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Considering a Physics PhD and my future

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi all. I'm having some trouble formulating my thoughts and what I should consider for my future going forwards. I'm a Mphys graduate and my masters project was in Astrophysics.(FYI im in the uk and cant leave Leeds for a few years because of family issues)

So I graduated from uni back in July and I was looking at a career in education up until Dec and all the advice I got from other teachers was to not waste my talents and quite frankly I've missed that feeling from my research project working my ass off to figure things out and solve problems. Since I was young I've wanted to be an academic and be an astronaut.

At the moment I'm looking at environmentally related Phds and modeling projects. While I want to look at other fields I'm not sure of employability post Phds for those fields. I really don't want to specialise in a particular field, im more of a jack of all trades type person but it seems like I don't have that choice. Is it possible to change and work in other fields after a Phd ? how dissimilar can they be?

As a broke Phys graduate is there anyway I could look at learning engineering skills and being more applied without going back to uni?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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Is it possible to change and work in other fields after a Phd ? how dissimilar can they be?
Sure. This happens quite frequently. And it's not so much a case of how dissimilar the fields are, but more a case of the skill set that you bring to the table for a given project. It also matters how much work you're willing to put in on your own to orient yourself in a new field. You don't have to do a second PhD, but you still have to climb the learning curve.

Have you thought at all about medical physics? If you see yourself as a "jack of all trades" type, it might be an area worth considering.

As a broke Phys graduate is there anyway I could look at learning engineering skills and being more applied without going back to uni?
One thing you might look at as some coding boot camp type courses. They're usually not free, but at the same time don't come with the same cost as doing another academic program, and they can be pretty quick too.
 
  • #3
i ment mechanical and electrical, not a fan of software coding
 
  • #4
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A PhD generally won’t indicate “jack of all trades”. I have a brother in law that has three different masters degrees. If you want “jack of all trades” that would be the more appropriate route. Also, you could get two or three masters degrees in the time for one PhD
 
  • #5
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As someone from outside academia, I can tell you that when we hire a PhD it is very rarely (almost never) because we need expertise in whatever their thesis is about. The idea is that their background leading up to the PhD matches up with the need (at a general level, like "fluid flow" or "heat transfer"), and the PhD is evidence that the applicant can figure out whatever gets thrown at them. We hire bachelors and even masters anticipating that they will require training and supervision, PhDs are expected to need much less of that.

So, not quite a "jack of all trades" but certainly "can learn on the job" or "doesn't sit around waiting to be told what to do."
 
  • #6
As someone from outside academia, I can tell you that when we hire a PhD it is very rarely (almost never) because we need expertise in whatever their thesis is about. The idea is that their background leading up to the PhD matches up with the need (at a general level, like "fluid flow" or "heat transfer"), and the PhD is evidence that the applicant can figure out whatever gets thrown at them. We hire bachelors and even masters anticipating that they will require training and supervision, PhDs are expected to need much less of that.

So, not quite a "jack of all trades" but certainly "can learn on the job" or "doesn't sit around waiting to be told what to do."
The jack of all trades thing isnt what the degrees for, thats not what i ment. Im good at solving problems and teaching my self whatever it is i need to learn to sort stuff out is what i ment.

Just so i have a clear picture what kind of roles are you talking about?

Ive also had nothing but rejection looking at graduate roles in my area and i don't feel like wasting these next few years of my life in a dead end job. I think its because i have such a heavy teaching background and very little in the way of anything else. That and ive only worked in education.
 
  • #7
A PhD generally won’t indicate “jack of all trades”. I have a brother in law that has three different masters degrees. If you want “jack of all trades” that would be the more appropriate route. Also, you could get two or three masters degrees in the time for one PhD
I want a phd tho, just for doctorate. My ast told me its better to do a phd then go work in industry, apparently the other way is quite difficult. And i can see why, uk grants and funding that ive seen so far are about the same as working a minimum wage job. I got paid more as a supply teacher but kids and stress aren't worth it.
 
  • #8
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@sleepinginsomnia I see you just joined the forum .:welcome:

-- if you haven't already, spend some time reading through the education / career subforums here. You will find lots of good advice and stories from recent PhDs. Overall it seems to boil down to
(1) staying in academia is very hard, ultimately because there are more new PhDs than there are retiring professors.
(2) if you want to work in industry rather than academia, you need to develop marketable skills during the PhD journey. This is where the oft-quoted "programming" skills come in. You say that's not your bag; fine, but you will need something to talk about in job interviews. Something that you can do for the company to help them make money. That's their bag.
 
  • #9
StatGuy2000
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I think this thread will require feedback from those PF members from the UK. (@PeroK , @f95toli, @Ryan_m_b -- will any of you care to step in?)

I state this because many of the respondents here so far come from the US or Canada, and the Canadian and American post-secondary educational systems differ considerably from the British system.
 
