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Careers in science

  1. Dec 29, 2004 #1
    What do science majors do when they finally get their diploma, how is conducting research like, how is job availability, pay like ?
    What kind of work do people holding an S.D do ?

    Read what physics professor Jonathan I. Katz has to say !

    http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2004 #2


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    Date of the article:
    Thu May 13 12:39:11 CDT 1999
  4. Dec 29, 2004 #3
    Purhaps he is taking a pestimistic view on graduate schooling and physical sciences. But have things really changed that much in six years????
  5. Dec 29, 2004 #4
    That bit about having to move and look for a job every two years didn't sound very good. If things are that bad and the industry is that overstaffed it might be better to hide your phd and become viable for more jobs.
  6. Dec 29, 2004 #5


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    A past instructor (very intelligent and graduated from a pretty prestigious university) of mine had a Master's degree in Physics, and could only be hired at a local community college. His annual salary is around $25k/year; he's not even tenured, and the chance of him ever being tenured is low. It seems that a Master's degree in Mathematics and Physics will usually top out at $50k/yr, with tenure and an extensive teaching background.

    This is part of the reason I changed my major from Physics to a double major in Computer Science and Mathematics (with a concentration in Computer Science). With a B.S in CS, and 2-3 years of experience, I can expect around $50k - $70k/yr as a UNIX administrator in Tennessee, where the cost of living is *very* low. If I go for a Master's or a Postdoc in Computer Science, I can even expect more.

    As Katz said, working fascinating scientific problems that you're interested in and having a feeling that you're contributing to society in some manner is fun, however, having the feeling that all your work (5-7 years for a Postdoc or Master's) hasn't gone to waste is not very fun, either.
  7. Dec 30, 2004 #6
    One thing that Katz misses is that research isn't really conducted in academia. It is, at one level, but at a greater level, with more gov't funding, it's conducted at research companies/corporations. I figure one can still be a scientist but they'll have to prove their worth by ground breaking research/insight that they're smart and only by that will they end up working for a company, as a scientist.
  8. Dec 30, 2004 #7


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    What Katz has neglected to do is look also at situations where fresh physics Ph.D's are being offered jobs upwards of $70,000 a year not in academia, but in industries.

    Again, what is being said is nothing new. There's a thread somewhere in PF where I have written length essays about job prospects and "employability" in physics, and how they are highly dependent on what area of physics you specialized in, and whether you're a theorist or an experimentalist. If you are doing string theory, with no other skills, then you shouldn't be surprised if there aren't really a lot of people clamoring for you when you graduate. This should no longer be a surprise to anyone!

    I would bet that for every person Jonathan Katz claims whose life was "ruined" by getting a Ph.D in physics, I can find another person who graduated with that degree and got a lucrative job. For a physicist, he certainly pays way too much attention to anecdotal evidence. The statistics reveal a situation a lot rosier than that![1] Anyone who does not believe this can simply look at the job openings listed every week at the two links I gave earlier on here and listed in my Journal.

    Moral of the story: How employable you are depends very much on what degree you have (B.Sc, M.Sc, Ph.D), what area of physics you specialized in, and what skills you possess. You will be astounded how large of a variation this can get.


    [1] http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/emptrends.html
  9. Dec 30, 2004 #8
    While I don't have a college degree from what I've seen as far as jobs it has alot to do with where you look, combined with how you're going to market your skills. Just because you have a degree doesn't mean jobs suddenly appear. The Degree and resume possibly get you the job interview. The interview is what might get you the job. Academia has been for quite some time, one of the lowest paid and overworked areas for employment across the board(I'm married to a teacher, trust me on this) even in prestegious schools. Industry is more likely to have employment opportunities for science related degrees. You'll also as I said above have to market your skills well. Look at the people in your degree program with you, they're all getting the same education you are, they're therefore competing in the same job market as you, for the same jobs. Specialization narrows the job field and becasue of that you may need to seriously look at moving to where that type of job is. Also you have to be open to working in a related field of your degree not just within the confines of exactly what you specialized in. That's where marketing your skills comes into play other than what may be listed on a resume.
  10. Dec 30, 2004 #9


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    I think what you said echoes what I wrote in "My Physics Experience" essay in my journal. In it, I said:

    I have had to sometime smack some students on the back of the head to make them realize this, especially when they're whinning that none of the stuff they're doing have any relevance to their field of study ("Why should I have to learn how to make thin film junctions when I'm going to be a theorist anyway?") [OK, no, so I didn't actually smack them, but I wanted to!:)] Many of them also do not care to get involved in various other projects that do not seem to fit into what they think they will be doing.

