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Physics B.S. in Physics - unemployable?

  1. Apr 5, 2012 #1
    I'll try not to give my entire life story. Basically, I realized that I wasn't in love with physics 3/4 of the way through my coursework. With only physics courses, I couldn't change majors without a lot more schooling. Up to my eyeballs in student loan debt, lots more schooling wasn't an option. So, I graduated with a B.S. in physics in December. I've been job hunting ever since. I'm not considering a Masters in physics, because, again, I'm not in love with it.

    There are so few positions available where is B.S. is enough. I knew going in that the market wouldn't be fantastic, but it's been downright terrible. The few listings I come across where a B.S. is (supposedly) sufficient, the majority of those jobs require 3-5 years of specialized experience in systems or tasks I've usually never heard of. Thus, only a tiny fraction of listings I come across seem to be any kind of fit for me. I've only gotten a couple of interviews, mostly I never hear back at all. I can only assume that, being fresh from school, my lack of CAREER experience makes me unattractive.

    My basic query here is, does anyone have any helpful advise? An angle I've overlooked, anything?

    Since I've never been able to find a physics or science related job site that was worth its weight in spit, for the most part I use Indeed.com. A general career adviser highly recommended it to me. It gathers all the listings from all kinds of websites. I just search for "physics" by state, and sift through the results. I do use other search terms, and other sites; I peruse university websites and the like from time to time.

    Thanks for any advise.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2012 #2


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    Yes, it's a tough market, for sure.

    Several years ago I would enthusiastically encourage people to go into physics (or chemistry). Now I tell them, why don't you consider engineering instead? I do this based on my own experiences, and also stories like yours.

    You need to be more aggressive in marketing yourself. In your resume and cover letter, be sure to mention extensive problem solving, programming skills, instruments you've worked with, etc. Since many hiring managers don't really know what skills a physics major has, you should mention coursework like thermodynamics, electronics, optics, etc.

    Also...why don't you consider engineering? Look around at master's programs that might interest you.
  4. Apr 5, 2012 #3
    Give up on a job doing science or engineering, its probably not going to happen. Start looking at any jobs where having a touch of math can be useful. Look at insurance, finance, programming, etc. Look for jobs that require a bachelors, not a bachelors in physics.
  5. Apr 5, 2012 #4
    Not sure how helpful this will be, but I’ll do my best.

    First, many entry level jobs are not posted anywhere. Firms don’t have to because it just isn’t that hard to find entry level candidates. You need to start networking. I found my first job (with a BS in physics) by querying professors in my physics department – one passed my name on to a local research firm. You probably won’t have the same luck, but that’s an example of the type of hunting you’ll have to do. I remember reading a post here long ago about someone who traveled and, as they passed through a city, looked up the names of small firms in the area and sent their resume to them with a note stating they were in town if an interview was warranted. It apparently worked for them. Carpet bombing the US with resumes is another option, though it does have drawbacks. Entry level people are often too picky and/or shy; if you need a job, then it’s a numbers game, and more opportunities increase the likelihood of success. You only need one job, after all.

    Secondly, it sounds like you’ve restricted yourself to a job related to your major. If that’s true then I think you should expand to include . . . well, everything. Technology, sales, programming – anything you can get into. It’s not like you love physics, and frankly most jobs you could end up with in science are no better than anything else.

    Finally, I like lisab’s point about emphasizing skills you learned in school. And by that, I do not mean the ability to solve homework or test problems. I mean – as she mentioned – useful skills like instrumentation, project design, lab experience, etc. I do disagree with her about the use of the term “problem solving”, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. Instead, I suggest you actually include examples of problems you solved in the resume (edit: upon reading Lisab's post again, I think that's actually what she was saying; my mistake).

    Best of luck,

  6. Apr 5, 2012 #5


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    ParticleGirl, I understand your annoyance with science, but why even Engineering doesn't seem employable?
  7. Apr 5, 2012 #6
    One thing that I found useful was to send my resume to anyone that seemed to have any sort of remotely useful job even if I didn't meet the qualifications. What you'll often find is that you are not qualfied for the listed job, but there is an unlisted job that isn't there.

    The fact that you are getting interviews is a good sign. Just keep plugging away at it. One other thing is that the economy seems to be improving.

    Also you will be the wrong person for most of the jobs you apply to. It doesn't matter how many people say no, as long as one person says yes.

    I found dice.com to be useful. Also local websites tend to be good.

    The problem with doing this is that most physics majors end up doing things that have no obvious relationship to physics. I.e. computer programming.
  8. Apr 5, 2012 #7
    In my experience, an engineering company will hire a physics major for an intro position if they can't find an engineer for it, probably because evaluating engineers is something they are familiar with. Right now, that isn't going to be the case, and its going to be hard to sneak the physics major in there.
  9. Apr 5, 2012 #8

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    First, college isn't trade school. It's the exception, not the rule, that there is a one-to-one correspondence between job and major. Engineering, nursing and "business" (although that's more a function of a vague major description than anything else) might, but history, French literature or chemistry do not. What this means is that you need to think about what you learned and how your future employer can use that to make money. Once you've figured that out, then you can go on to the next step, how to market yourself.

