Phd In Physics Worth It

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Doctor of Physics (Ph.D. Physics) Career Guide: Salary and Info

The study of Physics is responsible for the theories and discoveries that have led to the exploration and development of microwave appliances, transistor radios, computers, and communications systems. Physicists study how forms of energy and matter interact as well as study the origin of the universe. Moreover, they perform experiments and design equipment using lasers, electron microscopes, and particle accelerators. They explore the fundamental properties and principles that govern matter, space, time, and energy. Indeed, being a physicist leads you to the vast beauty and mysteries of the universe.

If you are interested in furthering your education with a Ph.D. in Physics, it can be quite challenging because the majority of courses require on-campus laboratory activities or exercises. There are quite a few educational institutions that offer a hybrid learning format for students who are interested in enrolling in a Ph.D. Physics degree program. Also, some schools or universities allow students to take up the set of coursework through online learning at their convenience and flexibility. However, their on-campus presence is required especially when they need to complete activities.

What does a physicist do?

phd in physics

Physicists are scientists who study and experiment motion and gravity, properties of gases, the structure of matter, different types of energy, and the relationship between energy and matter. They study the fundamental forces and laws of the universe. Other physicists apply their learning of physics to several forms of matter such as electrical equipment, missiles, laser beams, medicine, computer development, and many other things related to physics.

Physics is a very broad study of science. With this being said, many physicists specialize in a specific branch such as a nuclear physicist who mainly study on the nature and structure of atomic nuclei and their interaction with space and matter. Their work has paved the way to the discovery of active components that help the medical field in the diagnose and treatment of several illnesses. Astrophysicists deal with the study of the universe while medical physicists work in healthcare and use their knowledge in developing new medical equipment, technologies and radiation-based treatment for patients. Additionally, atomic or optical physicists study the nature and structure of atoms, electrons, molecules, and light that will eventually lead them to the discovery of new materials or technology.

Also, they create scientific theories and methodologies that explains the force of gravity, the formation of sub-atomic particles and many other principles governing the natural world. They conduct several scientific experiments and studies to discover the properties of energy and matter and other scientific theoretical discoveries. Physicists write scientific papers that will be published in journals. Also, they present research work at lectures and scientific conferences.

What sort of accreditation should I look for in a school?

The last thing that you would want to happen is to waste time and money on a degree that future employers won’t take seriously. With this in mind, you should make sure that your chosen school or university has proper accreditation before you enroll. Accreditation indicates that your chosen school or university is maintaining a reputable standard as well as continues to improve and make advancements within its field.

While you don’t necessarily need for a program-specific accreditation in earning your physics degree, there are program-specific recognitions if you are hoping to use your Ph.D. Physics degree to become a licensed Professional Engineer.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or commonly known as ABET, is a non-governmental accrediting agency for programs in applied and natural science, engineering technology, computing, and engineering. Therefore, choosing an ABET-accredited educational institution is your first choice if you have plans pursuing to become a licensed Professional Engineer. It will be an essential credential as you seek employment in a competitive job market.

Lastly, make sure that your Ph.D. in Physics degree program is offered by an institution that is regionally accredited by accrediting agencies, such as The Higher Learning Commission, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

What type of degree do I need to pursue research or educate others in physics?

Physicists need a Ph.D. for professional careers in academia and research. Thus, a doctorate level degree in Physics would qualify to teach in most accredited schools or universities. Typically, a Ph.D. in Physics degree program requires four to seven years of study. It is the most highly reputable degree in the Physics field. Moreover, those who pursue research work for the university or school have a Ph.D. in Physics. These researchers write scientific papers and research work or dissertation and publish their work as a contribution to the academic field.

Physicist: Occupations in Alberta - alis

What kind of career and salary can I expect from my Ph.D. in Physics?

