PhD in semiconductors in Europe?

PhD from Calcutta University. Who do you think would be more likely to succeed?In summary, the fresh out of school PhD candidate would probably have a harder time succeeding in a research program because of their lack of research experience.f
  • #1
Hi all, new poster here, I graduated First Class with a BS and an MS, specialisation Electronics, from Calcutta University, scoring University highest grades in my special paper, Electronics. Since then, for the past 15 years, I have been teaching at various schools, colleges, and currently an University in India. Finally now, after marriage and kids and all that, I am thinking of pursuing my original dream, a PhD in Europe in semiconductors.

Here's some relevant information about myself:
- no thesis work
- no published papers
- a LOT of experience teaching physics to undergrads, IIT candidates etc
- in English.

My questions:

- what are some of the better schools in Europe/UK in the broad field of semiconductors research?-
- where I can maybe get a teaching position, which will take care of the fees?
- I don't especially need funding for living expenses, I can manage that, although funding or a loan will be nice.
- What are they going to be looking for from someone with my background?

To sum up, I have considerable teaching experience, hardly any research/lab experience except what little is required in academic programs here in India; but I am hard working and willing to learn.

Need some advice on where I should try to apply, and how.
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  • #2
I'm wondering how you're going to pass your written exams, having been out of school for 15 years? Next I'm wondering about your research interests and research experience. Why would a good research laboratory want you when they could have someone like you, but 15 years younger, fresh out of their coursework and with lots of research experience under their belts? You'll need to be able to answer these questions before you apply.

On the other hand you seem well suited to teaching. Don't you enjoy it?
  • #3
Passing the exam won't be a problem. Exams in India are some of the toughest in the world, and at least 1500 students have passed those exams under me. I will pass any standard exam, given some practice.

However, you are right about the next one. I don't know how to answer that question. In fact, that is what my question really is. Do people with my kind of background get to do late PhDs? Or is the "freshness factor" all important?

As for teaching, yes I enjoy it, but after 15 years, I would rather do something else more interesting to me.
  • #4
I appreciate the quality of India's higher educational system. It's not the GRE that I'd be concerned about, but the multiple subject exams that you would be required to take at the end of your first term. These are not your so-called standard exams.

The "freshness factor" is not all-important, but having some some research experience is. Most late PhD applicants likely have some relevant industry experience that makes them viable candidates, but that doesn't apply here. I personally don't see a clear path to the position you aspire to from where you sit.
  • #5
Thank you for taking the time. I am surprised about the requirement of "research experience" for gaining entry into a PhD program. Many of my own students - those that studied undergraduate physics in my class - went on to good PhD programs all over the world. I can tell you right away they didn't have any "research experience" when they applied for - and joined - a PhD program outside India. Yes, they certainly had lab experience, I am a lab instructor myself, along with taking theory classes, but there's no "research" element in any pre-PhD physics curriculum anywhere in India. I am not sure if that's true for other countries - but our students go to some really great places. I believe they repeat their Masters degrees once they go abroad, to attenuate themselves to PhD studies. But research? - like, pure, fundamental research? Nobody I know who got into a PhD ever had a paper published before they got there.

I am ready to re-do my Masters. That isn't a problem; in fact, I would enjoy it. Then, I would go for the actual PhD studies. At least 2 of my students who did their PhDs from major schools in the US did just that. They completed a Masters here, enrolled in a Masters+PhD program, and re-did it again.

If anyone else has another perspective, I would appreciate it. As you can see, I am very keen on exploring this.
  • #6
Let's say I'm on an admissions committee and two applications land on my desk. Both applicants have outstanding grades, but one is able to articulate the type of research they would like to carry out in graduate school, based on previous exposure. Who would you choose?
  • #7
And let's say the quality of research is quite poor because, after all, he is just a pimply kid fresh out of Hoboken High, while I am a 35-year old mother of two who has been teaching Physics to 100s of bright kids for 15 years now and knows the entire theory like the back of my hand.

I would choose me. Then I would train me enough to catch up to that kid.

Sorry if I am being argumentative.

