Potential for an Astro vs Condensed Matter PhD (UK)

In summary, the conversation discusses the employment opportunities for postdocs in Astrophysics and Condensed Matter. While Astrophysics may be more competitive in academia, a Condensed Matter PhD may provide more opportunities in the UK science industry, particularly in the life sciences and material industries. The speaker is considering being more pragmatic for their PhD and asks about the possibility of switching between areas of physics and how it may affect job prospects in the industry. It is advised that the job market for theoretical physics is limited and having a skillset relevant to the job is important. There is a possibility of doing a post-doc in a different area, but marketable skills are crucial for employment in the industry.
  • #1
Veles
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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 realized 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!
 
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  • #2
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.
 

Related to Potential for an Astro vs Condensed Matter PhD (UK)

1. What is the difference between an Astro and Condensed Matter PhD?

An Astro PhD focuses on astrophysics and the study of objects and phenomena in the universe, while a Condensed Matter PhD focuses on the study of the physical properties of condensed matter, such as solids and liquids.

2. Is one PhD more prestigious than the other?

Both Astro and Condensed Matter PhDs are highly respected and prestigious fields of study, and the choice between them ultimately depends on your interests and career goals.

3. What are the job prospects for graduates with an Astro or Condensed Matter PhD?

Graduates with either type of PhD have a wide range of career opportunities, including research positions in academia, government labs, and industry. Both fields also have potential for jobs in science communication, data analysis, and technology development.

4. Are there any specific skills or qualifications needed for an Astro or Condensed Matter PhD?

Both PhD programs typically require a strong foundation in physics and mathematics, as well as excellent critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Some programs may also require specific coursework or research experience in the respective field.

5. What are the funding opportunities for an Astro or Condensed Matter PhD in the UK?

Many universities in the UK offer funding opportunities for PhD students, including scholarships, grants, and teaching/research assistantships. It is important to research and apply for funding opportunities early to increase your chances of receiving financial support for your studies.

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