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Near the End of A PhD and Have No Job

by Astro_Dude
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mayonaise
#91
Sep9-11, 09:47 AM
P: 77
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The feedback I get is consistently that other candidates had more experience doing X (where X is some technical technique/skill that is needed for the job) than I did. Generally, this is no doubt true, because odds are I self taught whatever I thought I needed as I was applying for the job. (My theory phd didn't give me much in the way of what industry might want).

This is starting to make me worried that engineering/science industry jobs are NOT what I should be applying for (despite being what I would like to do, and despite having a physics phd), because they seem to care more about experience with some technique than a broad background/trainable.
This exact sentiment came as a huge mind**** when I went job hunting the first time: I knew little about electronics other than they were a bunch of transistors. I could do C++ but what the heck was class inheritance? I had no idea what Verilog was, or was it very log? I had never even heard of Pro-E.

Having believed the professors "if you learn physics, you can do anything" "there is always industry" "physics is used everywhere" instilled me with such unrealistic sense of safety and superiority. But the truth is, an academia focused physics education gives you zero advantage over an engineering education for a particular engineering field. And since most engineering fields are represented by their respective disciplines in academia, a physicist cannot do anything without being humbled by the engineers. Besides, the sense of superiority really shuts one's mind from the world. Irony for the discipline that tries to figure out the world!

Oh, and I don't consider a physicist more trainable and has broader background anymore. Not compared to an engineer. That was just superiority complex.
Choppy
#92
Sep9-11, 02:51 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 2,747
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The feedback I get is consistently that other candidates had more experience doing X (where X is some technical technique/skill that is needed for the job) than I did. Generally, this is no doubt true, because odds are I self taught whatever I thought I needed as I was applying for the job. (My theory phd didn't give me much in the way of what industry might want).

This is starting to make me worried that engineering/science industry jobs are NOT what I should be applying for (despite being what I would like to do, and despite having a physics phd), because they seem to care more about experience with some technique than a broad background/trainable.
As someone who's recently been on the other side (doing the hiring) one of the issues that comes up has to do with the applicant pool. When your applicant pool has candidates with specific experience doing X (for a position in doing X), even though it may not be a requirement, those candidates still go to the top of the list.
jk
#93
Sep9-11, 03:58 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The feedback I get is consistently that other candidates had more experience doing X (where X is some technical technique/skill that is needed for the job) than I did. Generally, this is no doubt true, because odds are I self taught whatever I thought I needed as I was applying for the job. (My theory phd didn't give me much in the way of what industry might want).

This is starting to make me worried that engineering/science industry jobs are NOT what I should be applying for (despite being what I would like to do, and despite having a physics phd), because they seem to care more about experience with some technique than a broad background/trainable.
My experience with applying for engineering jobs is that they are looking for very specific set of skills/experience - the same set that you would get in school. From speaking with my engineer jobs, they seem to be mostly a "paint by the numbers" type of jobs. Of course, they only have Bachelor's degrees so the types of jobs they would qualify for might be different than what you are going after. What kind of engineering jobs are you applying for?

You might do better with software positions, especially since you have a more theoretical training and it would be easier to fit you in software roles. For example, if you don't have experience with control engineering, it would be hard to convince someone to put you in a role designing control systems for a factory or something like that. But software is generally more malleable and the people in software have a more diverse set of backgrounds. One of the directors at a financial firm I worked for has a phd in particle physics and he is in charge of a division that writes risk management software for the firm.

If you don't have particular programming skills, I would take a couple of classes at your local community college.
jk
#94
Sep9-11, 04:20 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by mayonaise View Post
This exact sentiment came as a huge mind**** when I went job hunting the first time: I knew little about electronics other than they were a bunch of transistors. I could do C++ but what the heck was class inheritance? I had no idea what Verilog was, or was it very log? I had never even heard of Pro-E.

Having believed the professors "if you learn physics, you can do anything" "there is always industry" "physics is used everywhere" instilled me with such unrealistic sense of safety and superiority. But the truth is, an academia focused physics education gives you zero advantage over an engineering education for a particular engineering field. And since most engineering fields are represented by their respective disciplines in academia, a physicist cannot do anything without being humbled by the engineers. Besides, the sense of superiority really shuts one's mind from the world. Irony for the discipline that tries to figure out the world!

