1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

PhD not technically in physics, need advice

  1. Apr 13, 2014 #1
    So, I'm coming up to the last year of undergrad physics at Oxford Uni, and am starting to think about PhDs. I'm really interested in medical physics, particularly MRI, so I figured this would be a great thing to apply for PhDs in. Problem is, MRI tends not to fall within the department of physics, but rather in the department of clinical neurology or something like that (it varies between universities, but at Oxford it's in clinical neurology I think). And ultimately, I'd like to be able to get a job researching/lecturing physics at a good university. So I'm kind of wondering if it's cutting off options to do a PhD in a different department? Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2014 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    MRI tends to be one of those multi-disciplinary fields drawing on physics, engineering and of course a host of fields like neuroscience, medicine, psychology... more or less any field where it has a direct application. So you are right that you have to really pay attention to what you're signing up for. It is quite possible that you won't end up with a PhD in physics and if your ultimate goal is an academic position in a physics department then it will be almost impossible to get hired without a PhD in physics.

    But from another perspective, going into medical physics/MRI actually opens a lot more doors than it closes. My reasoning is that such a route gives you some directly marketable skills. So when you finish (depending on the program), you'll be qualified for some clinical or hybrid clinical-research positions and those tend to come with a steady income and more job stability than the post-doc to tenure-track race.

    Remember that in aiming for that latter route, you tend to end up competing with all the other sub-fields of physics for fewer jobs. And unfortunately most physics PhDs end up not doing that for a career anyway.

    On the other hand, a lot of clinical scientists end up with adjunct appointments to universities. They can teach courses, take on graduate students, lead research projects... but balanced with clinical responsibilities.

    So when selecting a graduate program, one of the big things to pay attention to is where their graduates are ending up. That's not a guarantee of anything. But it's a major flag if none of them are ending up in a place you'd be happy with.
  4. Apr 14, 2014 #3
    Amazing, thanks - this post has filled me with much more confidence to pursue the route I want!

    I know it's a way off for me yet, but I don't suppose you know where those jobs can be applied for? Would I be looking at NHS websites, local hospital websites, universities?

    Also, does anyone know anything about the NHS STP (Scientist Training Programme)? It seems like that's the "main" route into working in a clinical position, but don't know whether it would be needed if I held a PhD in a relevant field...
  5. Apr 14, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I am not sure it is a good idea to get too focused on an area as broad as "MRI" since it -as has already been pointed out- encompasses so many different fields. MRI is an application more than a n area as such.
    Also, MRI is such a mature field that it is very unlikely that you will find anyone doing fundamental research in the underlying physics. Hence, the research topics will be very specialised focusing on some very specific problems that has to do with e.g improving resolution at low fields etc; and those problems might include a whole range of disciplines.
    Hence, if you want to pursue a career in physics you will have to be very careful about choosing a project that is "fundamental" enough to still fall under the physics umbrella (as opposed to say image processing).

    It is perhaps worth mentioning that there IS a great deal of research being done where one potential application is MRI. People who work in those areas generally talk about NMR rather than MRI. Typical examples would be low-field NMR, micro-NMR (using for example micro-fluidics) etc.
    Hence, if you want a more physics oriented project it might be worth using NMR rather than MRI as a search term.
  6. Apr 14, 2014 #5
    Cheers for the input. I guess I'm currently torn between trying to stay within a physics oriented project, and pursuing something more about the applications of MRI. For example, there's a research group FMRIB (functional MRI of the brain) here at Oxford - it's a huge group of people split into different research groups, the "physics" group being one of them (but the whole of FMRIB is within the Department of Clinical Neuroscience). The physics group works on this sort of stuff: http://www.fmrib.ox.ac.uk/research/physics-group [Broken] . It looks really interesting, but I don't know if this is going down a dead end as far as future prospects are concerned? Maybe from that point of view, it'd be better to try and find some more physics-based NMR project?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Apr 14, 2014 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Unfortunately I don't know much about the UK system. In North America one of the main sources, at least to get an idea of the kinds of jobs available would be the AAPM and COMP classifieds.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook