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Topic: Should I go for PhD in Chemistry, Materials Science or Physics?  (Read 7544 times)

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Offline SUNNY_physics

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Hello. My B.S. is in Chemistry, with a great deal of coursework in physics and materials science. My interest is in solid state self assembly phenomena ranging from polymers to controlled crystal growth. My undergrad research is in experimental polymer science, so I'd love to do a PhD on some more inorganic systems to broaden my views and gain useful skills. I am doing a M.S. in Physics, in condensed matter physics. Still looking for a group but deciding right now between magnetic thin film experiments, computational polymer science and organic photovoltaics experiments.

After my M.S. I hope to be accepted to a PhD program where I can keep doing this sort of research. I am seeing Chemistry, Physics and Materials Science programs all do work in this area.

1. The school I am looking at for PhD studies can give me 30 credits for my M.S. in Physics (reducing PhD required credits from 84 to 54) if I go to Chemistry. In addition they can cut the required 8 classes down to 4, and I'll be able to graduate in 3-4 years since I will be purely focused on research. The downside is that I sort of feel that they have too much of a spectroscopy and organic synthesis approach to studying these problems. I am not very interested in spectroscopy approaches alone and I am very bad in organic chemistry experiments.

2. They can also give me 30 credits for my M.S. in Physics but they don't know if I'd be able to skip Classical Mechanics, EM, Quantum Mechanics and Stat/Thermo since this physics department has a qualifying exam where I have to do problems from these 4 areas; since this test is once per year, I might not be able to pass it without retaking all those classes because I'd have 1 year between the end of my M.S. and the test and might forget everything.

I've also heard horror stories of 80 hour workweeks for PhD level Physics students. Right now I'm working a normal schedule but I am not sure if that will last to the PhD level.

3. If I go to Materials Science, they can reduce my courseload from 10 to 6 and my research hours by 12 credits (total reduction: 24 credits). They don't require a comprehensive exam if GPA is high enough. However the catch is that Materials Science isn't as well funded and therefore may be more difficult to get into because they take less students.

I am truly interested in getting a PhD, but since I am already doing my masters and will have spent 2 years on that, I want to be done with the PhD within 4 years while working less than 60 hours per week. That is because of some pressing personal reasons, and time to completion will influence my decision. However, I also do not want to compromise the learning experience and am willing to sacrifice alot for my research as long as it doesn't influence my health.

Which program do you think is best suited for my situation?

Offline Doc Oc

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Re: Should I go for PhD in Chemistry, Materials Science or Physics?
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2012, 08:56:25 AM »
I want to be done with the PhD within 4 years while working less than 60 hours per week.

This criteria eliminates most of the top chemistry programs you'd be interested in.  Those 80 hour work week horror stories you've heard from physics grad students ring true for chemistry grad students as well.

Considering your personal situation and need to keep your hours limited, a PhD may not be your best option.  Once you graduate, your work hours won't suddenly decrease to 40 hours a week.  The expectation will certainly be that if you need to put in 60 hour weeks, you'll do so without question.  Industrial MS positions tend to offer a better work/life balance with decent salary as well.

Offline explosci

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Re: Should I go for PhD in Chemistry, Materials Science or Physics?
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2012, 04:36:44 PM »
Do your PhD in Germany. 3 year program.

Offline SUNNY_physics

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Re: Should I go for PhD in Chemistry, Materials Science or Physics?
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2012, 07:27:17 PM »
I want to be done with the PhD within 4 years while working less than 60 hours per week.

This criteria eliminates most of the top chemistry programs you'd be interested in.  Those 80 hour work week horror stories you've heard from physics grad students ring true for chemistry grad students as well.

Considering your personal situation and need to keep your hours limited, a PhD may not be your best option.  Once you graduate, your work hours won't suddenly decrease to 40 hours a week.  The expectation will certainly be that if you need to put in 60 hour weeks, you'll do so without question.  Industrial MS positions tend to offer a better work/life balance with decent salary as well.

Thank you for the advice. Perhaps I am not really suited for a PhD as you said.

I don't know if those 80 hours are actually productive or just being at the lab. If it's just being at the lab, I don't think it'll be too bad. I'm helping around in a lab, in class, TAing and doing homework 60 hours a week right now. 10 for TAing, 10 actually going to class, 10 hours of homework, 20 hours at the lab for research rotation.

However if its 80 hours of actually working on experiments or coding, then that'd be very tiring.

Offline Dan

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Re: Should I go for PhD in Chemistry, Materials Science or Physics?
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2012, 04:56:21 AM »
Do your PhD in Germany. 3 year program.

Or the UK, also 3-4 years (well. in principle - you stay until you're done).

The crazy working hours depends on your boss. I generally didn't work more than 50 per week, my supervisor's attitude was that if the work was getting done he didn't complain. Some bosses force their students to work 60-80, and I know various people who've worked in groups like that. People who are forced to work 80 hours will not be much more productive than those that do 50 voluntarily. If you're working under your own motivation and get enough rest, you will work more efficiently - I never wasted hours on Facebook or set up flasks of stirring water to give the illusion of work, and I've heard first hand that this type of stuff goes on in the hardcore slave labs.
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