Master's Degrees: Are Physicists or Engineers more employable?


by Adventurer
Tags: degrees, employable, engineers, master, physicists
Pythagorean
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#19
Dec22-12, 12:24 PM
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"Flipping burgers" would be private sector, non-stem, don't you think?
Pythagorean
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#20
Dec22-12, 12:26 PM
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And yes, engineering is better for employment, I never disputed that! I think I even explicitly said it. I was replying to a post that called physics MS worthless.
daveyrocket
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#21
Dec22-12, 12:56 PM
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Where I said that a physics MS is worthless is a bit of an exaggeration, but it's also a statement to be taken within the context, which is in comparison with an engineering MS.

You can't just look at the employment statistics of people with a physics MS, or any degree for that matter, and say "see, they're not unemployed!" You have to compare with other situations. If someone's thinking about getting an MS you have to answer the question "how will that improve their options?" The person looking at an MS probably has a BS in physics (which is the perspective the OP is asking from). How does an MS in physics *improve* their career prospects over having just a BS in physics? How much different would that pie chart look for someone with just a physics BS? If it's not much different, then how does an MS change things?

To really get a complete picture, you have to look at the opportunity cost of the MS in physics as well. If getting an MS in physics doesn't improve one's job prospects much from having a BS, and getting an MS in engineering is superior for employment, than we might as well say that having the MS in physics is worthless.
Pythagorean
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#22
Dec22-12, 01:05 PM
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There's bs statistic there too if you're interested in the comparison.
daveyrocket
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#23
Dec22-12, 01:12 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Employment isn't really about waiting around for someone to ask for your degree, especially if you go education route. Education makes you your own product that you have to market yourself. Master's (Even a BS) in Physics is highly marketable for many quantitative occupations (including engineering).
Of course it's not "about waiting around for someone to ask for your degree"... You always have to market yourself. But there are some serious problems that put physics degrees at a disadvantage.

For one, many employers have no idea what a physics degree is good for. So to these employers, you are mostly on your own when it comes to marketing yourself. Most other technical degrees have some built-in marketing to them already. Computer and engineering degrees are way ahead of physics in this respect.

And second, there's this attitude among physics students that they can just walk onto an engineering job if physics doesn't work out. Engineers have heard of this, and hiring managers know that if they hire someone who looks down on engineers to work on a team of engineers, then that team won't function very well. This is a kind of built-in marketing to physics degrees that works against you, and I think it's something that gets worse the more advanced your degrees get. You actively have to market yourself against this perception of people with physics degrees.

I had something else to say about this but I forgot what it was.
Mépris
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#24
Dec22-12, 01:29 PM
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Daveyrocket, a while back, you made a thread about employment for physics PhDs. I don't recall ever seeing a follow-up, and I'd be curious to know how things turned out for you. Would you be willing to share your experience, if not in this thread, in the original thread?

Thank you!
ParticleGrl
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#25
Dec22-12, 01:31 PM
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Well, presumably the other 51% (of the 61%) are in government or academia, right?
It looks like 13% are highschool teachers, 20% are back in graduate school (probably for a phd), 7% are "other", a small percentage are active duty military, and the rest are civilian government. But the survey response rate is small, and the population of masters recipients is also very small, so I'm highly skeptical of all these numbers. It could very well be, for instance, that advisers know less about what happened to those students that leave STEM (and advisers are responsible for more than half of the returned surveys!)

The bachelors numbers are similarly poorly reported- the first line of the study tells us that less than 40% of the survey respondents were employed (presumably most of the rest were in graduate school). Coupled with the awful response rate, that means they have initial employment data from ~15% of the graduates.

One signal that there might be a problem is that (in the BS graduate data) the highschool teachers report higher job satisfaction then those employed in STEM fields, despite the fact that 30% of the highschool teachers aren't teaching any physics courses (I'm not suggesting that highschool teachers don't have high job satisfaction, just that it seems unlikely a physics graduate who can't teach physics will be satisfied).
daveyrocket
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#26
Dec22-12, 01:36 PM
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Quote Quote by Mépris View Post
I don't know about "overqualified."

Can people not just offer jobs to people they think can do it, and then the person can decide if they'd want to work for that much? I understand how colleges reject people they can't offer financial aid to (happens to many international students at need-aware colleges), and the main reason - other than they don't have the money to spare - is to protect their yield.