A Ph.D. in Physics degree program can be the key to several rewarding professional career pathways in physical and social sciences. The four main areas in which Ph.D. in Physics graduates can find employment are the colleges and universities, government, industry, and laboratories. There are numerous careers related to the Physics world such as geoscientists, biochemists and biophysicists, mathematicians and statisticians, materials engineer, computer and information research scientists, nuclear engineers, and teachers. Those with Ph.D. in Physics tend to compete for permanent research positions since the marketplace for the Physics field is usually strong.  Despite the competition, they can apply in applied research, development, and other related technical areas.

The median wage for physicists is $115,870 per year. $57,640 is the lowest earning for a physicist while $189,560 is the highest earnings per year.

The top industries for physicists include hospitals ($166,330 median wage), ambulatory healthcare services ($135,740), scientific research and development ($131,280), federal government ($116,250), and educational institutions ($66,930).

Most physicists work fulltime in well-lighted laboratories and classrooms while others work outdoors. Besides, some work in the hospitals or factories, as well as some of them, are in the academia where they teach in the classroom while preparing lesson plans, conduct research and writing for the remainder of their workweek.

What schools offer Doctor of Philosophy in Physics degree?

phd in physics

The following schools offer a Ph.D. in Physics degree program with the opportunity to take online courses with the discretion of the university while taking up on-campus laboratory activities: Ohio University in Athen, Ohio, Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, University of Colorado-Colorado SpringsUniversity of California, Berkeley, and Clark University.

Is a PhD in Physics Worth It?

A PhD in physics requires that students not only complete their degree coursework but also spend a large amount of time doing research and working in a laboratory. It is through this experience that graduates gain various career opportunities.

Gaining a PhD in Physics can take a lot of time and effort, but it can be achieved at no cost thanks to graduate scholarships and gives you valuable hands-on experience that you can use in all different careers. Through studying quantum mechanics and mathematical physics, recent graduates can work within the field of education or alongside architects and engineers. Below, you can find information on median salary and job growth of five careers that are ideal for those with a PhD in Physics.

PhD in Physics Jobs/Salary

In the process of gaining a PhD in Physics, students gain a better understanding of the world around them and the materials found within it by taking courses in applied physics, electromagnetic theory and mathematical physics. Through extensive research and laboratory work on the way to their degree, students are able to gain the experience and the know-how to do more of the same once they enter the workforce. Furthermore, they are able to aid engineers and product developers with design and modification thanks to their deep knowledge of kinetics and applied physics. To assist you in deciding if a PhD in Physics is right for you there is a table with five potential careers along with data related to their median salary and job growth.

Job TitleMedian Salary(2017)*Job Growth(2016-2026)*
Physicists and Astronomers$117,22014%
Natural Sciences Managers$118,97010%
Biochemists and Biophysicists$91,19011%
Petroleum Engineers$132,28015%
Postsecondary Physics Teachers$87,34010%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

PhD in Physics Career Paths

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers work to develop new scientific theories and create models to better explain things that are occurring within the world. They work closely with engineers and product designers to create scientific equipment and the software used to operate it. Much like a PhD graduate program, individuals within this field will be required to do their own researches and tests and present papers on their findings. Through the use of complex mathematical equations, these same individuals will be able to discover the existence of new planets and solar systems and also identify new material properties.

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers typically spend their days working with high-level executives to formulate new strategies and goals as it relates to future and current research. They assist in the hiring and evaluation of fellow staff members and review their research to ensure that it is accurate. Additionally, they make propositions for funding of projects and research as well as present their findings to the proper authorities. Through obtaining a PhD, prospective job applicants will have already spent a good portion of their education working in a lab and as such, be accustomed to the work environment of these professionals.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists conduct tests to determine the potential effects that certain substances have on biological processes and present these same findings to their colleagues as well as fellow scientists and engineers. Individuals within this field also secure research grants and actively manage their laboratory staff, as well as, check the quality of work being conducted within the lab. They use tools like fluorescent microscopes and lasers to engage in experimentation and aid in the isolation of DNA, proteins and other molecules.