    I worked in industry before grad school. My position was that I could program - not as well as a CS major, but well enough. (In fact, I technically worked for the IT department) I understood instrumentation - not as well as a EE, but well enough. I understood statistics - not as well as a statistician, but well enough. They could maybe do a little better job by hiring three separate people, but why would they want to?
  10. Apr 5, 2012 #9


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    This. I think the cynical attitude many have towards their outcome is pushing it. Just because you studied X doesn't mean you will find a job doing X. It's supply and demand. However, it has been discussed tons of time that you can go into different areas (and I mean fields and also geographical locations). Now, if you don't want to go into those areas, then that is tough.
  11. Apr 5, 2012 #10
    Thank you for your replies.

    I do highlight the research I've done/talks I've given/things I've been selected for/etc, and I do include a list of course highlights. I go into more detail on these in cover letters.

    That actually is something I've just begun to explore. Geophysics, museum studies, engineering, etc. The problem of course, (other than getting in, obviously,) is paying for it all on top of loan payments.

    Specifically, do you know a good way to look for jobs that require just any bachelor's? It's not so bad searching city by city on some sites, where you can highlight the right educational search option, I've done that for my immediate area. But I don't have a way to do that on a large scale without getting a million hits.

    As I said, I do search for other terms, I'd hoped that would indicate that I was searching for what I cold outside of physics itself. I search for astronomy, generic science, chemistry. one of my only interviews was with a tech sales company.

    I know that that's good advice - you can't get hired if you don't try - but I still find that difficult at times. Applying for something when I clearly don't meet all the requirements doesn't always sit right with me.
  12. Apr 5, 2012 #11
    In general employers don't care what courses you've taken. They care more about what projects that you've done. If you haven't done any sort of internship (including undergraduate research) that's going make things more difficult.

    Narrow things down to about a hundred or so, and then spam your resume. Also, start with jobs that are close to where you live. For basic entry level jobs, employers are often reluctant to hire people that are far away when they can get people close by.

    Find the technology center that is closest to where you live and start there.

    Check with your career services to see which companies interview at your school.

    How did you do?

    If you are getting interviews with a tech sales company, then that means that they are hiring, and you can search for other tech sales companies.

    You've got to change your viewpoint. Job ads will usually not list the real requirements, and sometimes that's because the employer doesn't know themselves what the real requirements are.

    The point of a resume is so that the employer can quickly say no.
  13. Apr 6, 2012 #12
    Exactly. I took a couple flash drives full of projects and some printouts to every interview I ever went to. These projects were also listed on my resume but I treated every interview like my personal show and tell. Out of about 20 interviews, only 2 refused to even look at my projects but I think this was mostly because they had absolutely no knowledge of what I did which is usually the case with the first interviewer. They were many times when I would break out my projects and the HR person would go grab someone more technical to check out my work. Boom, second interview in the bag.

    I fully agree with what lisab said about hiring managers don't know what a physics degree really is which is even more reason to do a show and tell to them.
  14. Apr 6, 2012 #13
    Practical work, projects and internships matter alot !
    This leads to excelled knowledge and on-hands experience. Meeting interesting and higher management people allows one learn critical things and advertise his or her skillls.

    I have done my internship in BASF chemical company before I even enrolled in bachelors ! Was worth every minute. Got to experience a complete shut down and over all of the plant.

    However, I HAVE A QUESTION to this interesting thread.

    I have enrolled in "B.Eng" in "Engineering Physics" - Does any one have anything to say about it ? What job oppertunities are there ? I love physics and have excelled knowledge in it as well but I would like to join industry rather than being a professor.

    Also what would be a very good masters after this bachelors (I have great interest in mechanical, megatronics, nanotechnology )
  15. Apr 7, 2012 #14
    I think you may be taking about a post of mine
    While my original job hunt was over 25 years ago, it was in tail end of the 2nd worst economy the US has had sine the 1930s, so while the some of the specifics are dated I still think there are some useful tips there
  16. Apr 7, 2012 #15
    While you may not be excited about it, you could always seek an internship as they are typically easier to get and it might help you understand what your interest really is.

    I feel kind of the same way that you do about physics, while I think it is interesting, it isn't exactly the right fit for me but due to being so far along I am completing the degree anyway (this May).

    That said I applied for a Process Engineer position in the semiconductor industry and it is seeming pretty likely that I'll get the job at this point. No experience required but preferred kind of thing. Interviews seem tailored to my background/resume which is a nice plus. It might be worth a shot to apply for something like this.

    The only other thing that I'll mention is that you should rewrite your resume specific to the job that you are applying for emphasizing the specific aspect of your education that applies or any work history/projects that may be relevant.
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