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Physics Condensed Matter, Materials vs. Optics, Photonics and Optoelectronics

  1. Sep 20, 2017 #1
    Hi, I'm currently in my last year of undergrad and I'm wondering about which specialization I should pursue. I'm looking for career stability, I don't mind leaving academia I'd just like to employ what I study in school in my future career. So, to my questions

    1) In terms of career stability and relevance to topic studied, which one of these is better? (I understand there is a lot of light-matter research going on in both fields and that it's a difficult question.)
    2) Which one of these might expect better future growth both in academia and private sector (both in terms of my own personal and the field's as a whole)?

    While there is a lot of overlap between these two fields, I really want to give my best years and focus to the one, which will bring me greater enjoynment over time. I'm interested in both of these fields and equally enjoyed my optics and solid state courses. (Yet to see what's soft matter, quantum optics etc. about, so I'm still a bit naive)

    Thank you very much for your insights!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2017 #2
    Thanks for the thread! This is an automated courtesy bump. Sorry you aren't generating responses at the moment. Do you have any further information, come to any new conclusions or is it possible to reword the post? The more details the better.
     
  4. Sep 25, 2017 #3

    Dr Transport

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    never a bad decision to study optics and condensed matter physics, they are entwined and the condensed matter group at the APS has by far the largest membership.
     
  5. Sep 27, 2017 #4
    I got my PhD in physics, with a concentration in solid-state and surface physics, along with a heavy dose of materials science and engineering. I then worked in industrial R&D in epitaxial crystal growth for optoelectronic devices for telecom. So I've covered a large swath of the fields you're interested in. The long-term forecast you're seeking is not viable. Too much volatility. Brief example. R&D in my sector (optoelectronics devices for telecom) boomed through the 1980's, but cut back steeply in the early 1990's. By the late 1990's, the InterNet Bubble was still rapidly expanding, and there was then a shortage of workers in this sector: a sufficiently large shortage that even in late 1999, American companies were actively recruiting workers from overseas. Then, just ~1.5 yrs later, in mid 2001, the InterNet Bubble had burst, and there were massive layoffs in this sector. Many small companies went poof, and large corps such as Lucent and Nortel went into steep decline (with Nortel eventually going poof).

    So, even if the job market is favorable when you graduate and you do land a job, you need resilience and adaptability when the job market crashes.
     
  6. Sep 28, 2017 #5

    StatGuy2000

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    This last sentence begs the question -- how did you personally remain adaptable so that you could transition between different fields/industries? And what would you advise current graduates to do to remain adaptable? After all, once someone finds a job, all too often, they are so focused on doing well in that job that they may not have much time to learn new skills.
     
  7. Sep 28, 2017 #6

    Dr Transport

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    doing a job well requires the development of new skills
     
  8. Sep 28, 2017 #7

    StatGuy2000

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    What you just stated above is a truism. What @CrysPhys is referring to are situations where whole industrial sectors have undergone radical restructuring with associated massive layoffs and many companies going bankrupt (examples given include solid-state physics and optics in the 1980s, Internet firms in the 1990s). Under those circumstances, to stay adaptable and resilient implies the ability to learn a completely new set of skills, presumably skills not previously used in their past place of employment.

    So my question again is this -- how should a physics graduate (as an example, but this could apply to engineering graduates as well) specifically stay adaptable to continue to work in the private sector and maintain a decent standard of living?
     
  9. Sep 28, 2017 #8

    Dr Transport

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    That is an age old question that has no universal answer. Being able to read the tea leaves and head out the door before getting caught in a bad situation is the best advice I can give. Frankly, if I knew the answer, I'd tell you, but in cut-throat industry today, the first one out the door gets the position and why tell someone how to succeed before you jump is industrial/employment suicide especially when they are going to compete against you for positions when there is a limited supply. Sorry to be blunt but......
     
  10. Sep 29, 2017 #9
    This is very case specific, depending on the individual, the company, and the extent of the downturn. Some generalizations:

    (1) Scientists and engineers have to be aware of the political environment at their workplace.

    (2) If the employer is a small company, with a limited product line, and the demand for that product line plummets, then there is no place for shelter within that company. If the employer is a large diversified corp, however, particular divisions may be downsizing, while other divisions are hiring. There may be opportunities to switch fields and transfer to a healthy division. Participating in activities (such as professional societies, diversity initiatives, quality initiatives, ...) that allow you to collaborate with people outside your immediate organization (or company) provides the potential for escape routes.

    (3) All this depends, of course, on the scientist or engineer being willing to switch fields, if offered the opportunity. Many scientists and engineers I knew weren't willing.

    (4) Some core skills are in demand and transferable. For example, good writing is a lost skill and art. But being able to write clearly for different audiences (technical, marketing, sales, customer education, ...) is valuable. As another example, if you have experience designing and building a semiconductor lab facility, then designing and building a data network test lab, in comparison, is a piece of cake. A wide dynamic range (from high-level conceptual thinking to meticulous low-level execution), data measurement and analysis, mathematical analysis and modelling, mechanical and electronic design of novel equipment, and additional diversification from chemistry and materials science (all the good stuff I got from a rigorous PhD program in experimental physics and initial R&D work) ... along with my willingness to work with and learn from production engineers, project managers, and product managers (rather than sneering at them as many of my colleagues did) ... kept me afloat.

    (5) When switching fields, having brand-name universities on your resume is a big plus.
     
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