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Physics Air Force and Physics - Should I?

  1. Aug 25, 2009 #1
    Hello all, I am currently enlisted in the Air Force (about to ship out to basic in a month) and needed to ask a question about studying physics. I would ask my recruiter but all he would do is blow smoke up my *** and sugar coat it all so I thought I'd make a post here.

    My question is how well the Air Force(Or military in general) and a physics degree would go together? More so would I have a leg up on people who don't have any military background? Are there more job opportunities out there because I went into the Air Force? (Note: I do not want to teach) Also does anyone know how good the physics program is that the Air Force teaches?(Shot in the dark but I thought I'd ask)

    I keep reading articles about how hard it is to find jobs with a background in physics. One article that really struck me was this: http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken] (I've seen it on these forums before too) Granted it is almost 10 years old but I do not relish the thought of spending 10-12 years studying only to get a job that barley pays the bills (30,000-50,000$).

    Another thing I have always been interested in is computers; which I have always been very good with as long as I can remember. Would it be more viable for my future to study something in this field instead of physics?

    Thank you in advance!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2009 #2


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    I'm new to the forums but from what I've read so far, it is hard to find work directly related to your field of physics. Most of the people here say you need some type of programming language to find work in the private sector. If you actually want to do some research then that's a different story, you should probably wait for someone with better knowledge to fill you in.
  4. Aug 25, 2009 #3


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    That article by Johnathan Katz comes up around here from time to time. It's very pesimistic and if you search around you'll find more than a few arguments against it.

    That article was written in 1999 - when I was less than a year into a master's program. I had quite a few friends at the time and most of them stayed in physics despite the 'bleak' outlook. Let's see.

    My best man completed a PhD in HEP physics, and has gone on to do post-docs in Fermilab and Oxford. He's likely going to land an assistant professorship within the next few years.

    One friend completed a PhD in geophysics and went on to do some very lucrative work for some oil exploration companies. I don't know how much he makes now, but I ran into him a few years ago and he seemed very happy with his choices.

    Another friend completed a PhD in astronomy and is now an assistant professor at a smaller univeristy, teaching and studying his passion.

    Two friends got married and completed PhDs. One of them went on to a fairly prestigious condensed matter post-doc in New York while the other is very happy teaching at a community college and doing research in physics education.

    Another friend completed a master's degree and decided that was enough. Last I heard she had a full time teaching job that paid over $80.00 per hour at a community college.

    One of the founding members of our football team ended up working for the department of national defence (recruited before having finished his PhD) in one of their think tank departments. From the recruiting seminar, it sounded like they got involved in all sorts of neat projects from remote landmine detection to disaster investigations. Actually a couple of people I know ended up following this route.

    One of my office mates got out of physics altogether and got a cushy government job working for Canadian foreign affairs. That recruitment process was pretty neat as several people from CSIS (Canadian intelligence) inverviewed some of his friends in the office.

    My other office mate followed his passion for some of the more exotic problems in physics - gravity at the quantum scale, etc. I know he had a hard time, but he's now a research associate at a smaller university and from his selected publication list it appears he's very active in the field.

    I haven't even mentioned my friends in medical physics. Of those who started within a year or so of the publication of Dr. Katz' article, ALL of them are now working as medical physicists with both clinical and academic appointments and doing very well financially.
  5. Aug 25, 2009 #4
    I would mention that if you aren't interested in teaching, military experience can be highly valued in the business world (much more so than in research or academia). You may want to consider an engineering or other degree and jobs in management or engineering.

    Of course, if you're really interested in a career in physics then there are some fine options listed above.
  6. Aug 25, 2009 #5
    If you are interested in working in industry [specifically defense] the most valuable thing you can get out of military service is a security clearance. The work behind a security clearance is expensive and time consuming, so having one before you start work is a big bonus for many defense contractors.

    Also, defense contractors are often more willing than other engineering employers to use physicists as engineers, in my experience. This may not be what you are looking to do, but it is an option.

    If you are interested in computers, learn as much as you can. Most any technical job will be better if you can do a bit [or a lot] of programming and simulation. Speaking personally, I'm interested in using computers to do physics, rather than in writing programs per se, so I avoided specializing in computer science. This did not stop me from learning a great about them however. The kind of things you will probably do will vary if you study computer science versus physics.
  7. Sep 3, 2009 #6
    Hello! And good luck to you at basic!

    What MOS are you enlisting into? By MOS, I mean what military occupation? Do you know if you will need a security clearance? If so, classified, secret, or top secret? A security clearance can be a large help in finding jobs with the DOD after your service is complete.

    Also, it really depends on what you have your military experience in. I would like to tell you that your military background will give you a leg up, but it honestly might not. I personally have 5 years service. It did in fact help me get a job. But I also make considerably less than my co-workers without military, who instead have degrees. Some of them are indeed better employees, and rate the better pay. And then again, some of them are rocks. But the same can be said about prior military personell also! It always goes both ways, which is why it may or may not actually help you...

    One piece of advice.... GO TO SCHOOL WHILE YOU ARE IN!!! You get 100% tuition assistance while you are on active duty. Yes, yes, you will get the GI Bill when you are out, but why waste that 100% while they offer it to you??? And believe me, you will have plenty of time to get drunk, party, chase women, work on cars, or whatever. You can do all those things and any other you like, while still completing a degree program. I;ve seen it done many times. I kick myself in the face evertime I think about not doing it myself. If I could go back, I would go to school while I was in, in a heart beat.

    I can tell you this, if you get a degree while you are in, which is entirely possible, you will be a highly sought after potential employee!! You will haxe X years or service, a degree, and you will have shown the initiative to go to school while working full time for the government. Any employer would look at those qualities as excellent, I can assure you that!
  8. Sep 8, 2009 #7
    Hey guys thx for all the advice. It will def take some soul searching to figure out exactly what I want to do but you all have given me some good ideas.

    @rgray107918 - Thank you for the vote of confidence! I am not sure what my job is yet in the Air Force but I will know when I go to basic. I am guaranteed something in the electronics field but I did request a few intelligence jobs as well. Weather or not they will give it to me is up to them. But my background check came back clean so I don't see any reason why they wouldn't give me a security clearance if my job required me to have one. And I definitely plan on going to school while I am in. Thats why I am asking these questions now =)

    Thanks again and keep the advice coming!
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