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Physics vs. Applied Physics Ph.D.?

  1. Oct 1, 2008 #1
    I've asked a similar question before I think, but now it's a bit more specific.

    If I get a Ph.D. in Applied Physics (places like CalTech offer them), how will that affect my career? I plan to go into industry or possibly a government lab. I highly doubt I will ever go to academia.

    I'm just wondering if getting a regular physics degree will be "safer" than getting an applied physics one. I would rather do something more applied than straight-up research. Research is fun, but I enjoy it a lot more when the end result goes toward something that is usable in the near future vs. information that might be used in the distant future.

    Of course, you can do applied physics under a regular physics program usually, so that's my question: would it be better to do what I want and end up with a physics ph.d. or do what I want and end up with an applied physics ph.d.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 1, 2008 #2


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    PhDs don't really have titles like that. What is says on the certificate will depend on the institution, but will normally just say something like "dept of physics" or "school of physical sciences" or "faculty of physics and chemistry".
    It might not even list the title of your dissertation - saying it was granted by the dept of applied physics or theoretical physics isn't going to mean anything.

    How much theory / experiment you do depends on you and the group you work with, it's the thesis that is the 'result' rather than the certificate.
    Most employers aren't going to care - they just want someone smart. The ones hiring you for a particular speciality are going to be more interested in what you did and who you did it with.
  4. Oct 1, 2008 #3
    Cool. So I just find something I like and everything else doesn't matter much.

    Umm... except schools, right? A good school is still really important for a Ph.D., right? Or does it only matter what you do, so you can still end up being stellar at a small school because your project was amazing?
  5. Oct 1, 2008 #4


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    All that matters is your supervisor! ( see "The rabbit thesis") - check out what their previous students are doing. It might be that they are all doing great becuase they were all geniuses in spite of the supervisor - but the odds are against it!

    Sometimes you might find the world expert and the greatest group in X is in a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere simply because the person likes skiing or horses etc.

    But generally and especially for experimental stuff a good school helps - in terms of facilites, people, quality of seminars and visiting speakers. Although it is the reputation of the dept rather than the entire institution that matters.
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2008
  6. Oct 1, 2008 #5
    Cool, thanks.
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