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Nuclear Engineering PhD or Physics PhD for research

  1. Feb 24, 2016 #1
    Hello, I've seen lots of friendly people giving good advice here and wanted share my current graduate school situation with you guys and see what your opinions/advice are. I recently graduated with a Physics B.S. and loved it. I have a strong interest in atomic physics and radiation interaction with matter in general. I have taken two graduate quantum mechanics courses this past year as well because I think it is fascinating. I applied for some graduate schools and got accepted into a Nuclear Engineering PhD program at Ohio State University and found a professor working on radiation detection and radiation sensors and am considering accepting the offer to work with him. In the back of my mind, I still think I would prefer to go for a PhD in Physics since I have always idolized physicists and I am more familiar with the subject matter/courses. If I go for the Nuclear Engineering PhD I would want to make it as physics related as possible, as in I would try to take all my electives as graduate physics courses and try to shoot for a research-oriented career whether in academia or a national lab, etc.

    My main concern is that, as of right now, I have very little interest in power plants and reactors, so I’m worried that going for a PhD in Nuclear Engineering will pigeonhole me into a field full of power plants and reactors when I really just want to conduct research in nuclear and radiation physics, whether it be experimental or simulation. The Nuclear Engineering PhD opportunity is right in front of me though, I could start now and I have professor to work with who has funding and everything; and if I chose a Physics PhD I’d have to reapply to all the schools next year and hope I get in and basically start this process over. My question is, could getting a PhD in Nuclear Engineering hold the potential for a fulfilling career in my area of interest? Or do you guys think that a PhD in Physics is what I should be going for and if I don’t, I will probably always regret not going for the Physics PhD. I know it’s a hard question to answer since nobody can predict the future but I’d be glad to hear anyone’s opinions on the matter or if anyone has any experience making such a big decision and how it panned out. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2016 #2


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    I strongly suspect you're worried about semantics.

    If you're really interested in the project and it seems like this professor is a good mentor for you, turning it down for something you *might* get does not appear to be the best decision.
  4. Feb 24, 2016 #3
    Nuclear physics and nuclear engineering are still somewhat different; the physicist is going to study the physical properties of the nucleus where the engineer is going to use that science to make applications, this is why I would disagree with Choppy above, it's not really a matter of semantics here. I would say where you want to work (radiation detection and sensors) is a place where there's definitely overlap and you don't have to be pigeonholed if you don't want to be. You get to start earlier and you get to be in a field where there's arguably more opportunities to stay on doing research related to what you studied than in pure physics. It's up to you in the end, best of luck with whatever you choose!
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