# B.S. in Physics - doomed?

by bjj8383
Tags: doomed, physics
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 Quote by StatGuy2000 It is certainly true that one of the goals of the math department is to train research mathematicians, but that is not the only goal. In the math department at my alma mater, there are various programs offered -- some geared towards pure math and aimed for students intending to pursue graduate degrees, others geared towards applications or joint programs, aimed for students who intend to pursue employment upon graduation. Many other programs offer this because there is an understanding that students may consider options beyond graduate school, and tailor such programs to offer such options. (btw, I am not stating that these programs are effective in providing marketable skills to their students -- I'm just stating that something is available). In my alma mater, as far as I understand, this is not done in the physics department. There is one major program, a few joint programs, but nothing tailored for students intended to pursue an industrial career (there is an engineering physics program, but this is offered through the engineering department). What I take out of this is that the physics department (at least in alma mater) does not seem to be overly concerned with those students who do not intend to pursue graduate studies in physics -- which is wrongheaded, in my opinion. I am not suggesting that students should not do research about their future on their own, and I recognize with the existence of Google that information is more readily accessible than for students in the past. I also understand that forums such as Physics Forums are important sources of information. However, neither Google nor Physics Forums necessarily provide information that is reliable or usable for many students. I still stand by my assertion that colleges and universities have a responsibility, if not a duty as part of their mandate, to help provide information on the future prospects of whatever field they wish to study, and to be honest about the limitations of the information available.
True, they have a responsibility and they have a duty and they should be honest. But how many universities are honest?

The problem is that deparments (here at least) get funding on the number of students they have. So if there are not enough students for a while, then they will get much less funding and they might have to fire people. Nobody wants that.
The point is that universities are expected to behave like economic companies. This means that they might have to compromise on their duty and responsiblities.

For example, I looked at my universities description of a history degree. Now, it is fair to say that a history degree isn't really very employable. But they never state this. Rather, they state that "History grads learn in their degree to think critically. This makes them employable in a wide array of professions." I think that this is rather misleading.

So I don't think that universities should be trusted too much on these issues. It is still the responsiblity of the student to research things for himself. If you blindly believe only one source (the university, for example), then chances are very big that you will be fooled.

Of course, it is also the responsibility of the parents and of the high schools to make young people think about their future.
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 Quote by StatGuy2000 However, neither Google nor Physics Forums necessarily provide information that is reliable or usable for many students. I still stand by my assertion that colleges and universities have a responsibility, if not a duty as part of their mandate, to help provide information on the future prospects of whatever field they wish to study, and to be honest about the limitations of the information available.
Most physics departments will point students to the data collected on the subject by organizations such as the APS. See:
http://www.aps.org/careers/statistics/index.cfm

These studies consistently show that physics graduates tend to do quite well in the workforce - low unemployment, high starting salaries, high mid-careers salaries, etc.

