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Grad school help: choosing a concentration

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Grad school help: choosing a "concentration"

Okay, so I will begin my graduate physics studies this fall. I'm incredibly excited, but very nervous, especially about the comprehensive/qualifying exams, but that's another story...

I'm already in my early 30s, married, with a kid. Needless to say, I'm eager to get my PhD, and I'd like to be as efficient and practical about it as possible. I can't really afford to spend a decade in school not earning any money; I have a family, after all.

The physics PhD is a personal goal of mine--something I've wanted forever--and I feel like I'm sacrificing a lot to pursue this dream (my last job, as an accountant for a large hospital system, paid $70,000/year...I hope my PhD will land me a job that pays at least that much).

I'd love to be a professor when all is said and done--who wouldn't, right?--but I'm realistic enough to recognize that only a tiny percentage of PhDs manage to land a tenure-track professorship. So, my secondary goal is to develop a lot of marketable skills during grad school (e.g., coding and numerical modeling skills, or even some engineering-related experience) so that I can get a good job in case the tenure-track-professor lottery doesn't go my way.

In light of all this, I'd like some help figuring out what my "concentration" should be in grad school. Yes, I know I will be assigned an advisor this fall and that I can talk to him/her about my ultimate career plans, but I'd love some suggestions now so I can ruminate on them and research job prospects over the summer.

Any suggestions?

Oh, in case you're wondering, I love statistical mechanics (theoretical, if I can pull it off)...that would be my "dream" pursuit; to me, it's far more interesting than HEP, for example.

TIA
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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So, my secondary goal is to develop a lot of marketable skills during grad school (e.g., coding and numerical modeling skills, or even some engineering-related experience) so that I can get a good job in case the tenure-track-professor lottery doesn't go my way.
I think this is a good approach.

Also, one problem many phD students face is getting stuck year-after-year trying to finish. Maybe ask around the department and see which professors tend to keep students tied up year-after-hear and which ones don't. Consider getting involved with a research contract with deadlines rather than an open ended study.
 
  • #3
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I think this is a good approach.

Also, one problem many phD students face is getting stuck year-after-year trying to finish. Maybe ask around the department and see which professors tend to keep students tied up year-after-hear and which ones don't. Consider getting involved with a research contract with deadlines rather than an open ended study.
Thanks for your response.

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a "research contract?" Is this anything like the dissertation proposal (e.g., written document that spells out the nature of the research, how it is to be pursued, its timeline)? Or do you mean something more informal?

My thinking is that I would like to come up with some dissertation/research ideas this summer--project(s) that would help me develop my coding skills, etc., in light of my eventual goal of being employable--and see if any profs would be willing to advise such projects. If I can come up with some good projects--realistic, but high-quality, ones--then I can formally propose them sooner rather than later and get out of school a tad faster.

In a sense, I guess I'm trying to work this thing backwards: anticipating what I need to do/have to be employable, using that to come up with a dissertation idea, and then picking a concentration in grad school that's amenable to the dissertation. Is that weird? Is that the wrong way to go about it?
 
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my last job, as an accountant for a large hospital system, paid $70,000/year...I hope my PhD will land me a job that pays at least that much
One warning, most of the people I know who stayed in technical fields make significantly less than 70k right after the phd. Maybe with a phd + 4 or 5 years experience.

For the high salaries, you might want to look at developing a skill set that sets you up for finance or management consulting type jobs.
 
  • #5
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Just asking, but what is your undergraduate degree in? Accounting? If it's not in physics, then you are woefully unprepared for graduate school without years of catch-up. I guess you could kid yourself and pretend that a year of half-hearted study will make up for four missing years of straight physics, but if you are serious about doing a physics PhD you NEED a BS in physics.
 
  • #6
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Just asking, but what is your undergraduate degree in? Accounting? If it's not in physics, then you are woefully unprepared for graduate school without years of catch-up. I guess you could kid yourself and pretend that a year of half-hearted study will make up for four missing years of straight physics, but if you are serious about doing a physics PhD you NEED a BS in physics.
I studied physics and math as an undergrad; I parlayed my math education (plus a fair amount of accounting self-study) into a couple decent accounting jobs.

Regardless, I can't imagine any sane graduate physics admissions committee admitting a student to a PhD program without him/her having adequate undergrad preparation; I was admitted, so clearly my school thinks I'm capable of doing the work.
 
  • #7
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Ahh my mistake. I didn't see that you had already been admitted. Well, good luck!
 
  • #8
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Pardon my ignorance, but what is a "research contract?" Is this anything like the dissertation proposal (e.g., written document that spells out the nature of the research, how it is to be pursued, its timeline)? Or do you mean something more informal
Private industry or government will often provide funding to a university professor to study or solve a problem (i.e. a research contract).

Since the professors need help with these contracts, they will usually hire graduate students to assist them with the research and then their masters thesis or phD dissertation can be based on this work. When I completed my masters degree in mechanical engineering, we were working on a study funded by Hewlett Packard. So my thesis was based on this work.

So if you can get involved in something like this, there will be deadlines and you may finish your dissertation sooner.
 

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