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Programs Which PhD? (experimental physics)

  1. Jun 11, 2007 #1
    Hi, so I've just finished my final undergrad days in physics. I've decided to stay on to do an experimental phd in the same university, as I've a scholarship that will make it more financially viable. I sorta put off the decision so as to focus on the final exams, and now most people in my class who are continuing here have already arranged preliminary positions, leaving me feeling a bit out in the cold and unsure what to do.

    Okay so my options are:

    1) I've been basically offered a position with the PLD (pulsed laser deposition) group. The supervisor is good, the funding is there but I really really don't want to do it. I did a project in this and didn't find it enjoyable. My tasks will consisted of prototype manufacturing. i.e. growing thin films for other people to use in research. This same supervisor said he may have have something along the lines of looking at the plasma in pld with langmuir probes. Now that sounds challenging and interesting but is a tenuous possibility. With ITER coming there'll be a demand for plasma physicists (hopefully).

    2) Another supervisor has one or two positions available in x-ray spectroscopy. Now I'm interested in this, it will also give me a good opportunity to travel and they're already funded. But I'm worried about careers n such after this. Where could spectroscopy lead to? Is there much crossover to industry? I really don't know what I want to do after this but I'd prefer not to narrow options.

    3) After talking too a few graduate students, they advised applying under one particular supervisor as "he'll make sure you get a good doctorate". It's in the area of nanotubes and nanostructures. However I've a friend applying for his group. So... there is a good chance that if I applied for a position, it'd be for the same one as my friend and would maybe prevent her from getting it.

    So does anyone have any thoughts on how I should approach this? Or any insight into whats on the other end of the tunnel if I go for spectroscopy? Funding deadlines are coming up soon and I've been procrastinating heavily. I haven't really talked to many researchers as I didn't want to put myself in bad stead with the department with my indecision. It's a 4 year minimum wage commitment where I basically become horrendously overqualified to do much of anything outside a university in this country. I don't want to make the decision too lightly then regret it.

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2007 #2


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    Strangely enough, this skill may give you the most in-demand knowledge if you do decide to go into industry after graduation. PLD is now one of the technique used in many thin-film fabrication processes that is very prevalent in microelectronics. However, I can also understand why you might not want to "major" in it beyond just having the skill in it. I had a the same issue where I learned the technique because I had to use it, but I didn't want to study it and be a "world's expert" in it. If you have the skill, make sure you get the opportunity to fine-tune it.

    This might be your best option. Note that this actually is a very huge field because x-ray diffraction can also lead to learning x-ray scattering technique, etc. One of the hottest area right now is the inelastic x-ray scattering technique that a lot of people are starting to use in the study of materials properties. This technique is actually quite immune to the subject matter that you use it for. Since many areas of study, such as biology, material science, medicine, etc.. all use x-ray diffraction, knowing this technique might give you a wide-ranging field to dive into for employment. Not to mention, there are tons of synchrotron centers all over the world right now, and many of these do require beamline scientists who are expert in running x-ray diffraction studies.

    That is an issue that only you can answer.

  4. Jun 12, 2007 #3
    I think it would be reasonable to tell your prospective supervisors that you are trying to decide between positions. Perhaps you can ask the x-ray folks to give you a few papers related to the projects proposed? Reading a general article (Nature or Science) which underscores the significance of the research will probably do well to spark interest in the topic.

    Since you've already had a crack at PLD (I agree with you on the "boring", btw) you might also try talking to some of the grad students in the x-ray group - what do they like and dislike about their projects? What are the implications of their work?

    It might also be worth sussing out whether there is only one position available in the nanostructures lab.

    I've always thought that one of the unfortunate things about countries where Bachelors-direct-to-PhD programs are the norm is that students are obliged to pick a specialisation without having the opportunity to develop some background in the field. This is especially tiresome in the case of condensed matter physics, which, for the most part, requires graduate level coursework just to be able to read the abstracts for papers.
  5. Jun 15, 2007 #4
    Thanks guys, you really helped me with making a more informed decision. I let the two supervisors know I was still deciding between them, but in the end I went for the spectroscopy one. I still have to apply for it and go through all the red tape, but it looks promising.

  6. Jun 15, 2007 #5


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    Don't worry too much about direct industry requirements for a PhD. A physics PhD is generally useful whatever the speciality.
    My Phd was in infrared astronomical interferometry and apart from a couple of post-docs which involved no interferometry I have worked in technical consultancy doing everything from laser eye surgery instrumentation to massively parralel database software.

    What does matter in completing a PhD (especially lab/experimental based) is the relationship with the supervisor and the atmosphere in the group. This is what stops you saying F***-IT 2 years in and going to get a real job.

    Oh good luck!
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