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Physics B.S. in Physics - doomed?

  1. Dec 6, 2012 #1
    I graduated one year ago with a B.S. in Physics. I work at Target.

    I remember back then, for the first three or four months when I had the energy and will to aggressively job hunt every day, there were at least SOME things to apply for. Not much, but some. Nowadays, when I search for jobs with the term "physics," the numbers are even worse. Today, Careerbuilder literally returns one result within a 50 mile radius of me.

    I'm about at the end of my rope, going to resign myself to a fate of $14,000/year.

    The thing is, I'd happily work at any real job that requires a 4 year degree. It doesn't need to be physics related. But no employers realize that if you're smart enough and hard working enough to get a degree in physics, you can do pretty much anything at the intro level. As my advisers used to say, it's among the most difficult of undergrad degrees, to the tune of several sigma. I've been turned down so many times for really easy jobs just because my degree didn't officially contain the words "engineering" or "chemistry" or "business." Is there any good way to find jobs that would accept me? Can anyone offer me any final advise? Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2012 #2
    What is it you like to do, anyways?

    I'm not one of those here who think much of a physics BS, but I'll say this - if you are mobile, have a good resume, and interview well, a physics BS can find a job better than the one you have.

    So I see a few possibilities:

    1) You aren't swinging enough - you're either restricting your job hunt or your geographic area too much.

    2) You're at the wrong field. Are you just sending in apps to newspaper or Monster adds? Things like that don't work.

    3) Swinging and missing. Your resume is being seen but it isn't good enough. You're getting interviews but underperforming.

    4) You're getting offers and turning them down because you're looking for something better (sounds like this isn't the case)

    So start with #1 (or any other, I guess) and tell us why you're sure that condition doesn't apply to you.

    Maybe we'll think of something you haven't.
  4. Dec 6, 2012 #3
    You could try going back for a more marketable degree. Otherwise I dont think there is much you can do.

    I'm in a similar boat... I waffle between going back for an engineering degree or just delivering pizza for the rest of my life. At least student loan payments are income contingent...
  5. Dec 6, 2012 #4


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    What approaches have you tried so far? I wouldn't expect too many places to openly advertise for someone with a bachelor's degree in physics.

    Have you made use of your school's career services centre? Usually they can be very helpful with job searches, resume building, mock interviews, and networking opportunities and usually these are all free, or at least extremely reasonable, for recent grads.

    Have you attended any conferences or trade shows? These can offer excellent networking opportunities.

    Have you considered additional training? Sometimes it can be helpful to consider a bachelor's degree simply as an accelerant, but you need something else for that initial spark.
  6. Dec 6, 2012 #5
    I graduated with a math degree in 2007 and wound up working at walmart through a combination of expensive law school tuition, a failed family business, and not interviewing very well. I spent a year there and made maybe 15K when all was said and done (I wound up in the store's accounting office before I left though, which was an interesting experience. Walmart has the most simplistic/complex information system I've ever seen.)

    One of the better decisions I made on the career front was to get a masters degree in computer science (at a cheaper local school). It only worked because I wanted an internship and terrific grades and achieved each of those early in the program. I think that, in general, getting a more marketable masters degree isn't a bad idea just as long as you stay career focused and driven during the process. Make sure your school has decent recruiting, talk to your career center, talk to your profs when you're in class, etc, etc. You want people to recommend or think of you when some local company decides to recruit on campus after all.

    An extra degree can help, but if you don't stay career focused you'll wind up in the same spot with more debt. It's less about having a marketable degree and more about marketing yourself if you go back to school. Don't forget that point.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  7. Dec 6, 2012 #6


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    The community college where I teach wanted a description to put in the catalog of what jobs people could get with an AA in physics. I looked up stats on the APS web site, came up with the following text describing what you can do with a bachelor's (which essentially all of our physics majors are headed for):

    "Of people who obtain a terminal bachelor’s degree in physics, about half work in industry, in fields such as aerospace, military, software, and electronics. Most of the other half work either as high school teachers or as lab technicians at universities or government-funded laboratories."

    No interest in teaching high school? Usually there is quite a healthy market for math and science teachers, even when the market for K-12 teachers in general is really miserable (as it is in California right now).
  8. Dec 7, 2012 #7
    There are a lot of engineering jobs you can apply for and be better at than most with engineering degrees. You just need to have some hands-on experience and list that on your resume. You have to show you can get things done, they don't care much about what your degree is in as long as you can prove you got the skills to do the job. I know people who work as engineers with physics BS degrees.

