Many years ago, when I was looking into possible PhD opportunities I spoke to quite a few people at the institution I studied in. It has a huge physics department, with many areas of research being covered. I spoke to people about what they thought the key future areas were, and spoke to people whose areas I had been enjoying as an undergraduate (my initial draw into physics - everything astro - was sidelined during my undergraduate degree because of my choice to study a joint Physics and Philosophy degree, and I couldn't take the first year optional astronomy course as a result).
I was really keen to work with one of the professors who was working on statistical mechanics of neural networks, and I chatted to him, but he was about to go on sabbatical and wasn't taking any students that year. I was taking the optional advanced nuclear and particle physics option in my undergrad course, and the particle physics lecturer tried to solicit me to apply to work in his area. That was very kind of him - I think it happened because he set a kind of unofficial homework problem at the end of a class and I was intrigued by it and came back with the answer next class, for which I was handed a bottle of wine from the St John's College cellars... but I sort-of worried that working in particle physics would involve being a tiny cog in a very large machine and potentially a very unrewarding experience. Yet I did like the world of the microscopic, with all the quantum physics that it entailed.
It therefore seemed like a good idea to work in nuclear physics - involving lower energy phenomena than particle physics, and correspondingly smaller research teams. I don't really regret it. Well, not too much. There's lots of interesting stuff in nuclear physics, but what it lacks is jobs. Especially in theoretical nuclear physics. I'm one of something like 8 people in the country employed in a permanent nuclear theory position. Jobs don't come up very often here. Anyway - I'm lucky, I have a job. Even if it is based in Guildford.
I had an email this week advertising this rarest of things - a permanent (or at least tenure-track) job in theoretical nuclear physics. It's at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It's a place I know well, since I did a post-doc there and spent lots of time out there while doing my PhD. So - if you are one of the few people in the world looking for a permanent position in nuclear theory, Knoxville may well be your place. Tell them I sent you - you can find the job advert here.
The picture in the post is of the Knoxville skyline. The sunsphere is at the left. It was built for the 1982 World's Fair, but as is well-known, it has more recently been used as a wig store.