PhD Careers @ TCQP

Why do a PhD? You will of course develop high level skills and are ultimately more employable. However, this is also one of the few chances you will get in your life to know more about a specific topic than anyone else in the world. Discovering new science is challenging, rewarding, hardwork and fun. However, it is hard. There will be days where you are just plodding through your project one step in front of the other. Other days you will have that sudden clarity of insight that makes you feel like being a scientist is the greatest calling anyone can aspire to. All of this is possible (probable) and is part and parcel of being a PhD student (and a scientist in general) in the 21st century.

This page gives you hints about how to join the TCQP group as a PhD student, as well as what this might lead to afterwards.

Starting a PhD in the TCQP group

Do you have an Honours or Masters degree in physics? Are you interested undertaking cutting edge research in computational and theoretical physics? Does spending 3-4 years in the centre of the city of Melbourne at one of the leading technical universities in Australia sound like an interesting challenge? Then a PhD position at TCQP could be for you.

However, before you get too excited there are a few points to consider before attempting (or being accepted) for a PhD.

  • A PhD is a serious (often gruelling) commitment, requiring focus, dedication and determination.
  • If you are a domestic (Australian) student, we typically find that you will need at least a HD average (>80%) to possess the required technical expertise.
  • In our area of work we are particularly interested in your mathematical and computer programming skills, although oral and written communication skills are also fundamentally important.
  • Most students will require a living stipend so that they can focus on their studies. These are awarded on a competitive basis through the central RMIT University application system. In general there is an application round each year (Sept-Oct.) to start at the begining of the following calendar year. However in exceptional cases, there might be opportunities during the rest of the year.
  • For international students, the competition is extremely tough. There are only a few international scholarships awarded each year and Professors tend to be very conservative as investing time and resources in a new student is a very important decision. We only take new students that have proven communication and technical skills. Although prospective students are welcome to contact potential supervisors, please remember that we receive 100s of such enquiries each year. We can typically only consider those who have actually taken a detailed interest in our work and have internationally competitive marks and experience. Often these are students who come from Universities we currently (or previously) collaborate with and therefore can accurately gauge their ability to complete a PhD.

To apply for a PhD or Masters position, please begin by reading the general University application information

Career options after PhD

So now you have a PhD (or are more than halfway through), what next?

Scientists with PhDs in theoretical or computational phyiscs work in a range of industries. The analytical skills and logical thinking, as well as the communication, mathematical and computational techniques learnt during a PhD are generally applicable to a range of different problems. Many of our graduates go on to work as researchers either in Universities or Industry, both within Australia and overseas. There is also a growing need for the skills developed by our graduates in the commercial and government sectors. Of course there is also the traditional research path to an academic position in a University, but this constitutes less than 0.5% of all PhD graduates.

When thinking about what to do next, its important to reflect on the marketable skills that you now possess (or are developing). For example, skills that you learn in the TCQP group include:

  • Analytic and logical thinking.
  • Data analysis
  • Model building and validation
  • Programming, optimisation, debugging
  • Presentation skills
  • Ability to learn new topics, fields via self-directed study
  • Scientific and non-technical writing
  • Group collaborations and teamwork
  • Project management
  • Experience with international collaboration
  • Travel in a professional setting (national and international)

The next question is what interests you? Is there are particular industry that you would like to work in? Energy, Finance, Government policy, IT, Health and Medicine, Education? Do you want to do more computational/mathematical modelling or quantative analysis? Are you interested in working overseas? Do you wish to stay in Melbourne?

Thinking seriously about these questions will help you narrow down the choices before you start spending time learning the ins and outs of your prospective future employer and their industry.

There are more and more resources available to help with choosing a careers which utilises your skills. For example, here is a discussion on careers outside academia and how to transition to a career beyond PhD (or a postdoctoral research).

Recent graduates of the TCQP group have found positions in:

However, its important to note that our group in recent years has been surprisingly research focused in their graduate destinations. Other PhD graduates from our "sister" groups at other universities work in a variety of industries including:

  • Computational modelling of immune response (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)
  • Infectious diseases modelling and simulation (University of Melbourne and Doherty Research Institute)
  • Strategic, policy and technology consulting (Nous Group)
  • Financial and quantitative modelling (PwC)
  • Energy market modelling (Jacobs group, Australian Energy Market Operator)
  • Statistical modelling and simulation applied to ecology, conservation biology, and urban planning (RMIT)
  • Patent law
  • Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG)
  • High school teaching
  • State government (Veski, Department of Education and Training)
  • Federal government (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)

Increasingly graduates with PhDs in physics are employed as "Data Scientists". For more information see this recent Nature Jobs article and the Data Science Melbourne Meetup.

