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Admitted for PhD, Dropping to Masters

  1. May 7, 2014 #1
    I was admitted to a PhD program for this coming fall, but I've increasingly realized that I don't enjoy research. I actively dislike it, in fact. So obviously a PhD is not possible at this point in my life. My program does offer a coursework-only option for the MS, though, and since I enjoy learning physics I think that's a better path.

    Has anybody else been in this situation of dropping down before even starting the program? What was your motivation to do so and how did it work out for you? Would I be better off remaining in the PhD program, doing no research, and sliding out the back door with a terminal master's?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2014 #2
    I am not even close to starting my Master's degree, but here is what I think.

    How do you know you do not enjoy research? Did you do a substantial amount of research in your undergraduate program and did not like it or do you just have your mind set that you do not enjoy it?

    There is no point in starting a PhD program and then doing no research and receiving a Master's, unless you think there is some chance that you may finish (or at least try to finish) the PhD program.
  4. May 7, 2014 #3
    You mean non-terminal masters right? A terminal masters is one that is not intended to lead onto a PhD.

    What kind of job do you want out of this? I think a terminal masters would be far better than a non-terminal masters for nearly all forms of employment. A non-terminal masters is seen as a "consolation prize" and is tough to market. Particularly if all you do is coursework and you don't do lab work or any internships.
  5. May 7, 2014 #4
    By the way, I think you mean a non-terminal Master's (I may be wrong - I don't know much about graduate school).

    Edit: Did not see ModusPwnd's post. Sorry.
  6. May 7, 2014 #5
    A little of both. I did work in biophysics for 6 months before working a year in experimental particle physics. I'm not smart enough for theory and solid state or optics doesn't interest me at all. These are a small subset of what's out there, but they're the main fields at my school.

    The people I've worked with have been nothing but kind and helpful, yet the thought of doing research as a grad student or postdoc makes me ill. Like, sends me into depressive spirals. That's a whole separate thread, so here it will suffice to say that the thought of learning graduate-level physics without the burden of research makes me very happy.

    Oops, I misused the terminology. Although after checking what switching entails at my school (funding and so on), I may officially switch to the terminal master's.

    I used to tell people I'd like to "do research" for a living or "be a professor," but now I've realized that it was just me emulating what my peers are doing and not what I really wanted. I wouldn't mind going into industry, which I've gathered a master's is often sufficient for. The job doesn't even have to be physics-related, as I'm quite interested in computing and programming.
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
  7. May 7, 2014 #6
    In that case I think you have made your decision. I would suggest you do some research alongside your Master's however, just to be sure, since I do not think such a big life decision should be based on some anecdotal evidence. Of course, you did try it for over one year.

    There is no point in enrolling in a PhD program. I suggest you do a Master's degree and then try some research alongside to see if you like it.
  8. May 7, 2014 #7
    Not all master's are the same. A non-terminal masters where all you do is coursework will not be very attractive to industry. You should consider a master degree that revolves around tangible, marketable skills and/or an internship. Its your skills and work experience that get you hired, not your degree.
  9. May 7, 2014 #8
    Thanks for the advice. I suppose this thread was just for reassurance, but also to benefit future forum users who might find themselves in the same situation.

    I will explore my options as far as continuing to build marketable skills. Thanks for your advice.
  10. May 7, 2014 #9


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    I agree with ModuwPwnd here.

    If you're certain that you really don't want to go any further in academia, there may be better ways to spend your time, money and energy. A course-based MSc is not necessarily a "bad" idea, but you might get more mileage out of something that's going to give you a more marketable skill set - particulatly if you're interested in programming.
  11. May 7, 2014 #10
    If you know you arent going to do academia you should look into an MEng.
  12. May 8, 2014 #11
    I have never had your experience. Does your school have a program in say Physics education research. If you like working with students, learning how other (more junior) physics students learn, might be your cup of tea. Especially if you are quite social.

    Employing and researching different learning strategies can have a great impact. Could be very good all around.
  13. May 9, 2014 #12


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    Does your school have a computational physics section? I honestly don't see the difference between what a computational physicist does and what a programmer does, other than apply the physics they learn. I know there are a lot of schools out there that use programming extensively. If you do something like experimental particle physics you'll be doing low to mid level programming in C++/Python mostly. Mostly making things to be run from the command line.

    You might find computational general relativity interesting. Or atmospheric simulations. Or materials science modeling and simulation (I did this for a while). You're basically programming all day to get the physics you learned into simulation form, and in the end getting some numbers and pretty plots!

    So by "Research", you, after your 2 - 2.5 years of classes in PhD, would basically be working a low paying job that is programming some new physical effect. You might not get to the point of simulating galaxies and black holes (mostly because to a physicist at this level the tough part is the math, the easy part the programming, so they do it themselves). But honestly I see computational physics becoming ever-larger. I have talked to a few Universities that have some small groups that are interested in getting OpenCL/Cuda video-card clusters built on the cheap so they could really get into simulation.

    Look into that stuff if you like both programming and physics.

    edit: Also, if you finished a PhD in computational physics you could do a LOT of industry jobs, as well as have a chance and the national labs (Sandia, Brookhaven, LLNL, etc)
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