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Is a PHD in physics required to do reasearch and lab work?

  1. May 20, 2015 #1
    I'm currently still in high school (no rush!) and am thinking about my future. Physics interests me, and I was wondering how far one would have to get on the step-ladder or titles to be qualified for a research or lab position as my job. I'd like to do what scientists did back then, but I'm not sure how to do it when the world's so busy.
    *PhD, sorry!
    Last edited: May 20, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2015 #2


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    If you want to be a research scientist, you really do need to have a PhD - think of a PhD like an apprenticeship for science. The first "real job" most scientists have is called a "Postdoctoral appointment" (aka a post-doc), which, as you can tell from the name, implies that you've just finished a PhD. The exception is someone like a research assistant, but in my experience in physics, they tend to be (a) rare, and (b) short-term positions before a person goes and starts a PhD.

    There are other jobs at labs though - engineers and technical officers will tend to have engineering degrees, but don't always need a PhD. They aren't scientists, but they enable science. Ditto administrative roles.
  4. May 21, 2015 #3
    You can be a lab technician at different levels of education, without a PhD.

    Do realize that physics today is done differently from physics 'back then'. Compare the LHC with a many famous names from the old days. Huge teams with insane equipment vs just one person in a small lab.

    So more and more supporting staff is needed.
  5. May 21, 2015 #4
    You definitely don't need a phd to do lab work.

    But you should be aware that the majority of that lab work non-phd's do is outrageously boring.
  6. May 21, 2015 #5


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    Read this essay, and figure out for yourself if you think that an undergraduate degree can equip you with the same set of knowledge and skills to be a physics researcher (or what in the US we term as a Principle Investigator or PI).


    Again, there is a very distinct difference between just learning physics versus being a physicist. You might be able to do the former by just reading books and stuff, but the latter is a career and a vocation, and requires a lot more skills and knowledge beyond what is printed on papers and books.

  7. May 23, 2015 #6


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    A PhD is not necessary for one to do research, but without a PhD, e.g., if one has only a MS degree, then one would probably need some years of experience to demonstrate one's knowledge and capability. Rather than be concerned about academic credentials, it would be worthwhile to explore scientific or technological areas of interest, and see what opportunities one might pursue. Physics and engineering are very broad areas.
  8. May 23, 2015 #7


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    While a PhD may not be inherently required to do research, it is required in most cases to get a position doing research. If one has a bachelor's degree, they will be competing for jobs against people who have a PhD. The PhD is going to win almost every time. For all practical purposes, one could safely say that a PhD is required to do research in physics.
  9. Jul 21, 2015 #8
    Thank you all so much!!!
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