Petroleum Engineers

Petroleum engineers use their educational background to make accurate assessments about potential drilling sites based on factors such as how expensive it is to extract and the difficulty associated with transporting the material that has been removed. They develop improved methods in the area of gas and oil production and actively make modifications to machine and tool designs to increase productivity. Furthermore, individuals in this field determine the potential yield at a given drill site and create new ways in which oil, gas and other materials can be extracted.

Postsecondary Physics Teachers

Postsecondary teachers use their educational experience to help guide their students on the right path when it comes to making decisions about their educational future. At the college level, they recruit students into their graduate physics program and work with fellow faculty to create courses that will foster a deeper understanding of the subject and prepare students for the real world. Additionally, they monitor their students’ progress and aid them in achieving their educational goals. Oftentimes, physics professors will spend their time outside of the classroom conducting research and writing proposals for program funding.

What Can You Do With a Physics Degree? | Best Graduate Schools | US News

PhD in Physics Graduation and Admission Requirements

Those wishing to complete their PhD in Physics can expect it to take between four to five years and require two years of classroom study along with two to three more years of research and laboratory work for their dissertation. Most graduate programs require that students complete 90 credit hours worth of work, but there is usually no tuition cost associated with it due to the fact that most graduate programs hand out grants and scholarships to prospective PhD students. Getting into such a program isn’t easy though and many programs require that students take qualification exams as well as provide three or more letters of recommendation. In addition, upon admittance, students must typically maintain a 3.0 GPA or better through their coursework and effectively defend their dissertation. During this time, students will often take classes in subjects like kinetics, chemical thermodynamics, applied physics and nanophysics.

Securing a PhD in Physics equips individuals with the experience and the education necessary to work within a wide range of jobs. It gives them the degree necessary to remain competitive within the workforce and allows them to conduct research and educate others at the highest level.

PhD Degree Requirements

The basic requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the successful completion of significant, original research in physics. This research is presented in a written dissertation and defended in a final oral examination. To prepare for this work, Ph.D. candidates are required to take courses in core areas [classical mechanics (CM), quantum mechanics (QM), electromagnetism (EM), and statistical physics (SM)] as well as electives in other areas. Completion of the Ph.D. program requires passing three formal examinations described in detail below.

In addition to the formal requirements, students are encouraged to participate in departmental activities. These include a departmental colloquium and weekly seminars theoretical physics, nuclear physics, atomic, condensed matter physics and astronomy as well as social events such as departmental picnics and social gatherings before colloquia.

Specific Requirements Starting Fall 2017:

These plans are currently under review.

  1. a) A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.
    b)Fulfillment of core courses: Classical Dynamics (PHYS 701), Quantum Mechanics I (PHYS 721), Statistical Mechanics (PHYS 741) and Electromagnetic Theory I (PHYS 711). Fulfillment of two more courses chosen from Quantum Mechanics II (PHYS 722), Electromagnetic Theory II (PHYS 712), Stellar Processes and Interiors (ASTR 701), and Cosmology (ASTR 704).
    c)Three advanced courses (i.e. courses for which core courses are prerequisites, other 700-level ASTR or PHYS courses, or 700-level courses in related departments with approval of the Director of Graduate Studies).
    d)One course in an area of physics other than the student’s specialty area as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies (can be one of the courses in c) above).
    e)If any of the courses in b) above were completed prior to enrollment, mastery of the material must be demonstrated by passing the corresponding section of the Doctoral Written Exam.
    f) Additionally, students should register for PHYS510 and PHYS885 (the TA Seminar and Introductory Graduate Seminar) in the fall of their first year, except if the student will not be a TA in the fall due to an RA or fellowship, then PHYS510 should be deferred.
  2. The equivalent of two semesters teaching experience is required of all Ph.D. degree candidates.
  3. Theory students are required to complete practical training in an experimental or computational project. There is flexibility as to the content of the project but it must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  4. All work credited toward the doctoral degree, except transferred coursework, must be completed within a period of eight years from the date of first registration in the program. If more time is required, the student must submit a request for extension of time to the Graduate School for approval.
  5. Students are required to form their thesis dissertation committee (see Committee Composition, The Graduate School Handbook) by the end of spring in their second year, and are required to meet with this committee at least cone a year, providing a written progress report in years without exams. The progress report will include a written summary of past year’s activities. The thesis committee will provide feedback to the student.
  6. Three exams are required: A doctoral student must pass the following examinations:
    1. The Doctoral Written Examination (DWE);
    2. The Thesis Proposal presentation (TPP);
    3. The Final Oral Examination (“final exam” or “defense”).

