B.S. in Physics - doomed?


by bjj8383
Tags: doomed, physics
ModusPwnd
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#91
Jan17-13, 10:55 AM
P: 846
Quote Quote by G01 View Post
Do you really have experience with enough physics departments to make these statements or do you think you might be overgeneralizing a bit?
No, I dont think I'm overgeneralizing at all. I have of course interacted with many physics majors and professors in under grad and grad school. Why not offer some counterexamples instead of unsubstantiated criticism? Which physics departments do organize industry internships? I'd love to know, I have never heard of a one. Not from my peers, not from my students and not from my professors. I did work with some chemists briefly and they did internships in their program. Physics depts resist this IME.


Quote Quote by G01 View Post
This statement is patently absurd. You were so busy that you couldn't attend even one job fair, colloquium, apply for internships, or take the initiative to ask your professors for help? It is your job to network, regardless of your major.
Thats not what I said. You are twisting my words. I attended job fairs, I attended colloquium every week. Neither of those get you marketable skills. I did not apply to any internships, I was in physics so I did undergrad research. Physics departments and professors dont organize internships. I dont know what you think asking my professors for help would do? Ask them for help in what? How to get marketable? For the most part they never had a nonacademic job. My graduate adviser was a rare one that actually did have a industry job once, he left physics for chemistry. lol


Quote Quote by G01 View Post
Yes, physics is academic, but it can form a marketable degree with the right focus and initiative on the part of both the student and the program, as I've been describing above. I don't doubt that your program was lacking in this regard. Yet, your over-generalizations accusing all physics programs of having the same faults is not called for.
I think it is called for and I dont think its an over generalization at all. You may call them faults, I think thats just the way they are. I think it might be a fault if we try to turn physics into an industry marketable degree just like engineering. Then we have two engineering degrees with different names and no academic physics degree. There is no reason to have that set up. Its good to have engineering for industry jobs and careers and physics for academic jobs and careers. Yes that means all the failed physicists will have to struggle, but that is the case for all academic degrees.

edit - Also, I dont think my undergrad program was below average at all. It was at a PAC-10 university and from my discussions with other students it was typical for the most part.
G01
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#92
Jan17-13, 12:19 PM
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Quote Quote by ModusPwnd View Post
Why not offer some counterexamples instead of unsubstantiated criticism?
I have offed several counter-examples, on multiple occasions in this very thread, within the past two pages. I've offered examples of physics majors getting industry positions with physics degree, for jobs where the employer preferred a physics degree: http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...4&postcount=77

Along the same lines, I have multiple other friends from undergrad who got internships. One turned his undergrad optics research experience into an internship at Thor Labs, which he turned into a full time position. I also have multiple other friends who were physics majors who now work for defense contractors. They cite their undergrad research (experimental) as being useful in the job application process. I think you're underselling the relevance of the research experience physics students gain, at least on the experimental side of the aisle.

I've also given examples of physics departments offering courses that do teach "marketable" skills within their course curriculum : http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...3&postcount=88


I did not apply to any internships, I was in physics so I did undergrad research.
Which is not necessarily a useless experience to have on an industry resume, depending on the research topic. See above.

Physics departments and professors don't organize internships. I don't know what you think asking my professors for help would do? Ask them for help in what? How to get marketable? For the most part they never had a nonacademic job. My graduate adviser was a rare one that actually did have a industry job once, he left physics for chemistry.
Your professors work in academia. However they have met people or gone to school with people who have left and got industry jobs. They also almost certainly have connections that a student does not. Networking is as important to a successful career as well. Even in the sciences, it can boil down to "who you know" as well as "what you know."


I think it is called for and I dont think its an over generalization at all. You may call them faults, I think thats just the way they are. I think it might be a fault if we try to turn physics into an industry marketable degree just like engineering. Then we have two engineering degrees with different names and no academic physics degree.
I do agree with you here. However, I think there is a difference between turning a physics degree into an engineering degree and offering students a curriculum that is flexible and prepares students for careers other than academic research. My program did, and we were better off for it, even those of us who decided to go the academic route.


