# B.S. in Physics - doomed?

by bjj8383
Tags: doomed, physics
P: 1,662
 Quote by StatGuy2000 This is where co-op programs . . .
Yea, but that would require effort by the school. Most physics dept have no interest in such a thing, and in my opinion, many would frown on it. I prefer a solution in which students enter into the university with a more critical (and cynical) view of what they're told by the university and their professors.

I like to think (pretend?) that threads like this may play a small part in just such an outcome.
Mentor
P: 6,009
 Quote by bjj8383 Today, Careerbuilder literally returns one result within a 50 mile radius of me.
 Quote by bcrowell 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.
I agree with Ben.

Fifteen months ago, for work, I moved from one side of Canada to the other, 4100 kilometres (2550 miles) as the crow flies, 5500 kilometres (3420 miles) by road (hopefully, my last move). I have worked in five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and one U.S territory.

I think that many people would be unwilling to make the number of moves that I have, but I also think that 50 miles is extremely restrictive.
 P: 136 Is it possible, bbj, that you could just go back for those key classes that engineering majors have to take - the idea that you have to go back for 4 MORE YEARS doesn't make any sense to me. Most engineering majors have to take a handful of general education requirements, and math that you've probably all ready taken. Why not just go back and try to just take the engineering classes? Out of the 130 credit engineering degree - around only 60-70 credits of those are in engineering classes. Universities are in part a business - they want you to stick around for 4 years and pay tuition the whole time. I would just go back and take the classes. If I had known this, I wouldn't have listend to some of my advisors. I would take 3 or 4 engineering classes / semester while working at target (if that's manageable - maybe work part time?) and then in a year or two apply for some internships/jobs - it might even make you more marketable - they'll view you as closer to a double major....
P: 337
 Quote by bcrowell 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. This is hard to reconcile with your other statements above. 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.
This has a lot of good advice. I think searching for "physics" in career builder with BSc isnt the right way to go about searching for a job. When employers put physics in their ads they tend to be looking for "professional" physicist which really means at least a PhD. As a physics BSc you dont have a professional degree which means you are going to have to learn how to market your skill set instead of expecting a "check here for qualified" situation.
 P: 136 One thing I've noticed from my EE degree is that realistically, the "engineering" only comprises about half of the credits an engineering requires. I took about 15 engineering classes - 50-60 credits. Yes I had other technical classes (math- which you've had enough of I'm sure), but the skills that are directly applicable to an engineering position mostly come from engineering classes. I'd suggest taking a handful of engineering classes, particularly the less theoretical ones like circuit design and embedded systems. These are extremely marketable skills regardless of the education level. After just 5-10 classes of engineering, you should be able to get some type of an internship. Another option is programming - a large portion (~1/3 I believe) of programmers in industry are self taught - there is no reason so many kids with high school diplomas can teach themselves something a B.S. Physics kid couldn't. I'd start making C++ projects (learn to use as many libraries and IDES as you can!).
 P: 166 I'm going to go into this with one disclaimer that everyone needs to face. The economy sucks, especially for new graduates with no practical experience. Things being what they are, it's simply not the best time to be looking for work. For anyone. That said, if it's a field that interests you, I can provide my 20 years of experience in the "computer" field in the hopes that you find the information useful, or even inspiring if you're feeling as hopeless as you sound. If the field (programming, sysadmin, etc) does not appeal to you, well, maybe just the inspiration then. I have no college education. In fact, I'm a HS dropout with a GED. Everything beyond that level is self taught. I make very good money though, and have for most of my life. The easy hiring during the dot-com boom made up for my lack of initial experience and formal education, and eventually experience made up for the lack of all of that. In this field in particular, almost every degree is useless from a practical standpoint. This is a benefit to you, the new job seeker, because you aren't starting from a worse position in any IT job when compared to someone with a CS degree -- many people think this is mandatory or that it will help. The first one is bogus no matter what the job description says -- I've had jobs with *insane* paper requirements that were disregarded simply because my development skills and personality were a better fit than the guy with the degree(s) they interviewed before me. If your non-IT degree is not directly related to the business, then all it tells us (your potential employer) is that you have an amount of stamina and focus. It's worth something vs. a dropout like me, but not as an indicator of knowledge or skill. If you are moderately computer savvy, then breaking into the field in a seemingly unrelated entry level position is easier than you probably think; IT departments do a lot of internal cross hiring and promotions, and experienced people can perform any role in the department at a basic level of competence. Long gone are the days when you had a group of programmers, a group of admins, a group of DBAs, and so on. That model has been dying for a while, and although there are some monolithic holdouts, for the most part it's a dead system. This means that you (yes, YOU!) can probably get a job very easily in the IT department, or a department related to it, and then work your way "over and up" to what you really want to do -- once you figure it out. Which is another beauty of the field. You get exposed to so much as you work that you can dabble in a lot of different things, and pursue the ones that are the most interesting. The first place to look are support departments, be that telephone support for software or desktop support for the non-technical staff (read: sales and management people). These jobs are usually annoying, but require no expert skill level, and the pay is not horrible. From there you'll be exposed to a lot of different technologies and have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow your skills -- if you seize on them! If you find yourself visiting the same guys computer every day to fix the same problem, you find a way to prevent the problem -- or to fix it remotely. Tada, new skills. If you overhear one of them complaining that they wish _______, you look into what you can do to make it happen. If everything is running smoothly you'll find yourself with plenty of time to do things like watch youtube videos and post on them thar internet forums -- don't do it! Use that time to find and solve other problems. Not because you're gunning for worker of the month and a worthless plaque, but because for most of us in this field, we only really learn new things when we're solving problems. Real problems. After a year or two in that sort of environment, you should have developed the skills required to do at least one other job at a basic to intermediate level of competency, and then it's time to decide if you're happy where you are, or if you want to change departments (or even companies). The first year is the hardest. It's difficult to break into the field through the front door, and you'll spend a lot of time doing busy work that you think is stupid, and dealing with stupid requests. At all costs resist the urge to look either annoyed or complacent. Don't huff and puff that Bob has asked you to refill the paper in his printer 50 times if that's your job, or that Brenda can't keep the viruses off her computer. Do the jobs with a smile, and LEARN while you're at it. Network, network, network! The face to face kind and the linkedin kind, not the facebook or ethernet kind. Develop contacts. Make friends. Find people who can teach you stuff, and whom you can impress with how quickly you pick up what they're throwing down. I started out doing exactly this kind of stuff, and today, I consider myself very successful and am proud of that success. It was easier to break in when I started than it is today, but believe me, it's not impossible. We just fired a guy a few weeks ago because he just "couldn't cut it". Not because what we were asking him to do was hard, but it just wasn't sinking in, and he was unable to solve problems on his own or follow instructions unless they were laid out explicitly step by step -- it takes longer to write the instructions down than for me to do them, so if he's not figuring things out on his own after a while, it's not going to work out. Hope this wasn't too long, and hope it was somewhat useful. If it was too short, believe me, I can expound. ;)
 P: 247 justsomeguy, are you actually doing programming/serious software engineering or whatever or are you more of a "lab tech" kind of person? I'm not sure how to define the distinction but are you doing really interesting stuff or just maintenance? I missed it in your post...
P: 166
 Quote by Arsenic&Lace justsomeguy, are you actually doing programming/serious software engineering or whatever or are you more of a "lab tech" kind of person? I'm not sure how to define the distinction but are you doing really interesting stuff or just maintenance? I missed it in your post...
I'm a serious coder. Not desktop support or a dilettante if that's what you mean. I've done everything from tiny websites to huge multiuser n-tier enterprise apps shoveling millions of dollars a day around. For a while I was writing EM (RF and IR) simulation management software for a fortune 500 defense contractor.