The first two exams constitute a comprehensive examination to assess the extent and currency of the candidate’s knowledge of physics and/or astronomy and to determine the candidate’s fitness to continue to work toward the doctorate.

Below are brief explanations of each exam.


As part of this exam, students must pass the in-class course finals for the four core courses, and a written research paper is to be submitted to and approved by the student’s thesis committee. The four core course exams can be taken individually, and each can be taken once. If a student is reinstated to graduate school because of failing a specific exam twice (say, CM), he or she has one more try available after reinstatement. The DWE research paper is used as a diagnostic and source for student feedback and guidance regarding research and writing capabilities. The research paper can be turned in at any point before the thesis proposal presentation (TPP).


The TPP is a presentation of the candidate’s proposed research project to a faculty committee in order to receive broader guidance than that which is available solely from the research advisor. Before the student takes the oral exam she or he must have fulfilled (or will have fulfilled by the end of the semester in which the examination is to be taken) all core coursework and the minimum residence requirement for the doctorate.

Whether or not a student passes the TPP is decided by the Doctoral Dissertation Committee, composed of at least five members of Graduate Faculty, which is appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the student’s Dissertation Advisor. The majority of members of the committee must be permanent faculty members of the Physics and Astronomy Department, while one member must be from a research group outside the candidate’s specialty area. The Dissertation Committee Chair must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member of the department.

Ten days before the oral exam, the candidate should submit to all committee members a self-contained prospectus of her or his research project. This summary should include a detailed description of project’s goals and list methods (experimental, computational, etc.) intended to be used to accomplish those goals. The summary should state clearly why this project is important and what it will contribute to the general body of knowledge. Easily accessible references to relevant previous work, and the timeline leading to the completion of the project, should also be part of this summary. Experimental projects should include an adequate description of relevant theoretical models.

The “final exam” or “defense”

The final oral exam completes the student’s work and includes a presentation of the main points of the Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation and other topics as the examining committee may determine. The text of the dissertation should be submitted to members of the committee 2 weeks before the scheduled date of the exam.

Typical sequence

The following chart exemplifies a typical sequence that students may follow. Note: you are not required to follow the timing of this particular sequence; for instance, you may very well do the TPP in your 4th year instead of in your 3rd year.

YearCoursesDoctoral Exams/ReportsNotes
1CM, EM, QM, SM, 2 electivesDWE Course Finals
2ElectivesProgress report (or DWE Research Paper)Thesis committee formed by year’s end
3ElectivesThesis Proposal PresentationDWE Research Paper must be done before TPP
4ElectivesProgress report
5ElectivesFinal Oral Exam

Thus, in a typical sequence the student would pass the TPP by the end of the third year of studies, then have his or her research progress meeting by the end of the fourth year, and have the final oral exam one year later. After the meeting the student should write a brief summary of the discussion and of the research plans for the next year, which will be given to the members of the student’s committee and to the Director of Graduate Studies to be placed in student’s file. Once the TPP is completed, the student should meet every year with his/her Doctoral Dissertation Committee to discuss progress towards graduation. Each student must notify the Graduate School and the Director of Graduate Studies of their plan to graduate by submitting an application for graduation no later than the deadline shown on the University Registrar’s Calendar for the semester in which they expect to graduate.

