Transfer or Education or still stay in Physics?

  • #1
I am really confused about myself now. I originally come from a poor Asian country. I am currently in the first year of a Phd program in Experimental condensed matter physics in an university ranked within top 20 in Europe. But I found the topic that I am studying quite difficult and the courses that I have to take very boring(Yeah, this is a famous institution, but the professors are not good at teaching at all).
Before coming here, I had my MS and worked as a high school physics teacher and I enjoyed it. I found it fun explaining physics to the kids and doing magic demostrations in class. But after a one year my parter moved to Europe for a much better job position. I then applied to phd positions near her company and I got this one. I think that doing a PhD is also good because then I can teach at an university and train middle school physics teachers. I see that there is a shortage of good middle school and college physics teachers in my home country.
Now I would occasionally think of quiting my PhD because it seems too difficult and I am not happy with it(at least now). I surfed the net and found recently the existence of a program called PhD in Physics education. I believe that I would be interested in that. But almost all the PhD in Physics Education programs are in the US universities.My GRE score expired. This means that I have to take GRE and TOEFL again(big sufferings for me), I need recommendations and start applications over. This is rather frustrating. I also need to explain to my current supervisor and that will disappoint him, I guess. He is a rather nice guy. Other members in the group are also quite nice and helpful. I have 3 and half years left in my current PhD program. If I start over, it needs at least 6 years from now. I do not want to reside in a foreign country for so long a time. Also, the scholarship in the States for a Phd is lower than the salary in Europe and probably won't be able to support a family. I am about to reach 30.
Any suggestions will be appreciated
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
In my opinion, I think you should stick with it. Take this with a grain of salt, but I imagine quitting a PhD program will alarm the admissions committee for your other PhD program. Also, getting a PhD in physics education is, to me, a lesser degree. You already have experience in physics education, and assuming you were a good teacher, what could it possibly teach you that you didn't already know and apply? I also doubt you'd be able to teach at the university level, but again, take that with a heap of salt. My main point in making this post is in suggesting that you stay the course. Three and a half years is not that much time to grit it out.
 
  • #3
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My wife has a Ph.D. in education so a lot of this involves looking over her shoulder.

In my opinion, I think you should stick with it. Take this with a grain of salt, but I imagine quitting a PhD program will alarm the admissions committee for your other PhD program.

Yes it will.

Also, getting a PhD in physics education is, to me, a lesser degree.

It's not a lesser degree. It is quite different. However, something about Ph.D.'s in science/math education is that they are primarily research degrees, and it's possible to be an excellent researcher in physics education and be totally awful at teaching and vice versa.

The other thing is that the "grunt work" in getting a physics education Ph.D. is as much as getting a physics degree.

If there is a shortage of physics teachers in your country and you have a masters degree, you have the option of going back and teaching physics.

You already have experience in physics education, and assuming you were a good teacher, what could it possibly teach you that you didn't already know and apply?

Quite a bit actually. Among the things that you learn in physics education is the history of physics education, different theories and approaches, how to gather statistics and do fieldwork. On the other hand if you like riding bicycles, reading about the history of riding bicycles, may not be that interesting.

But if you find physics Ph.D. boring and difficult, then a physics education Ph.D. is also likely to be boring and difficult. One thing that I remember my wife doing is to go through hours upon hours of interviews and then transcribing and coding all of that data. Also coming up with a valid research proposal and then pushing it through the IRB is also non-trivial.

My main point in making this post is in suggesting that you stay the course. Three and a half years is not that much time to grit it out.

Strongly disagree.

First problem is that it can easily turn into six or seven years.

The other issue is that what do you do once you get your Ph.D.? Once you get your Ph.D., then most careers that you will be hired for are extensions of your Ph.D., and if you hated that, then you are stuck.

One other problem with Ph.D.'s in the United States which a lot of people from Asia are surprised by is that the US is rather anti-intellectual. In Asia, having a Ph.D. increases your social status whereas in the US it ends up being neutral or decreasing it.

The big other problem is that most physics education Ph.D.'s are not funded which means that it's going to be difficult if you don't have rich parents.
 
  • #4
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26
I am really confused about myself now. I originally come from a poor Asian country. I am currently in the first year of a Phd program in Experimental condensed matter physics in an university ranked within top 20 in Europe. But I found the topic that I am studying quite difficult and the courses that I have to take very boring ... I also need to explain to my current supervisor and that will disappoint him, I guess. He is a rather nice guy. Other members in the group are also quite nice and helpful.

Why do you find the courses boring? What makes them difficult? I found myself in a similar situation - what made the courses boring was that the subjects covered had no application to my research project, and I had no intrinsic interest in them. They were also hard and very badly taught! Instead of giving up the research I (mostly) gave up on the courses ... did just enough to scrape a pass.

As you have a nice supervisor (one great reason *not* to give up completely...) talk to him about the problem you have with the courses... he may even give you hints about how to just scrape by! Also, if he is truly nice, he should give you all the help you need in getting over the difficulties you have with the topic.

I had a nice supervisor during my "problem period" and it is a great regret of mine that I did not talk to him enough. So send him your supervisor an email along the lines of your posting... invite him to lunch,... if he is truly nice then it can only be a good thing to get closer to him, to let him know the problems you are having.

By struggling on you'll probably learn a lot more about physics education! When there is a problem - in your case, an encounter with bad physics education and/or your inability to deal with it - you can learn a lot about a topic... (actually by posting here you show a capacity to begin dealing with it... just persevere...)
 
  • #5
Thank you all very much for the replies and suggestions.
I will try to talk to my supervisor next week. I am currently mostly learning theories, which I am not interested in. I am much more into experimental. I hope it will be better when experiments become my focus. For the courses, I think I will just try to pass it or even if I fail I can make up the credits by selecting another course.
 

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