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Programs Career after PhD: How is the situation in Particle Physics compared to Condensed Mat?

  1. Oct 6, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I've just finished my bachelors degree and started grad school.
    I'm having a really hard time deciding if I want to head into Experimental Particle Physics oder Experimental Solid State Physics for my PhD.
    I've had a little practical experience in both fields, and I really enjoy both a lot!
    Generally I like to play with things and build stuff and screw stuff (if you know what i mean), therefore i would like to do something in a lab.
    My main concerns are what to do after my PhD. I would love to stay in academia as PostDoc and with a tenure track..and maybe even Prof, but as a student with grades only slightly above average, I'm not convinced that will work the way I wish.

    So basically my questions are:
    How hard is it to stay in academia in general? And especially in Condensed Matter Physics and Experimental Particle Physics? (for example, how high is the percentage of PhD students that can stay in the field after their thesis?)

    If an academic career fails, what are the alternatives in both fields? (I've heard, that in Condensed Matter Physics, it is "easy" to find a job in the industry doing something more or less "physicsy" - whereas there are no real options after a PhD in Particle Physics, if you don't stay in academia, you probably won't end up doing something involving a lot of physics (e.g finance, programming,..) )

    I would be really thankful for any kind of advice! Thanks a lot for your help
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2012 #2
    Re: Career after PhD: How is the situation in Particle Physics compared to Condensed

    I would like some insight as well.

    I recently came across an article talking about the high demand for accelerator physicists. Have you ever thought about that? I am not sure how closely related to particle physics that field is.

  4. Oct 17, 2012 #3
    Re: Career after PhD: How is the situation in Particle Physics compared to Condensed

    Accelerator physics != experimental particle physics

    In a high energy/particle physics experiment the accelerator is just a tool providing collisions. You care primarily about what happens in the collisions of particles not the details of how they are accelerated. In my experience (I have a PhD in high energy physics) most HEP experimentalists have only a very, very basic understanding of how the accelerator itself works.

    As to the chances of staying in academia I don't know know if there is any real difference between condensed matter and high energy. Anecdotally, it seems from the people I know to be a fairly low chance for both field.

    It is generally easier to find a job doing physics/engineering outside of academia as a condensed matter physicist. A very large portion of the high energy experimentalists that I know personally who left academia just ended up as programmers. I did too.
  5. Oct 17, 2012 #4
    Re: Career after PhD: How is the situation in Particle Physics compared to Condensed

    A lot depends on how you define "physics-y." In my situation (theoretical astrophysics), I ended up working in an investment bank, and the work that I do is pretty much the same as the work I did in graduate school (i.e. crunch partial-differential equations in supercomputers). One reason that I like my current job is that it keeps my technical skills sharp and I make enough money so that in a few years I'll be able to go back to astrophysics without too much trouble.

    There are a lot of different jobs under "finance" and "programming" some of which are very physics-y and some that aren't.
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