What is a PhD in quantum physics like at university?

Dive into the captivating world of quantum physics and embark on an exhilarating journey of discovery, innovation, and collaboration. Join PhD students as they unlock the secrets of the quantum realm and explore its diverse applications, from quantum computing and cryptography to quantum materials science

With a PhD in quantum physics, the possibilities are seemingly endless, and the impact on our understanding of the universe and its underlying principles is immense. 

Keep reading to explore the life of a quantum physics PhD student and the incredible opportunities that await.

What does a PhD student in Quantum Physics do in the lab?

A PhD student in Quantum Physics embarks on a thrilling journey to unravel the mysteries of the quantum world. Their days are filled with engaging research, aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of nature’s fundamental principles at the quantum level.

From developing and testing theoretical models to experimenting with cutting-edge techniques, these graduate students are at the forefront of advancing this captivating field.

Here’s a table outlining the key activities of a PhD student doing a quantum physics PhD based on my conversation with a current PhD student:

ResearchInvestigating new materials and applications for quantum communication, sensing, and computation
Lab WorkWorking with colleagues in a lab, studying material systems and defects for potential quantum technologies
CollaborationsCollaborating with other researchers, supervisors, and mentors
LearningAttending lectures, seminars, and conferences related to the field of quantum physics
NetworkingBuilding connections with other researchers, mentors, and professionals in the field
Writing and PublishingDocumenting research findings and publishing papers in academic journals
Personal DevelopmentEngaging in extracurricular activities, such as sports and hobbies, to maintain a balanced life
PresentationsSharing research findings and updates with colleagues and at conferences

Inside the university laboratories, PhD students work diligently on quantum information projects, studying how quantum mechanics can revolutionize the way we process and transmit data.

As emerging quantum engineers, they contribute to the development of quantum computers, which promise to solve problems that are currently insurmountable for classical systems.

Their pursuit of knowledge doesn’t end in the lab. PhD students often collaborate with other researchers, attend conferences, and present their findings to the scientific community.

In addition to research, many quantum physics PhD students take on teaching and mentoring roles.

They share their expertise with others, fostering a passion for science in future generations. This teaching experience complements their research endeavours and helps them become well-rounded professionals.

Ultimately, the goal of a PhD student in Quantum Physics is to become an expert in their chosen subfield and contribute novel research findings that expand our understanding of the quantum realm. As they graduate, they may pursue careers as professors, researchers, consultants, or entrepreneurs in various fields related to quantum physics, such as quantum computing, cryptography, and quantum materials science.

Different types of Quantum Physics PhDs in a faculty

Quantum physics is a fascinating and rapidly evolving field, with numerous PhD programs catering to various interests and goals. Some prominent areas of focus within these PhD programs include:

  • quantum mechanics,
  • quantum information science, and
  • quantum optics.

Quantum mechanics is the foundation of quantum physics, and a PhD in quantum mechanics delves deep into the theoretical aspects of the subject.

For example, a PhD candidate might study quantum entanglement or the dynamics of quantum systems at the atomic level.

In contrast, a PhD in quantum information science combines quantum theory with computer science and information technology.

Quantum optics, another popular area of research, investigate the behavior of light and matter at the quantum level.

This area has applications in laser technology, spectroscopy, and nanophotonics.

Researchers in this field often collaborate with experts in quantum materials and experimental physics to develop new photonic devices.

Admission to these PhD programs is competitive, and applicants typically have strong backgrounds in physics, mathematics, or chemistry. Coursework in these programs covers core quantum topics, and students have the opportunity to collaborate with industry partners and other researchers worldwide.

Pursuing a PhD in quantum physics offers an exciting opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the universe, from the atomic scale to cosmic phenomena. These programs, whether theoretical or applied, prepare students to become leaders in the field, pushing the boundaries of conventional scientific knowledge.

How to get a PhD in quantum physics – the requirements

To begin, aspiring quantum physicists must first earn a bachelor’s degree in physics or a related discipline. Next, they should apply to a reputable institution that offers a specialized PhD program in quantum physics.

Getting into the degree often requires an exam and here are the sorts of questions you can find in the quantum mechanics section:

  1. Probability calculation for an H3 atom in its ground state after decay.
  2. Commutation relation involving raising and lowering operators for a harmonic oscillator potential.
  3. Normalized wave functions for two identical non-interacting spin-1/2 particles in a one-dimensional harmonic oscillator potential.
  4. Consideration of fermions and their anti-symmetric wave functions.

During their PhD program, students will tackle advanced courses in mathematics, physics, and quantum mechanics while engaging in research under the guidance of an experienced faculty advisor.

The culmination of their studies is the development and defense of a dissertation.

Keeping up with the latest research and attending conferences and seminars is crucial for staying informed and building a strong professional network.

Networking and collaboration can be pivotal in successfully completing a PhD program in quantum physics, which typically takes 4-6 years.

Although the job market for quantum physicists can be highly competitive, the opportunities it offers in research and development make the effort worthwhile for those who are truly dedicated to the field.

What can you do with a PhD in quantum science?

A PhD in quantum physics opens up an array of exciting and influential career opportunities. In academia, you can pursue a position as a postdoctoral researcher or professor, teaching and conducting pioneering research in areas like quantum mechanics and quantum field theory.

Alternatively, you could enter the industry, working for companies that develop groundbreaking technologies based on quantum principles, such as quantum computers and quantum sensors.

Another option is working for government agencies or national labs, applying your quantum physics expertise to advance national security, intelligence gathering, or other vital missions.

With a PhD in quantum physics, you could even become an entrepreneur, founding your own company or consulting firm to offer valuable insights and solutions in this rapidly evolving field.

Regardless of the path you choose, a doctorate in quantum physics equips you with the skills and knowledge necessary to make a significant impact in some of today’s most rapidly progressing scientific domains.

Wrapping up

From the cutting-edge research and the daily activities in labs to the diverse subfields of study and potential career paths, a PhD in quantum physics promises a fulfilling and impactful journey.

By immersing themselves in this captivating field, quantum physics PhD students not only deepen our understanding of the universe and its underlying principles but also contribute to the development of innovative technologies that will shape our future.

With dedication, hard work, and collaboration, these brilliant minds forge new frontiers in the rapidly progressing scientific domains of quantum mechanics, quantum information science, and quantum optics.

So, whether you are an aspiring quantum physicist or simply curious about this fascinating area of study, remember that the journey through the quantum realm is filled with challenges, breakthroughs, and uncharted territory, promising a thrilling adventure for those brave enough to embrace it.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.