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PhD in Accelerator Physics (EE or Physics?)

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  1. Apr 1, 2014 #1

    jtf

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    Hi folks,

    I have a BSEE and am interested in pursuing a PhD focused on accelerator physics. I had originally planned for an EE PhD in RF/Microwave, but after reading ZapperZ's accelerator physics thread and doing a bit of reading, I find myself drawn in this direction.

    I've looked at some of the schools involved in this type of research and found a few with EE faculty with this interest. Of course, there are more physics and applied physics programs with accelerator physics research versus EE.

    I'm interested in any advice you can offer regarding the EE vs physics PhD with the goal being a career in accelerator physics. One concern I have is my limited physics background (two general physics classes and the EE version of undergrad electromagnetics). I'm planning to apply this fall so that leaves me about 6 months to study for the physics GRE. Would it be worth it to pursue the physics route for the additional opportunities I assume it will provide? Thanks for your insight.
     
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  3. Apr 1, 2014 #2

    ZapperZ

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    My advice is to stay in EE and find a school that offers the accelerator physics specialization as an EE major. Places such as Maryland, UCLA, USC, etc offer such option.

    Zz.
     
  4. Apr 1, 2014 #3
  5. Apr 1, 2014 #4

    jtf

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    ZapperZ,
    Why do you recommend I stay with EE?

    rfdave,
    Thanks for the link...I'll check it out.
     
  6. Apr 2, 2014 #5
    I am looking forward to seeing what ZapperZ has to say on the subject, but my take on it is that an EE degree is as valuable in accelerator work as is a physics degree and since you have a good start with a BSEE, you would find it easier. If you want to focus more on the physics side after you receive your Phd, you will find that it is reasonably easy to move about with a practical degree like a Phd in EE.
     
  7. Apr 2, 2014 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Because:

    1. You don't need to be a physics major to specialize in accelerator science;

    2. You don't have to switch fields and just continue on in EE, which you are familiar with;

    3. You don't have to catch up on new and possibly unfamiliar topics in physics to pass your qualifier;

    4. You open yourself to a wider range of engineering job possibilities with your EE degree.

    Zz.
     
  8. Apr 2, 2014 #7

    jtf

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    MathAmateur & ZapperZ,

    You both make good arguments for sticking with EE. It definitely sounds like the smarter and less stressful choice. My lingering concern is I won't have as many options to apply to though. I've looked at Maryland, UCLA, USC, and Colorado State. I've also seen a few prominent programs I'll miss out on by going EE. I'll certainly keep looking but I'm hesitant to apply to schools with only one faculty member interested in accelerator physics.
     
  9. Apr 3, 2014 #8
    Hello,

    I am in the same predicament save for the fact that I am about to start the BSEE program this coming fall as a transfer. I have also come to be attracted by the seemingly complete package of accelerator physics (so I've been told) hands on engineering mixed with deep physics and a great job outlook (not sure what the average salaries are though). I can still switch to a straight physics major right now before I start this fall or I can stick with EE, minor in physics, and try to take as many classes related to RF engineering. This is my dilemma. Seems easier to just go for physics (catches my fancy) but I like the "safety net" of having an EE degree. Will undergrad programs like the Lee Teng undergrad fellowship program accept EE majors into there program?

    I love the deeper theoretical side of a BSPhys degree, I love the "safety net for jobs in case accelerator physics doesn't work out" of a BSEE degree. What to do?

    This whole accelerator physics idea sounds like a nice pursuit because it appears to combine the job security that an engineering major has while also satisfying the lust for studying advanced physics that can be directly applied to designing these accelerators. Will both of these statements hold true for a grad student regardless if he/she has an BSEE or BSPhys?
    Also are there large differences between accelerator programs via EE department (like at UCLA) or via applied physics department (stanford)?

    But, considering that accelerator physics heavily involves microwave engineering and digital signal processing, electrical engineering undergrads who take classes in those topics should be able to jump into accelerator research rather quickly right? I guess the conflict for EE majors considering this field is that the best programs for accelerator physics, like at Stanford, Cornell, or Berkeley, all have their program within either the physics or applied physics department and these departments all have physics qualifying exams that test grad students on upper division undergrad level physics classes to lower division grad level physics classes that most EE students could not master by self study. Even an EE minoring in physics can only take so many upper division undergrad classes. It is usually any combination of 4 upper division physics classes because the rest of the elective requirements that satisfy the minor in physics are the EE classes already being taken.

    So I think a physics undergrad with emphasis on RF and E&M classes and undergrad research in the area of accelerator physics would be the best possible scenario for access into Stanford or Berkeley. Both are in California and I live there. But I still feel like I couldn't do that.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  10. Apr 3, 2014 #9

    ZapperZ

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    Yes. They accept even math and other engineering undergrad. Read the program webpage.

    Only you can prevent forest fires, and only you can decide such a thing. It appears that you know what is involved here, and thus, only you can decide for yourself what is best for you. The only thing we can do is provide information for each of these, and it is up to you to decide.

    Zz.
     
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