    Another thing is to get a master's in engineering, it will take 1.5 years at most.
  9. Dec 7, 2012 #8
    It's all because of education bubble.

    I mean honestly - if you had no idea what to do with your life then why did you study physics?

    More or less you are doomed because you are unable to make a use of it. It's not matter of your abilities but your personality (and some skills that comes with it). Some people will be successful even with 'dancing under the moon" degree. Many (if not most) people need to have "proper" more job-oriented degree or else they will end as pizza delivery man.

    Get engineerig master's - that's the only hope for you.
  10. Dec 7, 2012 #9
    It's stories like these that makes me wonder why in god's name people keep saying a sole Physics BSc is employable. I'll be graduating this year with no grad school opportunities in the bag (contrary to the OP, I do enjoy physics) and I am terrified of my prospects.

    I don't think it's fair to say its people's own fault for not getting a decent job with their degree; I already know a few who finished their physics/math degrees and spent over a year trying to get a job with a whole deal of work ethic, which if they landed was often far removed from anything technical if they didn't go get a masters in some other field. All I can say is carpet bomb the whole country with CV's.

    A lot of people seem to suggest a drawback of academia is having to relocate often to get a chance at a permanent job. I don't see how employment for physicists outside academia is any better or more stable for most of us.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2012
  11. Dec 7, 2012 #10
    There are plenty of opportunities - you can learn useful skills (programming, financial math), get additional master degree or certification or land an intership in any of the field that require non-specific college degree.

    You people sit on you asses, send CVs and pray that you will get a job. But it won't do.

    "Not sit on your *** and wait for miracle" is the ability (or a personality trait) that most people lack. Because we all start with standard route: school -> high school -> college people are unable to think for themselves after that. They can't see unofficial (or official) opportunities that aren't connected with their enviroment. They need guidance - be it school, parents or peace of paper that tells them what they can do.

    This is the reason why OP is unemployed or why ParticleGrl was sending CVs for a few years while working at bar (not to mention that repeating same task and expecting different result is a...).

    That's why I belive that unless you know what you want to do with your life you shouldn't get academic degree. Most young people won't make a use of it anyway. It's better to get any job training at the young age.
  12. Dec 7, 2012 #11
    I think you could do without the hostile accusations. And I think you missed my main point: getting a decent job without getting additional (costly) schooling.

    I chose my degree because it was the only path to a research career. I am currently looking my way into internships to continue down this path, but all prospects seem to indicate I'm going to have to head into any another direction to get a job.

    I think this is why many if not most physics majors try to enter the "grown up" job market right after a Bsc, ie: not by choice.
  13. Dec 7, 2012 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    I recently read an article about the so-called 'skills gap': recent BS graduates can't find jobs but advanced manufacturing companies can't find enough qualified employees. For a change, the reporter spoke to the companies, not the students. What he found was that, aside from companies looking for very specific skills, typical starting salaries of these jobs (which require at least an associate's degree and prefer a BS degree) are *less* than the starting salary for a manager position at a fast-food company- a position that doesn't even require a high school diploma. The reporter concluded that jobs requiring a 4-year degree are not worth the cost of obtaining a 4-year degree.

    The central point is to realize that since starting salaries remain absurdly low, there is *not* a shortage of skilled job-seekers- otherwise, competition for those employees would drive salaries up. The companies provided the usual reason for low salaries: US workers are now forced to compete globally (meaning companies have the ability to move jobs to where the labor costs are the lowest).

    In practice, it means that a MS degree is the new BS degree.
  14. Dec 7, 2012 #13

    Thats not true. This arrogant, "better than engineers" attitude of superiority is endemic in physics, and its unjustified. Physics grads are not better at engineering than engineering grads, especially not for "lots" of jobs. This is at best a myth and at worst a lie that gets perpetuated to the determent of physics majors.

    One problem is you dont get hands-on industry style experience in physics. Most physics professors never had a non-academic job and most physics departments pride themselves on not doing internships or practical training. Physics is about academic research so that is what physics majors do, they do research not internships. Thats what I did as an undergrad and as a grad student, I did research not practical internships.

