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Quantum Optics or Particle Theory?

  1. Oct 19, 2008 #1
    I'm interested in both, getting ready to apply to graduate school - particle and nuclear physics is incredibly interesting to me, but also I am writing my UG thesis on the Jaynes-Cummings model in optics. The main questions I have as I try to decide would be:

    1) How important is it to be decided on a concentration ENTERING/APPLYING FOR grad school (obviously, one would need to make up their mind quickly)?

    2) What do future prospects look like in the two fields? I have heard much about particle physics being over-saturated and the like, but haven't heard much of anything about optics.

    I'm trying (obviously) to make an informed decision as I decide where to apply and what to apply for, so any comments would be great, thanks!

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2008 #2
    1. Not terribly. You should probably have made up your mind within the first year, but even that isn't a hard and fast rule. Schools like to have an idea of your interests so that they can match their incoming class distribution with the resources that they foresee themselves having. No matter how stellar their GRE scores, there are few departments that can reasonably sustain more than a half-dozen new students a year in any given subfield.

    Just be honest with them about what your interests are - if you get there and decide that you want to do particles, but tailored your application only around your interest in optics, there might not be any money for you and you'll be teaching labs for 5 years. =(

    2. Particle physics is definitely saturated, and it is extremely competitive. Unless you go to a top-10 program in particles AND do something amazing while you're there, it's going to be hard to find an academic job, and unless you find that you love programming computers, you won't learn many transferable skills to industrial science. Optics on the other hand is much more applied and lends itself to research in industry, though I can't really promise that academic job prospects are any better than particle physics.
  4. Oct 21, 2008 #3
    Haha that sounds pretty bleak... it raises the question What are good fields to go into?
  5. Oct 21, 2008 #4
    That is the million dollar question, eh? As a condensed matter guy, I like to think that my future prospects are at least decent. I think as far as subfields of physics go, AMO is going to be pretty safe as well. Of course if you do anything that involves machining, electronics, programming, material fabrication, etc. then your job opportunities expand dramatically.

    I want to be a professor after I get my Ph.D., but it's best to be honest about academic career opportunities - if you're lucky enough to be interested in something that can also sustain a non-academic career, I say run with it!
  6. Oct 21, 2008 #5
    What field is hot changes all the time and is largely random - usually driven by a sudden burst of valuable new knowledge in the area. Since that can't really be predicted, you ought to just go into whatever area interests you the most.
  7. Oct 21, 2008 #6
    That's kind of where I'm headed, too, hopefully... the eventual goal is to teach physics at the university level (and hopefully find something useful to work on as well). I guess there's nothing I should really do but be honest about what interests me and see where it goes. Thanks! :)
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