But I need someone to tell me under what conditions this can be done. I don't need another guy telling me no you can't do it; there's a long line there already for that. If you must understand, for a woman to do a Masters in Physics, in India, is not really that common, even today. It was less common 20 years ago when I started out. When I got my high grades, I proved those wrong who told me I couldn't do it. I would love to prove them wrong again.

Anyway, if there's really anybody in admissions reading this, take an interest, tell me what I need to do to get a PhD. I have a lot of time to get ready.

And I do appreciate your take, DrSteve, even if I am arguing against it.
  • #8
To you, I am a "pimply kid fresh out of Hoboken High", and I agree that in a theory competition, you would blow me out of the water (as well as in most areas, including overall life experience). As a 22-year-old, I'm immature and this will make me less fit for graduate school in some ways, I know that.

I'm in no way, shape, or form qualified to give someone like you advice - it should be the other way around. However, I can pass on some things that my advisors have told me as I prepare to enter graduate school being severely underprepared in terms of coursework.

The first part of a PhD is coursework, and anyone with a BS in physics is clearly capable of completing this hurdle. Whether you go into it knowing the theory like the back of your hand (as you are), or coming from kindergarten (as I am), the structure is the same as undergrad, just with a far steeper learning curve and heavier workload. I can be put into theory classes to catch up.

The distinction comes in research, which is far different than coursework - it requires a different frame of mind, and a different personality is required in order to succeed. It's not enough to be capable of regurgitation, one needs creativity, a drive that persists even when the project fails miserably, and a certain level of stubbornness. Not all who complete a BS in Physics have the ability (and willingness) to be able to take on research.

I'm not about to claim that I do have this ability, but after doing research at the undergraduate level I have a better idea than I would've otherwise. So yes, maybe the quality of my research is "quite poor" as you put it (although various research journals disagree, but I digress), but maybe it's less about the output of the research, and more about what I learned from the experience. Had I not done research as an undergraduate, I would still be as gung-ho about getting a PhD as I was as an underclassman, and grad school would've slapped me in the face. Now I know what it's like to work on a project for a year before realizing that it isn't going to work, I have to an extent dealt with the political nonsense that comes with submitting papers and presenting conference talks, I know what it's like to push against a brick wall waiting for it to move - and these things are laid out, with evidence, in my graduate school application.

I may not be as "qualified" as you are, however if our applications were identical in all other regards, mine would be stronger simply because I have a better idea (though I've not experienced it) of the challenges faced by graduate level research work. Grad school is still going to kick me in the nuts, but I can see it coming.

Again, this is coming from someone who just completed undergrad, so take my words with a grain of salt. I just wanted to share why it seems that research experience is so heavily valued over coursework.
  • #9
What started out as a simple question on whether someone with my background - no real research work, lots of course work- can still do a PhD, seems to have devolved into something entirely different - a war between the age-groups. That is absolutely not my intention.

I am sure if you have published work, you have good grades and are passionate about physics, you will get into a good PhD. I wish I did when I was your age - but something as silly as money stopped me.

All I am asking is, is there anywhere, and are there any conditions, under which someone with my background can do a PhD?

I am not competing with you - your application is stronger than mine. But I did do graduate work - the Masters - but our MS programs are more coursework oriented. So, given all that, is there a program where I could apply with some chance of success?

And good luck to you, no competition intended. This isn't a career choice for me, just an interest.
  • #10
I'm going to hang it up for the night, but in the spirit of the prior comment I'm going to add that you have to convince the semiconductors research laboratories that you are contemplating applying to that you know the field, know the problems facing the field and have an idea or two about you might contribute to solving those problems.
  • #11
Yes, you can do a PhD. No, you cannot do a PhD at one of the top semiconductors research universities in Europe due to your lack of research experience.
  • #12
In that same spirit, what are some of the better schools doing semiconductor research in Europe? With possibilities of funding, if not for living expenses?

Just saw your other comment. I agree. I cannot do it at any of the top schools. My original question was: where can I try? Tier 2, Tier 3 - with some funding, maybe possibility to switch schools once I gain research experience?

