1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Job Skills Specialization vs Generalization

  1. Aug 20, 2016 #1


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I was wondering...
    How "desirable" is specialization in experimental physics?
    The thing is that you can always find pros and cons to all kind of personas, and let me explain:
    For example you have a person who did a research on some particular topic during his/her phd. During that research they "mastered" most of the topics around their research (that is what I call specialization). They finish with the PhD and want to continue for a postdoc... This is what's confusing me:
    1. should the postdoc be on the same topic as the phd? That would be awesome because they already know all there is on the field and so they can lead a group/supervise master students or phds... But also they have "nothing" to gain out of it in the sense of researching (ok there are some "exclusions" to that), since they are already "masters of the topic".
    2. should it be on some other topic (eg go from CMS to T2K)? They get the opportunity to deal with something out of what they knew so far, to come accross new experimental challenges and so on, which obviously builds up their "physicist" title... but it takes things off the specialization...

    What is your opinion?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    My personal opinion is that specialization is always better than generalization. At least in terms of long term goals and gains, within university careers as well as within commercial careers. At least this is my experience with both.
    There is a saying here (and as far as I can see in your avatar, also here):
    Those, who know everything, know nothing in the end.

    A mentor of mine once said: There is no better method to learn something new than to hold a lecture on it. (Sometimes he's been just two weeks ahead of his students!)

    So until you haven't achieved such a position, you should maximize your knowledge in one field rather than looking at everything here and there. This comes automatically by the discussions and debates you will take part in. To become the one to be asked in a certain field is much harder to achieve (and thus more valuable)!
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
  4. Aug 20, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Once you finish the PhD, the issue is more one of making the most of the opportunities that you have. As you've pointed out there are advantages and disadvantages to sticking with one little niche area, as there are with branching out.

    It's important to point out that once you've completed the PhD, it's not like you know everything there is to know about that topic, or that field. You're at the point where you're capable of doing independent research in the field. There can still be a lot to learn. And even if you do know everything, that puts you in a better position to push the envelop and do better research. Changing fields means climbing another learning curve. It may not be quite so steep, since at least some of the skills you've picked up should be transferable.

    When transferring fields, the broader the jump, the less likelihood there is of you landing the post-doc position, generally speaking. But one advantage is that you may bring a new perspective into the field, and that can lead to innovation that other people who are more well-versed can't see.
  5. Aug 24, 2016 #4

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    By the time you have earned a PhD, you have almost by definition specialized in something, so this question is moot.

    Usually not- for one thing, you would be competing against your PhD advisor. A post-doc is an opportunity to learn new skills and apply what you know to a new area.

    I don't consider that much of a jump- but sure.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted