What can I do with the PhD in materials science/graphene
April 27, 2015 11:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently thinking about doing a PhD making new carbon-based materials. I find the topic really interesting, but I’m not really sure what one does with the degree after they graduate unless they stay in academia. What kinds of options exist for a PhD graduate with this kind of background?

I’m looking at doing a PhD in materials science studying the synthesis of novel graphene-based membranes (with potential applications in separations and water purification). The work will involve a lot of chemistry/chemical engineering and a bit of mechanical engineering. I know the kind of default route for PhD’s is a postdoc in academia, and depending on how much I like academic research and the papers I can publish, I'd be interested in that. But at the moment, I'm really interested in industrial opportunities. I'd really like to work in graphene or the materials sector when I graduate. However, I'm not sure what kinds of companies and roles I should look at.

I found a few graphene-based companies, which I think it would be really cool to work for. However, I’m not sure if these companies would be hiring (or, if, in fact, the companies will still be around when I graduate). In addition to these specialist graphene-based companies, I wonder what other opportunities would be available for someone with a PhD in carbon-based materials science/chemistry and engineering. I thought about looking at past graduates from my prospective lab, but it’s a new group with very few graduates.

So, I guess I’m just looking for ideas for jobs, companies, or sectors I can target during and after my degree (ideally related to my degree, but would like to know all options). I'm also curious about the types of roles in different companies I could play immediately after graduation and in the longer term. Finally, any tips on making myself more marketable for these roles would also be much appreciated.
posted by strekker to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd think materials science and engineering would be pretty attractive to industry hirers.

Most people who get hired into industry (in my experience - I work with many PhD's in the semiconductor industry) are hired not for the specific subject matter of their dissertation so much as for their overall skills - persistence, perseverence, technical/intellectual ability, ability to research things independently, ability to do projects independently, etc. All these things are demonstrated by the PhD. I'm sure there will be some places looking to hire graphene scientists; there will be other places looking to hire scientists more generally, or materials scientists more generally.
posted by Lady Li at 11:45 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I remember in physics grad school, all the last-year undergrads and first year grads were all excited about what they thought was sexy in undergrad: general relativity and string theory. And then they ended up with random labs and theorists doing fluid mechanics or some condensed matter system. But generally they were happy because they were working with good people on systems they developed an interest in. Similarly bio students wanting to work with primates, etc.

So consider broadening your search criteria and just find a strong materials science program, because then it will work out even if you don't get a slot with the 2-3 advisers that do string theory carbon-based yadda-yadda? Not carbonist. Ask for a tour of the other labs, skim their publications, etc.

Note that I know nothing about material science academia or industry opportunities.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:46 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Assuming graphene etc. does become a major area of industrial innovation, you could explore becoming a specialist expert consultant for e.g. private equity and hedge fund firms interested in the sector. They would value industry-relevant PhD-level expertise in a cutting edge sector. Check out signing up to GLG for instance.
posted by Bwithh at 2:07 AM on April 28, 2015

If you haven't already, get student memberships in some professional societies. They are highly subsidized. Sometimes these are even free, it depends on the discipline. Most of them have extensive job listings, and more importantly publish employment statistics.

Even if you don't choose to join, you can often find employment info published in the society newletters (eg. C&E News for ACS, which covers most of the chemical industry in NA). Most good university libraries will have these in hardcopy and/or will have access rights to the on-line versions. Many of them can tell you what the sector-based employment figures are. Success in finding jobs post-graduation is something most societies track pretty carefully, as well as starting pay levels. This will give you a four-five year out picture of what to expect when you graduate.

To actually find jobs, your most important choice is your supervisor. Some are much better connected than others. Secondly, look for a group that will make certain you get to conferences. That's where the jobs are found often, both in academia and industry. Make sure you can go to the big conference in your discipline, what ever it is, and make as many contacts, speak to as many folks as you can. That network can be a great help when it comes time to find work or a post-doc.
posted by bonehead at 5:44 AM on April 28, 2015

I work for a national lab, and we hire many people in this area, both as post-docs and eventual members of the technical staff. Technical staff can work on a huge variety of projects throughout their career, and they aren't burdened by an immediate application being needed for everything, but they are connected with industry.

Memail me if you want more information.
posted by answergrape at 7:10 AM on April 28, 2015

A lot of people with these skills go to work for Intel and the like. But honestly, the general skills will be much more important than the specific research area (i.e. experimental material science techniques like microscopy and lithography). It still isn't clear if carbon nanomaterials specifically will ever be truly and widely useful outside of pure science. Pick a good advisor who has their students' backs, not someone based purely on their specific research specialty, and you'll set yourself up much better for a good future no matter what happens.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:43 AM on April 28, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks a lot everyone for the helpful advice. It sounds like the supervisor is really important, which I think I've heard before, but it's good to hear it again. I do share the healthy skepticism for the "sexy" new fields, but the lab/program I'm looking at seems good in other respects.

Thanks Bwithh for the tip regarding GLG -- had never heard of this, but it looks like a good concept. Also, thanks answergrape for the tip on national labs. I will do some research on this. Also, I will definitely try to make sure that I go to conferences and network like crazy. I feel more confident I should be able to come up with something good upon graduation.
posted by strekker at 7:10 AM on April 29, 2015

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