So how is it they are being negligent in this apparent duty by presenting students with data?
 P: 148 So long o_O Many people have said what I wanted so I won't repeat this. About schools - it's simple mechanism - more students = more \$ and they won't return your money if you don't find a job upon graduation so what's the problem? They will tell you sweet lies because that's their job. Why did you trust so called advisors in a very first place? That being said my intention was different. When you are a teenager you are stupid and clueless about everything. You think you love physics but it turns out you are just a pop sci books wiz, you wanted to be researcher but clueless about job market etc. etc. - it can happened. You can be clueless before college. But I can't understand how people can be so clueless when they graduate. How come that during those all years people: - didn't learn any usefull skills - didn't do any networking - didn't do any job market research (the best quotes of this thread are question like this: "what's job market research? how do you do it?" or "what is conference?") - didn't learn about interships Instead of doing sth "outside the box" like teachning yourself marketable skills (you don't need to have another degree - you can learn from books for little to none cost), doing intership in any field, joining non-profit project and pick up some skills people just send CVs with their biggest "success" - Bachelor in Physics even if they (like OP) don't want to work in physics! I don't know why do you belive that people should hire you only because you have degree. Tbh all my physics peers got a job. Most of them did double major in engineering field or went medical physics route. Those who went for PhD chose an applied, practical field. The point is we all knew about job prospects from the start and we weren't doomed because we have managed to pick up useful skills. So how come we knew all about it and you didn't? Maybe because in US you pay insane amount of money for your education you belive that price corresponds it's value but it still doesn't explain everything. The only logical explanation for that is your educational system. From the start (primary school) you are brainwashed (to use better word - babysit). Teachers, parents, "advisors" tell you what you should do. You are isolated from information about real world and live years in fantasyland. More or less school is sth like isolated small ecosystem. In my country we don't feel strongly connected with our schools - more or less there is no money for events, clubs and all that stuff so what do we do is - go to school, take lessons and go back home. No advisors either. Because our system can't afford to babysit us, we are forced to explore possibilities on our own. Because of that many of us end up not knowing what they want to do or discovering it later in life (and changing majors). But at least most of us are fully aware what kind of place this world is. "US like system" can be found in Japan or Korea. School and closest enviroment are big part of your life and organize everything for you. Because of that when you graduate you stick to this peace of paper unable to think for yourselfs. You can only see what is organized for you by your school or parents. That's why you don't have an ability to search for your own. Or that's how i see it.
 P: 13 I studied physics because I wanted to learn about physics, from my perspective universities should be about learning and not seen as places where one gets vocational training. I do find it annoying when I hear physics faculty members talk about a physics degree as though it prepares you for the job market. I agree that the intent isn’t deception, they really seem to think there is some general shortage of people in the job market that are scientifically knowledgeable. I’d like to believe that physicists would not make statements like that without some kind of rational basis for them and as far as I can tell they don’t have any. I attended two universities and none of the faculty I knew had any actual experience outside of universities. My best guess is they are mixing up correlation with causality. More specifically the personal attributes that make one successful in physics can also contribute to one being successful in other endeavors, but that doesn’t mean studying physics contributed to the success. I’m quite happy I studied physics, but it has done nothing to help me with my career (writing software).
P: 141
 Quote by Choppy Most physics departments will point students to the data collected on the subject by organizations such as the APS. See: http://www.aps.org/careers/statistics/index.cfm These studies consistently show that physics graduates tend to do quite well in the workforce - low unemployment, high starting salaries, high mid-careers salaries, etc. So how is it they are being negligent in this apparent duty by presenting students with data?
This data really needs to come with a big warning label on the top of it, because it is not a scientifically accurate survey. It uses voluntarily reported data, much of which comes from advisors rather than the students themselves. They only got responses from ~40% of all students, and it's from 6 years ago (pre-recession). It also doesn't survey how many students went to grad school because they didn't know anything else to do, and how many of those left without a Master's degree and became unemployed or marginally employed.
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 Quote by pi-r8 This data really needs to come with a big warning label on the top of it, because it is not a scientifically accurate survey. It uses voluntarily reported data, much of which comes from advisors rather than the students themselves. They only got responses from ~40% of all students, and it's from 6 years ago (pre-recession). It also doesn't survey how many students went to grad school because they didn't know anything else to do, and how many of those left without a Master's degree and became unemployed or marginally employed.
I would second this caution. As an even more extreme example, my department has a poster someone put up in the hall showing the majors with the lowest unemployment rates, and near the top, along with actuarial science, is astronomy, with 0% unemployment. Well, come on. We all know that astronomy is infamous as a field in which people can't get permanent jobs as astronomers. Sure, maybe among people with astronomy degrees the percentage who can't find any kind of job at all (flipping burgets, etc.) is very low. But I really don't believe it's lower than 0.5%, therefore rounding down to 0%. When you get down to figures that low, there's a certain percentage of the population that is alcoholic, mentally ill, or whatever, and therefore unemployable. In a 45-year career in the workforce, you would only have to be between jobs for a lifetime total of 3 months in order to be unemployed 0.5% of the time. You really can't trust these professional organizations to tell the truth about employment prospects.

Realistically, the solid employment prospects for someone with a bachelor's in physics involve high school teaching. Other than that, it's a matter of how creative you are in finding work that you'll be happy doing. I'm amazed that anyone thinks it's a good idea to go out into the job market with a bachelor's in physics if they aren't interested in teaching high school and don't have some other specific interest, skill, talent, or career path in mind.
 P: 7 What did your peers/friends that majored in physics end up doing?
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 Quote by spamctor What did your peers/friends that majored in physics end up doing?
(Assuming this question is addressed to me.) We went to grad school.
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That sums it up pretty well:

 Quote by jkl71 More specifically the personal attributes that make one successful in physics can also contribute to one being successful in other endeavors, but that doesn’t mean studying physics contributed to the success.
I had a conversation with somebody with a background in philosophy recently, and it is amazing how their issues (with employability and self-marketing) resemble those discussed here. There is even a large overlap in the alleged "transferrable skills", such as the infamous critical thinking, analytical skills etc.