    And then they complain that they can't find a job upon graduation! Yowzah!

  11. Dec 30, 2004 #10

    Dr Transport

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    I agree, the way to go with an advanced degree in Physics is towards industry. The academic world is not that good. Tenure now is based on how much money you bring in not on the quality of your research and teaching. I have seen people who should be tenured given the boot and people I wouldn't hire to teach my six year old given tenure and promotion to full professor early solely because they brought in a bunch of money.

    After I earned my first masters, I built houses and worked odd jobs. My first physics job was at a community college teaching one semster a year, 12 hours a week for 250 dollars a week. Mind you, $21 an hour to teach was good but when you spend 10 hours a week grading and having office hours unpaid and another 10 hours preparing notes, the cash just wasn't there. After 2 years of that and no chance to get a full time job at the school I went back for my PhD. I worked part time in industry while writting my dissertation and then got an industrial job. Pay is great, after 3 years I got an opportunity to get back into doing what I wanted to do and jumped at it. the key to making int in industry is that you have to be flexible and be prepared to learn a new skill set every 5 years or so. I have gone from pure physics to optical system engineering, laser lethality work (i.e. how high lasers affect tracking systems etc...), radar systems and finally optical materials which is where my education lies. It took 10 years working in school and in industry to get something worth while on the job front.

    If you have a degree right now or are getting one, you won't find a job unless you have skills and can apply them. The two most important ones are programming and the ability to learn another area quickly. The best education I ever got was a year on the shop floor working with the guys who actually build the final product. They tell you if they can't make something to specs, tolarances etc. I have seen engineers who have spent their entire life designing parts not knowing that it cannot be built. They specify tolarances to the 6th decimal place, take the opinion that 3.14159 is not a good approximation for pi, they complain that when measurements are made the measurement doesn't match their model and blame the guys in the range for the discrepancy.

  12. Dec 30, 2004 #11
    for what it's worth, I've emailed Dr. Katz and he replied saing that, "Yes. What I wrote is still valid." But even still, it's just plain common sense to diversify to increase your chances of getting a job and to look at areas outside of academia.
  13. Dec 31, 2004 #12
    US is not the world
    My cousin (Phd from Cambridge,Post doc from CERN)is now a research fellow of PPARC.He is a theoritical physicist working on Dynamo theory.
  14. Jan 1, 2005 #13
    So the situation in the us is pretty hectic for a theoretical phycisist,i would certainly like to work in that field, so poolwin are you saying the situation is better in the uk?
  15. Jan 1, 2005 #14

    Dr Transport

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    If you want to do pure theory in the US you pretty much have to work in either academics or for a federally funded lab. If you go the academic route, be prepared to take a series of low paying post-docs, live like a pauper and publish like mad. If and when you hold out long enough to get a faculty position, be prepared to be subservient to anyone who affects a vote of your tenure status. Also be prepared to get grant/contract monies to the tune of 2-3 times your annual salary and hope that it is enough to buy tenure. If you are lucky enough to land a position without a post-doc, unless you are of the caliber of a Frank Wilczek or Ed Witten, losts of luck, you'll need it.

    I don't know what the situation in Europe is like, I have never been there and not looked for a position.
  16. Dec 1, 2005 #15


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    After reading comments about Paul S. Halmos (mathematician) and Albert Einstein himself, they recommended to not put any focus on other areas that require any brain "power".

    Einstein liked his patent office job because it didn't require anything mentally, for him anyways.

    Halmos was politically active, then stopped because it took too much time. No person has the time to get into several areas in their time, unless a genius, but again even Einstein didn't do that.

    I understand that if you are taking the class you might as well know the stuff, but it's another thing to go and research in these areas when you could be researching in what you'd like to research in.

    For example, I would like to become a Pure Mathematician, but I am willing to learn about the applications of mathematics when taught in the course or if it's just a simple read of another section, even more than those heading into Applied Mathematics!

    (I saw the various subjects Linear Algebra gets involved in, and I'm more than "wanting" to learn some of its applications. Unfortunately, the doors of learning more pure mathematics has opened, so I'll take that one.)

    Note: I know ZapperZ is a very wise man, and wouldn't ask his students to focus on other areas, but merely understand them.
  17. Dec 1, 2005 #16
    From my officemate, a string theory graduate student in his final year:

    "Do it (string theory) because you want to."

    From three senior graduate students on the experimental floor:


    Guess where they're headed?
  18. Dec 1, 2005 #17


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    Imho the gap is pretty narrow, the slight 'stagnancy' (:biggrin: ) of Europe in this sense may still be a benefit (but surely not $$ wise) in finding posts where can actually do something, but pretty similar overall.
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