Other notes

The M.S. degree is research oriented and oral presentation of results is required. The M.S. degree may be taken with or without thesis. However, even if a thesis is not submitted, a student must work with a research group for at least one semester, in order to learn the research techniques in a field of physics or astronomy. Students are encouraged to obtain a
M.S. degree on the way to a Ph.D. Those students who bypass the master’s degree should be evaluated by their Doctoral Dissertation Committee no later than at the completion of 30 hours of coursework and recommended to the Graduate School for work beyond this level.

Phd In Physics Worth It – CollegeLearners

9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD

If you are planning to apply for a PhD program, you’re probably getting advice from dozens of students, professors, administrators your parents and the Internet. Sometimes it’s hard to know which advice to focus on and what will make the biggest difference in the long-run. So before you go back to daydreaming about the day you accept that Nobel Prize, here are nine things you should give serious thought to. One or more of these tips may save you from anguish and help you make better decisions as you embark on that path to a PhD.

1. Actively seek out information about PhD programs

Depending on your undergraduate institution, there may be more or less support to guide you in selecting a PhD program – but there is generally much less than when you applied to college.

On the website of my physics department, I found a page written by one of my professors, which listed graduate school options in physics and engineering along with resources to consult. As far as I know, my career center did not send out much information about PhD programs. Only after applying to programs did I find out that my undergraduate website had a link providing general information applicable to most PhD programs. This is the kind of information that is available all over the Internet.

So don’t wait for your career center or department to lay out a plan for you. Actively seek it out from your career center counselors, your professors, the Internet — and especially from alumni from your department who are in or graduated from your desired PhD program. First-hand experiences will almost always trump the knowledge you get second-hand.

2. A PhD program is not simply a continuation of your undergraduate program.

Many students don’t internalize this idea until they have jumped head-first into a PhD program. The goal is not to complete an assigned set of courses as in an undergraduate program, but to develop significant and original research in your area of expertise. You will have required courses to take, especially if you do not have a master’s degree yet, but these are designed merely to compliment your research and provide a broad and deep knowledge base to support you in your research endeavors.

At the end of your PhD program, you will be judged on your research, not on how well you did in your courses. Grades are not critical as long as you maintain the minimum GPA requirement, and you should not spend too much time on courses at the expense of research projects. Graduate courses tend to be designed to allow you to take away what you will find useful to your research more than to drill a rigid set of facts and techniques into your brain.

3. Take a break between your undergraduate education and a PhD program.

You are beginning your senior year of college, and your classmates are asking you if you are applying to graduate school. You think to yourself, “Well, I like studying this topic and the associated research, and I am going to need a PhD if I want to be a professor or do independent research, so I might as well get it done as soon as possible.” But are you certain about the type of research you want to do? Do you know where you want to live for the next five years? Are you prepared to stay in an academic environment for nine years straight?

Many people burn out or end up trudging through their PhD program without a thought about what lies outside of or beyond it. A break of a year or two or even more may be necessary to gain perspective. If all you know is an academic environment, how can you compare it to anything else? Many people take a job for five or more years before going back to get their PhD.

It is true though that the longer you stay out of school, the harder it is to go back to an academic environment with lower pay and a lack of set work hours. A one-year break will give you six months or so after graduation before PhD applications are due. A two-year gap might be ideal to provide time to identify your priorities in life and explore different areas of research without having school work or a thesis competing for your attention.

Getting research experience outside of a degree program can help focus your interests and give you a leg up on the competition when you finally decide to apply. It can also help you determine whether you will enjoy full-time research or if you might prefer an alternative career path that still incorporates science, for example, in policy, consulting or business — or a hybrid research job that combines scientific and non-scientific skills.

I will be forever grateful that I chose to do research in a non-academic environment for a year between my undergraduate and PhD programs. It gave me the chance to get a feel for doing nothing but research for a full year. Working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the Space Division, I was the manager of an optics lab, performing spectroscopic experiments on rocks and minerals placed in a vacuum chamber. While my boss determined the overall experimental design, I was able to make my own suggestions for experiments and use my own discretion in how to perform them. I presented this research at two national conferences as well — a first for me. I was also able to learn about other research being performed there, determine which projects excited me the most, and thus narrow down my criteria for a PhD program.

