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Physics Career with a physics degree

  1. Oct 25, 2008 #1

    I am about to choose which course i am going into for my university eduction, and i am planning to major in physics. However i am wondering about the career opportunities as a physics grad.

    From the university's website and from what i heard, a physics graduate can go into academia and study theoretical physics full time, or become a engineer, into teaching, finance and business and even medical physics.

    The thing is, are all those claims true. Every time my friends ask me, what can i do if i have a physics degree, i go speechless. Cause, if a firm wants to, say, hire a Aerospace engineer, surely he will choose someone with a Aerospace engineering degree instead one with a physics degree. The same goes with other forms of engineering. And who will hire a physics grad to do commerce instead business grad. For bank and finance, why should companies not hire someone will a degree in financial engineering or qualitative finance? So i am a bit confused. Who would hire a physics grad?

    Any help will be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2008 #2


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    Physics grads can generally do most jobs that engineers do (except for a few Civil jobs that need PE/CEng) plusmost jobs that maths grads can do and everything CSgrads can do.
    Companies hire physicists either becaue they have an area that crosses several domains - you can hire an aerospace engineer to tell you how thick to make the landing gear strut, but you hire a physicist to design the wind tunnel + instrumentation + software.
    Or they want someone whois perceived as more general and can manage groups of engineers.

    With a physics degree (or higher) you won't necessarilywalk straight into a entry level engineering job - but you probably won't starve.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2008
  4. Oct 25, 2008 #3


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    The thing with a physics degree is that few employers specifically look for physics graduates, but that doesn't mean they don't want them. Physicsts have a unique skill set that they have to figure out how to market.

    All of the jobs you've listed are possible from a physics degree. To get into a formal engineering position however, because it is a profession, it may require at least some re-schooling.

    Why would someone hire a physicist for a finance position when they can hire someone with a finance degree? Because the physicist can solve problems that the business graduate can't.
  5. Oct 26, 2008 #4
    But the thing is that physicist don't know how businesses work, or anything about finance. Certainly someone with a business/ finance degree can do a job better. And the point of marketing yourself as " physics grad is smarter than business grad " so you should hire me seem to be stretching it a bit.

    And its very hard to believe that companies will choose to hire say physicist instead of aerospace engineers cause those engineers can't design wind tunnel. Plus what physics grad learn have little to no application to aerospace. How can solid state physic or quantum or relativity be or use in the aerospace industry, for example.
  6. Oct 26, 2008 #5


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    Which is easier - for a finance guy working in a bank to pickup differential analysis, or a maths/physics guy to pickup finance?

    If you want somebody to design a new wing shape - do you hire an aerospace engineer who knows the strength ratings existing designs or a physicist specialising in fluid dynamics / non-linear diff eqn / computer models and data analysis.
  7. Oct 27, 2008 #6
    Hmmm, very good point. So if a physic major is going to work in engineering related field, and from what you mention, can i say that he definitely need something more that a basic degree. Most probably a masters or a phd?
  8. Oct 28, 2008 #7
    I have the same dilemma. I switched out of Materials Science Engineering from UofT after completing the first semester in first year, i hated it, so after switching I didn't really look back. Of course at first I felt "Is this really the right thing to do?". But seeing as how my friends in Second Year now are smothered with work and tons of labs I think I made the right choice. I say don't worry about jobs now. Finish whatever you want to study, then worry about that later. Unless of course your parents are resting the responsibility of upholding the family to you.
  9. Oct 28, 2008 #8
    On one end of the spectrum in finance, you have jobs that require very little math - basic understanding of methods of determining present values of payments, accounting principles, etc. Of course, these jobs also typically require good interpersonal skills, a good feel for politics, and often excellent salesmanship. Some people are born with those things, but for most of us those are a lot harder to learn than differential analysis.

    On the other end of the spectrum you have jobs in finance like quantitative analysis, which requires you to know differential analysis anyways.

    To me, the above quote is deceptive under any reasonable interpretation.
  10. Oct 28, 2008 #9


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    It wasn't meant as a comment on finance grads - I was assuming a job as a quant.
    It was more that if you are in a bank, surrounded by financial people is it easier to pick up any finance stuff you don't know from those people or would it be easier if you were an economics grad to pickup advanced maths by yourself.

    (That leaves out how little of an economics degree is of any use as a quant)
  11. Oct 30, 2008 #10
    My advisor (now a professor of physics) was once a Banker...

    I am currently working at a small company that does direct laser-writing of waveguides, grin lenses, and physical micro features into blocks of fused silica glass. Then we use these micro-machined chips for things like flow cytometers, particle characterization devices, and other industrial and medical sensors. So it's really a mix of Engineering, chemistry, optics, photonics, biophotonics and "hardcore" laser physics! We are pretty much a company of Physicists, Chemists and BioChemists.

    Small, High-tech companies like this generally are pretty good places for physicists to work, in my opinion.
  12. Oct 31, 2008 #11
    But to work as what you have mentioned Flying fish, would you need a Phd?
  13. Oct 31, 2008 #12
    Not necessarily...out of 12 employees we only have 4 PhD's (and I'm not one of them...in fact I'm just almost out of my undergraduate physics program). Of course, I'm carrying out the dirty work for the PHDs...but I still consider it to be very interesting work. My main project this semester is supposed to be laser trap sorting of human blood components, but I do get pushed around to other projects quite often when they need me.

    In the long run it might be a good idea to get a PHD. Especially if you want to get into the really physics intensive stuff, like the laser micromaching being an example. Also, I imagine PHDs probably get pushed around less than undergrads!
  14. Jan 24, 2011 #13
    hello everone thank you for this interesting chat actually i need some help i need to know what can a person do other than teaching and research?? can he contiune to become an engineer or technician
    second question what does it mean when a person has a master degree in physics?(please elaborate)
    i really love physics and thats why i have one more question i am from leabon and i wanna continue in australlia what shoudl i do??
  15. Feb 16, 2012 #14
    Physicists can get into engineering jobs, because, as a Texas Instruments rep told me, "We're looking for smart people. We know that a physicist, chemist or mathematician can do anything, while that may not be true of someone with another degree." However, I never recommend engineering to any young person, because American engineering is being handed over to other countries and H1B Visa holders - without competition, to further the Globalist agenda.
  16. Feb 16, 2012 #15
    If you love physics, then work as a physicist. You know, "Follow your bliss."
  17. Feb 16, 2012 #16
    You'd be amazed how much angst, disappointment, anger, suffering, resentment and angst can come from following advice like this.
  18. Feb 17, 2012 #17
    You can learn. If you can do quantum field theory, then you can buy some books from Amazon and learn what finance and management skills you need. Yes no one in graduate school teaches you how to write a resume, but if you know QFT, you will be able to figure out how to write a resume, whereas, if you just know how to write a resume, you won't be able to figure out QFT.

    For some jobs (like mine), that's just not true. With the exception of some very heavily statistical parts of finance and operations research, people with those degrees don't have the necessary math skills.

    For some jobs, the marketing has already been done. The other thing to remember is that a physics major that is fresh out of school has little business experience, but aside from internships, neither does a fresh MBA.

    Don't know about aerospace but there are some deep connections between physics and finance. General relativity is used in modelling foreign exchange markets, for example, (google for "geometric arbitrage theory").
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