Solving problems is what I find interesting, so I'm happy no matter what space the company is in as long as the problems are an intellectual challenge, but that's not always the case, in any job. Once the big mysteries are solved in any project, you're left with the mundane task of actually implementing the myriad tiny details, which is always boring.
P: 649
 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 much this- I relied on what I thought were the experts to know more than I did about the field. It wasn't until I asked my adviser where his former students had ended up, and he knew where everyone did their postdoc, but had no idea where they had gone after that I realized what a horrible mistake I had made.
 P: 5 Consider a trade certificate at a community college or look into a local union. A friend of mine was a sheet metal grunt fabricating all kinds stuff when he was recruited from within to the engineering dept. Many unions and some employers will train or pay for your (additional) schooling. HVAC and electrical certificates or AAS degrees could get you making $25-30k in about 5 years. This approach would require you to apprentice (slave :P ) for a bit, but with some hands-on plus your education you would see more doors open. Most union trades pay really well if you stick around and climb the ladder. Www.payscale.com shows a pipefitter topping out at$84k. Same for a sheet metal worker, master electrician, or HVAC engineer.
P: 148
 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.
I have learned all that stuff from Physic degree. I knew that I need to do research interships, network with other scientists, present stuff during conference etc.

I did it in physics field so I didn't have any problem with doing it in any other field.

