phy789 wrote:I was in a Physics PhD program and completed the first year before taking a leave of absence to go work abroad for a year. I really had personal issues and lost motivation for the subject in my 1st year and as a result, my grades were terrible (undergrad gpa was 3.8, but grad school gpa was less than 3.4, including a C+ in an undergrad Solid-State class). I no longer want to get the PhD since academia no longer interests me, but am thinking about whether it's worth continuing to get the Master's or not. If I stick with the program, I have to re-apply and am worried my poor 1st-year grades would really hurt my application (I emailed the admissions officer at my program and she said they will accept a late application from me). If I continue, I want to do research that involves computational physics. Since I want to get my MS ASAP and focus on my career, I'm thinking its best to focus on condensed matter, despite my horrific grade in Intro Solid-State.
So what do you guys think? Do I have any chance of being re-admitted? Should I ask the director if my poor 1st-year grades would severely hurt my chances of being re-admitted? In my statement of purpose, just mention that I overcame those personal problems since I learned alot by living/working abroad?
So here's a little perspective given my own experiences and that of other people I know with PhD, MS, and BS degrees in physics, more importantly recently. I also played around with ideas of what level I should go to in physics, what I wanted, and what were the wise investments.
In terms of more traditional areas of physics you're going to need a PhD minimum to have a chance not only at academic jobs but also quality industry jobs. In industry your research needs to be heavily focused on the field in which you plan to work in as well, and I mean very specific for great positions. For the general industry job though the old adage that industry doesn't really want PhD grads is dead. The reason is simple, back in the day it was assumed that PhD's would cost more and that most of the time their research didn't directly translate so why pay more for what you can get from a masters grad. Now a days however, with the economy, there is a surplus of PhD's that will work for very little. Why not take the PhD over the master student when you can get them both at the same price. It's not like there is a market out there for them to come in and then leave when they find a better job, the longer they're in the market the more competition they come up against. It is most definitely an employers market and it will be regardless of the upturn for a while. You have too many people with advanced degrees, a lot with experience, a lot underemployed, and even more who are unsatisfied with their current work. Just look at any industry job posting today, the vast majority with pay of 80k+ are for PhD's with multiple years of experience and very specific skills. So if you plan on flying mostly on your physics background it's PhD or nothing, and even then nothing is easy. If you want to branch out into other areas, stick with the bachelors and network your way into a job. The one area where this isn't always the case is medical physics, a masters can get you jobs. However, for the best jobs you still need board certs. The problem is that the new certification rules have made it very hard from masters students to get certificates. You'll have to compete with med phy PhD's for residency positions if you want to get into the main and stable areas of med phy. My suggestion, if you're sure that the PhD is not for you, but you still want to get an advanced degree to help you in the market, which will help. Then I would go back and get it in something more practical and applied, go get into engineering, programming, finance, etc. The best thing this can do for you however is not the degree itself, the classes you take won't mean jack and the paper stating the degree will mean little more. What it will do is it will allow you to get into internships and more. Those connections and experiences will make or break the return of investment on any grad school opportunity you take on if you're not getting the PhD. Skills to develop that I would recommend, if you don't already have them, are programming (Perl, Python, C++, etc) and stats/scientific computing software (Matlab, R, SPSS) for technical roles and business (finance, marketing, supply chain management, etc) for non-technical roles. If you get some good experience in some of those, some internships under your belt, and build a network then you'll be in great position to land a good and interesting job in a lot of industries.
You have to decide if physics is for you or not, so you can decide whether to continue in it all the way or not at all. It's just not worth it to continue in this field if you're not going to go all in.