Oh, and I don't consider a physicist more trainable and has broader background anymore. Not compared to an engineer. That was just superiority complex.
I don't recall any of my professors ever making a statement like the one you describe.

Arrogance and superiority complex will do you no good, regardless of the field. Physics is not some magic spell that can compensate for lack of knowledge of specific fields. It stands to reason that if a company is looking for someone with very specific skills to hit the ground running, then you won't stand a chance - even if you had come up with the latest TOE that united gravity and quantum mechanics.

From my experience, a physics person would do better to go for software jobs rather than engineering jobs unless you are an experimentalist and have specific experience related to the job that you are applying for.
daveyrocket
#95
Sep9-11, 05:39 PM
P: 185
I heard those kinds of statements on a fairly regular basis, from professors, grad students and undergrads. There's a general attitude that gets sold to physics students that physics will prepare you for a variety of things but in reality it doesn't really prepare you for anything.

And ugh.. software. I went to graduate school to get away from that field. The fact that you're recommending that someone with a PhD needs to take more classes goes to show how worthless a PhD in physics is.
mayonaise
#96
Sep9-11, 06:08 PM
P: 77
I don't recall any of my professors ever making a statement like the one you describe.
I wouldn't say I heard the exact words, but communication is only 30% words. Imagine from 18 to 22 you're surrounded by this kind of poster (see attached), and most of you curriculum follows a reductionist approach (see "More Is Different" from P. W. Anderson), and the highest powers in your institution, the professors, seem to be happy about all that. Then it's not hard to imagine what messages ultimately form in the minds of young physics students.
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ParticleGrl
#97
Sep9-11, 07:09 PM
P: 686
What kind of engineering jobs are you applying for?
Numerical programming when it pops up, thermo stuff, fluid stuff, anything simulations, occasionally EE stuff but my circuit design experience is all analog and there isn't a ton of call for it.

If you don't have particular programming skills, I would take a couple of classes at your local community college.
Really? More than a decade of schooling past highschool, and your response is "maybe you don't have what it takes to get a job, take some classes?"

Physics is not some magic spell that can compensate for lack of knowledge of specific fields. It stands to reason that if a company is looking for someone with very specific skills to hit the ground running...
The thing with physics is that you learn a little bit about many different subjects. I certainly don't know as much about electrical engineering as an electrical engineer, but I probably know more about mechanical engineering than an electrical engineer.

I know a little about fluid mechanics, a little about circuit design, etc. The groundwork has been laid, and is there, and I've done a phd, so given a bit of time I can become an expert in any of these areas, after all I've done it before with certain aspects of quantum field theory. What companies actually VALUE that sort of dynamism?
jk
#98
Sep9-11, 08:13 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
I heard those kinds of statements on a fairly regular basis, from professors, grad students and undergrads. There's a general attitude that gets sold to physics students that physics will prepare you for a variety of things but in reality it doesn't really prepare you for anything.
You should have taken those statements with a grain of salt. It is true that physics (or any analytical subject) does prepare you well for careers that use those type of skills. What you don't have is a ready made track you can jump on that will carry you to your destination. If you wanted that you should have studied accounting, engineering or something like that.

And ugh.. software. I went to graduate school to get away from that field. The fact that you're recommending that someone with a PhD needs to take more classes goes to show how worthless a PhD in physics is.
I think that kind of attitude is very detrimental to your growth. Having a physics PhD doesn't mean you know everything. Why would you think that without doing the work it takes to learn it, you could do the same work as someone who spent 4 or 8 years studing something like engineering? That is so naive as to be unbelievable. You are going to have to continually learn if you want to be competitive in today's workplace.

