Which subfield of physics should I choose?

In summary: What would you advise me?In summary, if you are both excited about physics and want to pursue a graduate degree, then a graduate physics program is a good option. However, if you are not sure which subfield is the best for you, you should study the area that interests you most and then go where your nose leads you.
  • #1
shahin75
7
0
Hi everyone; I have a question, and I hope you could answer it. Well, I have a bachelor degree in physics/computer science and I plan to go to a graduate physics program; however, I don’t know which subfield is good for me. I was looking for computational astrophysics, computational condensed matter, experimental condensed matter, atomic and nuclear physics. I know that you would say I should choose the path which inspires me, but I would like to know other opinions and then decide what to do. In fact, one of my majors were computer science which means that I’m not really very worried about future jobs (I will be employed somewhere with this degree I hope!), but I only concern about the research opportunities; some people say that condensed matter has a lot of job opportunities, but others say that it’s hard to get into a research position no matter which subfield you are and condensed matter has more applicants instead. In addition, some people say that all areas of physics/astronomy prepare students for future jobs, so students should follow their passion. Is there anyone who could tell me what I should do in this situation (I live in the U.S. so I prefer you talk about the U.S. programs)
 
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  • #2
I would check with your advisor and anyone knowledgeable at your school in these areas. They would likely have the most relevant info.

Next I would check the American Physical Society at aps.org as they have a lot of info and stats on available jobs under the Careers in Physics tab and what you can do to prepare for them
 
  • #3
In several fields, all the fun experimental stuff happens in some lab hundreds or thousands of miles from the home institution. I chose atomic physics, because I wanted the access to the fun stuff every day.
 
  • #4
Study the area that interests you most. If you don't know what that is, perhaps you are not ready for graduate study. By the time you get a BS, you should have an introduction to most areas, so think hard about it. Then go where your nose leads you.
 
  • #5
thank you for your responses; however, I want to know which area will have an ongoing active research within next decades (because I want to be involved in the research as well).
 
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  • #6
shahin75 said:
thank you for your responses; however, I want to know which area will have an ongoing active research within next decades (because I want to be involved in the research as well).
jedishrfu said:
I would check with your advisor and anyone knowledgeable at your school in these areas. They would likely have the most relevant info.

Next I would check the American Physical Society at aps.org as they have a lot of info and stats on available jobs under the Careers in Physics tab and what you can do to prepare for them
thank you for your response. I only wanted to know which area particularly has the most active research
 
  • #7
Dr.D said:
Study the area that interests you most. If you don't know what that is, perhaps you are not ready for graduate study. By the time you get a BS, you should have an introduction to most areas, so think hard about it. Then go where your nose leads you.
thanks for your response. Actually, I am completely familiar with these subfields, but I’m not sure which one has the most active ongoing research. Perhaps that’s why I’m worried about the future possibilities and research positions.
 
  • #8
Dr. Courtney said:
In several fields, all the fun experimental stuff happens in some lab hundreds or thousands of miles from the home institution. I chose atomic physics, because I wanted the access to the fun stuff every day.
thank you for your response. Can you tell me what were your career opportunities after graduation? I mean do you work (or do research) in your area or you do something completely different? In other words, did you use your degree to some sort of job?
 
  • #9
Shahin, you've written 4 essentially identical messages. This isn't necessary.

shahin75 said:
s, but I’m not sure which one has the most active ongoing research.

Condensed matter experiment is the largest subfield. But I am not sure how that helps you. There are more jobs in California than North Dakota, but that doesn't mean California has a lower unemployment rate.

Also, I'd say that if you were so dispassionate about physics that your primary reason for picking a subfield was "job prospects", you might want to rethink what your goals are for graduate school and if that's really the right step.
 
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  • #10
shahin75 said:
thank you for your response. Can you tell me what were your career opportunities after graduation? I mean do you work (or do research) in your area or you do something completely different? In other words, did you use your degree to some sort of job?

My wife and I decided early on that there was no way we were going to go to separate cities for post-docs. When she landed a post-doc at the Cleveland Clinic, we decided to move to Cleveland, and there was no way I could remain in experimental atomic physics, because there were no research groups in Cleveland. But it was clearly the geographical constraint of being close to the woman I married rather than limited career opportunities. There were plenty of job opportunities in Cleveland that offered to pay me for my PhD in Physics - but most were teaching jobs or R&D jobs (using mostly my instrumentation skills).

I took an R&D job for about 7 years. After September 11, 2001, My wife and I formed a small company to do defense-related research in a field that was of great interest and need in the war on terrorism. I then took a teaching job to have more time for defense-related research. The PhD in Physics has been very important as a qualification for lots of my work, but the specific subfield mattered more as related to practical instrumentation and experimental design skills than whether or not any DoD contractor or laboratory wanted to work with me or was willing to hire our company for a project. No one has ever said (that I know of), "We're not going to use Dr. Courtney, because his PhD is in atomic physics rather than blast physics (or ballistics)." In 2009, I took a faculty position at the Air Force Academy in Mathematics. They loved the research portfolio I had compiled, and they also loved my ability to work with weaker students and to involve students in DoD-related research projects.

