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Pursuing a PHD, but what kind of work do I do after?

  1. Dec 21, 2011 #1
    I am currently a freshman at a university, pursuing a Physics B.S. After I'm planning on going to grad school, until I have a PHD. Obviously, I'm still very early in my education, so I don't really have the specifics of what I want to do or what I plan to do worked out yet.

    I really want to have something to do with String Theory in my line of work, as that's what got me interested enough in physics to truly be passionate in my studies.

    What I'm wondering is: What types of jobs in general do people with PHD's in physics (any field of physics) typically do?
    And also, if I were looking into a job that had to do with researching String Theory, is the only option available becoming a university professor and then trying to conduct grant funded research? (Please explain this more to me, as I'm completely unclear as to what the "famous" physicists (String Theory researchers like Briane Greene, Michio Kaku, Ed Witten etc.) actually get paid for, and this is just my guess as to how it works)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2011 #2
    PhD = Please help despirately. I emabrked on one with out thinking properly what I was going to do afterwards. I gave it up in the end and got a job. I did meet my now wife though during those years so something very good came out of it. I am now self employed running a bike shop.

    I think you may need to talk to some of you university collegues. They should know the structure well. Also talk to post docs about what they do. In short though you do a PhD because you want to investigate a particular topic do it for that reason, you may find like me research isn't for you or you may love it and stick with it. There is only one way to find out.
  4. Dec 21, 2011 #3
    I don't understand why you'd get a Ph.D if you don't know what you want to do with it afterwards....
  5. Dec 21, 2011 #4
    Some people probably go to grad school after getting an undergraduate degree for the same reason many go to college after graduating high school - they don't know what they would otherwise like to do.

    But to answer your question, a PhD is essentially a degree in research. Thus, you are likely to find PhDs in R&D teams in industry (and academia, but I suppose you're already aware of that). And of course a PhD can do the work a BSc or MSc can do, too.

    Eh, possible, but very improbable. Only a very, very, very tiny part of physics is about string theory (some would argue it has no part in physics at all), and you will not find any jobs that concern themselves with this theory out of academia. I suggest the same thing as bm0p700f, talk to post-docs and professors and see whether you like the work they do. They might also be able to give you some suggestions on what you you might like to do after getting a PhD.
  6. Dec 21, 2011 #5
    Hobin, going to college after high school is a much different situation than going to grad school after you've gotten a 4 year degree. And that is significantly different than conintuing on to get your Ph.D. The amount of time and money required to obtain a Ph.D is huge. Sure, getting an MS is a good way to put off getting into the real world while still improving your resume and your knowledge base, but getting a PhD will really set you up for only, as you mentioned, R&D. You will be grossly overqualified for most positions outside of that. (and the ones you will be qualified for will probably require years of experience to supplement your education)

    Unless you are going into the degree with the hope of doing research (or you have other plans that you have thoroughly looked at that require that degree), Ph.D graduate school is not something you go to to put off joining the real world.

    With that said, yea, as Hobin said, talk with advisors, professors, and PhD students. Try to make contacts with people working in the field you want to pursue. Get a good understanding of what is actually involved in "working with String Theory", it may not be as interesting as you thought (or it might! But you have to do your homework.)
  7. Dec 21, 2011 #6
    I'm aware, but what I was trying to get across is that many people might -not- be aware of this. To them, going to grad school is just another step in trying to avoid the real world. With few exceptions, these people mostly do what bm0p700f described. I don't think as many people do this as there are people who go to college for the same reason, obviously, but I have known a few people who did just this.
  8. Dec 21, 2011 #7
    The big three for astrophysics are 1) Wall Street 2) oil and gas 3) defense.

    If you really want to work in string theory, you can work in a national lab. However you do have to realize that there are around 3 jobs for 20 graduates. Lots of string theorists end up working in investment banking.

    Also it's a good idea to not restrict yourself to string theory. There are a lot of other more interesting fields of physics.
  9. Dec 21, 2011 #8
    In my experience physicist, who stay physicists after getting their PhD, do research. Three main outlets for this are as a faculty member, as a staff researcher at a university, or in a national lab. I've known a few to go into industry and do research for an engineering company. Also depending on the exact branch, you may need a MS or PhD just to wok at an engineering company (as is the case typically with plasma processing). Generally speaking with only a BS in physics, it's hard to find a physics-related job, but you can find other jobs based on your "problem-solving skills".

    For string theory I cannot comment much.

    Since you have significant time before getting to the point where you have to decide, I highly recommend finding some research opportunity and trying it out.
  10. Dec 22, 2011 #9
    This is going to sound cut and dry, but my best advice for you is to explore other related college majors, now. You're only a freshman, and by the list of names you give (Greene, Kaku), who are popularizers of science, it seems that you've become attracted to the romanticized view of physics, not the rigorous, highly formulaic science itself. Also, your mention of wanting to work in "String Theory" and not knowing what to do after seems to suggest that you may not know what you're really getting yourself into at the moment. You honestly sound a lot like myself when I was first starting out in college and I had to realize the hard way that I had fallen for science-fiction physics (time travel, wormholes, extra dimensions). I think its best now for you to realize that wanting to work in ST or even wanting to fulfill Einstein's dream is not much more likely than a landing a huge payout from the lottery. My advice? Take some time out, and sign up for classes in other technical fields that will help pay the bill in these rough times, like engineering or computer science. Good luck.
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