While physics won't give you a ready made job, somehow I suspect that you will eventually do fine. I have yet to meet a PhD in physics who is on welfare. Just to give you some hope, I know two physics phd's (one particle, the other condensed matter) that are in industry and both are doing great. One is a director at a major bank and the other heads his own consulting company. Both are probably millionaires.
jk
#99
Sep9-11, 08:20 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by mayonaise View Post
I wouldn't say I heard the exact words, but communication is only 30% words. Imagine from 18 to 22 you're surrounded by this kind of poster (see attached), and most of you curriculum follows a reductionist approach (see "More Is Different" from P. W. Anderson), and the highest powers in your institution, the professors, seem to be happy about all that. Then it's not hard to imagine what messages ultimately form in the minds of young physics students.
I wouldn't make my career plans based on a poster that claims that physics tells you how to get out of black holes.

But I do agree that physics (science in general, with the exception of perhaps Chemistry) departments do a poor job of informing students about career options.
twofish-quant
#100
Sep9-11, 09:43 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
I heard those kinds of statements on a fairly regular basis, from professors, grad students and undergrads. There's a general attitude that gets sold to physics students that physics will prepare you for a variety of things but in reality it doesn't really prepare you for anything.
YMMV. I found my Ph.D., really, really, really incredibly useful for getting jobs.

And ugh.. software. I went to graduate school to get away from that field. The fact that you're recommending that someone with a PhD needs to take more classes goes to show how worthless a PhD in physics is.
As for as software goes, one reason I did my Ph.D. in the way that I did was that I wanted to get into software. I like programming. I like figuring out the universe. Writing nasty, hard code to figure out the universe was cool.

One problem with Ph.D.'s is that every Ph.D. is different. They aren't like MBA's in which one MBA is like another one. I happen to find my Ph.D. incredibly useful to get jobs, but YMMV.
twofish-quant
#101
Sep9-11, 09:44 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The groundwork has been laid, and is there, and I've done a phd, so given a bit of time I can become an expert in any of these areas, after all I've done it before with certain aspects of quantum field theory. What companies actually VALUE that sort of dynamism?
Investment banks.
jk
#102
Sep9-11, 10:07 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
Numerical programming when it pops up, thermo stuff, fluid stuff, anything simulations, occasionally EE stuff but my circuit design experience is all analog and there isn't a ton of call for it.
This is probably very obvious but you are tailoring your resume to each kind of job, right? You listed 4 or 5 disparate items here. You should probably have that many, if not more, resumes - each emphasizing different aspects.
Really? More than a decade of schooling past highschool, and your response is "maybe you don't have what it takes to get a job, take some classes?"
All you are looking for is a job, a chance to prove that you can be an asset to whoever hires you. The first job is the hardest since you have no experience in the work world - and no, most managers won't be impressed by your education. They'll be asking themselves what you can do for them. So if the company is looking for someone with all the sills you mentioned above plus who knows some C++, if you don't know C++ you lost that opportunity. I am not saying learn everything under the sun but if that is a common skill set in the jobs you are looking for and if you don't have that skill, what is wrong with learning it?
The attitude that you had more than a decade of schooling past high school won't cut it with a hiring manager if in that decade you didn't learn something that he/she finds necessary to do the job. At any rate, in today's job market, you can't stop learning or you'll be out the door at the next recession.
The thing with physics is that you learn a little bit about many different subjects. I certainly don't know as much about electrical engineering as an electrical engineer, but I probably know more about mechanical engineering than an electrical engineer.

I know a little about fluid mechanics, a little about circuit design, etc. The groundwork has been laid, and is there, and I've done a phd, so given a bit of time I can become an expert in any of these areas, after all I've done it before with certain aspects of quantum field theory. What companies actually VALUE that sort of dynamism?
When I used to interview people for positions within my company, I always looked for that type of dynamism. A willingness to learn new things, to push yourself to do whatever it takes to get the job done, to be flexible in dealing with unexpected situations, a sense of optimism and confidence (not arrogance) that you can get the job done and are willing to work hard for it, to not be afraid to admit when you don't know something...these mean more than a list of specific skills.
twofish-quant
#103
Sep9-11, 11:13 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by jk View Post
This is probably very obvious but you are tailoring your resume to each kind of job, right? You listed 4 or 5 disparate items here. You should probably have that many, if not more, resumes - each emphasizing different aspects.
It turns out to be hard to do blind, because if you are going in blind, you really don't know what the company is looking for. Also, I've found that writing resumes end up being a lot of work, so I've ended up with two different ones and two cover letters. One which emphasizes the Ph.D. and one that doesn't.

