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Physics Career Information for Physics Majors

  1. May 9, 2007 #1
    Out of curiosity, how valuable is a physics degree as compared with an electrical engineering degree, aerospace engineering degree, or materials engineering degree? Will a physics degree be very useful in private industry. I kinda want to work in private research and development, but I want it to be applied physics rather than theoretical. All comments are definately appreciated. If you are reading this, I would love to hear anything you have to say Thanks:cool:
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2007 #2
    No one has any comments at all?
  4. May 10, 2007 #3
    Any advice would be better than no advice.
  5. May 10, 2007 #4
    Not true! No advice is better than bad advice.

    Anyhow, there could be lots of reasons you aren't getting the response you want here. The most likely, in my opinion, is that you haven't supplied enough information.

    A physics degree will be much less useful than an electrical engineering degree when doing electrical engineering. A physics degree will be less useful than a materials engineering degree when doing materials engineering. A physics degree will be more useful than any of those when studying superconductivity or galactic rotational rates.

    I think you'll need to give more information about what you want to do before anyone can give you much of an idea which one of those degrees to get.

    Please note that a great deal of discussion has been had on this subject over time, so some past threads might be worth checking out.
  6. May 10, 2007 #5


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    Well in my opinion, a 4 year engineering degree is more versatile than a 4 year physics degree when entering the work force after graduation. If you want to do research and development, you will most likely need a graduate degree in whichever field you pursue. So part of it depends on how far you want to take your education. There are more physics opportunities in research for people with graduate level training than with a BSc.
  7. May 10, 2007 #6
    Before I graduated, and before I decided to go to graduate school, I did quite an intensive job search, and even went to an interview, so I know a bit about this. Virtually all of the jobs I looked at asked for engineering degrees. Many of them were also looking for math majors, which in fact is how I got my foot in the door (I have a math degree too). But only one or two of the 20+ jobs I applied for were asking for physics majors.

    Of course, I used the search service for my university's science and engineering college. In retrospect, if I had looked more selectively at places like 3M, Hitachi, etc., or maybe gone to the APS website, I might have had better luck...of course then I wouldn't be going to grad school. Anyway, my understanding is that an engineering degree is far more versatile than a physics degree. Now if you get an MS in physics, that's an entirely different story.
  8. May 11, 2007 #7
    Whats the status of research "jobs" in physics? (Assuming you get a PhD in physics)?
  9. May 11, 2007 #8
    Are you saying that obtaining a Master's Degree in Physics is a far superior option. I have, indeed, considered graduate school. Which do you feel is a better option: a master's degree in engineering or a master's in physics? I plan on staying 6 years for a master's degree, and believe that in time, the company I work for might be willing to pay for my PhD. Does this change which degree is more valuable? I am also toying with the idea of double-majoring in a physics and an engineering?
    Always open to comments.
  10. May 11, 2007 #9
    Physicists tend to fall into two camps: Operators of big machinery such as nuclear reactors, accelerators, imaging systems, observatories and so on; and the real 'blue-sky thinkers' of the technology world; those who come up with new ideas whose applications may not be immediately clear but can be used as a starting point for all manner of new discoveries. The latter are quite often undervalued and underpaid since it's difficult to justify what they do to a small-minded manager.
  11. May 11, 2007 #10
    Excellent question. Unfortunately the information I can give here is extremely limited, since I myself am only starting my PhD (and I don't have a master's). I do know, however, that having a physics MS opens up several more options, including teaching at community colleges, and research-oriented jobs in industries such as IBM, 3M, Hitachi, etc. None of the jobs I applied for with my physics BS were physics jobs per se, rather they were computer or technology oriented. So the difference with an MS is that you'll actually be eligible for physics-related jobs.

    Now as to which degree is superior, this depends on what you'd like to do. Are you more interested in doing science, or in engineering? Or are you just interested in making money (no shame in that)? Based on what I know from all my fellow graduates who majored in engineering, an engineering BS is sufficient to get an engineering job. So if you want to work in an engineering-type profession, or if you're just in it for the money, then an MS in engineering isn't all that useful. If you want to be a physicist, then you need at least an MS in physics.

