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Nuclear Engineering: PhD vs. Masters for reactor design

  1. Apr 2, 2017 #1
    I had read a few helpful forums on the pros and cons of going for a masters vs. phd in nuclear engineering. However, I am still confused about one thing. I am considering pursuing a career in reactor design (fission or fusion, will likely make another post to discuss this). Here are my questions:

    1. Are the guys in national labs/universities/government organizations (e.g. NASA) making the primary contributions in this kind of work, or are private companies like Westinghouse/GE designing their own reactors? I specifically mean making models for everything in CAD, doing simulations to test if it will work, etc.

    2. Regardless of the answer to that, are the people designing reactors typically PhDs? Or in other words should I go for a PhD in NucE if I plan on doing this kind of work?

    For reference, I am currently a sophomore undergrad so I still have plenty of time to decide.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2017 #2

    BvU

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    Hi Pierce,

    1. No. It's a team effort where 'team' means a whole lot of people. A big fraction of the work is subcontracted.
    2. Yes/no. A lot of research is done at the PhD level (mostly at government institutions -- oops -- and universities -- oops), but innovation comes from all over the discipline spectrum and not just the PhD level.

    Personally, I recommend getting a PhD.
     
  4. Apr 2, 2017 #3

    FactChecker

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    That is a very safety critical field where a person with a Master's degree can be appreciated if they have a sharp, disciplined, critical mind. That being said, it is so technical and advanced that having a PhD would be rewarded and would open many more opportunities.
     
  5. Apr 2, 2017 #4
    Thanks to both of you for the replies.

    So do people in national labs/universities end up getting involved in these projects, or are they mostly focused on new research? And do private companies have large research groups too or do they focus on implementing other groups' research? (I guess this will also depend on the company, but my understanding is that there aren't that many in the nuclear industry.)

    By more opportunities, do you mean both in private companies/academic positions, or more leaning toward the latter?
     
  6. Apr 2, 2017 #5

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    I had in mind within a company. A company in that business will have research and development programs where a lead position would be more likely filled by someone with a PhD. Many companies are very conscious of degrees.
    Obviously, academic positions also require or greatly prefer a PhD.
     
  7. Apr 3, 2017 #6

    BvU

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    It is definitely commendable you try to look forward, so keep at it.
    But do realize that there may be other fields you haven't discovered yet, that may match your interests even better and be at least as exciting.... :smile: so be sure you build a broad base of scientific skills and knowledge !
     
  8. Apr 4, 2017 #7
    Although this is true, I will have to make a decision in 1.5 years about what graduate schools I am applying to. So maybe black hole fabrication will emerge as a field (joking), but if I end up with a degree in electrical engineering then I probably wouldn't be able to contribute much.

    In fact, my understanding is that if I went into NucE, I should have my subfield figured out by the time I graduate (e.g. fission reactors, fusion reactors, plasma physics, etc.).
     
  9. Apr 6, 2017 #8
    Yes you will most likely understand which sub field you're most interested in by senior year as many departments have certain tracks by junior or senior year dependant on your sub field (a&m is heavy on computational track). Also you will most likely have a specific sub field associated with your part in a senior design project. When you choose a graduate school for a phd program you will work with a specific advisor whose interests align with yours so by then you really have to know what area of nuclear you want to work in.
     
  10. Apr 6, 2017 #9
    I would also personally say that a PhD will probably open more doors for you in nuclear than a masters. I've interned two summers at a national lab and almost everyone there had PhDs.
     
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