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Programs PhD Physics vs. PhD Materials Science

  1. Nov 12, 2008 #1
    Hello everybody,

    I've just graduated ( this summer ) from the University of Bucharest with a BEng degree in Technical Physics. I'm currently pursuing a masters degree in the physics of atomes and molecules at the same university. I'm also working in a research institute part of a group studying thin films deposition and characterisation. We publish most of our papers in materials science journals, however we are all physicists.

    As the title suggests, I'm interested in doing a PhD at good european university. After that I might remain in western europe, possibly in industry. What would you advise with regard to:\

    1) The relevance of the degree to getting a job in industry;
    2) The amount of theory I would have to master ( my work so far has been solely experimental);
    3) The general career outlook in materials science vs. physics in europe.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2008 #2


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    With a Phd the title depends more on which department you end up in rather than what work you do.
    A friend of mine was doing a Phd mathematical modeling surface plasmon resonance - but because the effect was going to be used for protein structure it was in the biochemstry dept. So the PhD says school of LifeSciences - but he would still call himself a physicist.

    Depending on the country/institution you might have to take some lecture courses, some of these might be more theoretical than your research. My PhD was in astronomical interferometers, entirely experimental work - total theory amounted to high school maths.
  4. Nov 13, 2008 #3
    Perhaps i should rephrase: Which one of the 2 PhD's would :
    a) be better with regard to getting a job in industry
    b) involve more experimental work

    As I understand from your reply, it wouldn't really matter which one I choose
  5. Nov 13, 2008 #4
    I don't think it does. Having a Ph.D. matters, and the particular work you have done to get it matters. No one who is in an HR department cares about exactly what the wording on your degree is though.
  6. Sep 9, 2009 #5
    A friend of a professor I know of who now works in industry told me that companies tend to hire engineers over physics phD's. However, once you get 'in the door', its performance that counts
  7. Sep 9, 2009 #6
    One does a PhD for interest, not because of job prospect. Engineers won't be rich, they just make a living. In the industry, there are two types of people - either you are a tool or you are a wielder. If you want to be a wielder, it all boils down to how much money you can bring in for the company. BS, MS, PhD, it really doesn't matter.
  8. Sep 22, 2011 #7
    I finally did it ! Went or the materials science PhD, I find the projects more interesting !
  9. Sep 22, 2011 #8
    Thanks for letting us know!

    I have not read the thread before - but I probably would have voted for materials science as well. I am a physics PhD, but actually the work as such could have been tagged with "materials science" as well. I had been working on the optimization of thin superconducting films.

    And it was the materials science part that helped me to find my first job after the university (national lab, materials characterization for steel industry).
  10. Sep 23, 2011 #9
    Thank you or letting me know. While doing a masters in Physics, ( Universite Pierre et Marie Curie ) I found the atmosphere inside of physics departments a bit too much on the gloomy side, with everyone having come to accept the limited professional opportunities, that is nobody even considering another route except for PhD - post-doc - post-doc - ....
    And I found most topics to be overly fundamental and theoretical. So, when I had the offer from the department of materials science at Imperial College, there was no turning back.

    Still, your profile box (?) says you are now doing an energy engineering master post-PhD. I know there is an active society at Imperial discussing energy issues, and I've always been terribly interested in the topic. How would you see the progression from materials science to the energy industry ? I should add, my project will be about functional oxide thin films (applications might be electro- or magneto-caloric, electro-optical .... transparent conductive oxydes ), working with electron-beam lithography and Ion-beam etching and time-of-flight spectrometry ...
  11. Sep 23, 2011 #10
    Actually the progression is even wider as I turned from materials science and more hands-on stuff to information technology and my most recent area of expertise has been / is related to IT security.
    I am most interested in planning of renewable energy systems and related consulting. I rather consider this sector a diverse and interdisciplinary field that would allow me to utilize different things I had ever learned or gained experience with - incl. IT security (due to the convergence of classical IT infrastructure and energy networks) but also some non-science specific skills such as project management.

    But I think there are more straight-forward transition paths of course - if you have experiences with thin films you might turn to working on solar cells for examples. I think with any emerging technology related to energy generation or transmission materials need to be optimized. In order to meet climate protection goals set forth by governments huge efforts in R&D will be required to make all those "low carbon technologies" really efficient.

    The materials department at research center that I had worked with had actually emerged from a department that used to investigate materials utilized in nuclear power plants.

    Hypothetically... I could also imagine that I might have moved from the research center to steel industry and then I maybe might have worked on the optimizing the materials used in turbines.

    When I did my first transition (superconductors --> steel), the type of materials changed and I was not involved in the fabrication of steel directly - but the constant part of the job decriptions was: Investigation of the microstructure of some hightec materials --> correlation to other properties (which are interesting with respect to applications) --> proposing changes to the fabrication process.
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