All you are looking for is a job, a chance to prove that you can be an asset to whoever hires you. The first job is the hardest since you have no experience in the work world - and no, most managers won't be impressed by your education.
This is happens to be a hundred times easier when the manager has the same background as you do. One reason physics Ph.D.'s end up in certain fields is that it is a lot, lot, lot easier to get a job, if the manager that is making hiring decisions also has a physics Ph.D. In particular in some fields (oil/gas, defense, financial), your time as a Ph.D. is counted as work experience. One thing that is common about every company that I've worked in is that I've always had a boss that had a Ph.D. in something, and often it's been a Ph.D. in astrophysics. If the person who is interviewing has a astrophysics Ph.D., then you don't have to worry about the "so what good is your Ph.D.?"

Also, it's irrelevant that most managers want, and trying to make your resume appeal to most people I think is a big mistake. You don't care if 95% of the people that read your resume will toss it in the trash, especially since 95% of the people that read your resume will toss it in the trash. Also, sometimes you want the person reading the resume to immediate reject you. If you just have no hope of getting the job, it's a waste of everyone's time and energy if they don't immediate toss your resume.

I think the main obstacle to ParticleGrrl is that she wants to stay on the West coast. I sympathize with that since I spent three years trying to avoid moving, beforeI just gave up.

The other thing is that sometimes you can be the perfect candidate with the perfect resume and it doesn't matter because no one is hiring.

So if the company is looking for someone with all the sills you mentioned above plus who knows some C++, if you don't know C++ you lost that opportunity.
This isn't true in some industries. I've gotten hired in oil/gas and finance and the attitude was "we know you don't know didlly about oil/gas and/or finance but that doesn't matter since we know you can learn it quickly."

Also C++ is a hard thing to put on a resume. The problem is that programming languages is something that is notoriously easy to resume pad, so one of the important skills if you are an expert C++ programmer is to be able to write your experience in a way that's hard to "pad." Saying that you have C++ experience will get you past the initial HR keyword search, but that's all it's good for. Once you get past the initial HR keyword search, the you need to put something like "worked on system X designing class Y with Z source lines of code."

Finally often it's a often a *bad* thing to put C++ on your resume. If the company is looking for a C++ guru, and you aren't a C++ guru, then getting interviewed is just a waste of everyone's time. If you claim to be a C++ guru, then when the interview comes around, you'll be totally grilled with obscure C++ questions (Can you tell me when you'd write placement new, and how you'd call a C++ destructor without freeing memory? Tell me when you'd use template partial specialization, and what the purpose of the "typename" keyword is in templates.)

I am not saying learn everything under the sun but if that is a common skill set in the jobs you are looking for and if you don't have that skill, what is wrong with learning it?
Because if you can learn it in a month and everyone knows that you can learn it in a month, then people won't count off for you not knowing it. If you know nothing about option pricing, it won't kill you in a finance interview because people assume that they'll give you Hull and you'll learn everything you need to know in a month.

Now there is a lot of stuff that you *can't* learn in a month. In a month, I can get you to be able to program some very basic C++ so that you aren't totally illiterate in it, but you aren't going to be an expert. That's fine if they aren't looking for a C++ guru, but it will kill you if they are.

The attitude that you had more than a decade of schooling past high school won't cut it with a hiring manager if in that decade you didn't learn something that he/she finds necessary to do the job. At any rate, in today's job market, you can't stop learning or you'll be out the door at the next recession.
It will in some fields it will. This is one reason Ph.D.'s need to stick together.

Also the job market is crap. There's something fundamentally screwed up about the way that society works.

