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BS in physics to grad school - engineering or medical physics?

  1. Mar 1, 2013 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm currently a sophomore physics/applied math BS double major at a state school. My goal is to attain a well-paying(or eventually well-paying) job and career working with science and/or math. Preferably, I'd like to have some options as to the location (somewhere in the U.S. or Canada) of where I work. I'm trying to figure out what to do after I graduate, and I'd appreciate any advice or opinions on any of the following:

    1) What are the chances of me finding a well-paying job with just a BS in physics/applied math? I've seen people say that a state BS physics/math degree is a disaster for the job market. I'm working to get internships/ research opportunities now. I know it's difficult to predict the job market in two years, so how is it now? If I were to graduate this spring with a 3.7 gpa in physics/applied math with some research/work experience under my belt, would I have job offers?

    2) Although I'm majoring in physics, I'm also on my university's medical physics MS track. They say they're working toward accreditation from CAMPEP this spring. If they get accredited, and I earn the MS degree, how competitive will I be for a residency? Currently, I'm not sure if the program will feed into the associated hospital's medical physics residency positions. I'm worried that if I have to apply to outside residencies, my MS won't stand a chance competing against PhD's and the like.

    3) Engineering of any sort is also an attractive option. If I wanted to become an engineer (leaning towards biomedical), is it acceptable to graduate with a BS and apply to MS programs? How competitive would I be? I'm learning as much electrical engineering on the side as I can to supplement the biology courses I've taken.

    4) Does a masters count for anything in the programming world? I'm working towards a minor in computer science because programming is such a useful skill. Research doesn't interest me presently. In terms of earning a higher salary faster, would it be better to keep increasing my skill or earn a masters? I feel like getting a foot in the door with just a minor may be very difficult.

    I know I seem scattered with all these interests, but I'm just weighing my options toward achieving my goal: finding a well paying job/career using science of some sort. I can really see myself doing any of the jobs listed above. Thanks for any comments and advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 1, 2013 #2


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    (1) "Disaster" is a little dramatic. The problem is that a physics BSc is an education, not vocational training and so you have to figure out how to market that. Some people parlay the programming or networking skills that they've learned into work. Some people going into engineering research and development in positions that don't specifically require the P.Eng. Some will go on to do some specific professional training.

    No one is going to simply come to you and offer you a job. You can have job offers, but you have to go out hunting for them. And posting a generic resume to a classified website isn't really considered active hunting.

    (2) I'm not sure what you mean by "on your university's medical physics MS track." If this means that the program simply accepts anyone who has enrolled as an undergrad and grants an MSc after say an extra year of medical physics course work this would raise a red flag for me (as someone who has been on medical physicist search and selection committees). Without the bottleneck of admission into a competative, professionally-oriented graduate program the quality of the candidate comes into question compared to those from other, more selective programs. That doesn't mean the candidate him or herself is poor, it just raises a flag. This of course goes away, if for example the school has a selective admissions process.

    PhDs have been more successful in obtaining residencies. From what I've seen in our programs, MSc graduates have gotten residencies or junior physicist positions, they've just had a harder time of it and not gotten what may have been their first choice. The number of accredited residencies in the US is expanding too. It seems to me as if the AAPM is making an effort to address the need for clinical MSc physicists as smaller centres, with, for example introducing "hub and spoke" model residencies.
  4. Mar 1, 2013 #3
    This is true, kind of... there is one (and as far as I know only one) group that actively tries to recruit Physics B.S. holders. Teach for America. They are the only organization that I have seen actually seek out physics B.S. holders (rather than having the graduates seek them out). Besides grad school for PhD or Med Physics, Teach for America was the most popular choice for my graduating class.
  5. Mar 2, 2013 #4
    They give you a medical physics semester map for your undergraduate years. Basically, its an accelerated physics BSc plus some biology and chemistry coursework. You come very close to obtaining the BSc in three years, are admitted into the MSc program after your third undergraduate year, and proceed to study medical physics for two years. There's also a research project in the fifth year. I'm not sure how selective the program is.

    If I were to work for a few years (less than five) to pay off my federal loans, would that disqualify me in any way from medical physics MSc admission? Should I proceed straight from undergraduate to applying to graduate school?

    How dire is the need for clinical medical physicists in the U.S./Canada? I've read in other forums that the new CAMPEP regulations have created a bottleneck of people trying to find residencies. Has that bottleneck opened significantly in the past few years?
  6. Mar 2, 2013 #5


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    Disqualify you - no. To be on the safe side though, it's worth having a look at the fine print with respect to admission requirements. At five years you may be less competative than more recent graduates, but this would depend a lot on what you've done in the meantime. Generally a year or two of work (or travel or something else constructive such as volunteer work or military service) is not consdered a negative thing. Once you get past three or four years though, the question of whether or not any remedial work is necessary comes up.

    This is a question on which there are a lot of opinions and not a lot of data. From what I've seen I think it's anticipated that about 200 new qualified medical physicsist are needed per year in the US, although this number has big error bars on it (~ +/- 100). For Canada, for a simple rule of thumb, just divide by ten. The field of radiatin oncology is expected to grow steadily over the next decade and specialized treatments such as proton therapy are also growing, which will require more physics oversight.

    A couple of years ago there were only ~ 30 accredited residency programs in north america, and on average they would graduate maybe 2 people per year. So it's not too hard to see why people were and still are worried about the bottleneck. There were more students in the field than residencies, and more demand for QMPs than graduating residents. Couple this with a slumping economy where hiring was slow and you can see why many medical physics students had concerns.

    Slowly, I believe the bottleneck issue is being addressed. The number of accredited residencies is expanding to meet demand, but this will take several years.
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