I have graduated more than 20 years ago in Austria and from threads like this I would conclude the following:

The gap between physics and engineering (in terms of employability of graduates) has broadened or this has always been a US versus Europe thing.

I am astonished by many posting of young people here who asks for advice in becoming a theorist and/or whose motivation to study physics was mainly triggered by Stephen Hawking or the like. When I was a European student, building stuff was the cool thing to do and the theory department was for an awkward minority of nerds.
I am not sure if the popularization of physics and rock-star physicists (most of them theorists) did any good here.

I was rather inclined to fundamentals of physics and I was subject to aggressive marketing by theory departments as a student. A math professor once told me literally it would be pearls before swine that I study physics, not math.
So my anecdotal evidence would support all posters who state that professors do not prepare students properly or give them reasonable advice.

On the other hand I took some decisions based on my own research and reasoning (and without Google back then) - for several times I turned down something more theoretical and went for an option that scored higher on the employability scale. I am not sure of I did so deliberately, but I think I generally mistrusted "authorities" often. I had also been told that excellent people stay at the university and losers turn to industry - but that rather kindled my spirit of contradiction. Or it was my peer group of down-to-earth fellow students that saved me: Most of my colleagues never planned to do a PhD and considered physics rather sort of engineering, vocational training at an academic level.

I am not even sure if today's "connectedness" is so helpful after all: Probably it is easier to come to a conclusion on your own instead of being bombarded with advertisements of your favorite university which has just launched an image campaign (using Facebook e.g.) and tries to boost the number of STEM graduates using all those false arguments (well-intended though).
P: 109
 Quote by bjj8383 Is there any good way to find jobs that would accept me? Can anyone offer me any final advise? Thanks in advance.
Hi bjj8383,

have you tried to apply for trainee positions in management consulting? At McKinsey or the like?

That used to be a common career path when I graduated. I considered these jobs to be "PhD jobs" but somebody in this forums told me that in the US in particular BSc graduates are hired as trainee consultants (today).

Good luck - I can feel your pain!
P: 793
 Quote by Rika But I can't understand how people can be so clueless when they graduate. How come that during those all years people: - didn't learn any usefull skills - didn't do any networking - didn't do any job market research (the best quotes of this thread are question like this: "what's job market research? how do you do it?" or "what is conference?") - didn't learn about interships

I was too busy doing research, keeping my GPA high, working and preparing for GREs. Y'know, the things you do in physics undergrad...
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 Quote by elkement When I was a European student, building stuff was the cool thing to do and the theory department was for an awkward minority of nerds.
While I do agree that "building stuff" is "cool", and that this can result in employable skills, I don't think that perpetuating the cliche stereotype of people interested in theoretical physics as social misfits is helpful.

It is plausible that an experiment track results in a wider range of employable skills than does a theoretical track, but this is something different than the myth stated above. Even so, many of my friends who studied theoretical physics (in Canada) ended up with good jobs. The largest portion is in IT, two ended up in finance (one quite high up in Toronto's financial district), and two are meteorologists (one with Environment Canada).
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 Quote by George Jones While I do agree that "building stuff" is "cool", and that this can result in employable skills, I don't think that perpetuating the cliche stereotype of people interested in theoretical physics as social misfits is helpful.
This is of course true - it was not my intention to perpetuate the cliche stereotype, rather to make fun of it. The inverse stereotype does exist as well - theorists being superior to experimentalists. More often than not I have experienced "more theoretical" guys calling "less theoretical / more engineering-like" colleagues "lab monkeys" or the like.

From my experience there was not much difference between (former) experimental and theoretical physicists after they had been exposed to industry for a few years.

I even think that (maybe only back then?) the difference did not matter that much to employers at all - unless the employer was a company searching for somebody with very specific skills (familiar with transmission electron microcopes or excimer lasers) which was rare.
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 Quote by elkement This is of course true - it was not my intention to perpetuate the cliche stereotype, rather to make fun of it.
Sorry; without clues from facial expressions and voice intonation, I sometimes don't know how seriously to take things.
 Quote by elkement The inverse stereotype does exist as well - theorists being superior to experimentalists. More often than not I have experienced "more theoretical" guys calling "less theoretical / more engineering-like" colleagues "lab monkeys" or the like.
Unfortunately, this unfair and untrue stereotype does get used. Sometimes this back-and-forth interaction between theory people and experimental people is just good-natured teasing (Don't let X into your lab; Pauli effect warning!); sometimes it is not.
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 Quote by Rika But I can't understand how people can be so clueless when they graduate. How come that during those all years people: - didn't learn any usefull skills - didn't do any networking - didn't do any job market research (the best quotes of this thread are question like this: "what's job market research? how do you do it?" or "what is conference?") - didn't learn about interships.
Want to hear something really funny? When I was an undergrad I actually thought that progressing through my Universities undergrad physics curriculum was teaching me useful skills! Like "critical thinking". I thought that getting to know the various professors and meeting professors from other universities was networking! And I believed all those people when they told me that employers needed people with the background I was building.

