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Advice on different career choices

  1. Feb 25, 2012 #1
    Howdy forum,
    I need some advice on what to do after my physics B.S. Basically this is a what would you do in my shoes question. So these kind of topics usually start with describing one's self (I think). So i'll start there. I'm a physics major transferring into a mid-tier university (UIC) to finish my B.S. I'm not the best student gpa wise i'm a 3.6 but what i really mean is i don't get the concepts as fast as others and i usually score around a 80 on tests, which is nice and all but i'm not sure how far i would get with this. And I'll stop that there before everyone thinks that this just a cheap "hang in there" thread.

    What worries me are the job prospects of a physicist and I'm not talking about just a B.S. but a PhD too (my original goal). I've been looking into this especially on this site and there seem to be a lot of problems from finding a job to academia being totally screwed up (Please correct me if my conclusions are distorted). So what would you folks recommend or rather if you were just graduating with a B.S. in physics from UIC with a 30k student loan to pay what would you do? I'd really like to sort everything out, think of the possibilities, and start making plans b's and c's. And I realize things don't always go accordingly and that things can fall apart but at least when they fall apart your left with a foundation, right?

    The thing is I really enjoy physics I find it awesome but I think the main reason I chose to study it is because its the fundamental science and I felt that if i knew some physics i might know a little about everything.I know its childish but I really enjoy learning about things and not just physics i find myself interested in all topics. Anyways i think now my main goal is to find a well paying job and later start thinking about everything. Seriously considering law school but the debt from that is scary.

    I apologize for the length of this post and for the grammar mistakes that i've probably made (in a rush). I'd really appreciate any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2012 #2
    Im more pessimistic about this than most here. I dont think the physics BS and skills it entails are very marketable at all. If I were in your shoes, I would try grad school.

    Many of my fellow physics BS/MS grads are doing the same thing I am doing, restaurant work. Others are school teachers and a few joined the army. If you can swing the PhD you will be more competitive and you get paid while doing it. Law school, I dont know. If you think you have the chops I guess it may be good. Better do something more than the BS though!
  4. Feb 26, 2012 #3
    I think pessimism has better long terms benefits and optimism short term, just my astute student observation here. You are right I definitely don't plan on stopping after a B.S. and I will try to apply for a physics Phd program but my fear here is that unless you get it from a big school like MIT your Phd isn't too marketable.

    That is what i'm trying to avoid. Although, I am curious about the skills you can get out of it but I think that's more part time undergrad work. Unless you mean running a restaurant. As for law school I don't know if I have the chops but I have to survive somehow and pay off debt.

    Thanks for your input ModusPwnd. Who would have thought that finding your "thing" in life would be so hard. But perhaps I only say that because I haven't found it yet.
  5. Feb 26, 2012 #4


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    Is this based on any actual data, or is it just a conclusion that you've come to without any tangible evidence?
    Physics PhDs can be tricky to market, particularly when compared to other professional degrees, but that doesn't mean they're not maketable at all.

    The good thing is that you're considering all of this now rather than doing the PhD and worrying about it after your final defence. If you decide to go the PhD route, you can try to tailor it so that you will have a marketable skill set when you finish.

    As far as law school goes, just make sure that you look at the employment data for that as well before making any final decisions.

    Finding your "thing" in life can be about the most difficult and frustrating challenge of your life - even for those who eventually find it.
  6. Feb 26, 2012 #5
    When I think of a physics PhD, I just think of a smart person that can adapt to any job and learn the ropes of it quickly, which is marketable in virtually everything
  7. Feb 26, 2012 #6


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    If you don't want to do physics (or do the physics that engineers care about), then a MS in Engineering will increase your attractiveness to employers.
  8. Feb 26, 2012 #7
    It was just an irrational fear that i've thought up after reading some depressing posts here. Perhaps i'm being to pessimistic about this.

    Can you please elaborate on what you main by tailor it? Sounds really important. It's funny though i've always been one to rely on intuition more than thinking things through (I suck at chess) but when look at how bad things can get if you don't do things right, with college debt and all, its worrisome. I suppose it all comes down to being able to pay for college, the PhD route at least.

    That is an excellent point. No point in getting a perspective on things now if i don't get a perspective for the next step.

    I realize that there will be a lot of contemplating in my future. So its good thing I like contemplating then. I'm not sure why but i'm optimistic about this part.

    I do want to do physics but I think i know what your saying. I've thought about switching to an engineering field many times. Can I really go from a B.S. in physics to an M.S. in an engineering field? I don't plan on switching out of B.S. , it may just be an irrational feeling but i'm compelled to finish it.

