# Do I have better (reliable) earning potential in grad school or direct into industry?

by chickenwing71
Tags: earning, grad, industry, potential, reliable, school
P: 6,863
 Quote by pi-r8 Science students tend to assume that they'll find a job easily- even if it's "just" an engineering job- and throw themselves 100% into their studies, then get a nasty shock when they graduate and realize how impractical all the stuff they've learned really is.
I suppose one reason I view things a bit differently is that I don't think that I was ever strongly misled about job prospects. Yes, you had the bogus NSF projections, but I think I got pretty good information from the people around me that they thought those projections were wishes more than anything else.

One other bit of good advice that I got was not to focus exclusively on physics.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl In the US, we do our best to hide the realities of the science/math market so that people who COULD have done engineering, medicine, finance or law INSTEAD chose science or math. Which is probably to their long-term detriment.
I don't think it's been to my detriment. Also, things can change very quickly. One thing that I remember was talking to someone in the class of 1957. In 1957, the US was in recession, and they were seriously worried about getting jobs. Then Sputnik got launched and the world changed. The big thing that impacted hiring in my college career was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1987, when I was a freshman, people assumed that the Cold War would continue indefinitely, and as the Soviet Union fell, it became increasingly obvious that all of the hiring projections that assumed Cold War were bogus. And then someone came up with this thing called the World Wide Web.

I remember the first time I ftp'ed the source packages from CERN, and thought to myself, this could be interesting. So I spent the next few weeks teaching myself web programming, and I had to teach it to myself, because there were no courses or books on the topic. Turned out to be useful.

 "if you want to be a liberal arts college professor, getting a phd in CS or econ will be a much better approach than a phd in physics,"
I don't think it is. If you get a Ph.D. in economics your chances are getting a tenure track position is quite high, but it's extremely hard to get into an economics program, and there is a "tier structure" that's vastly worse than anything I've ever seen in physics. Also, with some rare exceptions, as far as this "finding out how the world works" thing, economics academia is a lot more broken than physics is.

The other thing is that all of this involves projecting ahead ten years ahead with all of the attendant risk and feedback mechanisms. If physics becomes a totally dead letter, then there *will* be a shortage in a decade and a half. Something like that happened with petroleum engineering.

 "if you want to work in a technical field, you're much better off with an engineering degree",etc.
I'm not.
P: 146
 Quote by twofish-quant I suppose one reason I view things a bit differently is that I don't think that I was ever strongly misled about job prospects. Yes, you had the bogus NSF projections, but I think I got pretty good information from the people around me that they thought those projections were wishes more than anything else. One other bit of good advice that I got was not to focus exclusively on physics.
Argh... look at the misleading advice that people on this forum are giving out right now!
 Physics grads can generally do most jobs that engineers do (except for a few Civil jobs that need PE/CEng) plusmost jobs that maths grads can do and everything CSgrads can do. Companies hire physicists either becaue they have an area that crosses several domains - you can hire an aerospace engineer to tell you how thick to make the landing gear strut, but you hire a physicist to design the wind tunnel + instrumentation + software. Or they want someone whois perceived as more general and can manage groups of engineers.
No one is going to hire physics grad for an engineering position, and definitely not to be manager of an engineering group straight out of school. No one is going to hire you to "do math" because for the most part those jobs don't exist anymore thanks to computers. No one is going to hire you to program said computers unless you've specifically been learning programming on your own, and in that case why not just major in CS and make your life easier?

This idea that there's a huge wide range of technical careers available and that a physics major is qualified for any of them is incredibly misleading, and I can't believe it's still being taught. The fact is that there's basically 3 main career choices for physics majors. In order:

1) graduate student (not really a "career" but you'll get a stipend and health insurance at least)
2) computer programmer (only if you've learned programming)
3) high school math/science teacher (only with a further education degree)
P: 6,863
 Quote by pi-r8 Argh... look at the misleading advice that people on this forum are giving out right now!
I think "don't focus too much on physics" was pretty good advice for me. One thing that I did a lot in college was short story writing. Comes in handy when you are drafting a resume or a corporate memo. "Study history and politics" was also pretty useful.

 No one is going to hire physics grad for an engineering position, and definitely not to be manager of an engineering group straight out of school.
My first job was in oil and gas. Also no one is going to hire you to be a manager since you don't have any management experience, but I was promoted to development lead with two years of experience.

 No one is going to hire you to "do math" because for the most part those jobs don't exist anymore thanks to computers.
Someone has to program those computers.

 No one is going to hire you to program said computers unless you've specifically been learning programming on your own, and in that case why not just major in CS and make your life easier?
1) because I like to do things the hard way.

2) because computational physics teaches you (or more accurately gives you the chance to teach yourself) numerical programming skills that they don't teach in CS class

3) because being a CS major doesn't mean that you can program. Programming is like writing, and a CS major is like an English major. There are lots of great writers that aren't English majors, and there are a ton of English majors that can't write. Just as there are professors of English literature that are incompetent writers, there are CS professors that can't program. If you just take the standard CS curriculum and do nothing else, then you are just not going to be a competent programmer.

