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Careers after Academia

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I recently completed a theoretical particle physics phd from a top 10 school, and to my chagrin, I was unable to land any postdoc position. Most of my phd work was related to next-to-leading-order QCD calculations, so I have a strong math background. For my phd work I was mostly forced into programming in fortran 77. I am self-taught on a bit of C++, and python.

Until that moment, I was laser focused on an academic career, and now I find myself struggling to figure out what to do next. I graduated in May, and have been struggling to find any work ever since. I'm apparently over-qualified for entry level positions, but under-trained for practically anything else. What are some careers that will actually look at a phd physicist?

In discussing quantitative finance with firms in Chicago, I get the impression they will take someone with a master in financial engineering over a phd physicist every time. Now that medical physics has its own masters programs that avenue seems out as well. Who hires particle theorists nowadays? Am I going to have to go back for yet more schooling?
 

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  • #2
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Are you still passionately interested in physics? If you are, why not pass on the passion to children and teach physics in school? You get long holidays and some free time, so why not carry on doing physics research? *Now* you are free to choose exactly what you want to study. Remember Einstein worked in a patent office and at school teaching while revolutionising physics, and he didn't even have a PhD...
 
  • #3
eri
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Have you looked into jobs with defense or energy contractors? They hire a lot of physicists. National Security Technologies is hiring, and many others advertise through Physics Today.
 
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Einstein did,in fact, have a phd.

As for teaching physics in highschool, you may be surprised to learn that very few highschools have enough students taking physics to support a full time physics teacher. Also, with budget cuts among US states, every district I've talked to is firing (not hiring) teachers. I wouldn't mind teaching, but the jobs just aren't there.
 
  • #5
lisab
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Perhaps you should consider talking to a headhunter.
 
  • #6
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In discussing quantitative finance with firms in Chicago, I get the impression they will take someone with a master in financial engineering over a phd physicist every time.
That's because you are talking to people in Chicago. With a few exceptions all of the jobs for physics Ph.D.'s are in NYC. London, or some Asian finance center (Hong Kong or Singapore).

As far as the jobs that people are hiring for. They just past a ton of new financial regulations, and there is massive hiring for people that are good at math that make sure that all of the old models and all of the new models comply with regulations.

Also finance is extremely specialized. There are jobs where people will prefer a masters of finance or MBA over a physics Ph.D., there are jobs that work the reverse. Most jobs in finance prefer an MBA, but there are 100x more new MBA's then new physics Ph.D.'s and when you really *NEED* a physics Ph.D., you hire one.

Now that medical physics has its own masters programs that avenue seems out as well. Who hires particle theorists nowadays? Am I going to have to go back for yet more schooling?
No. You can learn all of the finance that you need in about a month. Pick up a copy of Hull or Wilmott from Amazon, and you'll get all of the finance that you need for an entry level position. The big thing that I'd work on is your C++. Get as good as you can, as fast as you can. Also read some math puzzle books and probability/statistics books.

I'd advice going to www.efinancialcareers.com[/url] or [url]www.dice.com[/url] or [url]www.phds.org[/url] and start finding head hunters. If you want specific HH firms then try [PLAIN]www.gromwellit.com[/URL] and [url]www.comprehensiverecruiting.com[/URL]. If you are really desperate, I can give you some direct contacts, but I've always found it better to go through a HH.
 
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  • #7
Andy Resnick
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I recently completed a theoretical particle physics phd from a top 10 school, and to my chagrin, I was unable to land any postdoc position. Most of my phd work was related to next-to-leading-order QCD calculations, so I have a strong math background. For my phd work I was mostly forced into programming in fortran 77. I am self-taught on a bit of C++, and python.

Until that moment, I was laser focused on an academic career, and now I find myself struggling to figure out what to do next. I graduated in May, and have been struggling to find any work ever since. I'm apparently over-qualified for entry level positions, but under-trained for practically anything else. What are some careers that will actually look at a phd physicist?

In discussing quantitative finance with firms in Chicago, I get the impression they will take someone with a master in financial engineering over a phd physicist every time. Now that medical physics has its own masters programs that avenue seems out as well. Who hires particle theorists nowadays? Am I going to have to go back for yet more schooling?
I was in a similar position upon graduation- I was unable to find a postdoc upon graduation.

Fortunately (although it didn't seem that way at the time), I was forced to get a job doing something different than my PhD research. I had to take a job completely unrelated to any skill I had developed in school.

With the benefit of hindsight, I'm glad I got the job. At the time I didn't want it, but since I had to work (we all do, at some point), I took it and stayed long enough to get a job I *wanted*- it's easier to get a job if you have a job. And, that job got me on a career path that ultimately led back to academic research.

Perhaps it's cliche' to use the phrase "get out of your comfort zone", but I can attest to both the utility and to the difficulty of that process. You had a career plan (which is good), but that plan failed- and that's not a reflection on you or your work. What's your backup plan? You should have (at least) *one* useful skill- get a job doing that. If you have *no* useful skills, then fake it well enough to get hired. And then start looking for a better job.
 
  • #8
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I recently completed a theoretical particle physics phd from a top 10 school, and to my chagrin, I was unable to land any postdoc position. Most of my phd work was related to next-to-leading-order QCD calculations, so I have a strong math background. For my phd work I was mostly forced into programming in fortran 77. I am self-taught on a bit of C++, and python.

Until that moment, I was laser focused on an academic career, and now I find myself struggling to figure out what to do next. I graduated in May, and have been struggling to find any work ever since. I'm apparently over-qualified for entry level positions, but under-trained for practically anything else. What are some careers that will actually look at a phd physicist?

In discussing quantitative finance with firms in Chicago, I get the impression they will take someone with a master in financial engineering over a phd physicist every time. Now that medical physics has its own masters programs that avenue seems out as well. Who hires particle theorists nowadays? Am I going to have to go back for yet more schooling?
Definitely apply to medical physics programs. You have a better chance getting a residency than someone with a medical physics degree since medical physics degrees aren't worth the paper they're printed on.
 
  • #9
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I'm surprised the US are not hiring physics teachers. Last time I looked (some time ago, I admit...) they were desperate for physics teachers in the UK.

Could you not teach mathematics?

Can new graduates still get finance jobs after 2008? You entered the profession in the boom years two-quant...

Here's an interesting, recent report of early-career opportunities taken up by PhD's in physics (UK bias):

http://www.stfc.ac.uk/resources/pdf/EarlyCareer.pdf [Broken]

Grounds for optimism, if you are flexible!
 
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  • #10
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I'm surprised the US are not hiring physics teachers. Last time I looked (some time ago, I admit...) they were desperate for physics teachers in the UK.
This is a very bad time to be a teacher in the US... district budgets are being cut left and right and teachers are being let go as a result.

Usually, you are correct, they are desperate for math and science teachers. But these last two years have not been usual...
 
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