  • #10
@sleepinginsomnia I see you just joined the forum .:welcome:

-- if you haven't already, spend some time reading through the education / career subforums here. You will find lots of good advice and stories from recent PhDs. Overall it seems to boil down to
(1) staying in academia is very hard, ultimately because there are more new PhDs than there are retiring professors.
(2) if you want to work in industry rather than academia, you need to develop marketable skills during the PhD journey. This is where the oft-quoted "programming" skills come in. You say that's not your bag; fine, but you will need something to talk about in job interviews. Something that you can do for the company to help them make money. That's their bag.
Thanks for the kind reception.

Yeah i can understand that, their bottom line is profit after all. Ill swallow the medicine just in case i need it. Id rather struggle through the academia, that feels right to me (think don't feel dumbass).
I get that its harder that way but ill have to look at piking up more industry side skills just im case, its always better to have as many tools in your tool box anyway.

Would there be anything besides coding then? Also how would coding help (eg pls)? Would that be for modling or simulating pitential systems and buisness data analysis?
 
  • #11
f95toli
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Firstly, knowing a bit about programming never hurts and these days it is used in virtually all fields of science and engineering. That said, you don't need to be an expert; plenty of people get along just knowing a bit about one or two high-level languages (Python, R, Matlab etc).

It used to be true that anyone with a PhD of any type could hired by a bank. This is no longer the case, but plenty of people still end of working in the financial sector in very wide range of roles (not necessarily technical). This might seem strange at first but remember that a lot of the top-level managers, solicitors etc in the city have degrees in English or Classics (preferable for Oxbridge); there is a long tradition here in the UK of people being hired not because of their training, but because they are considered to be "clever". One could probably safely argue that doing a physics PhD is no worse a preparation for working in finance than studying Shakespeare.

A couple of people I know ended up working for companies such as PA Consulting, PwC etc. One former student of mine have ended up as CEOs of a rapidly expanding startup (after working in a technical role for about 2 years), one is just about to start a job doing machine learning/AI (growing sector here in the UK); another one is a senior scientist in my team.

Anyway, I guess the point is that doing a PhD does open a lot doors. That said, finding a job where you end up doing exactly what you did your PhD in (typically academia) is as hard here as it is in the US. The key is to be as flexible as possible.
 
  • #12
Firstly, knowing a bit about programming never hurts and these days it is used in virtually all fields of science and engineering. That said, you don't need to be an expert; plenty of people get along just knowing a bit about one or two high-level languages (Python, R, Matlab etc).

It used to be true that anyone with a PhD of any type could hired by a bank. This is no longer the case, but plenty of people still end of working in the financial sector in very wide range of roles (not necessarily technical). This might seem strange at first but remember that a lot of the top-level managers, solicitors etc in the city have degrees in English or Classics (preferable for Oxbridge); there is a long tradition here in the UK of people being hired not because of their training, but because they are considered to be "clever". One could probably safely argue that doing a physics PhD is no worse a preparation for working in finance than studying Shakespeare.

A couple of people I know ended up working for companies such as PA Consulting, PwC etc. One former student of mine have ended up as CEOs of a rapidly expanding startup (after working in a technical role for about 2 years), one is just about to start a job doing machine learning/AI (growing sector here in the UK); another one is a senior scientist in my team.

Anyway, I guess the point is that doing a PhD does open a lot doors. That said, finding a job where you end up doing exactly what you did your PhD in (typically academia) is as hard here as it is in the US. The key is to be as flexible as possible.
I already have some experience with python, mostly in analysing astro data but ill push myself to get some more knowledge on it.

I hate money, just talking about it makes a pit in my stomach so finance is something id my best to avoid. Would you mind telling me more about academia pls? For a long time its been my asperation to be a 'scientist', naive and idolised as it may be id like to know more about the reality of it.

I knw the hours and stress will have a ratjer significant impact on your life, ive had more than a few chain smoking professors and heard about a couple divorces due to work being the priority as well. If you could pls give me as much info as you have.
 
  • #13
f95toli
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I don't actually work in academia, I work at a government owned research organisation, The main difference is that I don't do any teaching (expect at the odd summer school) which -depending on the university you work at- can take up a significant amount of time. That said, I don' believe academia is necessarily more stressful that industry, I have friends who are investment bankers, solicitors etc; all jobs which seem way more stressful than mine (they make way more money, but tend to work insane hours).

I understand where you are coming from, but I don't you think you should rule out the financial sector. Something like 20% of all people in London work directly or indirectly for the financial sector, and the wast majority of them do not handle money (banks tend to e.g. have very large IT departments).

Whether or not you want to work in academia should not in my view be a deciding factor in whether you choose to do a PhD; the vast majority of people with PhDs do NOT work in academia (I think the official statistics from UCL is that less than 6% of people who gets a PhD from them end up with permanent jobs in academia), whether or not you can find a permanent position in academia will depend on a lot of different factor, most of them outside of your control.
Hence, the "default" should be that you want to do a PhD because you think it would be interesting (and ideally fun) experience and would open up a number of interesting opportunities afterwards.
 
  • #14
I don't actually work in academia, I work at a government owned research organisation, The main difference is that I don't do any teaching (expect at the odd summer school) which -depending on the university you work at- can take up a significant amount of time. That said, I don' believe academia is necessarily more stressful that industry, I have friends who are investment bankers, solicitors etc; all jobs which seem way more stressful than mine (they make way more money, but tend to work insane hours).

