I have a goal: It is to be a mathematical physicist. I dream to work in field related to the Amplituhedron.

This goal is non-negotiable.

From what I've read, it is difficult for a theorist to get a job, and this field is apparently very competitive. As it stands now, my student paper-trail is bad. My physics GRE score is bad but my GPA is solid. I think I would be able to get good recommendation letters, including a very strong one from the professor under whom I currently work.

I do not doubt that, if I tried, I would be able to get into some graduate school, but I have been toying with another option. Here are the two primary possibilities:

  1. Get letters of recommendation and apply to grad. school. Then, go to whichever grad. school will accept me. In order for this to be viable, I'd have to go to a school which would, at least, allow research in something heavily mathematical. In order to get to the position I'd like to be later in life, I'd have to excel. This is not a problem, but is unfortunately more difficult at a less reputable school.

  2. Graduate and work for a couple of years—mostly to pay off my exorbitant student debts, get a [much, much] better GRE score, and study (I am not as good at things as I'd like to be, and this studying would serve to drastically improve my ability). With a somewhat improved paper-trail, dampened by my taking a couple of years off, I would apply to graduate schools. I think my chances of getting into a better school are higher, but getting into a good school is not necessarily my goal.

My problem is that I don't know which one would maximize my chances of being a mathematical physicist. I do not know the dynamics of graduate research, or how large the differences are in excelling at a good school and excelling at a mediocre school. I'm, basically, totally ignorant in regards to what would be the better decision—and I'm hoping someone with more knowledge could help me make a decision.

Which career plan is best for me to enroll in a cooperative mathematical physicist PhD program?

  • 15
    This goal is non-negotiable. From personal experience: I had once non-negotiable goal to become a medical doctor. See profile for results. Being committed is good, being locked in is not. Someone has to point out that such a possibility, and I guess I'm the one who will point that out for this one. Keep an open mind and good luck, but always have a fall-back in case your plans don't work.
    – Compass
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 22:16
  • 2
    You might want to look into the terminology for what you want to do, if you're trying to figure out the people and places who do it. "Mathematical physics" in my experience more often (but not always) refers to rigorous work done by mathematicians which has some application to physics. It sounds like you want something on the more mathematical end of "theoretical physics," and the study of scattering amplitudes in particular is a branch of theoretical high-energy physics. (You would find it, for instance, on the hep-th arxiv, not math-ph.)
    – Matt Reece
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 0:47
  • @MattReece Actually, mathematical physics is pretty much exactly what I want—I just assumed that those who studied the Amplituhedron were... more mathematicians, I suppose? Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


Some opinions that may be helpful. I assume this is in the US because as far as I know other countries do not use the Physics GRE.

  • The Physics GRE is a stupid test.
  • You seem to have what you need except for a good Physics GRE score. (Assuming you attend a reputable school.)
  • Not all good programs require a GRE score. Maybe you should apply to the the ones that do not.
  • There is no point in getting your PhD in a mediocre department. Do what it takes to get into a good program.
  • Don't postpone a physics PhD for financial reasons. Assuming you go to a good department, you will be reasonably paid while you are a student, and you will make a lot more money after you finish. Loans may be deferred whine you are in school.
  • It should only take a few months to improve your Physics GRE score a lot.

On the whole, I suggest a one year postponement.

  • 4
    "You will make a lot of money after you finish." I'm not a physicist, but have worked and went to grad school with a number of physicists (PhD in...). Every last one worked/studied with me because both academic employment options and pay after a physics phd were depressing (being parked in a post doc for maybe ten years and less than $40k annually). Their degrees were from good schools (eg, Columbia). Maybe things have changed (this is ~10 years ago), but then academic physics was not financially lucrative: it was a choice of heart (only). Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 23:46
  • @gnometorule it should have said "more money". Physics PhDs are paid more than Physics Bachelors. NIH minimum pay for postdocs is now $42,000. Some postdocs pay $80,000. aip.org/statistics/data-graphics/… Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 1:15
  • 3
    People with physics bachelors who go into industry often make lots more than $42,000 or even $80,000. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 2:00
  • @NateEldredge OP does not appear interested in industry. Either way what I said is supported by AIP data. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 3:07

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