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Reason for the post: I'm trying to better understand the jobs in the industry so that I can tailor my graduate studies to more closely represent the kinds of jobs I will be doing in the industry. Thus, I'm trying to figure out which field in condensed matter theory I should pursue given the details below. I know at the end of the day this will be a personal decision, but I wanted to get some insight from people who might have walked this path before.

About me: I will begin my studies towards a physics PhD this fall, and currently my interest lies within computational condensed-matter theory (CCMT). After my PhD, I hope to secure a research-oriented job in the industry. For example, working at Micron Semiconductor company in the R&D department. Another important factor for me is I prefer my job to make direct use and connections to what I have mastered in graduate school. This takes me back to my original question where I'm trying to figure out PhD in which field allows me to have a job that closely resembles what I have mastered.

My Dilemma: Within CCMT, I can specialize in hard or soft condensed matter theory. From previous exposure, I know I greatly enjoy the former option. But I also think that there aren't many jobs in the industry that directly make use of hard condensed-matter theory. So my worry is that if I pursue this specialization I would likely end up with a job that makes no use or connections to what I spent five or more years mastering.

On the other hand, if I pursue the "soft" route, I feel like the likelihood of me finding a job in the industry that resembles what I have mastered in graduate school is more likely, as soft condensed matter is readily applicable in the industry.

Additionally, I have the opportunity to do my PhD in biophysics. This would be a parallel route to that of pursuing soft condensed matter. This field seems to offer ample computational opportunities and I think there are a fair number of industry jobs in the medical/pharma sector. The huge catch here, with both routes of soft and biophysics, is that I have no idea if I'm going to like the theory involved.

Summary: I will be starting my PhD in physics soon with a focus on computational condescend matter theory. After a successful degree, I hope to get a research-oriented job in the industry. I prefer this job to be one that makes direct connections to the knowledge and toolkit I build during my PhD, so this way I don't end up feeling like I got a PhD for nothing. I'm seeking insight on which sub-field within condensed matter physics might best suit me.

  • Welcome to Academia SE. It seems like you are asking about the job prospects in industry in two (or three) fields. If this is correct, this site is not a good place to ask this question, since we are academics (and thus not in industry) and usually not specialised on those particular fields. My best bet to have such a question answered would be a professional association, people who are in industry in that field, or browsing the job ads yourself. Estimating the size of a highly specialised niche in the job market is not exactly easy. If this is not your question, please edit to clarify. – Wrzlprmft Apr 28 at 7:28
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    A question that would be suitable for this site and probably helpful to you is something along the lines of: “My career goal is to work as a researcher in a particular field in industry. How can I find out whether it’s advantageous to do a PhD, and if yes in which field I should be doing it?” – Wrzlprmft Apr 28 at 7:32
  • That is exactly my career goal. I mentioned I want to go in the industry while staying close to being a research scientist. I will edit post to clarify – Ptheguy Apr 28 at 15:16
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From previous exposure, I know I greatly enjoy the former option

Do the above one. I did an experimental DPhil in condensed matter physics and there were are very few (well paid) jobs in this field in the UK. I imagine there are even less in theory (I imagine companies will work with academics to do the theory and then spin-off their ideas where relevant).

When I did my DPhil I also wanted a job which made the most of my physics knowledge, but after a successful DPhil (with a good publication record) I decided academia wasn't for me because of the lack of stability and need to be geographically mobile. I moved into industry and am pleasantly surprised at the amount I use the physical knowledge gained during my DPhil! I'll get put on / approached for relevant projects (in the CMP domain). Pleasantly, I find I get to dedicate about the same time to projects I find interesting in industry as in academia: too much time in academia was spent chasing grants, teaching students and helping my peers.

All in all, for your PhD do what you enjoy most: if you end up loving you should stay in academia - don't bother moving to industry. If you end up enjoying it less than you think, you will get a great job in industry with either of those PhDs. Decide later at the end of your successful PhD!

  • Thanks for the insight. So are you suggesting that hard CMT has just as good of job opportunities in the industry as does soft? – Ptheguy Apr 28 at 15:19
  • For 'directly' relevant jobs in industry I couldn't comment. But i do not imagine there are many! However for the excellent 'fall-back' options (typically requiring a PhD), such as data science, consultancy, finance, patent law and teaching, I imagine there are no difference. All what recruiters will care about is: a) you have a PhD in physics (a heavy numerate subject) and b) you have scripting/coding experience. The vast majority of recruiters wouldn't even know the distinction between hard/soft CMP! – FChm Apr 28 at 16:35
  • To conclude: Go with what you think you will enjoy most. Let the job work itself out later, a PhD is a long process and its unlikely you fully understand the implications of doing one yet. Your perspective on the job markets may change over 5 years (the job market itself maybe different) and you may want anything else than a research degree! – FChm Apr 28 at 16:37
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    I did a MPhys in Physics, then a experimental PhD in condensed matter physics. I had no ML experience (besides basic regression) until I entered the job market. I coded (roughly) daily for my DPhil, but it was basic scripting in Python. My current company is mainly computer scientists / software developers. They hire people with PhDs in the 'core' sciences as data scientists to complement people with a CS background. Currently, this kind of background is very common: PhDs from sciences being hired as a Data Scientist. I don't imagine this changing that rapidly. – FChm Apr 28 at 18:48
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    I should add: Most people from my cohort now work in Data science or in machine learning based roles. In fact, more people do this than pursue an academic career. From my experience, most of the best students tend to leave for an industry role, the exception being those who are fanatically passionate about their subject. – FChm Apr 28 at 18:57

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