 This idea that there's a huge wide range of technical careers available and that a physics major is qualified for any of them is incredibly misleading, and I can't believe it's still being taught.
Depends on the state of the economy. If you have a good economy, then people will be looking for general skills. If you have a bad economy, then people won't hire you even if you have the necessary technical skills.

 The fact is that there's basically 3 main career choices for physics majors.
I think there are more than that. Many of the physics bachelors that didn't go into graduate school, went into business consulting. Also, there are a ton of jobs that are available that have nothing obviously to do with physics.
P: 146

uh... bootleg liquor? That was the most profitable industry during the depression. Don't think that will work so well anymore. Apparently growing marijuana is a fast-growing industry now thanks to the recession though.

More seriously, here are what seem to be the main careers that use physics now:

Programming liquid flow models for the oil/gas industry: Current projections are that we'll warm the earth up 10 degree C this century, but I'm sure with enough physics nerds working on the problem we'll be able to get up to at least 15 degrees C!
Programming bomb models for the military: We need a way to kill as many Iranian children as possible for the minimum cost, and someone needs to program all those smart bombs. Better a pure nerd than someone who might have accidentally taken an ethics class.
Programming finance models: I guess that's your job now? There's still a few unions that have managed to protect their pension funds, and still a few middle-class families that own a home. I'm sure if enough nerds work on this problem you'll find a way to transfer their all their wealth into the hands of rich bankers.
P: 52
 Quote by pi-r8 This idea that there's a huge wide range of technical careers available and that a physics major is qualified for any of them is incredibly misleading, and I can't believe it's still being taught. The fact is that there's basically 3 main career choices for physics majors. In order: 1) graduate student (not really a "career" but you'll get a stipend and health insurance at least) 2) computer programmer (only if you've learned programming) 3) high school math/science teacher (only with a further education degree)
Since I like data (something I picked up during my graduate school years that were, according to certain embittered individuals on this site, otherwise wasted), I checked my undergrad alma mater's alumni directory for the years around my own graduation. I looked for people who majored only in physics (no CS or engineering double majors), who had reported on their employment, and who didn't have any other degrees reported (generally people who update their profile with jobs will also update their further education). I also did a quick Google search to try to make sure (generally via LinkedIn profiles) that they had no other degree; plus I knew most of these people and whether they went to grad school (immediately out of undergrad, at least).

I found 15 people, whose most recently reported jobs break down as:

Six programmers
Four engineers of other stripes
Two defense analysts
One consultant
One technician/facilities manager at a national lab
One active duty military

And, by the way, teaching high school generally requires an additional credential, but not another degree, and for high-demand subjects some states and private schools will let one pick up that creditional after being conditionally hired.
P: 52
So underlying this:

 Quote by pi-r8 The fact is that there's basically 3 main career choices for physics majors.
And this:

 Quote by pi-r8 More seriously, here are what seem to be the main careers that use physics now:
I take it you've got some data that you're hiding from us?

I mean, points for trying to be funny, or trying to be provocative, or whatever it is you're trying to be, but do you have something to add that will be helpful to the questioners?
 P: 156 In my country education is free so I don't regret doing physics degree (especially when it's not my only degree). But if I had to pay for my education, stick to 1 major and do it for career I would never study physics. Still I don't get it. Are you guys idiots or sth? You have the best schools out there and still can't figure out that 2+2=4 ? How the hell (when you have internet access) can you not know that you won't get job in physics after physics degree? In my country even kindergarden kid knows that doing physics degree and PhD for career reasons gets you nowhere. So how come you didn't manage to figure this out?
P: 1,745
 Quote by Rika In my country education is free
I bet it isn't.

For instance, it could be paid for through taxation.
P: 6,863
 Quote by pi-r8 Programming liquid flow models for the oil/gas industry: Current projections are that we'll warm the earth up 10 degree C this century, but I'm sure with enough physics nerds working on the problem we'll be able to get up to at least 15 degrees C!
I know people that are working in carbon sequestration and ethanol production.

 Programming bomb models for the military: We need a way to kill as many Iranian children as possible for the minimum cost, and someone needs to program all those smart bombs. Better a pure nerd than someone who might have accidentally taken an ethics class.
Ethics becomes complicated once you realize that surrender is a bad policy. Would you rather than Iran have the ability to produce nuclear weapons while the US doesn't? I know lots of people in the military, and soldiers hate war more than most people. I happen to believe that you can't have peace unless you prepare for war. Some people disagree, but there is no need to get insulting about it.

 Programming finance models: I guess that's your job now? There's still a few unions that have managed to protect their pension funds, and still a few middle-class families that own a home. I'm sure if enough nerds work on this problem you'll find a way to transfer their all their wealth into the hands of rich bankers.
Some of us were involved in keeping a bad situation from getting a lot worse. Also, I know a lot of people that are working on risk analysis and trying to figure out what happened and how to keep from having it happen again.

