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Programs How Difficult is it to get PhD in physics

  1. Jan 15, 2013 #1
    I'm 16 and have applied to sixth form to do all 3 sciences and maths.
    How difficult is it to get a PhD in physics and then become a particle physacist?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2013 #2
  4. Jan 15, 2013 #3
    Quite helpful thanks
  5. Jan 16, 2013 #4
    Let's be clear on the hard part... "and then become a particle physicist".

    Not to belittle the accomplishment of getting a Ph.D., but if you are very determined and have some talent for math and a keen interest in physics, you can probably get a Ph.D. in physics. The hard part is to find a job in the field after you graduate.
  6. Jan 16, 2013 #5
    It should be pretty difficult, but I saw more than a few people do mediocre work, hang around for 7 years, and get scooted out the door with a PhD. I'm not the only one to mention the seven year boot on this forum.
  7. Jan 20, 2013 #6
    How to make a career in physics?

    Currently I'm doing GCSE's and have an interview for sixth form (where I will do physics, chemistry, biology and maths) so what do I have to do to get a career as a researcher. I would like to work for CERN as a theoretical physacist, I have looked at job vacancies to see what I would need, a phd and 5-10 years as a researcher with published papers that have made an actual contribution to the scientific community. So what do I have to do from now to end up as a researcher and then go on to CERN?
  8. Jan 21, 2013 #7
    I would have possibly suggested taking Further Maths instead of Biology, but this isn't really a big deal as long as the course you go onto at university (I assume you're planning on going to uni?) has a strong basis in advanced maths.

    However, my advice would probably be not to worry too much about your career at this stage and rather to focus on what you enjoy doing. After all, you are just starting out on the road of higher education and what you enjoy now may not be what you enjoy doing later.

    I would highly recommend to look at getting a summer internship at CERN or somewhere similar so you can experience first hand what they do.

    If you have an interest for Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology, there'll be a whole multitude of things you could end up doing that you would love, a particle physicist is but one choice.
  9. Jan 26, 2013 #8
    "get a PhD in physics and then become a particle physacist?" - You make it sound so easy.
  10. Feb 8, 2013 #9
    In the UK it's a 4 year boot so even easier
  11. Feb 8, 2013 #10
    At my grad school the average PhD time was 7.6 years... There was more than one past their 10th year.
  12. Feb 9, 2013 #11


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    A PhD is hard but c'mon. This is a bit melodramatic! :smile:

    The average time to PhD at my physics department is 5.7 years for post bachelor's candidates.
  13. Feb 9, 2013 #12
    I dont think so. Of an incoming class of physics freshman who want to get PhDs I would say less than 10% do. How many of of the incoming class who want to do particle physics get a career in it? Probably 5% or less. There is massive attrition at each and every step of the process.
  14. Feb 9, 2013 #13
    I reckon G01 thought that the "nearly all who try fail" comment was directed at people who have already entered grad programs? Well, that's what I thought anyway!


    OP, if you have a broad interest in the sciences (and it seems so; why else would you not take further maths and additional further maths instead of chem and bio?), you shouldn't restrain yourself to one subject now, let alone, one specific sub-field of that subject! Your interests can change.

    You may find that you really dig systems biology or climate science, and then do grad work there instead! Or that you just don't like uni-level physics, and go find a job instead. Or maybe you end up really liking philosophy of science.

    Right now, assuming you want to stay in the UK, the best thing to do is get the best grades you can. As far as I'm aware, that's all that's required to get into a "top uni" in the UK. Excluding Oxbridge, of course, where one would have interviews.
  15. Feb 9, 2013 #14


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    That is what I thought. I would agree that most Physics B.S. holders do not go on to grad school. That is not the same thing as most people who try to get a Physics PhD fail, however.

    Alot of people decide they do not want to go to grad school. It is a bit unfair to consider someone who decides not to do grad school as 'failing.'
  16. Feb 10, 2013 #15
    The OP is 16. He/She is not even in undergrad yet.

    Maybe you should re-read my original quote.

    In either case, nearly all physics undergrads start with an intent to do a PhD. Most of them dont get one. Whether they want to view it as though they changed their mind rather than failed, it doesnt really matter. Even if you are going to look at students already in PhD programs my statement is still true, most who want to get a career in particle physics will not do so.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  17. Feb 11, 2013 #16
    I don't think most undergrads start a physics degree with the intent to do a PhD. At least that's not my experience. But this may be due to the ability to be more laissez faire in the UK system.

    To the op. Your A levels sound fine. If you could slot in further maths AS it will give you an edge in red brick unis. Study an intergrated masters get a 2:1 and you should be able to get on a PhD program. Easy as that :tongue:
  18. Feb 11, 2013 #17
    Almost all the physics undergrads I know started their degree because they wanted to do science as a job, which unwitting to them or not, requires a phd at the professional level. Only a few because they weren't sure what they wanted to do. Out of my entering class of about 40 only 3-5 of us have the intention of going onto postgraduate studies, most realized they didn't like the subject as much halfway into the degree.

    I think the real question is whether you'll change your mind later down the line, which is a very real possibility, rather than how difficult it is to get into grad school and pass your dissertation.
  19. Feb 11, 2013 #18
    We have obviously had different experiences. In my year I would say 25% want to do a PhD, 25% just did physics as route into finance and 50% don't know what they want to do. This may change now with the trebling of tuition fees, so new students want a set career plan before starting uni.
    I definitely agree with this. Don't worry about how hard/easy something is to do, you'll probably change plans anyway. I couldn't see myself doing a PhD, now i'm applying. If you like physics study it and see where it takes you.
  20. Feb 11, 2013 #19
    I agree, I was talking strictly about my home university. I should mention that I am currently at a uni in the UK as an exchange student and most students have no intention of pursuing science, which gets prompts the occasional joke from lecturers along the lines of "Since you all want to be consultants/work at a bank...".

    Note that I'm not saying you'll eventually lose the desire to do it no matter what, it's just that it may be too soon to be worrying about it before you've had some real deal exposure to physics. It's just that sometimes people don't have enough motivations to pursue science at the professional/graduate level.

    I always wanted to do a phd in my chosen field since high school and while I lost sight of it for a few years (which I spent getting a technical chemistry degree and 2 years in Chem undergrad), I eventually went into physics and right now the possibility of getting into a phd program is a very real one (and I am more excited than ever).
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