To Ph.D or not to Ph.D (in physics, that is)

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I know that one usually has to earn a Ph.D in Physics to be recognized as a Physicist
(if they choose that career).
How lenient is this? That is, how easy is it to be a Physicist with only an MS? Or does the usually in "usually has to earn a Ph.D" not mean anything?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
I think your question is rather ill-defined. What do you consider to be a physicist, exactly? If, by physicist, you mean a physics professor (or not) who does research, then you're very unlikely to ever be a physicist with just a PhD (By unlikely I mean never). I would guess that with a PhD in physics you could work in a lot of industry jobs, and maybe as a TA. I doubt that you'd ever have the title of "physicist".

If you're asking the question solely because you would like people to see that you're a "physicist" and then drool in awe before you, then perhaps you should reconsider your choice of profession. Being a physicist is a lot of hard work, too much for just the name; you need to be very passionate about physics, obviously.
 
  • #3
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I think your question is rather ill-defined. What do you consider to be a physicist, exactly? If, by physicist, you mean a physics professor (or not) who does research, then you're very unlikely to ever be a physicist with just a PhD (By unlikely I mean never). I would guess that with a PhD in physics you could work in a lot of industry jobs, and maybe as a TA. I doubt that you'd ever have the title of "physicist".

If you're asking the question solely because you would like people to see that you're a "physicist" and then drool in awe before you, then perhaps you should reconsider your choice of profession. Being a physicist is a lot of hard work, too much for just the name; you need to be very passionate about physics, obviously.
Maybe you are mistaking a PhD for a BS?
 
  • #4
Good point. by "physicist," I meant a researcher who is known as a physicist (and I know that this definition has become very vague over the past century) who may or may not be a professor.

the reason I ask is, I've seen many "Physicist" job descriptions saying that in order to be a physicist, one *usually* needs to obtain a Ph.D.
this made me curious...and after a small bit of research online I learned that those who earn an MS can become 'physicists,' but they are not qualified to do their own, independent, research.

so, in the Physics community, are people who only have an MS in Physics who call themselves "Physicists" deemed not as credible as someone who earned a Ph.D?

keep in mind that I do not have a problem with this...I just want to know for the sake of knowing. also, I get the feeling that my explanation was even more vague than my question. sorry if this is true.
 
  • #5
If you're asking the question solely because you would like people to see that you're a "physicist" and then drool in awe before you[/QUOTE]

:bugeye: and I'd never be that selfish!
 
  • #6
G01
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...and after a small bit of research online I learned that those who earn an MS can become 'physicists,' but they are not qualified to do their own, independent, research.

so, in the Physics community, are people who only have an MS in Physics who call themselves "Physicists" deemed not as credible as someone who earned a Ph.D?
I'm a grad student, working on my Ph.D.

I have my Master's and I am currently doing research almost full time. (Taking one course, as well.)

Given that I am in the stage of my education that you are considering stopping at, I may have something to offer.

I will freely admit that I am not qualified to be doing research on my own! I have my own "independent" project, but I would make extremely slow progress without the advice I get from my adviser and older grad students. And, I have no experience writing grant proposals, nor enough time in the field to effectively write one even if I wanted to.

To summarize, I'm at the point where I can do the science and am getting decent at it, but I do not have nearly enough knowledge to be a PI or in charge of my own research project. Does this shed some light onto why someone with a Master's is not considered qualified to do independent research, independent meaning, without a mentor/adviser?

If your goal is an independent research career, you want a Ph.D.
 
  • #7
Does this shed some light onto why someone with a Master's is not considered qualified to do independent research, independent meaning, without a mentor/adviser?
Excellent! That's just the answer I was looking for :biggrin:

Thanks for the illumination, G01
 
  • #8
Choppy
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For clarity I would point out that obtaining a PhD doesn't necessarily "qualify" you to do independent research. There are people with MSc level backgrounds who do independent research and make significant contributions in their respective fields. There are also people who have finished PhDs who are very bright, but couldn't conduct an independent dash to an outhouse.