    Thanks everyone for your reply. I'm really glad I posted on this forum. I have a general feeling things now. I think I kinda understand what Robert Frost meant with his road less traveled thing. I like learning stuff so i'm gonna find a way to learn stuff.

    So here's what i've got so far:
    Finish with the physics B.S.
    Apply to a good PhD program such as those that offer to pay off most of the tuition like assistantships (right?)
    IF i'm accepted its the PhD road for me but I still have to focus on how to make it marketable (much research ado here)
    IF i'm not accepted then perhaps Law school, or an engineering path. Need help with this part a bit, what would you recommend or rather what would you folks do at this point?
  9. Feb 26, 2012 #8


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    You might also look into medical physics. I think they might have generally have master's programs in the US, unlike regular physics, which is usually only Ph.D. level in the US. You could also consider going to a Canadian university to get a Master's in physics - all Canadian physics programs have terminal master's programs. I'm not sure how the master's looks in the US job market, though.
  10. Feb 27, 2012 #9
    get an engineering MS if you are concerned about this. its not that big of a leap.

    now i don't think mechanical or chemical would be good for a physics major since i felt that they were more likely accounting with more math (at least that's how I felt in my reactor design class and surprisingly i felt this sort of accounting is much harder than actual physics) and not physics but you can probably do EE, especially solid state devices, or biomedical, or materials science.
  11. Feb 28, 2012 #10
    I noticed medical physics mentioned in other threads as well. As for the master's in physics, going off strictly from what i've read here I don't think its as useful as a PhD in the U.S. but I will certainly look into this field, thanks.

    So I take it then that going from a physics B.S. to a master in engineering isn't too unconventional, right? Also, I know you recommend EE but what do you think of a more computer science related field? As of now I am placing EE as my plan B ahead of everything else, sounds funner than law.

    Now that I think about it, I think I know why I'm more optimistic about this. I think that the "thing" in life is another one of those trivial philosophical-ish (I know, not a real word) sounding questions/statements. Where it all comes down to semantics. that said, it may sound cheesy, but I think its the chase that's important. And I promise that's the last of my strange out of topic observations.
  12. Feb 28, 2012 #11
    Computer science is a giant leap because the only transferable skill is your math.

    Solid state devices isn't even a leap its staying still because every skill transfers.

    EE is very broad, some parts have nothing to do with physics and there are other parts that are straight physics.
  13. Feb 28, 2012 #12
    It's not quite true about computer science. There are a lot of interdisciplinary fields with engineering, physics and computer science that you can make a leap towards. For example, there are CS, EE, and EECS departments that do quantum computing (which entails quantum information theory, computation, and actual physical realization of the devices). CS also does computational science & engineering, of sorts, where you do a lot of numerical/mathematical modeling. Parallel computing is something that is related to that as well, and the overarching field of that is sometimes called high performance computing (scientific computing is another buzzword used sometimes too).

    It is certainly possible to make the jump, but it depends on your skill set. If you can program, learn the numerical methods, learn the paradigms and concepts associated with your chosen field, you will be able to be successful in it. This has to be done before grad school, otherwise you're going to have a hard time getting into a good program, and you'll also have a rough time while you're there as you play catch-up with other students who know it inside and out.
  14. Feb 28, 2012 #13


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    I mean take advantage of opportunities as they come up. The PhD is about learning how to do research in your field, but not all PhDs are created equal. Some people coming out of their PhD program will have more marketable skills than others (and obviously what those are can depend on what you want to do afterwards). You may want to ask yourself:
    - Does the project have any industrial application or offshoot and what might that be?
    - Will you be learning any programming/IT/electronics/machining/etc. skills?

    There are other opportunities that PhD students have as well. When I was a grad student I attended workshops on various software packages, and parallel computing. I took a course in academic writing. I took part in a teaching program as well and developed a teaching dossier. I did volunteer work. I held a part-time job with campus security. I knew one student who became a registered massage therapist, and a few who started their own businesses (nothing overly successful at the time, but simply doing that had value). These are all examples of things you can look for to boost your employability after you graduate.
  15. Feb 29, 2012 #14
    how much of that is directly learned in a physics program?

    how much of EE (solid state devices) or materials science is learned in a physics program?
  16. Feb 29, 2012 #15
    You'll need to be more specific. I've learned most of those CS related things during my 'physics program'. If you mean classes, then no, but presumably if someone is going to graduate school they are not the type to sit there and only learn what is in their classes, especially if considering switching fields.
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