From Higgs hunting to Sociophysics

I work as a postdoc (scientific research) in Complex Systems, specifically in Socio-physics. We basically build models that try to describe (and eventually, to predict) different social behaviors, like the spread of rumors, a fashion/innovation/opinion adoption, the competition between languages, community patters, etc. The idea is to consider humans as the agents of a given dynamics; those agents are connected to each other in a certain way that we call “network”, and the interplay between the network and the agents dynamics is what defines the global evolution. The final goal is to understand the link between the microscopic behavior (i.e. I hear about something and inform my neighbor) and the macroscopic result, how a given social ‘state’ is diffused.

I did my PhD in Particle Physics, a completely different field, both theoretical physics but with different tools and aims. I really enjoyed my years studying the Higgs particle, but after that, when I thought about what I wanted to “work” on, I looked for something more applied, something involving “every day’s life”. I think that Particle Physics is the most successful, complete, elegant, formal and advanced topic I ever heard about (and studied), so I really encourage those who want to enter into this field, because it gives you a complete overview and a high level of knowledge about the basic questions of nature and the Universe, but…, once I got the idea, I didn’t find in my every day’s work a correlated motivation, and then I realized I prefer some research work closer to the “reality”. On the other hand, right now, I think there is an excess of theoretical models and people in Particle Physics, and in that sense, I found in Complex Systems a new field where there is a lot of challenging work still to be done.

I was also motivated by the idea that Complex Systems is a very open field, with the counterpart that it is difficult to draw a straight line to follow (there is not a defined “theoretical framework” to study). But being open has two advantages, 1) it is easier (let me say “faster”) to make a contribution to the field, it is more dynamic, and 2) you have the opportunity to interact with other fields or to easily move from one topic to another (depending on what) by taking always the same approach, i.e. it is a cross-disciplinary field (biophysics, non-linear phenomena in ecology and physiology, non-linear phenomena in economy, bio- and geophysical fluids, optics, quantum information, sociophysics, etc), which I like. And finally, I should say that I find it extremely interesting.

A “normal day” consists basically in computing; it is not hard, but it is by far “the tool”. We do simulations and, when have data, we analyze it using our programs. The simulations and data manipulations are always motivated by a theoretical model that we have previously discussed and proposed; and that might be modified when see the results. In the specific case of the IFISC (Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems) the politics is to interact quite a lot, I have periodic discussions, meetings and seminars, and the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with a lot of feed-back. My colleagues are mostly physicists.

To end with this general description, I should say that this field is now growing fast, it is still small compared to others, but is getting a strong position in many countries (within research).

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More details if you’re interested in this post:

  • Where should I send my CV?
    Well, you should look for job offers or contacts in the different Complex Systems Institutes and Departments at Universities.
  • Where can I find more information?
    I can give you the web site of the IFISC, institute where I work, that has very useful information and links;
  • Important qualities to get the job:
    A fluent English, research skills and computing knowledge.
  • What is the typical salary level in the first 5 years?
    In the range 15-30K €/year.