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A physicist's weakness

  1. Oct 3, 2011 #1
    I've been giving a lot of thought about how I would market myself to employers once I have finished my B. Sc in physics and I got stuck when I was thinking about weaknesses.

    It seems a physicist is good at virtually everything. They are excellent problem solvers, the are team players (I'm sure we all ended up helping each other out on assignments), they are taught to communicate well, they work well under pressure, they are comfortable with complex tasks, they have an open mind, and the list goes on.

    What CAN'T a physicist do effectively if anything?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2011 #2
    Why does a physicist necessarily work well under pressure?
  4. Oct 3, 2011 #3
    The assignments are hard and the deadlines are tight. I think this is a pretty good indicator that they can work under pressure.
  5. Oct 3, 2011 #4
    Hmm, most of the physics and math majors I've met don't communicate well at all regardless of how smart they are. They might be good on paper I don't know but having a conversation with them is very awkward. They definitely don't strike me as "social butterflies" especially in comparison to engineering majors. I'm not saying one is better than the other but the engineering majors seem like technical business people while the math/physics majors are more introverted.

    Just out of curiosity, why are you marketing your weaknesses? In my opinion, unless you're asked about your weaknesses I would never bring them up.
  6. Oct 4, 2011 #5
    I agree with that, maybe the original poster is good at communicating but in no way physicists are good at communicating as a general rule. Even if they were, the general public and probably your employer don't think so.
  7. Oct 4, 2011 #6


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    that reminds me of the xmas lunch we had last year, I spent the whole trying to think of something to talk to the grad students and faculty staff. But the only thing I could think of that would interest them is "Hey have you heard of the progression of [insert research project related to the person's field]" which I thought would be inappropriate, but then from what i've overheard that is all they are talking about anyway (except grad student talking about how to avoid their advisors which was probably too early for me to join in as I was only a summer intern)
  8. Oct 4, 2011 #7


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    This doesn't apply to even half of the people I know. Most of the people I know, physics majors, aren't good problem solvers let alone excellent problem solvers. Team players don't constitute "You do these problems, I'll do these and we copy off each other". They don't typically communicate well or have open minds. Where in the world did you get these nonsense dieas?
  9. Oct 4, 2011 #8
    It's actually remarkable how much you *think* you're good as problem solver as an undergrad only to find out how little you knew when you go through grad school. Hell, even looking at the young grads I feel like I was pretty dumb.

    I'm sure post-docs feel the same about me.
  10. Oct 4, 2011 #9


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    You're speaking in very broad and general terms. Something that can really help you out in a job-search is getting very specific. On your CV or resume, make a statement and back it up with specific, tangible proof.

    Simply having worked on group assignments won't differentiate you from anyone else who has gone to university or community college with respect to teamwork or communication skills. Have you been in a group that has won an award? Have you completed a workshop that specifically gives you communication training? Have you volunteered with an organisation such as a peer councilling centre that fosters and develops communication skills?

    As you start to form tanglible examples that separate you from the pack, you'll begin to see just how critical it can be to get involved with extra-curricular activities.
  11. Oct 5, 2011 #10
    What Pengwuino said.

    I stood out from my peers in grad school because of how well organized I was – everything from organizing the lab to organizing fellow students. Then I moved to business and my first performance evaluation could have read “absent minded professor”. I thought I got things done in grad school because I was organized and a good communicator. Now I realize I was a disaster, but it didn’t show because I was better than my peers. Now I see resumes from grad students who say they’re good communicators because they were TA’s and chuckle.

    I talk to grad students interested in moving to business now and then. One thing I try to convey to them is that the reason they feel bulletproof (and they always do) is because some of the bars they've been jumping were set very, very low.
  12. Oct 5, 2011 #11
    Sounds like modesty might be one of those weaknesses.
  13. Oct 5, 2011 #12
    if your physics degree doesn't put you under pressure you're studying at the wrong institution.

    I think the major weakness of a physics graduate is the same as one of the strengths - it's such a broad subject that you cover so many areas to some extent, but you don't become really specialised in the way that say, some specific engineering discipline might.
  14. Oct 5, 2011 #13
    This is an interesting point. If you're an engineer, it's very likely that you've been learning methods that have been created for the sole purpose of doing something that has already been conceived and labeled to have a purpose. If it weren't like this, there would be huge problems with building bridges, cars, large-scale fabrication of computer parts, etc. The physicist, however, is taught all the principles and theory, and is expected to conceive of these sort of methods or applications to some specific problems. This is mostly what research is, but I think that is one of the reasons why engineering firms get nervous when hiring physicists over engineers. Sure the physicist can figure it out, but the engineer already knows it because it's been drilled into him, and moreover companies would rather have drones that know how to do it right because that means less probability of disasters/lawsuits/crap employees.
  15. Oct 5, 2011 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    I don't see how one can earn a physics degree without being an excellent problem solver. Your statement makes absolutely no sense, with one qualifier.

