From software development to physics PhD

In summary: If I study for a Masters in Quantum Information and then a PhD in HEP, will the experience be valuable?Yes, it will be valuable.
  • #1
figm
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Hi there,

Last June 2019 I graduated with a First class honors in Theoretical physics from one of the Top Unis in the UK. Then I started working for a company (of good prestige) as a software engineer full time. However, a few months in, I decided to apply for Masters and start a side project with one of my previous professors. I don't have much experience in research besides this (just a small internship in a research lab in the summer after my 1st year undergrad) as I was completing other internships outside of academia. I have now been accepted to do the Master in Physics at Imperial College. For anybody with a similar experience or simply who could give me some guidance :

Ultimately, I want to apply for a PhD in theoretical physics. I know I have to build my research portfolio for this. So I have been considering doing the Masters part time and:

- During the first year of my masters: working in my current company for another year, but part time (to save money)
- During the second year: try to get into a research job I could be working in while I finish the master.

I have two questions:
1) Would studying my masters part time affect my PhD application?Would you do full time instead in my position?
2) How well considered are the coding skills?
3) How hard is it to obtain a research job as a lab assistant or something similar (may be I could use some of my software skills) prior to my Master's end?
4) I am studying for the GRE - given I get a decent score, how far off am I to get into a PhD in physics in the US in a good school?Thanks !
 
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  • #2
figm said:
1) Would studying my masters part time affect my PhD application?Would you do full time instead in my position?
It suspect it will depend on how applied your PhD is. Unless your work is in some way related to your PhD project it will be better to do a full time MSc.

2) How well considered are the coding skills?
That very much depends on the project. Everyone needs some "basic" coding skills, but projects vary a lot in how much coding is required.
3) How hard is it to obtain a research job as a lab assistant or something similar (may be I could use some of my software skills) prior to my Master's end?
Very, very hard in the UK for many different reasons (including H&S issues).
Normally. your best bet is to try to find a summer placement (which can be 2-3 months sans COVID19) of some sort but even that is hard (we typically get ~10 applicants for every position we advertise).

The system in the UK is very different from the USA. When I look for PhD students I do not expect the applicants to have any real experience of research (because opportunities are so rare in the UK). Good grades and a good MSc project and a recommendation from whoever supervised that project goes a long way.
Note that the process will be different if you apply to a CDT. Some CDTs are actively looking for people with a more mixed background since they want people who are more relevant for industry.
 
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  • #3
Thank you very much for your answer. I am a C++ developer and have a large background in Java as well. Does this sound like something you would consider of great value for applications to PhD positions? For the moment, I am very interested in Quantum Information and HEP.
 

Related to From software development to physics PhD

1. What inspired you to make the transition from software development to physics?

I have always been fascinated by the laws and principles that govern the universe and how they can be explained through mathematics and scientific research. While working in software development, I found myself constantly drawn to the challenges and problem-solving aspects of physics, and decided to pursue it as a career.

2. How did your background in software development help you in pursuing a PhD in physics?

Having a strong foundation in computer programming and problem-solving skills has been extremely beneficial in my physics research. I am able to use various software and coding languages to analyze data, create simulations, and model complex systems, which are all essential skills in the field of physics.

3. What challenges did you face during your transition and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was the steep learning curve in terms of the mathematical concepts and theories in physics. However, I was able to overcome this by taking additional courses and seeking guidance from my professors and peers. I also had to adjust to a different pace of work and research, but with determination and hard work, I was able to adapt and excel in my studies.

4. How do you see the intersection of software development and physics in the future?

I believe that the intersection of software development and physics will continue to grow in the future. With the advancement of technology, there is a growing need for physicists who have a strong background in coding and data analysis. Software development is also becoming an increasingly important tool in conducting experiments and simulations in physics research.

5. What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career transition?

My advice would be to never stop learning and to be open to new challenges and opportunities. It may seem daunting to switch fields, but having a strong passion and determination for your new career path will help you overcome any obstacles. Also, don't be afraid to seek guidance and support from mentors and peers in the field. And most importantly, never give up on your dreams and goals.

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