Also, I dont think my undergrad program was below average at all. It was at a PAC-10 university and from my discussions with other students it was typical for the most part.
I'm sure your experience was typical. I disagree that this is the way it should be though. There is a middle ground between completely academic, esoteric physics curricula and turning physics into an engineering degree.
Windadct
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#93
Jan17-13, 12:34 PM
P: 532
I really want to stay out of the debate here and hopefully get back to the OP, I'm an EE but wanted to relay back the many non-traditional opportunities I have seen phys grads - technical field services, financal analysist, insurance investigators, and a number of them are in the renewables market. Rarely will they say they are looking for physics but the degree shows the ability to approach things tecnically and analytically.
Also get on linked-in and network.
But aways be working and if you can do some vounteer work, it can go on the resume.
jesse73
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#94
Jan17-13, 03:58 PM
P: 392
Quote Quote by ModusPwnd View Post
No, I never thought that because physics undergrads dont do internships. Physics departments and professors rarely have much in terms of industry contacts. And physics programs never organize internships. They are organized by the engineering department for engineers.
Really, Where are you pulling this information from?

I do theoretical condensed matter and know professors including my advisor with contacts in finance/ Oil companies / national labs and NASA and other experimental professors who own companies or are founders of startups in nano tech. These contacts include former students who have went to work in these other industries.

The same I could of said of undergrad institute professors

And as a physics BS before grad school I worked or interviewed at
Music Software Start up
Foreclosure/Real Estate software company
Online Ad company
Financial software company
Defense contractors

Although some of those jobs didnt have "physics" in the job description/ad. I realized I had the skills to do them so I applied and framed my skill set to apply what the job role is.
jesse73
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#95
Jan17-13, 04:10 PM
P: 392
Quote Quote by G01 View Post
Your professors work in academia. However they have met people or gone to school with people who have left and got industry jobs. They also almost certainly have connections that a student does not. Networking is as important to a successful career as well. Even in the sciences, it can boil down to "who you know" as well as "what you know."
Its impossible to not make contacts. In any PhD granting institution professors are advising students of which about half are going into industry (AIP statistics) therefore half their students become viable industry contacts. This is assuming they arent networking other places like conferences ie the assumption of professors in a bubble composed of only themselves and their grad students.
rhombusjr
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#96
Jan17-13, 07:00 PM
P: 97
Quote Quote by Locrian View Post
Nah, there's lots of research that's just useless. Anything that's theory and doesn't include computational work may fall into that category. My grad school roommates were great examples - non-comm geometry and string theory. They learned zero useful skills in their 7 years.
So being good at math is not marketable? Then how do math BS graduates get jobs? Why do financial companies hire math majors for internships and full-time jobs, even those with no computational or finance knowledge? I know that the NSA specifically hires mathematicians who study pure subjects such as algebra and number theory.

Quote Quote by ModusPwnd View Post
…physics undergrads dont do internships. Physics departments and professors rarely have much in terms of industry contacts. And physics programs never organize internships. They are organized by the engineering department for engineers.
This is not true. I reply to this with something that I already said:
Quote Quote by rhombusjr View Post
I did an internship in the DoD and I was told that I was hired because I was a physicist. They told me an engineer wouldn't have the background necessary.
I wasn't working on something esoteric like loop quantum gravity, I was working on fielded technologies with direct impact to the US military. They wanted a physicist and not an engineer for the job. Physics majors do do internships, just maybe not the ones at your school. At my school, nearly every physics major has done some kind of internship in industry. Most of these internships were organized by the department. This is what I meant before when I said that physics departments don't only care about academia and that they are aware that some students want to enter industry. Their focus is on academia, but they don't completely throw industry out the window.

I do think that physicists have a broader knowledge base than the typical engineer (my employers at the DoD also thought so, that's why I was hired). Show me where in the standard EE curriculum students take a course in thermodynamics or rigid body mechanics. Physicists are simply exposed to more subjects than most engineers are.

