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Can I Get A Reality Check (Accepting a Postdoc Or Not)

  1. Apr 17, 2014 #1
    Hi all,

    I apologize in advance for a bit of a lengthy preface on my question.

    I'm a PhD student in computational condensed matter (with a specialization in parallel and high-performance computing) who's just finishing off my degree. I don't want to continue in condensed matter, however, after starting my job search quite early I've become extremely interested in nanoelectronics, emerging memory and device modelling. Having recognized this interest quite early I've tried to retool myself, in terms of my resume, by taking two graduate courses in device physics and semiconductor fabrication techniques (which unfortunately had no hands on components) in addition to some online courses in nanoelectronics.

    Although I'm currently interested in the "cutting edge" stuff I think I would also really be interested in any form of current device modelling (i.e. reliability or the likes) or fabrication or process modeling or just being a flat-out device engineer, though I have absolutely no experimental/characterization/hands-on experience. Thus, I think my ultimate goal would be to end up in industry, in say silicon valley, working either in research (ideally) or engineering (almost just as good) or in software development for simulation and modelling software (things like COMSOL, Silvaco, etc.).

    Now I've sent out a whole lot of resumes and also looked into postdocs in the field and I've gotten a few interviews but no offers from industry. However, I am getting the sense (and sometimes being explicitly told) that I've started my job hunt to early (4-6 months before I graduate) so it is difficult for me to evaluate whether I'm being held back by the fact that I'm really a physicist with a background in quantum phase transitions and spin systems (though I really try to present my resume as a solid state physics + simulation/modelling expert) or if I'm just starting too early.

    Now, finally, my question. I have just received a postdoc offer in nanoelectronic device modelling from a fairly prestigious German university. This is a potentially great opportunity both because I would LOVE to spend a couple years living in Europe on someone else's dime and because I am already envisioning the bullet points I could add to my resume and the way I could spin myself more as an engineer with a physics background (rather than a physicist who wants to go in to engineering). It is however a research position in fairly cutting edge nanotechnology with no hands-on component.

    Am I kidding myself into thinking that taking a few years putzing around in Europe working on computer models of pie-in-the-sky research devices is going to give me any benefit for getting the kind of job I want afterwards? Am I kidding myself that I could move into industry with my qualifications (and lack of hands-on experience though I do have a "theoretical" knowledge of fabrication and characterization)? Or should I forgo the offer and risk waiting until closer til graduation and hope that industry interest picks up about a month or two before I graduate? Any feedback is appreciated. I'm just looking for a reality check.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 24, 2014 #2
    Not quite sure what to make of the lack of responses. At least no one thinks it's a terrible idea?
  4. Apr 24, 2014 #3
    I'd answer but I don't know the answer to this question.
  5. Apr 25, 2014 #4
    I'm sure you'll get different answers from different people, except that most will say it's your decision and no one can make it for you because it depends a lot on what you want/ what kind of personality you have/what's your family status etc.

    For me personally however, I've never really cared too much about how things will look in the future. Sure if there's an obvious thing to do that will give you advantages, I'll do it, but I would never opt out of something that you feel you would "LOVE to do" because you're afraid it might not be the best in the future. Since no one can predict the future, either choice you make can either be better or worse. And in that situation you might consider that you're better off just doing what you want to do at each instance, will be a more fun life in total.

    I can't answer you specific questions on your skillset since I'm not in that field, but remember that people with a PhD has the lowest unemployment numbers of any education level, so your at least unlikely to fail completely whatever you choose (and then you might as well try to pick what you want).
  6. Apr 26, 2014 #5
    I can't say specifically for postdocs or not, but getting real-life experience modeling devices, wouldn't you think that experience would be more valuable to an employer than just schoolwork and some self-studying? You'll enjoy it, you said.

    And there are just too many variables to tell for sure what you'll be able to do, or even if you'll be able to get a job immediately after graduating. If you accept the postdoc offer, maybe you can search for jobs starting halfway through it or something. Heck, be in Europe, learn a language, become more employable!

    Basically, what I'm saying is: You can try waiting, and risk not getting a job or postdoc PERIOD for awhile after graduation, or accept the postdoc and then have better credentials for getting a job afterward. Maybe try companies that have an international presence in Germany once you're done with the postdoc, or even while you're doing it.

    But take my advice with a grain of salt.
  7. Jun 4, 2014 #6
    I think that any of the choices you mentioned will turn out well for you. To me the post-doc sounds like a good opportunity for you exactly for the reasons you listed.

    On the other hand, it is true that the PhD credential in physics and engineering has a very good unemployment rate, so I don't think you should worry if you turn down that job. Besides depending on your current situation (married, debt, etc.), you may be able to take on more risk in your search for employment than you will be able to in the future.

    As an american physicist turned ECE PhD student attending a European university, I can tell you that things operate a little differently here than they do in the US. If you accept the post-doc expect to rely more on collaborators and have stricter deliverables/milestones than many grants in the US. Good luck on this difficult decision!
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