That being said, if you're goal is to get to a place where you could do independent research, it's well worth investing in a PhD.
 
  • #9
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Just a random question. I have heard of people going into investment banking with a Physics degree. Do these individuals normally have a Physics PhD?
 
  • #10
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Good point. by "physicist," I meant a researcher who is known as a physicist (and I know that this definition has become very vague over the past century) who may or may not be a professor.
You are putting the cart before the horse. You become a researcher *before* you get the Ph.D. They'll hand you the Ph.D. once you've showed that you can do original research in physics.

so, in the Physics community, are people who only have an MS in Physics who call themselves "Physicists" deemed not as credible as someone who earned a Ph.D?
If you have a Ph.D. that means that you have done some original work in physics at least once in your life. If you have a Masters that means that you've just taken the right courses.
 
  • #11
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Just a random question. I have heard of people going into investment banking with a Physics degree. Do these individuals normally have a Physics PhD?
Yes.
 
  • #12
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IDoes this shed some light onto why someone with a Master's is not considered qualified to do independent research, independent meaning, without a mentor/adviser?
The trouble with that definition is that it's hard to find anyone that can do independent research. Every scientist that I know of communicates a lot with other scientists, and everyone talks with each other to come up with new ideas and feedback.

It is true that as a graduate student, you probably don't know enough to write your own grant proposal or be a PI, but most of that knowledge is "political" rather than "technical" and even with that in any non-trivial grant proposals, every senior scientist that I know works with other senior scientists to put together grant proposals.
 
  • #13
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I know that one usually has to earn a Ph.D in Physics to be recognized as a Physicist
(if they choose that career).
How lenient is this? That is, how easy is it to be a Physicist with only an MS? Or does the usually in "usually has to earn a Ph.D" not mean anything?
This is a very weak reason to get a Ph.D in physics. If that is all the reason why you are pursuing it (i.e. to be called a "physicist"), then you'll get discouraged very quickly.

Anyone with a degree in physics can be called a physicist. Luckily, most of us in this field care more about ability and accomplishments than being stuck up with such titles.

Zz.
 
  • #14
G01
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The trouble with that definition is that it's hard to find anyone that can do independent research. Every scientist that I know of communicates a lot with other scientists, and everyone talks with each other to come up with new ideas and feedback.

It is true that as a graduate student, you probably don't know enough to write your own grant proposal or be a PI, but most of that knowledge is "political" rather than "technical" and even with that in any non-trivial grant proposals, every senior scientist that I know works with other senior scientists to put together grant proposals.
True. Let me try to reformulate what I said above:

When I got my Master's I barely did any research at all. I was my lab group for less than 6 months. I would not consider myself capable of doing independent research based on this fact. What the Master's degree means, at least at my school, is that you have a solid understanding of established physics and passed the comprehensive exam covering classical, quantum, e&m and stat mech. Perhaps you did a small, limited scale research project on the order of 6 months to a year.

However, someone with a Ph.D. has extensive research experience (4-5 years) and has proof that they have done independent research on new physics, namely the degree itself. They also have spent the past few years presenting work at conferences, and are probably an author on several publications.

Would you agree that this is how a M.S./M.A. will be interpreted, compared to a Ph.D.?
 
  • #15
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When I got my Master's I barely did any research at all. I was my lab group for less than 6 months. I would not consider myself capable of doing independent research based on this fact.
It's one of those ride the bicycle things. You learn to ride the bicycle by trying to ride it and falling off a few times. I think a lot depends on what you define as "being able to do something." If you are doing your dissertation, you are "able" to do research, since you are doing it.

Would you agree that this is how a M.S./M.A. will be interpreted, compared to a Ph.D.?
A masters says that you may or may not be able to do research. A Ph.D. says that you've done it once before.
 

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