It's important not to confuse "you can market a physics degree to get a technical job" with "any physicist is qualified for every single technical job out there". A physicist getting an industry job depends on both the skills of the physicist and the requirements of the job. Some jobs (like mine at the DoD) only need the broad knowledge base of a physicist, some require more specific knowledge. Physics is a very broad discipline and you can't expect to be spoon-fed everything you need for a particular industry job. Saying physics can be marketable, doesn't mean that a physics degree is ready made for industry. If you're trying to get a specific industry job, it's up to you to go beyond the bare minimum and gain that specific skill set.

If you're intentionally training to enter academia and not industry (doing research instead of internships, studying for stdzd tests instead of reading job postings, etc.) then you shouldn't be complaining you're underprepared to enter industry. If you were training to run marathons, would you complain about being a poor swimmer? It is possible to do both BTW. I did research and industry internships. It's not that hard to do; it's not an either/or situation.

My point here is to say that a physicist can get an industry job (since this is the problem faced by the OP). I will concede that if you want the most marketable degree, there are better options than physics (which is not the topic of this thread).

Off the top of my head, here are some jobs that make use of "esoteric" physics topics like quantum mechanics and relativity: medical imaging, GPS satellite design, semiconductor development/manufacturing, nanotechnology development.
Locrian
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#97
Jan17-13, 09:57 PM
P: 1,696
Quote Quote by rhombusjr View Post
So being good at math is not marketable?
By itself? Not really. You'll want some programming, statistics, data mining, etc. experience, too. It's hard not to get some useful skills studying math, but there are areas of physics (and math!) that somehow manage it.
Devils
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#98
Jan17-13, 10:22 PM
P: 164
Quote Quote by rhombusjr View Post
So being good at math is not marketable? Then how do math BS graduates get jobs? Why do financial companies hire math majors for internships and full-time jobs, even those with no computational or finance knowledge?
I'm a math major. I've worked in software development & moved to consulting.

You need to market yourself in the job market as a 'problem solver', and a very good one. People with math degrees tend to be very smart & they tend to progress fast.

And they can provide solutions to finance problems (ie business problems) in ways the accounting grads can't.
SophusLies
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#99
Jan18-13, 01:38 PM
P: 222
Quote Quote by rhombusjr View Post
So being good at math is not marketable? Then how do math BS graduates get jobs? Why do financial companies hire math majors for internships and full-time jobs, even those with no computational or finance knowledge? I know that the NSA specifically hires mathematicians who study pure subjects such as algebra and number theory.
Being good at math alone won't really help but it won't hurt either. Something that was always stressed when I was an undergrad was gaining at least basic CS skills, which is why the first discrete math class had some programming assignments within it even though it wasn't the main focus. I do know a couple of math undergrads that got into NSA or NSA-type jobs and they were no chumps when it came to CS stuff, they knew CS (algorithms, computation theory, etc) just as well as they knew math.

I hope you aren't implying that finance, NSA, or whatever hires math majors just because they know math. Math and physics will always need some sort of platform to do their work in industry, on the theory side it's CS and on the experimental side it's engineering/lab work.
rhombusjr
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#100
Jan18-13, 05:17 PM
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Quote Quote by SophusLies View Post
I hope you aren't implying that finance, NSA, or whatever hires math majors just because they know math. Math and physics will always need some sort of platform to do their work in industry, on the theory side it's CS and on the experimental side it's engineering/lab work.
You are correct. I was merely trying to indicate that being good at math is not a completely useless skill w.r.t. industry. The job applicants with a stronger CS background were probably first pick, but the ones with only string math credentials probably weren't thrown out right off the bat either.

