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Unsure what to do after PhD

  1. Jul 5, 2010 #1
    I'm coming to the end of my PhD in physics at a good UK university and am a bit unsure about what to do next. The main things I would like in a job are to enjoy the work, have a good enough salary not to worry about money (i.e. average salary or above) and work with people that I get on well with.

    I could stay in academia. There is not much in the UK in my area so this may mean going abroad to the USA or Europe, although none of the places are quite right for various reasons. In some ways going abroad seems an exiting opportunity, but I don't have a particular desire to do it. There are aspects of going abroad which make me think staying in the UK would be a safer option. One of these is the difficulty of having a long term relationship while having to move frequently. Also, at times I have not been enjoying my PhD and I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy a career in academia. My feeling about this varies - sometimes it seems like the perfect job and at other times I feel its really not what I want to do.

    My other choice would be to get a job outside academia. At times I've felt moving into the so called "real world" would be good for me. The thing is, I have not found a job that I would want to do. I have looked at the usual graduate jobs: banking, finance, consulting, management, IT, civil service. Some aspects of some of those jobs appeal to me but there are other aspects that I don't like and its hard to choose between them. One thing I regret is not having done non-academic placements to get a feel for them. I've attended lots of careers fairs / presentations but still can't really decide between them.

    At times trying to make this decision has been stressful. It seems like this it a very important choice as it will determine what career I do which will be a big part of my life. I know its always possible to change jobs later but some of the choices I make now will close off opportunities to me. For example, if I move out of academia now it seems unlikely I will be able to return. But also the longer I stay in academia it would be harder to get non-academic jobs. At other times I've been more relaxed and tried to let things just happen but it ends up with me getting nowhere and not getting a job.

    If anyone has any thoughts / comments about any of this, or maybe is in / has been though a similar situation it would be great to hear from you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2010 #2
    I'm in a similar boat updown, but more set on finance than you seem to be :)

    Let me ask: are there government labs in the UK, i.e. MOD shops who hire scientists to work on research of interest to the government?
  4. Jul 7, 2010 #3


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    There are government labs as you say, MoD is one of them (DSTL) and there are companies who were part of the MoD which are now private companies (Qinetiq), I used to work for them. Unlike our american counterparts the quality of science is not as good. They tend to have a rigid line of thinking and are unwilling to change direction, so even if you do see a problem with the methodology they typically are unwilling to change it.

    I felt that my scientific integrity was being compromised and I subsequently left to do a PhD in applied maths. I still work with a colleague from there in the are of plasma physics. We hope that our first paper will be published some time soon.
  5. Jul 7, 2010 #4
    Well, the only government labs that I'm aware of that I could work in are in defence, which I'd rather not do for ethical reasons. But thanks for pointing that option out, perhaps there are others. And interesting insight hunt_mat.
  6. Jul 7, 2010 #5
    Well, I don't know how it works in the UK, but in America there are jobs in government labs that don't involve building guns. For example, I had an interview with a company that works for the Navy, but they do a lot of work for state and local governments, too. One of the groups that was interested in hiring me was working on air craft control issues (apparently the system in America is pretty scary).

    There's also jobs (at least in the US) in science policy, so (for example), congressmen are generally not the smartest people in the world, but they have to vote on issues like stem cell research and nuclear non-proliferation treaties. In the US, there are a few fellowships that pay PhDs to work in Washington D.C. as science advisors to elected officials. After the Fellowship, you have a network of contacts and experience, and can get a job working as a science policy analyst in the government somewhere.
  7. Jul 8, 2010 #6


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    As you point out that many of the labs in the UK work in defence (but not all), there is the transport research establishment near Reading which is civil service (it has a wikipedia page). Also places like Roke manor research do some interesting stuff as we ll as Qinetiq now.

    There used to be some very good UK government research places lie the fire research station for example which weren't defence related.
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