God I was stupid. The idea that professors and universities have their student's interests at heart seems so naive it's making me blush just writing it.

So I get where you're coming from, but I'm not in any position to throw stones.
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 Quote by Locrian Want to hear something really funny? When I was an undergrad I actually thought that progressing through my Universities undergrad physics curriculum was teaching me useful skills! Like "critical thinking". I thought that getting to know the various professors and meeting professors from other universities was networking! And I believed all those people when they told me that employers needed people with the background I was building. God I was stupid. The idea that professors and universities have their student's interests at heart seems so naive it's making me blush just writing it. So I get where you're coming from, but I'm not in any position to throw stones.
This is where co-op programs (such as those offered at the University of Waterloo in Canada, or in Drexel University in the US) or other similar external internship programs (including the Professional Year Program offered at my former alma mater) are so meaningful and valuable, since these programs give the opportunity for undergraduate students to work with various employers in fields at least tangentially tied to their field of study. Furthermore, these early experiences also provide future references and sources for networking, allowing these students a leg up in terms of seeking employment.
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 Quote by bjj8383 I'm fully aware of all this, I have a high school teacher in my immediate family, and I have one of those "we'll certify you in 5 weeks cuz we're desperate" organizations in my bookmarks. Frankly it sounds like hell but this year's last deadline is in Feb, I'm considering it. It's at the bottom of the pile.
 Quote by bjj8383 I THOUGHT I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I've always loved science. It's honestly not my fault if the progression of education in the US didn't give me an accurate view of what being a professional physicist actually entailed.
I'm having a hard time figuring this out. The first quote seems to indicate that you have a good job prospect for a job that a bachelor's degree in physics qualifies you for ... but you're complaining that you're stuck working at Target. The second quote refers to being a "professional physicist," but to be a professional physicist you need a PhD. I can't believe that your school failed so badly to give you an "accurate view" that you somehow got the impression that a bachelor's in physics qualified you to be a professional physicist. Similarly, a bachelor's degree in history doesn't qualify you to be a professional historian.

 Quote by bjj8383 The thing is, I'd happily work at any real job that requires a 4 year degree. It doesn't need to be physics related.
This is hard to reconcile with your other statements above.

 Quote by bjj8383 Today, Careerbuilder literally returns one result within a 50 mile radius of me.
Why are you restricting yourself to jobs within a 50-mile radius? It sounds like, in addition to having unrealistic expectations about what kind of jobs a B.S. qualifies you for, you have unrealistic expectations about being able to drastically restrict your job search geographically.

Another issue that we have no information about is what school you went to and what your GPA was. Since you're posting pseudonymously, why not tell us that information? There's a huge difference between graduating from UCLA with a 4.0 and graduating from Cal State Dominguez Hills with a 2.0. At this stage, the school and your GPA are the only concrete information prospective employers have about your level of ability.

You may want to consider taking work that doesn't require your physics training but that does offer an environment in which you can prove yourself to an employer and move up. For example, after I graduated with a B.S. in physics, I didn't get into any of the grad schools I applied to the first time around, so I had a year out of school. I got a couple of part-time jobs, one of which was working in a factory doing mind-numbing work. But there were opportunities for advancement there that I could have taken advantage of if I hadn't been planning to go back to grad school. For example, while I was there they hired an army veteran with not that much formal education to be in charge of keeping all the production-line machinery going. If I'd applied for that job, I probably would have gotten it. It still wouldn't have been a job that I would have wanted to spend my life doing, but it would have been a step up, and a chance to demonstrate that I could take responsibility, supervise other people, use some quantitative skills, etc. You have to realize that many people who graduate from college are utterly useless as employees. They're irresponsible, passive, don't have good reading and writing skills, need constant supervision, and don't take the initiative to learn new skills. Employers need to have it demonstrated to them that the person I'm describing isn't you. No, just obtaining a degree doesn't demonstrate that.
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 Quote by spamctor What did your peers/friends that majored in physics end up doing?
I probably should have clarified, i meant to ask the OP this. Or more to the point, are they having the same problems as you?

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