Math is a marketable skill, but it still is only one skill. Having only one marketable skill is seldom enough to land a job (unless that job only uses that one skill). You can be a master welder, but if the job calls for someone who can also operate a lathe, someone who only knows how to weld isn't likely to get the job.
jesse73
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#101
Jan18-13, 07:58 PM
P: 392
Quote Quote by SophusLies View Post
I hope you aren't implying that finance, NSA, or whatever hires math majors just because they know math. Math and physics will always need some sort of platform to do their work in industry, on the theory side it's CS and on the experimental side it's engineering/lab work.
Being a good interviewee or job searcher is about learning to market yourself so that your resume and general pitch is more than "i know math".
clope023
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#102
Jan18-13, 09:23 PM
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Quote Quote by ModusPwnd View Post
I dont believe this is true at all. This is the hubris of physics. Physicists do not have a broader knowledge base than engineers.
Having done both degrees, I can say you're wrong here.
jesse73
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#103
Jan18-13, 10:40 PM
P: 392
Quote Quote by clope023 View Post
Having done both degrees, I can say you're wrong here.
Makes sense given the fact that the whole point of starting engineering programs/degrees is to specialize to prepare for a specific sets of jobs. How could that possibly lead to a broader knowledge base.
ModusPwnd
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#104
Jan19-13, 11:56 AM
P: 846
Quote Quote by jesse73 View Post
Makes sense given the fact that the whole point of starting engineering programs/degrees is to specialize to prepare for a specific sets of jobs. How could that possibly lead to a broader knowledge base.
Because the job requires a broader knowledge base than being a grad student does. Engineering degrees have requirements that span scientific theory as well as industrial application. They have programming requirements and they even have requirements of business/economics classes. A physics BS is nearly all scientific theory. It's more specialized and narrow. Since engineering is tailored for a 'real world' job, its has to span the many areas that a real world job requires. Being insulated in academia one doesn't need such a broad base.
Windadct
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#105
Jan19-13, 02:20 PM
P: 532
Personally I do not believe that good employers expect new graduates to really KNOW anything relevant to their business - it is their general foundation of knowledge and ability to learn and understand complex, technical and mathematical concepts that makes them valuable. When we turn a college education into a trade school - with expectation that if you complete X degree you will then get a job doing Y - we lead the students astray - but in our "$ are all that matters society" - this true value gets lost.
We can not and should not expect a 19 yr old to know what they want to do for their whole lives, but we should encourage and show them that a challenging and "show me your best" education - is always better than a skill set.
DJeffs
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#106
Jan19-13, 02:29 PM
P: 10
Quote Quote by Windadct View Post
Personally I do not believe that good employers expect new graduates to really KNOW anything relevant to their business - it is their general foundation of knowledge and ability to learn and understand complex, technical and mathematical concepts that makes them valuable.
This is the impression I was under throughout my undergraduate education, but I don't know how true it actually is. Even for engineers, I've heard it's not uncommon to not end up using many specific skills from one's undergraduate degree, which would seem to somewhat support this notion.
rhombusjr
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#107
Jan19-13, 04:00 PM
P: 97
Quote Quote by ModusPwnd View Post
Because the job requires a broader knowledge base than being a grad student does. Engineering degrees have requirements that span scientific theory as well as industrial application. They have programming requirements and they even have requirements of business/economics classes. A physics BS is nearly all scientific theory. It's more specialized and narrow. Since engineering is tailored for a 'real world' job, its has to span the many areas that a real world job requires. Being insulated in academia one doesn't need such a broad base.
Quote Quote by clope023 View Post
Having done both degrees, I can say you're wrong here.
Physics majors have programming requirements too. Engineering majors also don't often take business classes except as electives. Just because being an engineer might require knowledge of business, etc. in industry, it doesn't mean that engineers acquire that knowledge in the classroom. Some engineers I've met are complete technical specialists and have no knowledge of business practices, or anything else outside of their niche technology. I've done part of an engineering curriculum and industrial internships. There isn't a direct transfer of skills from engineering courses to industrial work.

By "broader knowledge base" I was referring to scientific knowledge. Engineers specialize in one type of engineering. Physicists obtain a general knowledge of a wide range of science.
jesse73
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#108
Jan19-13, 04:25 PM
P: 392
well said rhombusjr


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