ask about what their research is, as well if you could possibly assist with it in some way. (From my experience, finding out what you are most interested in, like many things, take some, if not a lot, of trial and error)

Also, while at it, also get started on crafting a statement of purpose or essay about your research interests. While graduate applications are a (seemingly) long way down the road, since you haven't even entered college yet, many summer REU or research internship programs (great opportunity to gain research experience especially if there aren't many such opportunities at your university) will want some kind of essay component as part of the application process.

  • 2
    (+1) In case the OP does not know: OH means office hours. These are one of the most underutilized valuable resources: take advantage of them! And best of success!
    – Ed V
    Jun 13, 2021 at 0:51
  • @EdV Great catch, edited that in.
    – Daveguy
    Jun 13, 2021 at 1:20

I would also recommend doing a weekly trip to the univ library, and spend a few hours reading the abstracts from various journals. Make plenty of notes in order to clearly understand what are the latest developments in your field, what kind of interesting research is being done at the moment, what are the latest problems that need to be fixed/solved/researched, etc. By doing this regular background work, you will probably be intrigued by certain papers or research approaches, and you might find yourself inclined to know more about a certain topic. You can either contact your professors during office hours to know more, or even send an email to the corresponding author of the paper to ask for more info (just be as polite as possible and don't ask for too many things, keep it short and simple!).

The fact is, that unless you take a bite out of all/most of the various dishes being offered in a menu, you will never know which dish you like the most. The same applies to finding a research topic that intrigues you and motivates you. Try doing various little things, usually after a month or two you can tell whether a certain research topic is right for you or not. Do not procrastinate and good luck!

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