That's why I find it strange. If OP did what I did he shouldn't have any problems with transfering his skills to the job market.
 P: 273 Can someone please give me a easy-to-understand good-advice summary of this thread? I read it all, but I'm so confused because it seems no one can agree with each other. I'm a first-year computer engineering student. From what I understand so far, co-op and internships are really important, right?
 P: 15 Many people have suggested grad school. Have you considered certification for a specific positions that might interest you? As a physics major, certification in medical/radiological/health physics could be an option if you're interested in maintaining diagnostic imaging equipment (NMR, CT) as a medical physicist. It's a good-paying job and uses your specialized skillset in physics to solve technical problems and help diagnose patients along-side doctors. Some universities even offer a 4-year degree in medical physics, or at least a medical physics track. The flip side to medical physics is radiological/health engineering. (Word of caution however, many medical physicists have at least a masters, but its not uncommon for them to have a bachelor's with supporting education such as certification and/or addition courses.) Have you considered certification for Nuclear Power? Many community college and universities offer 12-credit-hr programs for nuclear power technology. You'll learn reactor physics and engineering/design/operations aspects of BWR and PWR reactor plant designs. This sets you up as a great candidate for entry into the nuke field as a non-license reactor operator, as most applicants only have a high school diploma, some college, or an associates degree... and you'll be more than equipped to ace the qualifying exams. Just a couple of things to think about.
Sci Advisor
P: 2,494
 Quote by geophysics10 Have you considered certification for a specific positions that might interest you? As a physics major, certification in medical/radiological/health physics could be an option if you're interested in maintaining diagnostic imaging equipment (NMR, CT) as a medical physicist. It's a good-paying job and uses your specialized skillset in physics to solve technical problems and help diagnose patients along-side doctors. Some universities even offer a 4-year degree in medical physics, or at least a medical physics track. The flip side to medical physics is radiological/health engineering. (Word of caution however, many medical physicists have at least a masters, but its not uncommon for them to have a bachelor's with supporting education such as certification and/or addition courses.)
Just a side-note: if you're looking at becoming a medical physicist today, graduate school is a must, and an accredited graduate program is a must if you want board certification. It's not really a profession you can enter with only a bachelor's degree these days. That said, you can work as a medical physics assistant or a health physicist with a BSc.
P: 43
 Quote by tahayassen Can someone please give me a easy-to-understand good-advice summary of this thread? I read it all, but I'm so confused because it seems no one can agree with each other. I'm a first-year computer engineering student. From what I understand so far, co-op and internships are really important, right?
For an engineer Internships are EVERYTHING. I'm not garbageting you when a 2.5 GPA with good internships / Co-ops will make you more competitive than 3.5GPA+ without them. When I graduated 2010 Chemical Engineering jobs were on the downturn and literally despite having a great GPA and working at a professors company for 2 years doing optimization for Oil refineries I can tell you it meant squat. I thought saying **** like I traveled to foreign companies doing real work and whatnot would mean something but the refining companies at the career fair looked down on it just because if I was so good why didn't I get an internship with Shell or Chevron? You need an internship from a reputable company if you want to do well in engineering out of the gate. Else your going to have to take the slower route of going to a small company getting the 3-5 years experience then moving to a better company and starting out near where you could have been 3 to 5 years ago in your life.

I went into the oil field and only reason they gave me a job was that I got a recommendation from someone really high up in the company that was a family friend. Fact I had been doing research / working with computers most of the time was pretty much universally looked down upon in my job search to be honest (wouldn't be the same for a CS degree, but chemical engineering in the non-academic areas is actually still pretty old school in how they take care of things). Now I'm going back to get my masters in petroleum engineering next year since that's where my work experience is and will make me more competitive in the industry I started working in.

Honestly though it was probably a blessing in disguise because I'm making more money doing this then I ever could as a chemical engineer (without like 20 years experience and a PHD).
 HW Helper PF Gold P: 2,688 Maybe this has been pointed out. I haven't had a chance to read the whole thread: Does your resume explicitly state the skills that you have received with your degree? A lot of employers just don't know what a physics B.S. means. They are not aware that someone with a B.S. in physics might have programming and electronics experience. Do you have any experience with AutoCAD, MATLAB, LabVIEW, C++ FORTRAN, Java? What equipment did you learn how to use in your Advanced Lab class? Get any machine shop experience along the way? This is important information! List it! Many people think a Physics degree means you spent four years talking about particles in a square well and twins on spaceships. If your resume doesn't explicitly mention the applicable skills you've acquired in pursuit of a physics degree, of course they are not going to consider your for a job. Tailor your resume to the employer and the job!
P: 793
 Quote by G01 Many people think a Physics degree means you spent four years talking about particles in a square well and twins on spaceships.
And you are implying this is not the case? Or rather you are suggesting that one should list marketable skills gained outside the curriculum?
HW Helper
PF Gold
P: 2,688
 Quote by ModusPwnd And you are implying this is not the case? Or rather you are suggesting that one should list marketable skills gained outside the curriculum?
I am implying that it is not necessarily the case that a physics degree is all about twins on spaceships.

Also, The skills I mentioned can most certainly be gained from within a good physics curriculum. I learned MATLAB, Mathematica, and Java in core and cognate courses from my degree. I learned how to use oscilloscopes and lock in amplifiers during advanced lab. I learned circuit analysis from an engineering elective. I learned how to write technical papers from a required writing intensive course. During my undergrad research experience I learned LabVIEW, how to solder, and how to do basic optics alignment, and how to use an AFM and STM. I also did my fair share of twins on spaceships and particles in wells.

It's quite possible that one could go through a different physics program at a different university and not gain these skills. It could be that your university allows students freedom to ignore the courses in which one would gain these skills, or perhaps one could have professors that never considered these things important. It's also possible that students did not get sufficient research experience as an undergrad.

However all of the issues mentioned above are issues with the student, the program, or the educators, NOT the degree itself. A physics B.S. is not a free ticket to a high paying job. However, it's increasingly apparent that no college degree is. Like any other college degree it what you and your program put into it.

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