When I used to interview people for positions within my company, I always looked for that type of dynamism. A willingness to learn new things, to push yourself to do whatever it takes to get the job done, to be flexible in dealing with unexpected situations, a sense of optimism and confidence (not arrogance) that you can get the job done and are willing to work hard for it, to not be afraid to admit when you don't know something...these mean more than a list of specific skills.
Different people will look for different things. One thing that I do have is a lot of sympathy for interviewees since I've been on the other side of the table. Job hunting stinks. It's degrading, and one skill that you do have to learn is to fake emotions. You have to fake dynamism and optimism even though you feel lousy, and you hate your situation. The funny thing is that we're both pretending. You don't think that I'm as terrified of losing my job as you are of not getting one? But the smiles we were and the act that we put on, that's just like the suits we are wearing. It's a social convention.

One way I think of a job interview is that it's something like a standup comedy act, and learning to handle interviews is part of your education. The first time you do an interview, you will likely bomb, you'll say or do something that will get you dropped.

Something that I found useful for me is that my cynicism, anger, and pessimism has actually helped me a lot in the job search. I'll put on the act. I'll do the interview, and smile, and do or say whatever it takes to get me hired. But the fact that I'm "faking it" actually makes it easier to do it.
jk
#104
Sep10-11, 08:30 PM
P: 148
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
It turns out to be hard to do blind, because if you are going in blind, you really don't know what the company is looking for. Also, I've found that writing resumes end up being a lot of work, so I've ended up with two different ones and two cover letters. One which emphasizes the Ph.D. and one that doesn't.
You do your research and find out what kind of work the compay does. If you're applying to an engineering company that is looking for hardware knowledge and a consulting company that does analytical work, you are going to have different resumes. I was talking in generalities.
This is happens to be a hundred times easier when the manager has the same background as you do. One reason physics Ph.D.'s end up in certain fields is that it is a lot, lot, lot easier to get a job, if the manager that is making hiring decisions also has a physics Ph.D. In particular in some fields (oil/gas, defense, financial), your time as a Ph.D. is counted as work experience. One thing that is common about every company that I've worked in is that I've always had a boss that had a Ph.D. in something, and often it's been a Ph.D. in astrophysics. If the person who is interviewing has a astrophysics Ph.D., then you don't have to worry about the "so what good is your Ph.D.?"
I suppose we all generalize from our experiences. I don't think it is true in all cases that your time as Ph.D is counted as work experience. Nor do I think that it is common that Ph.D's work for Ph.D's. I have worked with people who have Ph.D's (I don't have one) and in none of the cases did they report to someone that also had a PhD. I had one report to me and I know someone in the same group who had a Ph.D in Geophysics and was working as a DBA after working for 15 years for an oil company.
The guy that reported to me had a Ph.D in Computer Science but after he went through the interview process, which was pretty rigorous, it was evident that as far as the company was concerned, his PhD did not set him too far apart from the rest of the talent pool. His subsequent work history bore that out. He was good but not so much more than others who only had a Bachelor's. In some cases, people who have PhD's tend to be overly abstract and theoretical in their approach to business problems.

Also, it's irrelevant that most managers want, and trying to make your resume appeal to most people I think is a big mistake. You don't care if 95% of the people that read your resume will toss it in the trash, especially since 95% of the people that read your resume will toss it in the trash. Also, sometimes you want the person reading the resume to immediate reject you. If you just have no hope of getting the job, it's a waste of everyone's time and energy if they don't immediate toss your resume.
I am not even sure how to respond to this. It is relevant what the hiring manager wants. Also, I think it is always good to go to interviews even if you have no hope of getting the job. I am sick in that I enjoy interviews because they give me insights into the company and industry. More information is always better.
I think the main obstacle to ParticleGrrl is that she wants to stay on the West coast. I sympathize with that since I spent three years trying to avoid moving, beforeI just gave up.
I agree that is a hard one to overcome.