    And why should it be any other way? That is what physics is, its specialized for academic research, non-mainstream and niche. There is no reason to turn physics into an engineering degree, we already have the option of doing engineering degrees. Physics is best for academic research and that is why people major in physics because that is their goal. Only after that goal becomes unachievable or unwanted do physics majors try to reinvent or market their degree as an engineering degree, which it is not.
  15. Dec 7, 2012 #14
    Fully agree, this attitude is out of phase with reality.

    I've never heard it from professors though, only from a (goodhearted) faculty registrar, many non-physicists that hold physics in high esteem, and LOTS of physics students that haven't yet had a taste of what it feels like to seriously look for a job.
  16. Dec 7, 2012 #15
    Law school is certainly expensive, and from what people say, the current state of the job market (for prospective lawyers, prospective "anythings"...) makes it risky for one to take on substantial amounts of loans.

    Having said that, getting into law school is supposedly a numbers game. High GPA + LSAT + okay essays and recommendation letters = admission. The higher the GPA, and LSAT scores, the higher the odds of winning a scholarship. Those graduating from top schools seem to have it easier than the rest, when it comes to getting job interviews, which I suspect is because of on-campus recruiting.

    While not everyone is good at standardized testing, busting one's behind to achieve an unusually high LSAT score (say, the 90th percentile) could be potentially useful. Of course, one should be interested in law, and have what it takes for it.

    OP, have you considered investment banking, or business consulting? Not in NYC, but the regional offices...unless you went to a so-called "target school."
  17. Dec 7, 2012 #16
    You shoudn't give up after one year of searching for work. I have known quite a few people who have had to search for work a lot longer than that, myself included. I should say that the most important thing to do not to give up, if anything else. Giving up is the ultimate guarantee of failure!!!

    Try pushing off four resumes a day* to places all around the country, if you are not doing so already. You also may want to get into an internship if you had never done so before. Even if it is unpaid, you will be obtaining work experience. This is an important point. This is one way of breaking out of the work-experience Catch-22 that Human Resources ooh soo love to lodge recent graduates into. If you are lucky, an internship might turn into a job position.

    Of course, if you do manage to find an unpaid internship, it doesn't mean that you have to stop looking for a paid position. But in the event that months pass without finding a paid position, you will at least have gotten somewhere by obtaining the ever-so fabled "work experience" that HR departments want. Hopefully, you should be able to integrate the internship into your work week with your current job at Target should it be unpaid and both the internship and the job at Target be both part-time (been through something like that before, actually).

    I do think that it is within possibility that you could get into certain engineering roles. Some employers do allow for a bit of "play" on the degree that they require a candidate to have.

    *Note: That is what is "suggested", but I myself can only achieve rate of 2 1/2 resumes per day at my very best.
  18. Dec 7, 2012 #17


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    The assumption here is that you'll be able to do something with a law degree. I could be wrong, but I am under the impression that there are a lot more unemployed or underemployed lawyers than there are physicists.
  19. Dec 7, 2012 #18
    ModusPwned's advice is right on with my experience. As an undergrad, I was always led to believe that even if I couldn't get a job "doing physics", I could easily get a job in engineering or, worst case, in programming. It's not until you start looking for jobs that you realize just how far removed physics is from any kind of real job.

    Rika, we're not just sitting around doing nothing. Most physics students work *very* hard- on our homework and research. I worked on research projects every summer, that I went out of my way to find and volunteer for. I thought I was building up a great resume! It's a shock to get out and realize, oh, that was all a waste of time, no one cares about that nonsense, I should have been spending my time learning finance and programming instead if I wanted a job.

    You can make fun of us for being naive if you want. I don't see how an 18 year old can be anything BUT naive, at least when it comes to the job market. College is supposed to help with that, and instead it seems like most physics undergrads get put in a bubble and treated like junior-theorists-in-training.
  20. Dec 7, 2012 #19


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    Who is suggesting this?

    This kind of shotgun approach to job hunting has never seemed all that effective to me.

    To be successful at job hunting you first have to assess the job itself, which means researching it and the company. What would you be doing? What skills does the job require? How much does it pay? What benefits is the company willing to offer? Who would you repoprt to? Etc. This involves talking to someone. Over the phone if you have to. In person if possible.

