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Ideas on what to do?

  1. Oct 4, 2015 #1

    I'm new to this forum and joined, for now, specifically to ask this question. Long story short, I'm 33, I've loved physics and math since middle school, I got my bachelor's in physics from UC Berkeley, was planning to get a PhD in astrophysics/cosmology, but due to certain things decided i wanted to do something where i felt i was more directly helping people. So, instead i got a master's in medical physics (basically radiation therapy for cancer) and now work at a hospital. Up until recently, i was using my brain and being exposed to real physics by having to study for board exams. Now that i am finally done with those, i am super happy about it, but honestly i am missing doing something challenging to my brain day to day, as in daily clinical work there really isn't much physics. I don't want to leave this field as i do feel good about helping people (that's why i switched to it in the first place), but i would like to do something more intellectual on the side also, again preferably something that could make the world a better place (e.g. work on new energy sources or such) but also challenge my brain. Or, since i am getting out the "helping people" desire in my day job, I'd be cool with getting back into astrophysics and cosmology, but without a PhD it's not like i could really contribute much. I am even thinking of just reading some advanced physics textbooks on my own for courses i didn't take, such as general relativity, but again i assume i couldn't really do any research or publish papers without going back to grad school. Does anyone happen to have any ideas on what i could do or where i could start?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 4, 2015 #2


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    Look for unsolved or unidentified problems in your field of work and do the research needed to find solutions .
  4. Oct 4, 2015 #3


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    The first thing that comes to mind is that there are a lot of really interesting problems in medical physics that you could get involved in from a research point of view. At least, I find them interesting. I realize this is subjective. But either way you could start by reading through Medical Physics, Physics in Medicine and Biology, the Red Journal (International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics), the Green Journal (Radiation Oncology), the Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics, Physica Medica, Radiation Research, the International Journal of Radiation Biology, etc. to generate some ideas.

    It's tough managing a research project when you're in a primarily clinical environment, but it's certainly possible. There are a lot of examples of people who do it. The big challenges are that it can be tough to get any money or equipment to support research endeavours. But you can do computer simulations or theoretical work or report on clinical projects or sometimes you can even get your hands on some new piece of technology from a vendor and make a project out of testing it out - and none of these are overly costly.

    Another option is to try to affiliate yourself with an academic institution if you aren't already. As an example a few years ago we invited a radiation biologist at a local university in for a tour of our facility and that began a very productive research collaboration.

    Have you thought about doing a medical physics PhD? Because you've completed your coursework, you may only have to take a couple courses, if any, and the PhD would be a matter of completing a project. That's not trivial when you're working a full time job, but it would give you access to an academic institution, professors in the field, resources, etc., and you might be able to convince your employer to allow you some work time to dedicate toward the project, particularly if it could result in any benefits for the clinic.

    If you're really keen on branching out beyond medical physics, that's likely going to be a tougher route. Astrophysics is a competitive area for those who are in it full-time, and you would have a lot more to learn. You could try contacting a local university to see if you could audit a course or two or maybe volunteer to get involved with a project. As a clinical physicist you may have some leverage, if for example you could offer to mentor some students from the university interested in medical physics.
  5. Oct 4, 2015 #4
    Thanks for all the tips Choppy! I've often thought about a PhD in medical physics. Currently though, I'm working solo at a non-academic center kind of in the middle of nowhere in western Nebraska, so there are no universities nearby. The closest would be University of Colorado, a few hours away. I knew a guy in a different city who did his PhD part-time while working in the clinic full-time, but the university was in the same city. I have wondered if I could do a PhD "remotely" through University of Colorado, but i figured that's probably not a possibility...
  6. Oct 4, 2015 #5


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    The major hurdle to doing a medical physics PhD remotely is that someone off-site usually won't have access to needed facilities - and won't be properly supervised if they do. If you're working as a medical physicist already those problems are solved.

    On top of that, there may be concerns about the level of commitment a full time medical physicist can make to a PhD project. And of course, administratively, you would have to qualify for admission to the program in the first place.

    All of that said, it might be worth looking into before you assume that it's not possible. At best, it may just be a matter of finding a project that you can work on remotely and setting up a system where you can video-conference with your supervisor on a regular basis. And of course, committing to do it.
  7. Oct 5, 2015 #6
    Sounds good, I will look into it. Thanks!
  8. Oct 5, 2015 #7


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    You might also want to check with your employer if they have allowances for someone like you to continue their education as part of a career advancement program. After all, you will be pursuing an area that is very closely, if not identical, to what you are doing currently.

    I would not be too concerned about being a remote student in your case, because your job is well within the area of study that you want to pursue. If you stated all this in your applications, and you get accepted, chances are, they know how to deal with such students. You and your advisor can then set up your own schedule, program, etc., and may even find something that you might be able to do right where you work. There are many possibilities and scenarios here, and this case is certainly a lot more "straightforward" than some other scenarios that I have seen being asked on here (such as "I am am working as a computer programmer. Can I do a physics PhD part time?").

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