    And that would be the qualifier. If people are cheating their way through their degree, then no wonder they don't acquire any skills.

    Perhaps I was lucky to go back as an older than average student. I didn't have access to advanced copies of tests, or copies of old tests, or homework solutions, or buddies willing to cheat on homework, or any means of cheating on tests [not that I would have done so even if there had been]. I had no idea how much of an advantage the younger students had until about the time I graduated. So much the loss for them. I earned my degree. It has also proven to be quite valuable and worth every minute of work that it required.

    I took a minor in engineering [basically in fluid dynamics, which included some graduate courses] and found those classes to be far far less challenging than any physics class. In comparison, they were a piece of cake. EE is the only brand of engineering that I've found to be about as challenging as physics.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2011
  16. Oct 6, 2011 #15
    How are past papers cheating exactly? It's called practice.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2011
  17. Oct 6, 2011 #16

    Physics Monkey

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    I think its important to remember that there is a substantial distinction between the ability to solve problems which are presented to you in a relatively neat package and guaranteed to have a nice answer (much of undergrad) and the ability to solve real research (or real world) problems. The latter are often poorly formed (you must help formulate them), the scope poorly defined, and the ultimate answerability quite uncertain. Of course, physics undergrad may be relatively good preparation for this kind of work, but obtaining a physics degree does not, in my opinion, even approximately guarantee competence in the latter sort of messier problem solving.

    Also, I resonate greatly with the sentiment that physics undergrads are not excellent communicators. I've sat through way too many terrible presentations to believe that physics undergrads or grads are excellent communicators on the whole. In my experience they generally tend to suffer from a blinding arrogance and a lack of understanding of the audience's distinct perspective, to mention just a few flaws.

    Of course, I'm a physicist, so they must not all be bad :tongue:
  18. Oct 6, 2011 #17
    I know people into physics and math who're excellent communicators and who get adapt into various kinds of social contexts. I also happen to know lots of "arts" people who perform the worse kind of oral excretion - social retards. Curiously, many of the "arts" people I know sound and act like they're from the TV show, The O.C or Gossip Girl (or any other crappy teenage soap) while many of the science dudes I know, are the "jocks". At my older school, most of the "cool guys" were doing maths and science.

    Then again, maybe this is a biased view...:p
  19. Oct 6, 2011 #18
    I think the idea that physics is a "broad" subject is a misconception. When we finished undergrad, the CS people were our experts in software engineering; the EE people were our experts in ic design; the ME people were our experts in machine design; the physics people, as we all know, were experts in quantum physics. We were all experts in some discipline that others can't do well, and no education was "broad" enough to cover even the basics of everything.

    It just so happens that the world does not need so many experts in quantum physics, but does need a lot of experts in software engineering. So we had to lie to ourselves that we got a "broader" education just to get even. At least I think it was a lie.
  20. Oct 6, 2011 #19
    I think there is a fallacy here. In a standard physics education, you're likely taught ever harder, simpler and deeper principles, the first principles. And then you're hinted that when you know Newtonian physics you know how to do mechanical engineering, and when you know Maxwell equations you know how to do electrical engineering. But in fact, there are a lot of things that when you try to derive from first principles, you'll either a) fail, or b) re-invent the wheel. I would urge you, if you think the "principles" are all mighty, to read "More Is Different" from P. W. Anderson

    No car maker will allow you to derive the chassis stiffness from inter-atomic stiffness using electromagnetism.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  21. Oct 7, 2011 #20
    Why would you use the word drones to describe engineers? How on earth have you come to this conclusion?

    I fully agree with what mayonaise has said. I found out in my first year in industry that this quote is so incredibly true that it's almost scary:

    “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

    All the theory in the world can not help you when you're actually creating anything. Something throughout the creating process will not match up exactly with the theory and that's why an engineer is the best for these types of jobs. They can see past the theory, with their training, to get the job done. I would say though, if there is someone trained in physics that has dedicated time to refining engineering skills then that person has quite an advantage in terms of creating innovative things.

    It's unfortunate to say but when there are physics kids who think reading through a physics book will give them the knowledge to engineer anything then they are flat out wrong. But if engineering isn't the goal, which for most physicists it isn't, then there's no problems. It just annoys me when physicists (and I am one in training) who go around thinking that engineering is trivial compared to doing physics. Each has their own unique set of skills, one is not "harder" or "better" than the other.
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