Take your time. It is barely afternoon here, but at some places, I am sure, it is quite late.
  • #14
The first part of a PhD is coursework, and anyone with a BS in physics is clearly capable of completing this hurdle.

This depends on where you do your PhD. The OP asked about doing a PhD in Europe and the system here is -in most cases- very different from the system in the US. In many (but not all) cases there is no or little coursework and the students that apply have little or no research experience (because there are very few opportunities to do research as an undergrad, meaning it is not something that is expected). Note also that most countries do not have "graduate programs", you are (usually) hired by a researcher and is expected to work for him/her from day one.

That said, the question is too broad. Most countries in Europe have good research groups in semiconductor physics (which is a huge field) but because of the somewhat unusual background you would probably not "fit" into the system in some of those countries. The system in e.g. the UK is becoming more like the system in the US (although you usually need a MSc before you can apply to any of the CDTs). Hence, I would look at different countries first.

One option would be to apply for an international masters program somewhere; this was (and probably is) the "usual" way of getting hired as a PhD student where I did my PhD (Sweden) and is also quite common here in the UK. The MSc project would give some experience of what it is like doing research and give you some connections with potential supervisors. That said, you would obviously need to fund this somehow; MSc courses in Europe are (usually) not nearly as expensive as in the US for an international student (they used to be free in some countries) but you still need to eat and pay the rent.
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Likes DrSteve and JorisL
  • #15
In addition to what f95toli said, I would also start looking at different webpages of physics departments in countries in Europe I would be interested in. I would suggest starting with Germany. Use and hochschulkompass to find programs taught in English. Leipzig, Cologne, and Munich all have programs in English. The one at Cologne also offers funding, last I checked.

I wouldn't bother with the UK, due to the general lack of funding, and high tuition fees.

Anyway, I reckon it would make more sense to e-mail professors who are looking for PhD students, and asking them directly. They might tell you to apply for their university's master's programs, or maybe it might be possible to just take a few courses, and then start a PhD. I'm not trying to get your hopes up re: the latter option, but I vaguely recall hearing something like that about someone at my uni, but I could be wrong.

In Europe, and also Canada I believe, one does not require prior research experience before entering a Master's programs. You most likely meet the requirements for admittance to these, and going from there to a PhD should be fairly straightforward.

Canadian master's programs in physics also offer funding to international students in the form of a TA (and you already have very directly relevant experience here!) or an RA, and subsidised tuition fees. In some cases, there's also the option to skip the 2nd year (thesis year), and move straight to the PhD. Some MSc-PhD programs in Germany also offer this, but I haven't seen many of them. The ones I saw were in biophysics.

Best of luck. Hope this helps.
  • #16
Yes, you can do a PhD. No, you cannot do a PhD at one of the top semiconductors research universities in Europe due to your lack of research experience.

Why not? It's fairly common for European students to go into a PhD without research experience. Undergrad research is not stressed as much here as in the US.
  • #17
Why not? It's fairly common for European students to go into a PhD without research experience. Undergrad research is not stressed as much here as in the US.

As you are likely aware, it's possible, but the odds are against her. How many applicants are accepted into top tiered European research institutions who are 40+, haven't done research in the field and further show a distinct preference for teaching?

Should she apply? Sure, why not? Is the probability of acceptance > 50%? Probably not. Would the experience of applying help her focus her thoughts and pave the way for an eventual PhD somewhere? Probably.
  • #18
Almost every MSc grad in Europe has at least 2 or 3 mandatory research projects. When I finish my degree, I will have done 6 different projects, though that is uncommon.

Don't forget that in high school, we are 1 year ahead of US high school because it is more rigorous/selective, we don't need to do general education courses, and we do 5 years instead of 4.
  • #19
I wanted to say the same that Asteropaeus said.

I think all the top universities I know in Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, France and other european countries have highly research oriented bachelor and masters programs (with several mandatory research activities included, even if they do not lead to journal articles). Therefore, almost every european PhD student I have meet had plenty of research experience before starting.

As I mentioned in a different post, I do not really know where this kind of mythos come from. Probably in some european countries it is the case that no research experience is required for the PhD, but it is certainly not the rule in entire Europe.

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