4. Your current area of study does not dictate what you have to study in graduate school.

You might be studying the function and regulation of membrane proteins or doing a computational analysis of the conductivity of different battery designs, but that doesn’t mean your PhD project must revolve around similar projects. The transition between college or another research job to a PhD program is one of the main transitions in your life when it is perfectly acceptable to completely change research areas.

If you are doing computation, you may want to switch to lab-based work or vice versa. If you are working in biology but have always had an interest in photonics research, now is the time to try it out. You may find that you love the alternative research and devote your PhD to it, you might hate it and fall back on your previous area of study — or you may even discover a unique topic that incorporates both subjects.

One of the best aspects of the PhD program is that you can make the research your own. Remember, the answer to the question “Why are you doing this research?” should not be “Well, because it’s what I’ve been working on for the past few years already.”While my undergraduate research was in atomic physics, I easily transitioned into applied physics and materials science for my PhD program and was able to apply much of what I learned as an undergraduate to my current research. If you are moving from the sciences to a non-scientific field such as social sciences or humanities, this advice can still apply, though the transition is a bit more difficult and more of a permanent commitment.

5. Make sure the PhD program has a variety of research options, and learn about as many research groups as possible in your first year.

Even if you believe you are committed to one research area, you may find that five years of such work is not quite what you expected. As such, you should find a PhD program where the professors are not all working in the same narrowly focused research area. Make sure there are at least three professors working on an array of topics you could imagine yourself working on.

In many graduate programs, you are supposed to pick a research advisor before even starting. But such arrangements often do not work out, and you may be seeking a new advisor before you know it. That’s why many programs give students one or two semesters to explore different research areas before choosing a permanent research advisor.

In your first year, you should explore the research of a diverse set of groups. After touring their labs, talking to the students, or sitting in on group meetings, you may find that this group is the right one for you.

In addition, consider the importance of who your research advisor will be. This will be the person you interact with regularly for five straight years and who will have a crucial influence on your research. Do you like their advising style? Does their personality mesh with yours? Can you get along? Of course, the research your advisor works on is critical, but if you have large disagreements at every meeting or do not get helpful advice on how to proceed with your research, you may not be able to succeed. At the very least, you must be able to handle your advisor’s management of the lab and advising style if you are going to be productive in your work.

The Harvard program I enrolled in has professors working on research spanning from nanophotonics to energy materials and biophysics, covering my wide range of interests. By spending time in labs and offices informally chatting with graduate students, I found an advisor whose personality and research interests meshed very well with me. Their genuine enthusiasm for this advisor and their excitement when talking about their research was the best input I could have received.

6. Location is more important than you think — but name recognition is not.

At the Asgard Irish Pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Andy Greenspon talks with fellow graduate students from Harvard and MIT at an Ask for Evidence workshop organized by Sense About Science. He grew up near Boston and chose to go to graduate school there. (Photo by Alison Bert)

The first consideration in choosing a PhD program should be, “Is there research at this university that I am passionate about?” After all, you will have to study this topic in detail for four or more years. But when considering the location of a university, your first thought should not be, “I’m going to be in the lab all the time, so what does it matter if I’m by the beach, in a city, or in the middle of nowhere.”

Contrary to popular belief, you will have a life outside of the lab, and you will have to be able to live with it for four or more years. Unlike when you were an undergraduate, your social and extracurricular life will revolve less around the university community, so the environment of the surrounding area is important. Do you need a city atmosphere to be productive? Or is your ideal location surrounded by forests and mountains or by a beach? Is being close to your family important? Imagine what it will be like living in the area during the times you are not doing research; consider what activities will you do and how often will you want to visit family.

While many of the PhD programs that accepted me had research that truly excited me, the only place I could envision living for five or more years was Boston, as the city I grew up near and whose environment and culture I love, and to be close to my family.

