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Programs Does your choice of PhD research restrict your future research options much?

  1. Dec 30, 2009 #1
    Hello everyone

    I am going to be applying for PhDs this year and have been looking around at what is available. I'm finishing a masters in physics (in the UK) and I have tried to tailor it in the last year so that I have a medical physics/biophysics flavour to it through research projects and reading modules.

    Generally I've been looking at medical physics/biophysics PhDs, I'm not particularly certain of one specific area I desperately want to study but something roughly within this field is what I was thinking. However, I found a PhD which caught my eye which is in something called "Psychophysics" which appears to be applications of physics to the field of psychology. The PhD is as part of a research group within the department of physics and the group leader says most people in the group come from an experimental physics background. She encouraged me to apply (even though officially she wanted to get going before I graduate, but said for the right candidate she'd wait). It seems interesting and a great inter-university research project, but I'm a little worried that if I were to do a PhD like this it might restrict my research chances later on. Perhaps if I decided I wanted to move back into a more medical physics research area, would this hold me back?

    I worked in a medical physics group during the summer and most of the people there hadn't done medical physics PhDs- they'd done condensed matter, or atomic physics etc. I also know a lot of people though who always did the same thing- people who've never done research in anything other than say, radio astronomy.

    Any advice? Do you think I should apply, even if I'm not sure I would do it if it was offered?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2009 #2


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    In very general terms people will quite often move into different areas of research than those they've done their PhD in. It's research after all. Sometimes the problems get solved and you have to move on. Sometimes the best job opportunities are in other fields.

    Historically in medical physics lots of people have come from different fields. However, this is changing. In North America it is becoming exceedingly difficult to enter the field without going through an accredited medical physics graduate program and residency. (The jury is still out on whether or not this is a good thing.) I suspect a similar trend in Europe and the UK is soon to follow.

    If you're interested in clinical medical physics, I would favour a medical physics specific program - although you may want to talk to some of the UK medical physicists you know who would have a better idea about the certification process across the pond.

    For what it's worth there are some medical physics projects that involve a certain amount of psychology cross over, especially in areas of diagnostic imaging and MRI.
  4. Dec 31, 2009 #3
    Choppy, I've heard that astrophysics PhDs have an easier time transitioning into a medical physics postdoc than people from most other areas of physics. Any truth to this rumor?
  5. Jan 1, 2010 #4


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    Hi Arunma. I think it's a case by case basis really. One way of getting into medical physics from a different field is to get into a post doctoral research position that transitions into a residency after a couple of years. Often these research positons will require Monte Carlo and programming skills, or experience in image processing - stuff that may transition naturally from an astrophysics background. But then again the project might involve R&D of say a new solid state detector where someone from an experimental condensed matter background might have an advantage.
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