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Engineering Nuclear physicist with nuclear engineering PhD?

  1. Jul 21, 2017 #1
    Hello Physicsforums. The title states my main question, but there is a little bit more than is revealed there.
    1. Can you become a nuclear physicist with a nuclear engineering PhD?
    2. If not, then can I get a PhD in nuclear physics with a double major in mechanical engineering and mathematics, without a degree in physics?
    3. What is the difference between a nuclear engineering PhD and a nuclear physics PhD?

    I ask these questions because I am very interested in nuclear science and I am especially interested in doing research in nuclear science. I'm a little bit confused about the job market in this field though. Most job outlook sources say that nuclear engineering is supposed to decline by 4% while nuclear physicist jobs are supposed to increase by ~8%. What they don't specifiy is whether or not this applies to nuclear engineering PhDs. I'm also curious because I want to know which doctorate will give me a better opportunity to continue to do research.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2017 #2


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    1. Not trivially. Nuclear physics and nuclear engineering are quite different disciplines, and you'll be competing for postdocs with a less applicable set of skills. I would not do a PhD in one field if you wish to pursue a career (in academia) in a different field. It's just making your life harder.

    2. That's less of an ask. I know people who have done nuclear physics PhD with mathematics or chemistry degrees. It's a much sharper learning curve than other students will experience, however. If you can manage a physics minor you might be better prepared and have a more attractive application.

    3. If you have to ask, you might not be sufficiently informed about either nuclear engineering or nuclear physics to pursue a PhD. Nuclear physics is physics, and nuclear engineering is engineering.

    If you're interested in, say, how nuclei interact on a quantum level, or how to make element 120, or how elements were formed in supernovae, or how the structure of 12C affects its use as a cancer treatment, then you should do nuclear physics. If you're more interested in how to make the next generation of nuclear power reactors, or want to revolutionise nuclear safety, then you should do nuclear engineering.

    As to "I'm also curious because I want to know which doctorate will give me a better opportunity to continue to do research." Again, it depends on the kind of research you want to do.
  4. Jul 25, 2017 #3
    thank you for the information. My school has a program specifically for people who want to double major in engineering and physics so I'm taking that. I've done more research on the issue and I think I'm more interested in nuclear engineering related research. The only problem is that can find job descriptions for nuclear physicists much easier than I can find job descriptions for nuclear engineers involved in research. I'm primarily interested researching plasma physics and nuclear fusion.
  5. Jul 25, 2017 #4
    Even within those fields, it depends on what type of research you are interested in. For example, would you prefer designing reactors/testing materials (e.g. different metals and superconducting magnets in high radiation/temperature environments) or are you interested in theory/simulations of fusion plasmas? It might be worth checking the research of current scientists such as at PPPL and MIT PSFC. What you'll find are a mix of researchers with backgrounds in various areas (e.g. nuclear physics, mechanical and ee) working on different types of projects.
  6. Jul 25, 2017 #5
    The MIT page on magnetic fusions energy research is my interest. Finding new and better ways to design reactors and confine plasma is my main interest.
  7. Jul 25, 2017 #6
    With regards to MIT's program, you'll even notice that their particular department is called Nuclear Science and Engineering. Thus I would recommend looking at the researchers who interest you and check their backgrounds. See what skills and relevant expertise would help with the research you're planning to do, and see what program(s)—whether it's in Nuclear Physics or Engineering—helps you get there best. Of course you'll always be picking up new things to learn even outside of the scope of your specific degree.
  8. Jul 26, 2017 #7
    thank you for the advice
  9. Jul 26, 2017 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Then a degree in nuclear physics will be unhelpful.
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