Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

2000-01 Handbook for Physics and Astronomy Graduate Students

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Chairman's Introduction

The purpose of this booklet is to serve as a preliminary guide in your choice of a graduate study program. I use the word "preliminary" advisedly, since your graduate school experience must, by its very nature, be a highly individual one. What is unique about graduate education, and serves to differentiate it from the undergraduate program, is its emphasis --- insistence, if you like --- on the importance of personal, day-to-day contact between the students, their colleagues, and their faculty advisors. It is ultimately from such contacts that you will acquire the wisdom to make the final choice of a research problem which is best suited for you. You should treat this booklet, then, as an aid in making those contacts.

To help you in using the booklet, the Department has been divided into various research groups. However, it should be stressed that this separation is to some extent arbitrary and subject to rapid change. Each member of the Department is free to work on any scientifically valid problem, and the division into groups has no official status. All arrangements are kept as informal as possible in order to insure the kind of flexibility which is necessary to pursue new research opportunities as soon as they are recognized.

Perhaps the most important thing you will learn during your graduate training is that physics is a unified discipline which is something more than the sum total of facts and theories contained in its many subfields. The most important discoveries in physics often occur when someone perceives a previously unnoticed relationship between the techniques and concepts of two or more specialized subfields; in fact, the whole history of our discipline can be well traced out by examining those "mergers of expertise" which have occurred in the past. Thus, although you will be forced to become a "specialist" when you begin to pursue your specific research project, we do expect all students to remain well grounded and alert to new developments in all branches of physics. I cannot emphasize too strongly the important role which is played by our Department Colloquia and Seminars in this continuing process of education.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the future, yours and ours. They are inextricably bound together. As students, you will require (at least initially) the strong and sensitive guidance of your faculty research advisors. As faculty, we need you not merely to justify our existence as teachers (the University's "formula" for such purposes does not weigh your presence here much more highly than it does undergraduates); we need you primarily to insure our continuing viability as a community of scholars and researchers. Always remember that it is one of your functions to ask us the questions we thought we had understood the answers to long ago. In constantly forcing us to rethink our standard lore of concepts, you provide us with the intellectual stimulation which more than repays us for the time we spend with you.

We obviously cannot guarantee you jobs when you leave here with your graduate degrees. These days, it is often difficult for recent Ph.D. recipients to find jobs in their area of research, or even in physics. We know this is a problem; it is one of the many issues addressed in the Graduate Student Life Committee Report of 1993. I know that the committee was pleased to find that many students, interested as they are in finding employment in their primary area of expertise, are nevertheless motivated primarily by their love of physics. At this stage of your career, you should already be thoroughly cognizant of the strong personal commitment and intensive effort which is necessary for outstanding research. If you possess these prerequisites, then I am confident that we can help you to acquire the breadth of outlook as well as the substantive knowledge which will insure for you a rewarding and gratifying career in physics.

Welcome to the Rutgers community of physicists!

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Revised October, 2000