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I'd like to hear your stories, you who are 3-5 years ahead of me in the pursuit of getting a PhD

Hi,
I've got little over a year left until I get my masters degree in physics, my bachelor degree was pretty much all theory and very little lab-work so I decided to change it up for my master and go more or less full experimental physics.
I'll be spending the final year on an exchange in Mexico and the main topic I'll be dealing with is optical spectroscopy (LIBS) using acuoustic levitation.

I've heard from so many PhD graduates and professors that I shouldn¨'t think too much about what I do for my master thesis because you'll most likely not end exactly that further down the line anyway. At first I thought this was pretty confusing - it must take some sort of mastermind to change subject like that, but now that I'm coming closer to finishing the master degree I am kind of seeing their point and its actually very exciting!

Now, a bit ahead of time, I'm weighing between staying in academics and going into industry, of course it might be so that it eventually just comes down to where the most interesting oppurtunities lie so a decision made today might not be very likely to stick but - I am weighing more heavily against pursuing a PhD in academia.

So, as the title says, I'd like to hear your stories, you who are 3-5 years ahead of me in the pursuit of getting a PhD - where did you graduate, in what field did you do your master and how do you feel about it now that you are halfway done, almost done or completely done - what's next for you and what came before.

Kind Regards,
Oskar
 
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Your professors are right, often a Masters student will not move on to study the same subject in a PhD. Graduate and Masters courses are generally there to show aptitude. However, personally speaking I was lucky enough to move from a BSc. straight to a PhD in the same field as my graduate dissertation. So, I did not actually go through a Masters course, which I didn't feel worked against my PhD. However, if you can publish a paper during the Masters then this will certainly stand you in good stead for what is to come and enhance your academic profile.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing by broadening your skill set and this is something I missed during my PhD. My field is very niche and at present I am struggling to find a job. In hindsight I would have undertaken more experimental work in techniques that could be applied, or are readily used in industry. Also, getting contacts in industry is a VERY good idea since it seems that most postdocs move into employment through word of mouth.

If you are weighing things against an academic route, especially a PhD, I think maybe it would not be for you. The PhD becomes much, much more difficult when you are not really committed. However, if you do choose a PhD here is some advice:

1. PhD supervisor - There is a balance here; an experienced / well known supervisor will make a paper much easier to publish and pass your PhD (politics!), but at the same time they will likely be less available to help you with your work.

2. Course content - Ensure that the research / techniques you will be doing / using will be useful for employment. To be honest I would have probably gone ahead with the PhD in my field anyway as I find it very interesting, but finding a job now is a nightmare. Supervising undergraduates / Masters / international students is a great way to get some guidance / teaching experience. Also, make use of the University facilities to expand your experimental techniques skill set.

3, Time management - Do not undertake a PhD unless you can manage your own time. This is where most PhD students struggle. You do not have to get up in a morning, you have no real set deadlines, you are basically (to some extent) free to do what you want. Thus, you have to put pressure on yourself to do it, something which is easier said than done. Treating the PhD like a 9 to 5 job worked well for me, others would come in at 11am and work until 8pm, either way you have to REALLY want to do the work.

There's probably more, but I think that's enough to get you thinking, good luck!
 
Your professors are right, often a Masters student will not move on to study the same subject in a PhD. Graduate and Masters courses are generally there to show aptitude. However, personally speaking I was lucky enough to move from a BSc. straight to a PhD in the same field as my graduate dissertation. So, I did not actually go through a Masters course, which I didn't feel worked against my PhD. However, if you can publish a paper during the Masters then this will certainly stand you in good stead for what is to come and enhance your academic profile.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing by broadening your skill set and this is something I missed during my PhD. My field is very niche and at present I am struggling to find a job. In hindsight I would have undertaken more experimental work in techniques that could be applied, or are readily used in industry. Also, getting contacts in industry is a VERY good idea since it seems that most postdocs move into employment through word of mouth.

If you are weighing things against an academic route, especially a PhD, I think maybe it would not be for you. The PhD becomes much, much more difficult when you are not really committed. However, if you do choose a PhD here is some advice:

1. PhD supervisor - There is a balance here; an experienced / well known supervisor will make a paper much easier to publish and pass your PhD (politics!), but at the same time they will likely be less available to help you with your work.

2. Course content - Ensure that the research / techniques you will be doing / using will be useful for employment. To be honest I would have probably gone ahead with the PhD in my field anyway as I find it very interesting, but finding a job now is a nightmare. Supervising undergraduates / Masters / international students is a great way to get some guidance / teaching experience. Also, make use of the University facilities to expand your experimental techniques skill set.

3, Time management - Do not undertake a PhD unless you can manage your own time. This is where most PhD students struggle. You do not have to get up in a morning, you have no real set deadlines, you are basically (to some extent) free to do what you want. Thus, you have to put pressure on yourself to do it, something which is easier said than done. Treating the PhD like a 9 to 5 job worked well for me, others would come in at 11am and work until 8pm, either way you have to REALLY want to do the work.

There's probably more, but I think that's enough to get you thinking, good luck!

Hi, thank you so much for your reply - its been helpful getting to know what it means to go for a PhD.
From what you've told me I actually think I will pursue a PhD, the question for me is really head vs heart - my heart is telling me to go for the PhD but my head tells me its safer or smarter/will earn more money to go right into industry. I'm really excited by fundamental research into how nature works and I got almost teary eyed with glee when I attended a lectures on current research from CERN today. That said, I probably wouldn't say no to a position anywhere in industry simply because I know it would pay - I just dont have the pathos to pursue such a position.
 

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