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I have a PhD in pure mathematics and completed a couple of postdocs in complex analysis. I left academia a year ago. Now I realise that I would be interested in returning to research, but in fundamental physics rather than math. Naturally, I would choose a research problem where my math background could be relevant.

The "usual advice" is to slowly shift my existing research toward physics. But I have not been doing research for some time now, so this isn't really an option; I would need to make a "cold start" in this new area.

Does this sort of thing happen occasionally in academia? If so, what is the path? Should I contact professors about doing projects under their supervision? Reapply to grad school? Try to publish independently? Something else?

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    how do you define “fundamental physics”? what subfield of pure mathematics are we talking about? Sep 16, 2021 at 20:19
  • Fundamental physics would be the mathematics directly related to physics, it could be the study of lattice theories or of the solution of the Schrödinger equations, the foundations of QFT etc.
    – user147064
    Sep 21, 2021 at 11:10
  • This question has been edited and reopened per this meta discussion.
    – cag51
    Sep 25, 2021 at 0:41
  • See also this question.
    – cag51
    Sep 25, 2021 at 0:46
  • With the state of the current job market, I just don’t see a plausible path forward for you to end up in an academic physics position. Sep 25, 2021 at 15:01

3 Answers 3

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Why not stay in Math and do something physics-related, such as working on the theoretical and numerical aspects of partial differential equations? Many such equations come from physics, and your complex analysis background is quite useful for doing PDEs.

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If you are near a large university, especially the one at which you earned your degree, go visit the physics department there and try to meet a few people who might value a collaboration with a mathematician. It might take a while to make contact and get something going. It might also take suggestions about people elsewhere who might be interested.

But blind emails are much less likely to result in anything unless they are sent to someone who has somehow already expressed the need.

But, you already seem to recognize that it will be through collaborations that you meet your goal. And if you are a bit flexible about the precise sub-field it would increase your chances.

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Let me add to Buffy's answer that, if you're near a university, you could attend some seminars in (or near) the area(s) you're interested in. Even if you're not physically near a university, there might be zoom seminars you could join.

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