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Switching Fields as a 1st year grad student

  1. Mar 27, 2010 #1
    Switching research groups as a 1st year grad student

    Hi, I am currently a 1st year graduate student in the field of experimental condensed matter physics. As an undergraduate, I conducted research (albeit somewhat limited, as I as an undergrad) in this field and found it satisfying, and therefore did not give much thought to switching fields in graduate school. I like the project I am working on, but there are aspects of it that I am not too fond of. In large part, it involves a decent amount of nanofabrication, an activity which I do not enjoy doing (As an undergrad, I had no experience with nanofabrication, and therefore did not know that I would end up disliking it so much..lol). All other aspects of my lab I enjoy, as my PI is super awesome and the potential aspects of my project succeeding excite me very much.

    Recently, however, I have come to realize that the field of computational solid state physics is fairly significant at the school I am attending, and there are quite a few professors listed under material science that are doing computational work (much of it focused on calculating band structures with density functional theory). I have always enjoyed programming (whenever I have the spare time, I like programming computer games, and I do not mind sitting in front of a computer all day long), and I loved the various instances where I have used computational software to solve physics problems. I am not sure why I never thought about the field before, but the more i think about it, computational solid state physics seems very exciting. Being able to combine both my love of programming with that of physics seems pretty awesome to me.

    Therefore, I am contemplating switching fields to computational material science. I am currently in the situation where there are no other experimental condensed matter labs that I could join that would not involve some sort of nanofabrication (i.e, those labs don't have any openings right now). I am not sure about the availability of positions in the computational solid state physics labs either, so I may not even have the option of switching fields.

    Therefore, I have a some thoughts:

    First, I was wondering if I should mention my thoughts about switching fields to my PI. I have a good relationship with my PI and he believes that I love my current research (which is 75% true, since I have to spend about 25% of my time doing nanofabrication). My fear is that if he realizes that I have reservations about my current research and am thinking about switching fields, he might not be so enthusiastic about mentoring me anymore (in the situation where I may end up not being able to switch fields, and have to stay with my current research).

    Second, I like my current PI very much, and he is very well established in his field. Would it be worth it to switch groups to another PI who is not as well established as my current one?

    Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, if I actually do end up leaving my group, there will be no one left to carry on the project that I am working on (There is a postdoc that I am working with right now, but he will be gone by this summer). Therefore, do I have a moral obligation to stay in my group because of this?

    Finally, I was wondering, given my current situation, should I even think about switching fields? If anyone has any thoughts about computational solid state physics vs experimental condensed matter physics, I would love to hear them!
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2010
  2. jcsd
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