While I am no authority on the subject, I reckon engineering jobs pay more than post-docs. For a fresh PhD, the "I have to pay this guy more because he has a PhD" argument doesn't really fly, as just paying slightly more than a postdoc (is the average salary of postdocs not 35k-ish?), as people with engineering BS degrees start with that much, if not more.
That argument does fly, and here's why (haha that rhymes). People who are considering hiring someone with a PhD in physics don't come onto internet message boards to have an in depth debate about the topic. Their personal perceptions and prejudices can play a significant role in the hiring decision. There is often a prejudice that a person with a PhD getting a non-PhD job is just waiting for an academic position to open up and as soon as it does, he will leave for that job, even if the salary is lower. And sometimes it's true. A detailed discussion of why that argument doesn't fly is irrelevant - the only useful information is how to convince a prospective employer that you're not going to do that. Which is sort of silly in some sense, because anyone is going to leave if a better job comes along, but you have to work extra hard to convince them that you want the job they have to offer instead of the job you've spent years training for.

Quote Quote by Mépris View Post
Daveyrocket, a while back, you made a thread about employment for physics PhDs. I don't recall ever seeing a follow-up, and I'd be curious to know how things turned out for you. Would you be willing to share your experience, if not in this thread, in the original thread?

Thank you!
I am currently unemployed. Thanks to my previous employment as a postdoc I qualify for unemployment which is just under enough money to support myself. I supplement my income a little bit by teaching dance lessons.

Right now I'm not looking for work very aggressively. After spending so many years doing physics and being unhappy with it I decided I need to change my paradigm on life from "I live to work" to "I work to live." On top of that I've had a few people in my life pass away, some of which I was close to so right now I have a very hard time motivating myself to go after work, because no one lies on their deathbed saying they wish they would have worked more and spent less time with friends and family. So right now I'm enjoying the free-ish money and spending time with the people I care about.
Pythagorean
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#27
Dec22-12, 01:42 PM
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I've addressed most of your points already in a previous post, so I don't disagree. After admitting your disparaging remarks were an exaggeration, there's really not much more to discuss. Education is a luxury and very few people in the population have higher degrees. Part of marketing yourself is demonstrating your specific skillet that came from your education, not the title of the degree. On the north slope (a major job source in Alaska), they had trouble hiring electrical engineers. All the kids out of college with degrees had no communication or social skills, and none of them were making it past the interview process. They ended up hiring an applied mathematician.

Also, recognize that we speak in generalities. Engineering and physics are two very broad categories. Some domains within them are more employable than others.
Pythagorean
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#28
Dec22-12, 01:48 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
It looks like 13% are highschool teachers, 20% are back in graduate school (probably for a phd), 7% are "other", a small percentage are active duty military, and the rest are civilian government. But the survey response rate is small, and the population of masters recipients is also very small, so I'm highly skeptical of all these numbers. It could very well be, for instance, that advisers know less about what happened to those students that leave STEM (and advisers are responsible for more than half of the returned surveys!)

The bachelors numbers are similarly poorly reported- the first line of the study tells us that less than 40% of the survey respondents were employed (presumably most of the rest were in graduate school). Coupled with the awful response rate, that means they have initial employment data from ~15% of the graduates.

One signal that there might be a problem is that (in the BS graduate data) the highschool teachers report higher job satisfaction then those employed in STEM fields, despite the fact that 30% of the highschool teachers aren't teaching any physics courses (I'm not suggesting that highschool teachers don't have high job satisfaction, just that it seems unlikely a physics graduate who can't teach physics will be satisfied).

I accept the statistics are somewhat questionable, but they have to be better than personal anecdotes.
ParticleGrl
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#29
Dec22-12, 02:29 PM
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I accept the statistics are somewhat questionable, but they have to be better than personal anecdotes.
I'm not so sure. In my job, we often say bad data is worse than no data.

