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I am an junior undergraduate in the U.S, and Interested in HEP "Theoretical High Energy" in Physics. I have had some exposure in research (i.e. Quantum Field Theory, General Relativity), besides having a GPA around 3.67/4.0. I am currently working with a faculty, on Experimental Particle Physics, but would like to study its theoretical side, in the future, as well.

Further, I have tried to reach out in my university about this topic, in particular. I could not find a research vacancies, Unfortunately. What should I do to secure a place in research? If I am unable to do something related to theoretical HEP ( while I am still an undergraduate) is it possible to do that in grad school?

Edit: Thank you all for your recommendations! I have tried to reach out a faculty again, and he said he could be my instructor over the summer!

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    Are there faculty at your institution that do research in theoretical high energy physics? How did you get into work in experimental particle physics?
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 2, 2023 at 21:29
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    It's absolutely best to start in grad school. Your background is good, with some HEP work under your belt already even as an undergrad. Ask your current faculty advisor if they have any contacts on the theoretical side. Then, apply to the schools where they are---or even just apply to grad schools with HEP-Th researchers that seem like a good fit, and reach out to those professors with whom you'd like to do research. If they think the fit is good and would like to work with you, then that's about all there is to it.
    – Jerome
    Feb 2, 2023 at 21:30
  • You might want to search out an REU for next summer (if it is not too late - too far removed from the process). See nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.jsp?unitid=69
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 2, 2023 at 21:33
  • Look through the faculties websites -> see which ones work in theoretical physics and teach undergrad courses -> take their courses -> do exceptionally well in their courses (do not miss a single office hour, ask additional not hw related questions) -> closer to the end of the term, at the end of a lecture come to the one you like the most and beg him to let you work in his lab (of course, without any salary), tell him you want to do your undergrad thesis on any of his topics. I assume you want to get to the Ph.D. level. The easiest Ph.D. is when you work on the same topic since the undergrad. Feb 2, 2023 at 22:30
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    "Junior" means 3rd year? As in freshman, sophomore, junior, senior?
    – Boba Fit
    Feb 3, 2023 at 0:44

2 Answers 2

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Consider it from another angle. "There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." Isaac Asimov

Find any aspect of research that any of your profs will let you participate in. At your level, pretty much any sort of research will be good for you. It will teach you things. It will look good on your CV. It will build relationships with other researchers. You will see how these things are done, what the mundane aspects are, and so on. You might even get your name on an article as a co-author. And the prof involved will be a good source of letters of recommendation when you apply for grad school.

And don't be concerned if you get to do some mundane task. For example, extracting data and making graphs or some such. Or standing around running some bit of equipment or something. Science is not all glamor and AHA! moments. A big part of it, even for the most senior people, is turning the crank.

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You get to do research in the way you tried: by asking around.

Given the highly mathematical nature of this field, I’m sure you realize that very few faculty will want to invest time and money to hire an undergraduate when these resources can be better invested in graduate students (especially students with a much broader exposure to mathematics than you).

In other words, it’s unlikely that a summer position for an undergraduate would be productive to a faculty member in this area.

I’m not sure why you worry about getting into grad school: it’s putting the cart before the horse. Just complete your degree and apply to graduate programs at the same time as anyone else.

It’s likely you may have to complete a year of courses before anyone in THEP commits to you anyways, so you should concentrate on doing well and look at experimental HEP as a way of broadening your perspective on this field.

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