Ask a Physicist Answers
A ninth grader wants to know what it's like to be a physicist. Here is one physicist's response.
Caricature of a random physicist. This is not Dr. Jeffry Herbstman or meant to look like him.
1. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The best thing about being a physicist (or any kind of scientist) is that you are constantly challenged by new and exciting problems. Unlike some jobs where you go in and do the same thing every day, science is always on the move, so you have to keep reading, learning and doing different experiments to stay current.
2. When did you realize that you wanted to be a physicist?
I knew I wanted to learn more physics after taking a physics class in high school and really enjoying it. Part of it was having a great teacher for the class and part of it was learning how powerful physics can be. The idea that you could write down an equation and that would tell you what was going to happen to an experiment was a pretty amazing thing. I hope you have some great teachers that can open your eyes too!
3. What is your normal work day like?
Well, different kinds of physicists have very different days. Experimental physicists might spend all day working in a lab trying to get an experiment to work, or they might spend all day analyzing the data from an experiment. Other times they work very hard to prepare and get ready for experiments. We also have to do a lot of reading to find out what other people are studying. Many physicists also spend a lot of time working with computers to run programs important for their work.
4. What do you like the least about your job?
The most difficult days occur when experiments don't work. It's something you have to expect and deal with, as not every try will be successful, but sometimes it's hard not to get a bit down when you spend a long time preparing and working hard, only to have something go wrong. It's a lot like when you're baking a cake and you mix everything together and put it in the oven, only to end up burning it. After all that work, you're disappointed. Luckily, you can always try again the next day.
5. Why did you want to be a physicist?
I wanted to be a physicist for some of the reasons in my answer to number 2, but also because of the interesting problems that physicists get to look at. Physicists work in many areas, even other fields of science like biology, chemistry and earth science.
Jeff Herbstman, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
The University of Michigan
Noelle from SC