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Programs Prospective PHD students: What to look for in a supervisor and topic?

  1. Jul 16, 2008 #1
    I have undergraduate degrees in Physics and Mechanical Engineering. I'm pretty bored by my work as a systems integration engineer and am strongly considering doing a phd in plasma physics.

    I've been told that the quality of my supervisor, his/her contacts and the amount of funding they can requisition will be large factors contributing to the likelyhood of my success. Could you guys give me any tips on what to look out for in a supervisor and what I should look for in a topic?

    I am very interested in innovations in instrumentation, signal processing and plasma control methodolodies to allow us to glean more from experiments, and possibly achieve improved plasma stability. I figure that my practical background will allow me to shorten the research and implementation lifecycle.

    I am a bit worried that I might get stuck for fundamental innovations in this field because it is so implementation based and possibly been well researched already. I'm also worried that I'm not good enough.

    I basically have two universities to choose from. One is 300kms away (ANU) and the other is relatively close by (20ks or so). ANU have a much better reputation, are more research oriented and have a lot more funding. Is it worth taking the lifestyle hit for the better institution?

    Here's a masters topic that piqued my interest:

    Real Time Signal Processing and Analysis for Plasma Experiments: (V,H,MPh)
    A LabView-based control system for fast acquisition of vacuum magnetic
    surfaces (Poincare plots) will be extended to include data acquisition
    and initial analysis of a 720 view x 64 channel tomographic system. This
    system will display data in various raw and analysed forms during
    acquisition to allow the quality of data to be improved, and to feed back
    into the experiment to allow the scan parameters to be chosen
    strategically. Using Labview and Research Systems we expect that a measurement campaign of days can be performed in hours.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2008 #2
  4. Jul 18, 2008 #3
    Is there any research that interests you in Sydney? It is probably worth identifying a few professors whose research might interest you. Then contact them, briefly explain your qualifications, ask if they are looking for PhD students and suggest that it might be possible to come for an interview.

    When you go to visit, make sure you talk to the students. Ask them how many conferences they've been to. Find out what sort of supervision they get. And ask them what they think their supervisor's biggest fault is.
  5. Jul 18, 2008 #4
    There is quite a bit of interesting research at Sydney university, but the plasma physics group seems a bit weak compared to ANU's group.

    I am a bit torn as to whether to do a PHD in engineering or physics. I am very interested in process control (especially nonlinear) and automation, combustion dynamics, reaction kinetics flame stabilisation, and power engineering. (mostly with the aeromech group or chemical engineering department)

    I get the feeling that a PHD in physics will give me much more narrow options at the end of it (basically postdoc or esoteric commercial research in that specific field), whereas an engineering PHD might be a bit more versatile. Ideally my topic would allow me to involve some combination of transient/control theory, thermofluid dynamics and process or kinetic modelling.

    Thanks for the advice. I'll try to track down some students and see what they think. It's encouraging that two of my prospective supervisors have won the university medal.
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