Physics A Ph.D. in physics, a perilious career choice?

Hi

I am currently an undergrad. studying electronics and communication engineering in India. I had no intention of studying that particular subject, but I chose it since I couldn't make it into a physics undergrad. programme (not because I'm bad enough academically, but due to some technical reasons).

I am studying undergraduate physics on my own as of now. I plan to apply for grad. school in the U.S. after my engg.

I always knew that being a physicist is not the best idea to become rich and is in general quite an ardous task. So I knew the situation was bad, but as I have recently realized, it appears to be really really bad.

I mainly got discouraged from the following two posts:

http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]

and

http://sciencejobs.blogspot.com/2005_02_02_archive.html


I know many of you might have answered similar questions many times in the past but its really difficult to dish out deep into websites and find old threads.

Also let me add, that I am very passionate about being a theoretical physicist and would most likely want to end up working in fundamental physics (string theory/high energy or Quantum mech.) or Astrophysics/cosmological physics.

Is it even worth it applying to a grad. programme in physics? Is the situation really that bad?

If eventually my chances of getting a tenured position (after a max. of 3-4 years of post doc) are pretty bleak, and if i have to eventually end up working in finance or banks etc, why not get an MBA right after my engg. and build that career at early twenties rather than at early thirties?

That doesn't mean that I'll leave physics all together, maybe I could self study it, just the way I am right now?
I know it's quite a different game to actually be in the scene than work at a distance, but if the situation in academia is that bad, what options do I have?

Plus, my not being an american would close half the job opportunities that require US citizenship.

Also, would my having a BS in Electronics and Communication Engineering from an average engineering Institute in India make any difference 6-7 years down the line when and if I apply for various jobs outside of India?

waiting for your views......
Thanks
 
Last edited by a moderator:
I mainly got discouraged from the following two posts:

http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]
This article has come up for discussion on here plenty of times. Basically, ignore it. It's over 10 years old, and much of the information is wrong and outdated.

Is it even worth it applying to a grad. programme in physics? Is the situation really that bad?
No, it isn't that bad. Whether or not it's worth it is a question only you can answer for yourself.

If eventually my chances of getting a tenured position (after a max. of 3-4 years of post doc) are pretty bleak, and if i have to eventually end up working in finance or banks etc, why not get an MBA right after my engg. and build that career at early twenties rather than at early thirties?
That's one thing you have to think about. Doing a PhD is also a great experience - you get to work on those research problems you're interested in for a few years. Sure, you don't get paid a lot but you get to immerse yourself in science. You also get a fantastic skill set that means you can apply to lots of different types of jobs afterwards. You won't always start much higher than you would have had you only had your undergraduate degree, but to me the PhD brings other benefits to those that eventually work in industry. Handling pressure is one of those things.

Plus, my not being an american would close half the job opportunities that require US citizenship.
Sure, if you're limiting yourself to the US.

Also, would my having a BS in Electronics and Communication Engineering from an average engineering Institute in India make any difference 6-7 years down the line when and if I apply for various jobs outside of India?
I'm not sure what you mean.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
@ fasterthanjoao

Thanks for the reply.

As for my BS in electronics, I mean will it provide me any kind of edge over others coming from physics BS if and when I apply to jobs outside of physics and academia?

For instance, does a degree in electronics and communication display any special ability that employers(apart from academia and physics) might be looking for?

So basically will it provide me any edge in terms of employability? If yes, what jobs and employers would be those?

Also, you talk about "neglecting those articles". I could do that, but they do represent some kind of a problem with the academia. It would be a different case if the situation has rapidly changed in the past 10 years.

Anyway, another important question I missed,
will my passing out from big name schools give me a better guarantee of employment in academia than otherwise?

How many years do you think guys have to work as post-docs before they land up a tenure nowadays?
 
1,086
2
Also, you talk about "neglecting those articles". I could do that, but they do represent some kind of a problem with the academia. It would be a different case if the situation has rapidly changed in the past 10 years.
So what? That's just the nature of academia in all fields. Name a field in which obtaining a PhD guarantees getting tenure. Even if you do find one, the bottleneck is then just shifted elsewhere (such as lower grad school acceptance). I bet you'll find an article like that in any field of your liking. I remember reading one not too long ago from a US Psychology professor who said she's going to stop taking on PhD students, because there's not enough jobs in the academia for them. Well, yeah, I guess there's more PhD's being churned out nowadays, but that doesn't mean the ratio of people wanting to get a job in academia vs. people actually getting it has changed, as well.

I won't lie, before switching to Physics I had the same concerns, but if you like physics you like physics. And I've come to terms that there are jobs for someone who studied Physics (especially if you obtain a PhD), even though not everyone is guaranteed research for life. But that's the same as everywhere. If you're one of the best, you're going to get it, if not, you won't. Isn't that how life works? That you don't always get what you want, but that if you keep doing what you actually like and make somewhat wise choices, you're going to end up with a good life? Now I'm not saying disregard all bad that's being said in regards to getting a PhD in Physics or whatever, but just compare it to the alternatives. If you think it's going to be easier for you doing something else and being equally happy with your job and life, then do that, I guess. But don't let a couple of articles overwhelm you and steer you away from a rational choice. I know I've gone down that road too many times already.
 