This isn't true in some industries. I've gotten hired in oil/gas and finance and the attitude was "we know you don't know didlly about oil/gas and/or finance but that doesn't matter since we know you can learn it quickly."
Funny enough, I have had the same happen to me in oil and gas and finance. I have also been rejected for jobs in finance and oil and gas because I didn't have some skill or experience they were looking for. So it's not industry specific but job specific.
Also C++ is a hard thing to put on a resume. The problem is that programming languages is something that is notoriously easy to resume pad, so one of the important skills if you are an expert C++ programmer is to be able to write your experience in a way that's hard to "pad." Saying that you have C++ experience will get you past the initial HR keyword search, but that's all it's good for. Once you get past the initial HR keyword search, the you need to put something like "worked on system X designing class Y with Z source lines of code."

Finally often it's a often a *bad* thing to put C++ on your resume. If the company is looking for a C++ guru, and you aren't a C++ guru, then getting interviewed is just a waste of everyone's time. If you claim to be a C++ guru, then when the interview comes around, you'll be totally grilled with obscure C++ questions (Can you tell me when you'd write placement new, and how you'd call a C++ destructor without freeing memory? Tell me when you'd use template partial specialization, and what the purpose of the "typename" keyword is in templates.)
The answer is simple. Don't claim to be a guru if you're not.
Also the job market is crap. There's something fundamentally screwed up about the way that society works.

Different people will look for different things. One thing that I do have is a lot of sympathy for interviewees since I've been on the other side of the table. Job hunting stinks. It's degrading, and one skill that you do have to learn is to fake emotions. You have to fake dynamism and optimism even though you feel lousy, and you hate your situation. The funny thing is that we're both pretending. You don't think that I'm as terrified of losing my job as you are of not getting one? But the smiles we were and the act that we put on, that's just like the suits we are wearing. It's a social convention.
The way I look at it, optimism means that you have hope even if your situation is bleak. I have been there and the best I know how to deal with it is to have something else that keeps you sane. I used to read math books.
One way I think of a job interview is that it's something like a standup comedy act, and learning to handle interviews is part of your education. The first time you do an interview, you will likely bomb, you'll say or do something that will get you dropped.

Something that I found useful for me is that my cynicism, anger, and pessimism has actually helped me a lot in the job search. I'll put on the act. I'll do the interview, and smile, and do or say whatever it takes to get me hired. But the fact that I'm "faking it" actually makes it easier to do it.
In some ways, it is an act. You get better at it by doing it more. I used to go on interviews knowing I won't get the job just for the practice. It is almost enjoyable when you have no pressure.
daveyrocket
#105
Sep11-11, 01:14 AM
P: 185
Quote Quote by jk View Post
You should have taken those statements with a grain of salt. It is true that physics (or any analytical subject) does prepare you well for careers that use those type of skills. What you don't have is a ready made track you can jump on that will carry you to your destination. If you wanted that you should have studied accounting, engineering or something like that.
It's easy to say that it should have been taken with a grain of salt, but for some crazy mixed-up reason I thought I should have been able to trust my advisors in their perspective on careers. If I had been more skeptical, I definitely wouldn't have gotten a PhD in physics. Honestly we should be telling people that they shouldn't do physics because there are no jobs in the field.

I think that kind of attitude is very detrimental to your growth. Having a physics PhD doesn't mean you know everything. Why would you think that without doing the work it takes to learn it, you could do the same work as someone who spent 4 or 8 years studing something like engineering? That is so naive as to be unbelievable. You are going to have to continually learn if you want to be competitive in today's workplace.
Huh? Of course it doesn't mean you know everything, I never claimed that it did so I don't know what you are talking about.

Getting a PhD in any field comes with a tremendous opportunity cost. But if you get a PhD in just about any field of engineering, there is an industrial field you can go into. Same with chemistry, biology, geology, statistics, psychology, etc. Of course you're not guaranteed a job, and of course maybe you'll go into another field, but at least there are jobs in the field that value degrees in that field. Not so in physics.

While physics won't give you a ready made job, somehow I suspect that you will eventually do fine. I have yet to meet a PhD in physics who is on welfare. Just to give you some hope, I know two physics phd's (one particle, the other condensed matter) that are in industry and both are doing great. One is a director at a major bank and the other heads his own consulting company. Both are probably millionaires.
Yeah I'm not worried. I will probably end up doing programming. But I knew how to do that before I went to graduate school, which will make my graduate education a complete waste. Really if I wanted to spend my life as a programmer, I'd have already gone into that field. I did physics because I wanted something different.
Choppy
#106
Sep11-11, 10:14 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 2,747
Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
Honestly we should be telling people that they shouldn't do physics because there are no jobs in the field.
Where are you getting your data?