While location is more important than you think, the reputation and prestige of the university is not. In graduate school, the reputation of the individual department you are joining — and sometimes even the specific research group you work in — are more important. There, you will develop research collaborations and professional connections that will be crucial during your program and beyond. When searching for a job after graduation, other scientists will look at your specific department, the people you have worked with and the research you have done.

7. Those time management skills you developed in college? Develop them further.

After surviving college, you may think you have mastered the ability to squeeze in your coursework, extracurricular activities and even some sleep. In a PhD program, time management reaches a whole new level. You will not only have lectures to attend and homework to do. You will have to make time for your research, which will include spending extended periods of time in the lab, analyzing data, and scheduling time with other students to collaborate on research.

Also, you will most likely have to teach for a number of semesters, and you will want to attend any seminar that may be related to your research or that just peaks your interest. To top it all off, you will still want to do many of those extracurricular activities you did as an undergraduate. While in the abstract, it may seem simple enough to put this all into your calendar and stay organized, you will find quickly enough that the one hour you scheduled for a task might take two or three hours, putting you behind on everything else for the rest of the day or forcing you to cut other planned events. Be prepared for schedules to go awry, and be willing to sacrifice certain activities. For some, this might be sleep; for others, it might be an extracurricular activity or a few seminars they were hoping to attend. In short, don’t panic when things don’t go according to plan; anticipate possible delays and be ready to adapt.

8. Expect to learn research skills on the fly – or take advantage of the training your department or career center offers.

This may be the first time you will have to write fellowship or grant proposals, write scientific papers, attend conferences, present your research to others, or even peer-review scientific manuscripts. From my experience, very few college students or even PhD students receive formal training on how to perform any of these tasks. Usually people follow by example. But this is not always easy and can be quite aggravating sometimes. So seek out talks or interactive programs offered by your department or career center. The effort will be well worth it when you realize you’ve become quite adept at quickly and clearly explaining your research to others and at outlining scientific papers and grant proposals.

Alternatively, ask a more experienced graduate student or your advisor for advice on these topics. In addition, be prepared for a learning curve when learning all the procedures and processes of the group you end up working in. There may be many new protocols to master, whether they involve synthesizing chemicals, growing bacterial cells, or aligning mirrors on an optical table. In addition, the group may use programming languages or data analysis software you are unfamiliar with.

Don’t get discouraged but plan to spend extra effort getting used to these procedures and systems. After working with them regularly, they will soon become second nature. When I first started my job at Johns Hopkins, I felt overwhelmed by all the intricacies of the experiment and definitely made a few mistakes, including breaking a number of optical elements. But by the end of my year there, I had written an updated protocol manual for the modifications I had made to the experimental procedures and was the “master” passing on my knowledge to the next person taking the job.

9. There are no real breaks.

In a stereotypical “9-to-5” job, when the workday is over or the weekend arrives, you can generally forget about your work. And a vacation provides an even longer respite. But in a PhD program, your schedule becomes “whenever you find time to get your work done.” You might be in the lab during regular work hours or you might be working until 10 p.m. or later to finish an experiment. And the only time you might have available to analyze data might be at 1 a.m. Expect to work during part of the weekend, too. Graduate students do go on vacations but might still have to do some data analysis or a literature search while away.

As a PhD student, it might be hard to stop thinking about the next step in an experiment or that data sitting on your computer or that paper you were meaning to start. While I imagine some students can bifurcate their mind between graduate school life and everything else, that’s quite hard for many of us to do. No matter what, my research lies somewhere in the back of my head. In short, your schedule is much more flexible as a PhD student, but as a result, you never truly take a break from your work.

While this may seem like a downer, remember that you should have passion for the research you work on (most of the time), so you should be excited to think up new experiments or different ways to consider that data you have collected. Even when I’m lying in bed about to fall asleep, I am sometimes ruminating about aspects of my experiment I could modify or what information I could do a literature search on to gain new insights. A PhD program is quite the commitment and rarely lives up to expectations – but it is well worth the time and effort you will spend for something that truly excites you.

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