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Ph. D. in Materials Science or Physics?

  1. Jun 24, 2010 #1
    I am currently getting ready to start applying Ph. D. programs, but I am unsure whether I want to continue with physics or materials science (I will graduate with degrees in both physics and materials science). I am wondering whether career options will be better for a physicist or materials scientist? I am interested in doing R&D in semiconductors as a career, and I was hoping someone could tell me what degree would be best.

    P.S. Feel free to add any personal experiences.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2010 #2


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    You ARE aware that a condensed matter physicist is someone who is a physicist but studies material science, don't you? So why do you even have to choose one or the other?

  4. Jun 25, 2010 #3
    one is usually in an engineering department and the other is in the school of sciences so the emphasis is different? that's my guess.
  5. Jun 25, 2010 #4


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    Formally, yes, they are different. But technically? No. A condensed matter physics program can be as close to material science as one wants it. It depends very much on the subject area, the school, and the advisor.

  6. Jun 26, 2010 #5
    Hey Goalie33, I would private message you about my question because it's sidetracking the thread a bit but how different was majoring in Materials Science compared to Physics? Were they related well? I'm curious in both of those majors too so your experience will explain some, thanks.
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    They are similar in certain respects and very different in others. For instance, materials science learn quantum (a, shall we say, dumbed down version) when learning about electronic and magnetic materials. Other than that, materials scientist focus a lot on structure and mechanical properties (not something many physics majors know a ton about). In graduate mat sci programs I would most likely take a quantum course; but stat mech, higher level quantum, and em are not required of a mat sci major. I could take them as electives (many programs require that you take technical courses outside of the college of eng).
  8. Jun 30, 2010 #7
    Physics students and materials science students could be in the same research group at the same university. At most schools you can work in a group outside your department, so you should just choose the research you want to do. The department you choose is just a name on your degree, and it determines the classes you take. The research is what matters in a PhD program. Just decide which classes are more interesting and choose that department.

    For reference, I am an MSE PhD student who wishes he did an undergrad in physics instead, even though I would be happy to end up in the same place.
  9. Jun 30, 2010 #8
    So it sounds like whichever program I decide I will be able to tailor it to my interests, by taking additional classes of my choice and getting in with a research group of my choice, this is good to hear. I will most likely apply to programs in both subjects and make the final decision based on the department and school that fits me best. Thank you for your help!

    To johng23: What type of research are you doing for your PhD?
  10. Jun 30, 2010 #9
    I'm working in a lab that does ultrafast spectroscopy. We do optical pump probe, THz pump probe, and also time-resolved x-ray diffraction or transient absorption. People in my group are looking at fs dynamics of optically induced phase changes in nanoparticles, or optical switching of ferroelectrics, for example. I am in my first year, so my project hasn't really taken off yet. My plan is to look at carrier dynamics at the liquid-semiconductor junction, relevant to photoelectrochemical cells. Our group is purely experimental right now - no one really does any theory.
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