I'm trying not to get annoyed here, but some of us are trying to use our skills to make the world a better place and to improve our own lives.

What the heck have you done? What do you want?
P: 6,863
 Quote by JDGates I mean, points for trying to be funny, or trying to be provocative, or whatever it is you're trying to be, but do you have something to add that will be helpful to the questioners?
Also, if you bite into the apple and learn about the mysteries of the universe, you find out how tiny the planet is, and it's not surprising that you'll find yourself in "world destroying" careers. But what can destroy the world can also save it, and what can save the world can also destroy it.

The statement "there are no jobs for people that study physics" is different from the statement "the jobs in physics tend to have serious ethical consequences that you have to think deeply about." Once you realize that, then those courses in philosophy and literature no longer look quite "useless."

Furthermore, it helps if you think early about who is giving you the money and encouragement to study science, and why they are doing it. US physics is a product of the Cold War, and the reason money goes to physics departments is precisely to build better bombs and toasters.
P: 8,785
 Quote by twofish-quant Ethics becomes complicated once you realize that surrender is a bad policy. Would you rather than Iran have the ability to produce nuclear weapons while the US doesn't? I know lots of people in the military, and soldiers hate war more than most people. I happen to believe that you can't have peace unless you prepare for war. Some people disagree, but there is no need to get insulting about it.
I think most agree, so that's not the question. It's about whether the deployment is just. I suspect most soldiers would rather lose a just war than win an unjust one.
P: 6,863
 Quote by JDGates Six programmers Four engineers of other stripes Two defense analysts One consultant One technician/facilities manager at a national lab One active duty military
Also a lot of the people that went into programming did so because of the internet boom of the 1990's. When I started university, I'd never heard of the internet, and neither had 99% of the people in the world. I *couldn't* take any classes on web programming, because the web hadn't been invented.

One exercise would be to put yourself in 1987, and try to give career advice for the next thirty years out to 2017. You'll realize what an impossible task this is. Think of every historical event that happened between 1987 and 2012 and all of them radically changed the job outlook.

 And, by the way, teaching high school generally requires an additional credential, but not another degree, and for high-demand subjects some states and private schools will let one pick up that creditional after being conditionally hired.
One problem with being a high school teacher is that if you are bitter about science, then it's probably better for everyone involved if you don't take the job. Also, if you are mainly concerned about money (and there is nothing wrong with that), then it's also probably better if you don't take the job.
P: 156
 Quote by Locrian I bet it isn't. For instance, it could be paid for through taxation.
Ofc it is but you need to pay taxes anyway. Ppl in Us also pay taxes and yet they are in massive debt because they need to pay like 100k $extra for their higher education. If you want to do hobby which cost you 100k you must be very rich, otherwise it's stupid to put yourself into massive debt only to do some hobby. Especially when you have internet full of physics knowledge - books, online lectures etc. Most ppl aren't "life - smart" enough to put their physics degree into good use. They don't have any good plan for their life either. In this situation "trade school degree" such as cs, medicine, law, engineering or being plumber is much better for them because they will end up in mcjob or IT anyway. P: 1,745  Quote by Rika Ofc it is but you need to pay taxes anyway. Yes, but not the same amount. So, just to be clear, the education is not free. P: 156  Quote by Locrian Yes, but not the same amount. So, just to be clear, the education is not free. Ok it's not free but not as expensive as in US. For me it's better to pay taxes rather than being in debt. Which makes me wonder - if you pay low taxes you should have huge amount of money to save. If that's the case why your parents don't save for your education? 17 years is enough to collect 100k (it's like 500$ monthly).

Sorry for OT.
 P: 1,745 By the way, I know of one example where government services were actually free, or near it – in North Korea in the late 90’s a great deal of government services were truly free. A great read with examples is the book “Nothing to Envy”, which interviews North Koreans who fled to South Korea. One of them is a doctor. For over a year, she was not paid for her services (no food rations, etc.), though she still worked. As with many other N Koreans, she learned to eat various grasses and herbs and to maintain her own clothes and apartment. She was near death when she managed to escape to China. During that time in NK the healthcare she provided was very near free. Not exactly free, I suppose - she was still provided with housing, of sorts - but very close. So the distinction is important. Finland does not have a free university system. The US public schools are not free. Canada and the UK do not have free healthcare (raise your hand if you’ve actually calculated the per-household cost of England’s health care). There’s actually an acronym for this. ;)
P: 1,745
 Quote by Rika Ok it's not free but not as expensive as in US. For me it's better to pay taxes rather than being in debt. Which makes me wonder - if you pay low taxes you should have huge amount of money to save. If that's the case why your parents don't save for your education? 17 years is enough to collect 100k (it's like 500\$ monthly).
Well I went through the US sytem, didn't spend anywhere near 100k and the only (very small) debt I left with was related to my living standards and not my education.

So yea, if you pay lower taxes you can have the money to not go into debt.

 Sorry for OT.
Me too! But the "xxxx is free in yyyyy" myths have to be vigorously stomped out.