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What’s the best way to get into the nuclear physics field?

I have always been interested in nuclear physics, and I was wondering how best to enter the field, whether through an internship, basic career entry, or post-doc.

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Joseph’s Answer

There's a few routes depending on exactly what area you want to get into.

There are a few options as internships and apprenticeships, although these are typically for supporting roles that are applying physics less directly - such as mechanical or electrical engineering, or as a health physics surveyor (often very hands-on radiation monitoring with handheld detectors and not a lot of physics understanding applied).

Much more commonly, you'll need to go through college/university and obtain a degree in a STEM subject - physics is a great choice but chemistry and engineering graduates also are commonly sought after in the nuclear industry, so it doesn't have to be just physics. From there, a graduate entry / training program is an excellent choice to make a start in the industry, but they can be highly competitive and might only be available if you get particularly good undergraduate grades. If like me you don't quite get into a graduate program or just feel like further study is beneficial, you can do what I did and follow a nuclear-specialized postgraduate Masters - I took one focused on nuclear physics and technology, which was a great set-up to find my first basic-entry role in radiation physics. With a nuclear Masters behind you, there is a wide range of physics-based operational roles you can go into, whether it's radiation metrology like me, or other fields like designing shielding, reactor physics to plan fuel assembly positioning, reactor operations, or even nuclear medicine.

It's also a common route to stay in academia a bit longer and complete a PhD, which is pretty much the expected route if you want to find a role in nuclear physics research rather than the sorts of more operational roles mentioned above. After a PhD, you can go in a number of directions - you could stay in postdoc research positions in a university; go towards a staff position in a national lab or other "big science" facility; or go out into industry, often with good prospects for promotion into more senior positions.
Thank you comment icon Thank you! Edmund
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Peter’s Answer

Can you articular why you want to go to nuclear physics? I assumed by asking this question, you found physics and math fascinating and doing quite well with them at school. You also need to understand whether you are interesting to the theoretic side or practice side. For example, does being a physicist in CERN institute excite you or not? You can look it up and see what they require to get in.
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Manuela’s Answer

Back in the communist Romania, I graduated one of the only 2 high schools specialized in the nuclear field that the country had and, four years later, my diploma as a physicist, was dusted by the tail of Chernobyl's nuclear cloud; you touched a soft spot with your question.
Chernobyl happened because of the greed at the low supervisory level . The fear to not jeopardize the May First bonus delayed the call to upper level decision makers. I learned this while working on my graduate thesis on a subject of social communication in case of a nuclear incident, in 1999.
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that nature's laws, the only ones to be called laws in my opinion, do not bow at what humans call laws, rules or regulations on their official papers, especially when they are signed by some who could not draw the simplest representation of the atom in their mind.
Your conscience is an important decision maker. Would you send back on site workers who already were exposed to the maximum limit of radiation because you were told to do so?
I recommend to start with some reading and some movies about the nuclear events that happened since the industry came around: HBO's Chernobyl, City 40 - a documentary that present an insight in one of the 44 secret cities the ex USSR had - the one where plutonium was enriched, Land of Oblivion, an Ukrainian movie from 2013, I think, and other documentaries that you can find yourself. Read among others that you can find, Crisis of Conscience by Tom Muller ( a dedicated chapter about how the care of the nuclear leftovers from the Manhattan project are taking care of); Midnight in Chernobyl, by Adam Higginbotham, visit the nuclear bunker at Greenbrier WV and read Raven Rock by Garrett Graff who also wrote The Only Plane in the Sky - an Oral history of September 11th, which gives the best experience as an audio book; you will understand why while listening from the library with Libby or other streaming resources or buying it to contribute to royalties. If you add the Library extension to your Google browser, Amazon will tell you if the title that you are looking for is available at the libraries that you added to the extension. You don't need the library card to add all those that are close to you to get a card if need be. Also read Radium Girls, by Kate Moore, and watch the artistic Feature (2018) and the documentaries on you tube to learn about the long journey that took for the legislation to integrate protection for people working with nuclear material. I was very please to see on YouTube that high schools are staging the play. You may already know this story.
I taught physics for 10 years in Romania and I will always feel guilty for not speaking about Chernobyl when I taught the chapter on nuclear physics. The guilt settled here in the US, when I bought the National Geographic's April 2006 issue that had Chernobyl on the cover.
Thank you comment icon Although a very interesting story, it does not answer the question. Can you please explain how you broke into the field? Did you do any internships or research that helped you land your first job? Gurpreet Lally, Admin
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