    There are lots of strategies to get talking with someone:
    - job shadows
    - internships
    - volunteer work
    - summer jobs
    - conferences and trade shows
    - headhunters
    - social networking
    - cold calls

    Once you're talking, you can also ask questions along the lines of:
    - Do you know of anyone else who may be hiring?
    - Are similar positions available?
    - Are there any other positions you think someone with my skill set might be qualified for?

    Once you understand the position, then you prepare a detailed cover letter and a tailored resume or CV and submit it. Address it to a specific contact. THEN submit something through the formal HR system.

    Once submitted you have to follow up as well. Don't harass. Just follow up.

    Simply shotgunning a resume filter may eventually land you a position, but it may not be one that you want.
  21. Dec 7, 2012 #20
    1) It's difficult for me to justify spending 20 minutes tweeking my resume and cover letter for positions that I obviously don't qualify for. When a job description says that an applicant needs a masters, needs 5 years experience, etc, I don't even bother. But trust me, if it's even close, I do apply. I have, admittedly, limited myself geographically because I have a very young sibling, I'd LIKE to not be half a country away, but, yeah.

    2) If things like career builder, monster, indeed.com don't work, then please tell me what does work. How do positions get filled if they don't advertise?

    3) I think my resume is good for having just graduated, I know that visually it is good, it is concise. I've had very few interviews.

    4) The only position I've been offered and turned down was a 6-month SEASONAL gig at a science camp that was literally half way across the country.

    I know a lot of people have this advise. And it may come down to me having to more seriously consider it. But honestly, I just want to get on with my life. The prospect of spending +4 more years studying while working part time is an agonizing one. Not to mention that my parents and I both are already up to our armpits in student loan debt. I would really, really like to not add to it.

    A) Please suggest some other approaches specifically. I've heard this from people before but, I just don't understand how places fill jobs consistently without ever posting them anywhere. If there a secret underground railroad or what?

    B) My school career center did those things, but, it didn't help. They told me the best websites to browse, looked over my resume and my qualifications, all that jazz. They seemed very optimistic, but for one they are paid to seem that way and for another, they aren't scientists. So that was the extent of the help I got there.

    C) I'm not sure what you mean. My university has a few career fairs throughout the year but the big one is for engineering. I've never had much luck there.

    I'm fully aware of all this, I have a high school teacher in my immediate family, and I have one of those "we'll certify you in 5 weeks cuz we're desperate" organizations in my bookmarks. Frankly it sounds like hell but this year's last deadline is in Feb, I'm considering it. It's at the bottom of the pile.

    I guess it just comes down to applying for the right thing at the right time. I've heard a dozen stories about physics B.S. holders working in engineering, chem jobs, pharm jobs, sales jobs... I've applied to things like this often with no better luck. Still trying.

    I find this kind of offensive. I THOUGHT I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I've always loved science. It's honestly not my fault if the progression of education in the US didn't give me an accurate view of what being a professional physicist actually entailed. In high school I followed a chemical engineer around at the university for two days. At the end of those two day I still had NO IDEA what a person could actually do with a degree in chem engineering. And I said as much. And he couldn't give be a good answer. It's not the kind of thing that, in my opinion, you can get a grasp of until you've immersed yourself in it.

    The college courses don't help either. First semester, Gen Phys I. Alright. Second semester, Gen Phys II. There goes a whole year wasted on baby classes that don't paint an accurate representation at all. Third semester, Gen Phys III with the worst professor in the Dept and Quantum with the department's well known crack-pot march-to-my-own-drummer guy. I felt that those, while not too fun, weren't fair classes to judge the whole field on.

    I kept plowing on, even though I didn't really enjoy it, because I'm not a quitter and I kept trying by best. It wasn't until my 4th year that I really came to understand that I wasn't enjoying it. But, by then, you've wasted two years taking all Phys courses that can't be applied to any different degree and you're already in loan dept to your eyeballs. So I plowed through and finished.

    Yeah, it's the sad sad truth. Spend 22 years, one quarter of your life learning stuff? Not good enough!

    Iiii cannot say that I've applied to any positions like that. Are you suggesting going back to school for those things? Don't get me wrong, if I had a time machine and could do it over again I'd just be an accountant or something that just. Makes. Money. But see above for my feelings about going back to school.

    I'll take a harder look at internship opportunities I come across if you think it's worth it, but as for experience, I have one summer of an out-of-state undergrad research an a full two semesters of a dedicated research project I presented, so, I don't think my resume is COMPLETELY lacking in "I have experience"-ness.
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