    So basically you have three options. You could get a physics BS, and work in a general science and technology job. You could get a physics MS, which would take an extra two years, and then work as an industry physicist. Or you could get a BS in engineering and get a decent engineering job straight out of college.

    Of course, double majoring in physics and engineering is also possible. I had a friend in college who double majored in physics and chemical engineering, and then went to law school to do patent law. Of course, this isn't the easiest, since both physics and engineering are pretty homework-intensive studies. There's another option: many physics departments have an engineering option. My school allowed physics majors to do an "engineering emphasis." I know that other departments offer a completely separate major called engineering physics. This would allow you to study physics, but give you the option of applying for engineering jobs when you get out of college, if you wish.

    Anyway, I hope I've been helpful. Sorry I couldn't say more, but as I said, my information on employment options for people with graduate degrees is pretty limited.
  12. May 11, 2007 #11
    thank you very much for your help; you have given me a great deal to think about. I guess my ideal dream job would be an applied r and d job (kinda of like the job that Bruce Wayne has in Batman begins)--works in a lab improving different things, building/creating gadgets and such that help with a specific problem, ect. I know that money is not the most important thing, but i would definitely be classified as a family person, so I would be looking for a job that pays out between $80,000-$100,000 after 5-7 years. Ideally, the starting pay (I plan on a master's degree) will be $65,000-$70,000 to begin.
  13. May 15, 2007 #12
    65k-75k is highly unlikely, even with a masters. Just about everyone starts out fairly low, but many can rise quickly. This is one complaint common from employers - unreasonable pay expectations from future employees. There are few situations where anyone is worth 70k walking out of college to an employer. Your education mostly proves you can learn; surprisingly little of it will be of direct benefit the first day on the job.
  14. May 15, 2007 #13
    interesting, I got the average salary for physicists with master's degrees to be in that range from the bureau of labor website. They said something like $66,000 for masters and $72,000 for phds was the average salary. I figured that I could get somewhere above the average. Perhaps I was too optomistic
  15. May 16, 2007 #14
    From the Occupational Outlook Handbook at the BLS
  16. May 16, 2007 #15
    From the Labor Statistics page I found:

    In my opinion, that is still inflated, due to confusion about when a physicist "starts". 80-100k is certainly doable after 5-8 years of experience as a physicist assuming you are working in industry and perform exceptionally.
  17. May 16, 2007 #16
    Why do you think that it is so low Locrian. I mean, engineers with bachelor's degrees make that much money straight out of college-in the $50,000 range.
    Surely a Phd physicist is worth more than a bachelor's engineer.
    What do you think?
  18. May 16, 2007 #17
    To whom? There was a time when they were worth a great deal to universities, but there has been more PhD physicists produced than university jobs to fill for almost 40 years now. This has resulted in exceedingly long postdoc terms at surprisingly low pay.

    I think you are placing way too much emphasis on starting pay. If a phd physicist starts off at a lower pay only to have it rise significantly over just a couple of years, that would allow the degree to show some value. Like I said, employers commonly complain about starting salary demands. This is true for many professions, including those hiring MBA and doctors as well. The truth is that a company has a great deal of educating their employee to do, and it will be years before they are really getting good value from them. Don't let it ruffle your feathers if starting pays aren't what you want to retire on.

    Of course, as many here will point out, there is a very wide variation between pays for physicists. If you are interested in medical physics, then actually I would have to admit your salary might well be much better than has been suggested in this thread. . . assuming that job prospects are as hot in 3-8 years as they are now. If you go into some abstract area of theory it will take you a decade to reach what an EE makes out the college door.

    After 2.5 years in industry and 1/2 way through a masters program I offer the following advice: Decide what area of physics you want to work in, and only then look to see what they make!
  19. May 16, 2007 #18
    What about optical physics? Or how about nanophotonics?
  20. May 17, 2007 #19
    Yes, this is very true for industry (though probably not as much for academia). My graduate nuclear engineering professors consistently tell their classes that for the first few years of their employment in industry and national labs, they are pretty much relegated to simple (well, simple for an engineer) tasks and portions of projects. Heading up projects requires years of training and experience, and employers generally understand this.
  21. May 19, 2007 #20
    All right guys, I recently had a meeting with an aerospace guy and am now convinced that my career paths will either be Electrical Engineering or Physics? How does one choose between these two?
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