So basically will it provide me any edge in terms of employability? If yes, what jobs and employers would be those?
Electrical engineering jobs, and perhaps engineering jobs generally. The advantage that you will have is that you can talk like an engineer. A physics degree is a bit like a science-general-knowledge degree in that undergraduate physicists learn a little about quite a lot of subjects. Depending on how your course is set up, you may also have practical abilities that many physicists will not. For instance, back when I did my undergraduate degree (in physics), I didn't take any lab classes beyond my second year. I also only did one electronics lab in all of my degree - as a result, I'm terrible when it comes to that sort of thing.

Also, you talk about "neglecting those articles". I could do that, but they do represent some kind of a problem with the academia.
Well, yes and no. Who says those articles are the truth? If I write a blog post about how amazing academia is and how easy it is to get a job, would you believe that? You should also question information like this you get even from this forum. Not everyone knows what they are talking about, and there can be quite a lot of local effects that are difficult to take into account. Looking at super-dated information on something that relies quite a lot on the economy is just plain worthless, too.

Anyway, another important question I missed,
will my passing out from big name schools give me a better guarantee of employment in academia than otherwise?
Do you mean graduating from a big name school? Not much. A good bit of it is about what you learn, not where you learn it. With PhD studies, the most important thing is your advisor. It's possible to get an exceptional advisor (both research and support wise) at a no-name school. Researching at a school like that won't cause you any disadvantage whatsoever. For industry, demonstrate that you're skilled at what you do and you'll have a shot regardless of location. Some places/people might care about the name of a school, but it's up to you to convince them it isn't as important as they think.

How many years do you think guys have to work as post-docs before they land up a tenure nowadays?
It depends on the field, and a few other things. Finance for post-docs is tough just now (in the UK, anyway) and lots of post-doc positions are actually being cut down to 1 year. It used to be a post-doc would be expected to complete (in the average case) 2 funded post-doc positions for about 2 years each. A third position is possible, but more than that is bad news for your future as a researcher.
 
I always knew that being a physicist is not the best idea to become rich and is in general quite an ardous task. So I knew the situation was bad, but as I have recently realized, it appears to be really really bad.
The job market for physics Ph.D.'s in academia is bad, but there are a lot of jobs that you can find outside of academia. Also for foreign students Ph.D.'s are useful because there are immigration benefits for getting a Ph.D.

Is it even worth it applying to a grad. programme in physics? Is the situation really that bad?
For getting an academic position, yes, but for getting a job in general no.

One important thing about getting a physics Ph.D. is that you don't have to go into debt to get the Ph.D., so that if you get the Ph.D. and want to sell real estate or do something else, you can. This is not true for a lot of other degrees where you are a deep trouble because of the debt you end up with.

If eventually my chances of getting a tenured position (after a max. of 3-4 years of post doc) are pretty bleak, and if i have to eventually end up working in finance or banks etc, why not get an MBA right after my engg. and build that career at early twenties rather than at early thirties?
Because you find theoretical physics fun and exciting and that's what you want to do with your life. Even if you do nothing related to physics after your Ph.D., you get to do physics for five years. Also chances are you'll get hired to do something physics related.
 
Thanks all for the suggestions.
I also gave other options a serious thought, like getting an MBA and perhaps landing a nice high paying job in a big MNC or something.
The only attractive thing about that would be the pay. But I guess I love physics more and that's why I started out on this path to being a physicist in the first place.

So I feel I will most definitely join grad. school.

And who knows I might just be lucky enough to get a good academic job and get to do what I want to. I would lose that chance forever if I give up now.
 
I also gave other options a serious thought, like getting an MBA and perhaps landing a nice high paying job in a big MNC or something. The only attractive thing about that would be the pay. But I guess I love physics more and that's why I started out on this path to being a physicist in the first place.
People with physics Ph.D.'s get hired with nice paying jobs working in MNC's.
 

atyy

Science Advisor
13,299
1,457
People with physics Ph.D.'s get hired with nice paying jobs working in MNC's.
Is this true for all fields - say high energy theory versus condensed matter experiment? Or cosmology versus biophysics?
 
1,194
25
So what? That's just the nature of academia in all fields. Name a field in which obtaining a PhD guarantees getting tenure. Even if you do find one, the bottleneck is then just shifted elsewhere (such as lower grad school acceptance).
Between 1982 and 2002 in the UK it was my experience that is was *much* easier getting academic and academic related posting in computer science departments. In fact they were so desperate for people they forced physicists to become computer scientists, even with no background in computer science! I knew many PhDs in computer science who just walked into tenured computer science posts. Physics departments were a total other story - no one was hiring, people were being forced out... They key is to find which industry is very strong, that will soak up many good candidates, making it easy to get the relatively lowly paid academic posts, tenured or otherwise. So that leaves fields like medicine, finance, environmental science, computing... move into those if you want an easy life in academia... or any life at all...
 
1,774
147
If your goal is to stay in physics, then this is the most important thing I think you should know: your job prospects, both in academia and out, depend heavily on your choice of research.

They also depend on other things - the state of the world economy, government funding levels, etc. But you don't have much control over those. You get to choose whether to do non-commutative geometry or study the application of negative index metamaterials, among the many kabillion choices. Of course, not all may be open to you, but if you look, a good choice will be there.

Choose wisely.
 

The Physics Forums Way

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving
Top