I understand where you are coming from, but I don't you think you should rule out the financial sector. Something like 20% of all people in London work directly or indirectly for the financial sector, and the wast majority of them do not handle money (banks tend to e.g. have very large IT departments).

Whether or not you want to work in academia should not in my view be a deciding factor in whether you choose to do a PhD; the vast majority of people with PhDs do NOT work in academia (I think the official statistics from UCL is that less than 6% of people who gets a PhD from them end up with permanent jobs in academia), whether or not you can find a permanent position in academia will depend on a lot of different factor, most of them outside of your control.
Hence, the "default" should be that you want to do a PhD because you think it would be interesting (and ideally fun) experience and would open up a number of interesting opportunities afterwards.
Thankyou, i see what you mean. I guess the reason i want a phd is because its the highest qualification you can get as a scientist and im only applying for positions that i would find the work intresting anyway, so i guess im going the right way. Thanks.
 
  • #15
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Just to repeat my suggestion that you do some reading in similar threads here.

There are a number of people posting as disillusioned PhDs, with complaints that they didn't understand how things go when they started. You don't want to be in that position five years from now; and doing a little digging here might open your eyes. This is not to disparage your plan in any way.

Also suggest reading "So you want to be a physicist" sticky thread by ZapperZ in the academic guidance subforum.
 
  • #16
Dr. Courtney
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A PhD generally won’t indicate “jack of all trades”. I have a brother in law that has three different masters degrees. If you want “jack of all trades” that would be the more appropriate route. Also, you could get two or three masters degrees in the time for one PhD
I wouldn't worry about "jack of all trades", but you should be sure to pick up a few broadly marketable skills along the way to your PhD. My most marketable skills were 1) programming 2) instrumentation skills and 3) teaching.

All my industry jobs in the past 25 years were much more related to my programming and instrumentation skills than my atomic physics knowledge gained pursuing my PhD. (In fact, I've never had a job directly related to my atomic physics knowledge). I was also intentional to get as much teaching experience as I could as a graduate student - both taking TAs as well as tutoring jobs, even though my RA and fellowships more than covered my financial needs. My tutoring work in the Office of Minority Education at my grad school was a big reason I was hired years later as a Math Professor in USAFA's Quantitative Reasoning Center. The experience was key in my performance in that job and rapid promotion to the Center's Director. My consulting work in blast and ballistics is mostly based on the confidence I gained in grad school that I could jump to other disciplines, do both experiment and theory, and solve problems with fewer resources than others.

Most students have in mind a preferred career path. That's fine. But real life happens and most folks are faced with challenges and constraints they may not have seen coming. Often these are supply and demand issues in your preferred career path. Other times they are related to geographical constraints, family issues, political issues, and evolving personal preferences. I like to take a "What Color is Your Parachute?" approach to career thinking, including how to develop and assess one's marketable skills.
 
  • #17
I wouldn't worry about "jack of all trades", but you should be sure to pick up a few broadly marketable skills along the way to your PhD. My most marketable skills were 1) programming 2) instrumentation skills and 3) teaching.

All my industry jobs in the past 25 years were much more related to my programming and instrumentation skills than my atomic physics knowledge gained pursuing my PhD. (In fact, I've never had a job directly related to my atomic physics knowledge). I was also intentional to get as much teaching experience as I could as a graduate student - both taking TAs as well as tutoring jobs, even though my RA and fellowships more than covered my financial needs. My tutoring work in the Office of Minority Education at my grad school was a big reason I was hired years later as a Math Professor in USAFA's Quantitative Reasoning Center. The experience was key in my performance in that job and rapid promotion to the Center's Director. My consulting work in blast and ballistics is mostly based on the confidence I gained in grad school that I could jump to other disciplines, do both experiment and theory, and solve problems with fewer resources than others.

Most students have in mind a preferred career path. That's fine. But real life happens and most folks are faced with challenges and constraints they may not have seen coming. Often these are supply and demand issues in your preferred career path. Other times they are related to geographical constraints, family issues, political issues, and evolving personal preferences. I like to take a "What Color is Your Parachute?" approach to career thinking, including how to develop and assess one's marketable skills.
well i think i've got some start on the teaching lol. thanks
 
  • #18
Just to repeat my suggestion that you do some reading in similar threads here.

There are a number of people posting as disillusioned PhDs, with complaints that they didn't understand how things go when they started. You don't want to be in that position five years from now; and doing a little digging here might open your eyes. This is not to disparage your plan in any way.

Also suggest reading "So you want to be a physicist" sticky thread by ZapperZ in the academic guidance subforum.
thats why im looking for advice and opinions rn. will do boss :thumbup:
 
  • #19
thats why im looking for advice and opinions rn. will do boss :thumbup:
Lol the last 3 sections is where im at. Thanks it will probably help me with my job search atm with the cv advice. Looking for work regardless don't want to bet on a phd without any safety options.
 

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