If you are interested in travelling to world to do research, there are a range of scholarships and fellowship programmes worldwide for those wishing to do postdoctoral research overseas:

There are also many job boards and mailing lists for international postdoctoral research positions, depending on speciality and area of interest.

It is important for you to think about these things during and towards the end of your PhD to ensure that you find employment that satifies your needs and utlises you skills. Don't be afraid to bring it up with your PhD supervisor, you might be surprised at how many contacts they have outside academia!

Recent PhD theses from the TCQP group

The Nitrogen-Vacancy defect in diamond and its application to quantum sensing

A project of the Theoretical Chemical and Quantum Physics Group


Mr. Jesse Vaitkus, Dr. Jan Jeske, A/Prof. Jared Cole, Prof. Andrew Greentree


Marcus Doherty: Australian National University

Lloyd Hollenberg: University of Melbourne

Brief Project Outline

There are many different types of impurities in diamond, which affect its optical and structural properties. For each defect species there can be numerous configurations, which results in different absorption and emission spectrum. The most abundant impurity in diamond is nitrogen, with an important nitrogen defect being the nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre due to its defect levels in the diamond band gap, which results in a strong zero phonon line transition.

The NV centre in diamond, which has multiple charged states, is made up of a substitutional nitrogen atom that is adjacent to a vacant carbon lattice site. The two common charged states of the defect are the neutral centre (NV0) and a centre with an extra electron (NV-). The negatively charged centre has received a lot of attention in recent years due to its possible uses as a single photon source at room temperature and as a qubit in quantum information processing.

More recently, the NV centre has been explored as a quantum limited sensor. Due to the fact that the energy levels of the defect depend on many different material and electromagnetic parameters, an NV centre can be used as a nanoscale magnetometer, electrometer, thermometer and strain sensor.

Current and recent research in the TCQP on NV centres includes:

  • Use of the NV centre for sensing fluctuating electric and magnetic fields - including the concept of a decoherence probe microscope.
  • Thermodynamic stability of the defect as a function of Fermi level and/or temperature to study the relative concentration of NV- and NV0 centres.
  • Interplay of the spin-orbit excited states of the NV- centre and phonons in the crystal using decoherence theory. Experimental demonstration of the NV- centre as a quantum limited thermometer.

NV defect in a diamond crystal

The nitrogen-vacancy centre consists of a substitutional nitrogen adjacent to a vacancy in the diamond host lattice. The charge state of the defect depends on the surrounding electronic properties of the lattice, while the spin and optical properties of the defect in turn depend on the charge state. Ab initio calculations of the thermodynamic stability of the defects in diamond can be used to make predictions of the defect concentration as a function of temperature.
Webber et al., Phys. Rev. B 85, 014102 (2012).

Decoherence microscopy

Schematic of a scanning decoherence microscopy setup. A probe qubit is scanned across the sample while its quantum state is monitored. At each point the spectral response of the qubit probe is determined and from this data, a measurement of the effective qubit Hamiltonian and decoherence as a function of probe position is obtained.
Cole and Hollenberg, Nanotechnology, 20, 495401 (2009).

Recent Publications

J. H. Cole, L. C. L. Hollenberg Scanning Quantum Decoherence Microscopy, Nanotechnology 20, 495401 (2009)

L. T. Hall, C. D. Hill, J. H. Cole, L. C.L. Hollenberg Sensing of Fluctuating Nanoscale Magnetic Fields Using NV Centres in Diamond, Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 220802 (2009)

Webber, B.T., Per, M.C., Drumm, D.W., Hollenberg, L.C.L. and Russo, S.P. Ab initio thermodynamics calculation of the relative concentration of NV- and NV0 defects in diamond, Phys. Rev. B 85, 014102 (2012)

Plakhotnik, T., Doherty, M. W., Cole, J. H., Chapman, R. and Manson, N. B., All-Optical Thermometry and Thermal Properties of the Optically Detected Spin Resonances of the NV- Center in Nanodiamond, Nano Letters 14 4989-4996 (2014)

For more information about this project, please contact Jared Cole, Andrew Greentree or Salvy Russo.