Whenever I look up statistics on such things, it seems that physics majors and physics PhDs tend to do quite well in comparison with other majors, and certainly better than national averages.

Some sites of interest:
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192012.htm
https://www.cap.ca/careers/home/empl...prospects.html
http://www.physicstoday.org/jobs/about_jobs
http://www.aip.org/statistics/catalog.html
ParticleGrl
#107
Sep11-11, 03:33 PM
P: 686
Whenever I look up statistics on such things, it seems that physics majors and physics PhDs tend to do quite well in comparison with other majors, and certainly better than national averages.
The problem is that salary comparisons are likely apples and oranges, and physics has a much larger standard deviation than many other majors/phd disciplines. Consider- I'm a physics phd, and I'm near the middle of the salary distribution for recent physics phds (which excludes postdocs, so I'm probably WAY above the "real" median) with a job bartending. Yes, salary wise I do quite well compared to the national average, but if I never get another job, was the phd useful for me economically? Of course not.

Further, people don't get phds because they want money, they hope for a career somehow related to physics. I know I did it because I wanted a job where I could actually do physics. Few people get a physics phd because of their life-long ambition to work in insurance or finance. If I end up in the hospitality industry, daveyrocket ends up programming for a living, etc, we'll do fine financially, BUT the physics phd will have in no way helped us. I would have done much better going straight into bartending from college (or better yet, dropping out of college to bartend). In the APS surveys, only 20-30% of recent phds claim to use physics knowledge in their jobs, and most of those are postdocs. To me, that number is more important than the salary numbers.
jk
#108
Sep12-11, 12:12 AM
P: 148
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The problem is that salary comparisons are likely apples and oranges, and physics has a much larger standard deviation than many other majors/phd disciplines. Consider- I'm a physics phd, and I'm near the middle of the salary distribution for recent physics phds (which excludes postdocs, so I'm probably WAY above the "real" median) with a job bartending. Yes, salary wise I do quite well compared to the national average, but if I never get another job, was the phd useful for me economically? Of course not.

Further, people don't get phds because they want money, they hope for a career somehow related to physics. I know I did it because I wanted a job where I could actually do physics. Few people get a physics phd because of their life-long ambition to work in insurance or finance. If I end up in the hospitality industry, daveyrocket ends up programming for a living, etc, we'll do fine financially, BUT the physics phd will have in no way helped us. I would have done much better going straight into bartending from college (or better yet, dropping out of college to bartend). In the APS surveys, only 20-30% of recent phds claim to use physics knowledge in their jobs, and most of those are postdocs. To me, that number is more important than the salary numbers.
That is something that you will have to come to grips with sooner or later. But you may be surprised at how different other fields are when you look at them from the inside. Also what you think of as "life long" ambitions may change.

I have a BS in physics and have been working in industry for a few years now. None of the jobs I've had were remotely related to physics - it was mostly software. That is not what I set out to do initially but that is what was out there in industry. I don't regret any of it - in fact, it broadened the way I look at things. When I decided to major in physics, I was aware that there were few jobs for someone with just a BS in it. But I went ahead anyway - I tried engineering and hated it. I felt was mostly cranking the handle without understanding how things worked. I was attracted to physics for two reasons: 1. I was interested in finding out how the world works, 2. I enjoyed problem solving. I was able to do the latter in my jobs.

Now, I didn't invest as much time as you did into my physics education. Things may look different when you spend 10 years as opposed to four studying a field. But look at it this way: Between bartending, software (which is a huge field) and finance, which one uses the parts of the brain that physics does (to put it crudely) and is more similar to physics than the others? The answers probably depend on the individual. For me it was software, although I eventually ended up doing financial software. If you're not willing to move to get a job doing physics and there are few physics jobs in the areas you want to live in, what are your options? Why not try out software or finance?


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