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Career opportunities for MS vs. BS in Physics

  1. Mar 30, 2014 #1
    I currently have a BS in Physics and am working on my Masters...which isn't going so well for me. Would I be better served dropping out of the Masters and trying to find decent work? Or would I be better served just finishing and then finding work. In other words, is at least a Masters pretty much required to find good work in physics? I just realized I'm terrible at physics and should have never majored in it in the first place...but here I am and there is nothing I know better so I am just exploring my options.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2014 #2


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    If you're terrible at physics and not enjoying it, then perhaps looking to work in the field isn't the best idea.

    It's unlikely that you'll find work in physics with just a bachelor's degree. With an MSc it's a possibility, but remember that there's an excess of PhDs out there and it's difficult to compete against them.

    Whether you should finish the master's degree or not probably depends on how far you are into it. If you've just started, then why torture yourself through the next two or so years. If you're nearly done, then it may be worth your while to plow though - at least for the sense of finishing.

    On top of that, it's probably time to start re-orienting. You have a good education. The trick to finding employment is figuring out how to market yourself. That can mean anything from emphasizing skills that you may already have to putting the time and effort into learning new ones.
  4. Mar 31, 2014 #3
    No you're not terrible at physics, you already have a degree in it which makes you one of the very few people on planet earth who even reach that level. Look at your MS and what you still have to do for it, now sit back and think how much you are dreading it. Get your head down and honestly try your hardest at the thing and in two weeks time if you sit back again and dread it again, then think about making choices. There are honestly endless opportunities out there. How about studying for engineering(if you have the money)? Teaching? Patent law? Finance? business startup? All of these can be available to you with a BS, a decent CV and some inspiration. Although I'd imagine if you really thought about it hard and complete your MS you'll remember why you took it. It happens to me all the time, I hate physics for ages, it's too hard, too mathematical, too abstract, but then something happens and I remember that I never would have chosen anything else anyway. No regrets, even if you choose to pull out of your MS you discovered what you don't want to do, which is equally valuable to you as finding something you do want to do.
  5. Mar 31, 2014 #4
    In the US all MS degrees and programs are not created equal. Are you in the US? There is a big difference between them in terms of what they teach you and what you can get out of them. Some are "academic", they focus on graduate level physics texts and make you do lectures and homework. These are best suited for continuing on to do your PhD and work as an actual physicist. The others are "professional scientist" or similar where you learn industry friendly skills like SEM or photolithography. These are best suited for getting employment in industry, but you will not usually find work in "physics" with this degree.

    What kind of MS are you doing? What is it geared for? Where do the graduates of your MS program end up? If you dont know you should ask your adviser or the coordinator from your program.
  6. Mar 31, 2014 #5
    Thank you for your input. I am a year along, almost done with the semester, so perhaps it'd be worth it to stick it out and do a PhD in a field I'd really like to work in if I can't find anything to do with my MS.

    I'm currently trying to put some time and effort into learning new skills. My research involves programming in MatLab, which I know is a good skill to have, but I really don't want to be stuck in front of a computer for the rest of my days...and that's the only skill my research really allows me to work on.

    So...is it unheard of or a big NO NO to switch advisors? I may have jumped the gun on joining a research group (at the time I thought I'd really enjoy programming much more than I actually am). Perhaps I wouldn't be so down on my future if I was learning a different skillset that I know would be applicable to enjoyable jobs with a healthy market...

    Of course, my advisor has a lot of time and money invested in me, and we work well together so I'd hate to leave him...but would he likely just think, "well these things happen, I'm glad he found something else"?

  7. Mar 31, 2014 #6
    Thanks for the words of encouragement! With the end of the semester being close, perhaps I really will just try harder and maybe I'll start understanding things and I'll enjoy physics again. I'm just so overwhelmed by the material and I don't think I'll ever use it for careers that (now) sound appealing to me so it's just plain tough to buckle down and frustrate myself day in and day out at spending twice as much time as my peers to get half the grades.

    But I am still relatively young (I turned 25 today). I have been in college full time since 18. Thought I was going to med school my whole undergrad. Wasted time and brainpower taking biology. ...So I really like that no regrets part. F*ck it right!

    If I don't get a at least a B+ average this semester I'll get kicked out of the program anyways, so perhaps I really will just give it my best shot and take that as a sign telling me where to go in my future. ...I just hope the low physics grad school GPA won't keep me out of other graduate programs if that's where I decide to go!
  8. Mar 31, 2014 #7
    Thank you for the response. I am in the US, definitely in an "academic" oriented program. There is really no difference in the core classes for the PhD and MS students so all I have been doing is lectures and homework. Lots and lots of homework. And lots of homework. Which I am really struggling with. So I feel pretty pessimistic about being hireable when I get out because I won't have any practical skills besides coding and solving problems, both of which I'm relatively bad at for a physics person.

    I have no idea where graduates from my program end up. My advisor is new to the University so he doesn't know where they end up either. Aside from National Labs, I don't know where these people are going. I don't currently have a good enough GPA to even be considered for the National Labs.

    The "professional scientist" programs sound much more up my alley. But I guess it's too late for that....decisions, decisions.
  9. Apr 1, 2014 #8

    What exactly is it that you want to do? And you may not be good at solving textbook problems which rarely resemble real life problems anyway but if you have an undergraduate in physics then you know how to solve problems or at least how to recognize what information you have and use it to come up with some semblance of a solution. Problem solving takes practice, I was horrible at solving problems until I learned to carefully examine what's given, what I need to find out, and what information I can extract from the given information to find a solution. That takes practice, and lots of it. I also found that actually understanding the equations and knowing the units, solves about half the problem. Anyway, I would figure out what I really want to do, and then plan accordingly. To me it makes more sense to leave physics now and work on something that offers more enjoyable opportunities for you. Maybe an MBA, engineering degree, or project management.
  10. Apr 2, 2014 #9
    We hire a lot of people with BS and MS physics degrees to write software. They make great software engineers. Gaming houses always need people with degrees in physics to write software and so do aerospace and lots of other fields.
  11. Apr 3, 2014 #10
    If you don't love it don't do it. Learning physics is about acquiring the tools you need to actually do physics. Up until now you have been doing other peoples physics. If you are not interested to build upon this base of knowledge then you probably should leave it at this point. Your undergrad work will serve as must as you can use outside of the deeper work of physics which is research. There you will find little money and the few that survive are deeply passionate about their work. The requirement for money is an inconvenient nuisance not a goal.
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