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Programs Potential for an Astro vs Condensed Matter PhD (UK)

  • Thread starter Veles
  • Start date
I have read that postdocs are extremely hard to come by in Astrophysics, and is likely a dead end at the end of the PHD and that Condensed Matter is less competitive in academia. Would a Condensed Matter PhD also provide more opportunities in UK science industry - in particular the life sciences boom around Cambridge and other material industries? (ignoring specific PHDs that are obviously directly applicable such as applied biophysics/nanomaterials)

My initial instinct was to apply for Astrophysics departments at top UK universities, as it is the area I am naturally drawn to the most - theoretical with a heavy computational element. However, having completed my Master's (1st at top UK university), I have realised a physics degree alone is not very employable outside of 'city jobs' and am considering being pragmatic for a PHD.

To what extent do people swap between areas of physics after their PHD? And to what extent do PHDs in specific areas provide better opportunities in the UK science industry? Many thanks for any help or general thoughts!


Science Advisor
Gold Member
The answer is of course "it depends":smile:

What do you want to do once you've finished your PhD? You mention a post-doc but that is -usually- not an end goal in itself.
Condensed matter physics is certainly much more "applied" than astrophysics, but how employable you will be in industry will very much depend on what you end up doing. It is a huge field (it includes the vast majority of ALL physics) and the topics range from the very esoteric to the very applied. It is certainly true that there are areas where your chances of getting a science related job in industry are better than others (e.g. experimental photonics since the UK has a large photonics industry)

It is important to realize that the job market for theoretical physics is tiny if you only include jobs where you do "proper" physics (which in the UK basically limits you to academia and a few government labs). If you want someone to hire you to do physics you will need to have a skillset suitable for that job and the type of marketable skills you learn doing theory tend to be programming a mathematical modelling, rather than the topic of your thesis.

it is certainly possible to do a post-doc in an area not "obviously" related to your PhD; but the people who are hiring you will be looking for a particular skill. Hence, it might turn out that the computational method your used during your PhD can be used to investigate something seemingly unrelated in which case you are in luck.

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