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Choosing a Graduate Field

  1. Jul 15, 2011 #1
    I am a physics/mathematics major and I am hoping to attend graduate school to earn a PhD. However, I'm not sure what field to choose as I am very interested in a variety of things such as physics, math, philosophy, theology, chemistry, and even psychology. I am sure that I would love a field like Astrophysics but I want to pursue something with more immediate application in industry - partially to be a benefit to society and partially because I want to make a comfortable living for a family; this made me think I should study something like biophysics or neuroscience in order to work close to the medical field.
    But, I am still a bit unsure...is there a better way to to gain the best of both worlds - that is, this range of interests as well as an affluent lifestyle?
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  3. Jul 15, 2011 #2


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    Well, there is such a things as medical physics, which a fair number of universities have programs in. Have you looked into that?
  4. Jul 15, 2011 #3
    I have looked into that; from my research, it just seems like it is a position of a glorified technician, and I've read that it is somewhat unsatisfying for those who enjoy critical thinking and learning.
    Perhaps there is a counterargument?
  5. Jul 16, 2011 #4


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    As a practicing medical physicist, my experience disagrees with these statements. Medical physics is a branch of applied physics that I have found to be both challenging and rewarding. I've had considerable opportunities for research. If you want an idea of the kind of research that medical physicists do, I would suggest reading through journals such as:
    - Medical Physics
    - Physics in Medicine and Biology
    - Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics
    - International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics (Red Journal)
    - Radiotherapy & Oncology (Green Journal)
    - Radiation Research
    - Radiation Protection Dosimetry

    There is a lot of QA work involved in the profession and some people make a career out of doing primarily that. But that is not what the field is limited to.
  6. Jul 16, 2011 #5
    Thank you very much, Choppy; I'll look into some of these.
    I do have a question for you: my research shows that to become a medical physicist one needs two years of study in a medical physics program and two years of field study. But, is it possible to enter the field directly with a PhD?
  7. Jul 16, 2011 #6
    It depends on what your career goals are.

    If you want to work in industry doing research or other types of work for manufacturers/corporations then you can do so right after earning your Ph.D. (though here you would probably find an engineering background more helpful).

    If you want to work in a hospital environment overseeing the technical components of a radiation oncology or diagnostic radiology or nuclear medicine department then you will need to complete a degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) from a CAMPEP-accredited graduate program and then follow that up with a two-year clinical residency program.

    The residency program allows you to sit for the American Board of Radiology certification exams in medical physics. Certification by the ABR will be a critical part of your career path if you intend to work in a hospital/clinical environment in the future.
  8. Jul 16, 2011 #7
    I know it's hard to do this where you're at right now, but start looking around at companies you want to work for. Look at what the job postings are asking for. While you can *not* assume the specifics are going to be the same (they'll likely change by the time you get out of your PhD), you can at least get a feel for what *kind* of discipline you should be looking into for what jobs interest you the most. As you continue your graduate career, try tto mold yourself to fit those more specific skills.
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