In the years since the reductions in DoD funding (2012-2013), the consulting work of my wife and I has shifted more to other areas, including consulting as expert witnesses on court cases. As an expert witness, I have never been subject to a Daubert challenge based on my PhD being in Atomic Physics rather than blast physics or ballistics. Being a highly published and widely cited scientist in those fields is enough for both clients and courts to accept my credentials. But I don't think either my wife or I would be in such demand or so easily accepted as courtroom experts without our PhDs. I've also managed to publish a number of peer-reviewed papers in fisheries science. Getting funding for that work with a PhD in physics is a bit trickier, but we've only run into challenges getting published a couple of times. The wildlife agencies have taken our work seriously.

In any case, my experience of earning a PhD in 1 field and then working in another is fairly common. Picking a subfield of physics is not an irrevocable career choice.
 
  • #11
Vanadium 50 said:
Shahin, you've written 4 essentially identical messages. This isn't necessary.
Condensed matter experiment is the largest subfield. But I am not sure how that helps you. There are more jobs in California than North Dakota, but that doesn't mean California has a lower unemployment rate.

Also, I'd say that if you were so dispassionate about physics that your primary reason for picking a subfield was "job prospects", you might want to rethink what your goals are for graduate school and if that's really the right step.
actually, I like astrophysics personally; however, many people advice me not to go for astronomy/astrophysics programs simply because they are saturated fields and I might not end up doing something related to physics or physical sciences or even doing research in which is the primary reason for most people apply for a physical graduate program. I think everyone in physics wants to do some research one day. surely, everyone should go for his or her passion, but one may argue that spending five or more years on a program or a research which can be finished completely after graduation doesn’t make sense at all. anyway thank you for your advice.
 
  • #12
Dr. Courtney said:
My wife and I decided early on that there was no way we were going to go to separate cities for post-docs. When she landed a post-doc at the Cleveland Clinic, we decided to move to Cleveland, and there was no way I could remain in experimental atomic physics, because there were no research groups in Cleveland. But it was clearly the geographical constraint of being close to the woman I married rather than limited career opportunities. There were plenty of job opportunities in Cleveland that offered to pay me for my PhD in Physics - but most were teaching jobs or R&D jobs (using mostly my instrumentation skills).

I took an R&D job for about 7 years. After September 11, 2001, My wife and I formed a small company to do defense-related research in a field that was of great interest and need in the war on terrorism. I then took a teaching job to have more time for defense-related research. The PhD in Physics has been very important as a qualification for lots of my work, but the specific subfield mattered more as related to practical instrumentation and experimental design skills than whether or not any DoD contractor or laboratory wanted to work with me or was willing to hire our company for a project. No one has ever said (that I know of), "We're not going to use Dr. Courtney, because his PhD is in atomic physics rather than blast physics (or ballistics)." In 2009, I took a faculty position at the Air Force Academy in Mathematics. They loved the research portfolio I had compiled, and they also loved my ability to work with weaker students and to involve students in DoD-related research projects.

In the years since the reductions in DoD funding (2012-2013), the consulting work of my wife and I has shifted more to other areas, including consulting as expert witnesses on court cases. As an expert witness, I have never been subject to a Daubert challenge based on my PhD being in Atomic Physics rather than blast physics or ballistics. Being a highly published and widely cited scientist in those fields is enough for both clients and courts to accept my credentials. But I don't think either my wife or I would be in such demand or so easily accepted as courtroom experts without our PhDs. I've also managed to publish a number of peer-reviewed papers in fisheries science. Getting funding for that work with a PhD in physics is a bit trickier, but we've only run into challenges getting published a couple of times. The wildlife agencies have taken our work seriously.

In any case, my experience of earning a PhD in 1 field and then working in another is fairly common. Picking a subfield of physics is not an irrevocable career choice.
thank you again for telling me your story; this was helpful; however, as you might know the world of physics is now full of people who say that they prefer to do their PhDs in something more marketable rather than (particle-astro-cosmological physics) or astronomy because they simply can work in those areas (condensed matter) rather than others. I personally like astrophysics, but many people advice me not to go for astronomy programs because I might not end up doing something related to astrophysics, and studying something for only five years would not be a wise choice for someone who can make a decision between atomic or condensed matter physics and astrophysics (that’s why I’m rethinking about other possibilities because we don’t know what will happen in future and it’s good to be prepared for everything and sometimes we should reprogram ourselves and check our priorities to see which way would have more benefits for us), but anyway thank you for sharing your story.
 

Related to Which subfield of physics should I choose?

1. What are the different subfields of physics?

The main subfields of physics are classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and relativity. However, there are also many other specialized subfields such as astrophysics, biophysics, and nuclear physics.

2. How do I choose a subfield of physics that suits my interests?

It's important to consider your interests and strengths when choosing a subfield of physics. Think about what topics in physics fascinate you the most and what skills you excel in. You should also do research on the different subfields to get a better understanding of what each one involves.

3. What are the career opportunities in different subfields of physics?

The career opportunities vary depending on the subfield you choose. For example, if you're interested in astrophysics, you could pursue a career as an astrophysicist, astronomer, or aerospace engineer. If you choose biophysics, you could work in the medical field or in research and development for pharmaceutical companies.

4. Are certain subfields of physics more challenging than others?

All subfields of physics require a strong foundation in mathematics and critical thinking skills. However, some may be more challenging than others for certain individuals depending on their strengths and interests. It's important to choose a subfield that you are passionate about and willing to put in the effort to understand.

5. Can I switch to a different subfield of physics later in my career?

Yes, it is possible to switch to a different subfield of physics later in your career. Many physicists often work in multiple subfields throughout their careers, and some may even switch fields entirely. It's important to continue learning and staying updated on advancements in different subfields to keep your options open.

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