Also, I'd estimate that a phd student would teach roughly as many physics bachelors over the 6 years of a phd as responded to the APS survey. Similarly, the phd student probably knows about as many recent phds from schools and conferences as responded to the APS survey. Its not quite the same sample (one school, probably biased towards one subfield of physics, spread over a few extra years, etc), but it wouldn't suffer from the likely systematic effects the APS survey suffers from. I wouldn't be surprised if averaging their impressions of the job market puts together a more complete story than the APS surveys.
Pythagorean
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#30
Dec22-12, 02:32 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I'm not so sure. In my job, we often say bad data is worse than no data.
I agree, I just think personal anecdote is worse data!
chill_factor
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#31
Dec22-12, 04:45 PM
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physicists are much more employable if they did some sort of experimental condensed matter, medical physics or optics (solid state optics). this is of course completely irrelevant information for those who don't want to do these.

the other thing is you don't have to go into debt for a MS physics since many state schools still fund MS students through TA ships.
Devils
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#32
Dec22-12, 05:22 PM
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In the end, engineering is a profession along with nursing, doctors, lawyers, etc. They have barriers to entry but anyone can all themselves a scientist or IT consultant.

This is extremely relevant to people over 35 who have employability problems. For engineering jobs you need relevant qualification. For IT jobs anybody can apply.

In the end you have to play the numbers game, work out where the jobs are & barriers to entry. For every tenured physics professor there would be thousands of engineers.
Shaun_W
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#33
Dec23-12, 01:31 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I don't know why engineering companies would be reluctant to hire phds but would take in masters.
Because masters graduates have less unlearning to do than PhDs.
3.141592
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#34
Dec24-12, 03:37 AM
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Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
That argument does fly, and here's why (haha that rhymes). People who are considering hiring someone with a PhD in physics don't come onto internet message boards to have an in depth debate about the topic. Their personal perceptions and prejudices can play a significant role in the hiring decision. There is often a prejudice that a person with a PhD getting a non-PhD job is just waiting for an academic position to open up and as soon as it does, he will leave for that job, even if the salary is lower. And sometimes it's true. A detailed discussion of why that argument doesn't fly is irrelevant - the only useful information is how to convince a prospective employer that you're not going to do that. Which is sort of silly in some sense, because anyone is going to leave if a better job comes along, but you have to work extra hard to convince them that you want the job they have to offer instead of the job you've spent years training for.
Second this. A large report was carried out in the UK (it's on Google, can't be bothered to find it) about industry employer-perceptions of hiring PhDs. It was virtually uniform in its conclusion: they are reluctant to even interview PhDs. Overqualified (you'll get bored). Over specialised (you'll get bored). Not interested in industry (you'll get bored). Bottom line - you'll leave.

Similarly uniform was the fact that, when companies did bother to interview and hire PhDs, they had nothing but praise for them. Turns out it's almost all prejudice on the employers' part.

But, as pointed out above, you have a hell of a job to do to market yourself. Think of it this way: if you had the equivalent number of years in law or medical school, and came out with a JD or medical degree, wouldn't an employer wonder why you're applying outside that industry?
Locrian
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#35
Dec24-12, 10:15 AM
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The three suggestions I've posted in the past for PhD holders seeking employment outside their field (or outside of science) are as follows:

1) Be positive. Say nothing negative about your degree or your future prospects. Negativity is a big strike against you.

2) Be firm about your commitment to change careers. ("I enjoyed my time in academia as a student. However, I will not be continuing my career there.")

3) Have a good reason for switching; bonus points if you educate them. For instance, I enjoyed research, but research can be a surprisingly small portion of a professor's time. I then might say that I enjoyed the field as a student, but there's a big difference between what I was doing in grad school and what I would be doing afterwards.

Someone I respect on another board once stated they didn't hire a newly minted astrophysics PhD for an actuarial job because they assumed they would be taking a big pay cut to switch careers. That's pure comedy, of course; starting pay was probably 50% higher than an astro postdoc.

If you can get into an interview and someone asks you why you're switching, that's your chance to knock down several huge barriers. The thing about PhD's is that many (but not all) of publicly perceived downsides to hiring a PhD are myth, but most of the positives are true.
Mépris
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#36
Dec24-12, 10:31 AM
P: 826
^
On that note, one thing that I remember Twofish saying about finance, is that everyone with a PhD in science/engineering made it clear that the money was *a* motivating factor. In the movie Margin Call, the aerospace PhD is asked why he's working in a bank by the MD (I think so?), and he just said that it's more or less the same thing, except that the money is better.

With that in mind, if that astro PhD had openly said that an actuarial job would also mean a higher salary, then perhaps things would have worked differently?


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