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Physics Careers involving physics?

  1. Feb 2, 2009 #1
    i am a first year science student at the University of Alberta, with my major undeclared.
    what i'm wondering is what kind of careers are there that involve a physics degree of some type.
    i'm really interested in physics, and am quite good at physics and math (A in physics A- in calc)
    i really don't know what i want to do but any input you guy's have would be awesome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 2, 2009 #2


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    They have a really great graduate medical physics program at the University of Alberta.

    Besides medical physicists, people I know who have at least a B.Sc. in physics have gone on to do work in a very large range of fields - not all of which would seem directly related to their undergraduate degrees, but most of which use physics in one way or another. The majority I think, seem to gravitate towards graduate study, then research and academia, but there are many other avenues. I can think of several physicists who have gone on to patent ideas and form rather large companies, for example.
  4. Feb 2, 2009 #3
    i have been thinking about graduate school, but what sort of marks would i need to get into any graduate schools?
    from what i've heard its very competitive, but i would love to do that.
  5. Feb 3, 2009 #4


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    Since physics is a very analytical and also very applied degree, you can expect to find yourself in a wide range of jobs that make use of your ability to problem solve. This isn't just limited to physics either. There are a lot of analytical positions that physics majors can take that do not involve physics. You could even get into executive business roles based on the fact that you have the smarts to make tough decisions. A lot of engineers who go into business or managerial roles could no doubt see themselves in a high position shortly down the track.

    Also since a lot of job titles change and new ones are created on a continual basis, you can expect to see people from different backgrounds take on jobs that they aren't per se "trained" for. The fact is that for a lot of roles you can't train someone up completely and people generally need an ability to learn and absorb things as they go after having some initial level of training in a particular area.

    If you want to be a physicist though then good luck with that too. If you can get the grades and your passion is to work on some new technological or research endeavour then go for it. People who do this can move into other areas if they want to later on down the track. Typically a lot of people change their career many times in their life nowadays so don't expect that what you set out to do will be your career for the next 30-40 years. You could be researching string theory and then end up becoming a financial engineer or you could do physics and end up as a technology analyst. Theres really a lot of options available to you.

    If you like building things I would recommend engineering. If you like solving problems I would recommend computer science, mathematics, engineering or physics or any science in fact that you're passionate about.

    If you want to work on the trading floor of a major finance company consider something like a PhD in math or engineering. If you want job security consider becoming an actuary (although the work is very very boring).

    If you like health related sciences but don't want to become a doctor or nurse consider doing statistics. You can get jobs in hospitals and pharmaceutical companies as a biostatistician.

    If you like business you could consider going into math, physics or engineering then look to work in a non-technical area or technical area to start with that utilises your technical know-how like a managerial role, or even a technical based sales role. Companies like GE, DuPont and others will hire graduates with business acumen to do a wide variety of tasks and sometimes the skys the limit with opportunities in these areas.

    If you have an interest in law do an engineering degree and then a law degree and become a patent attorney. They can work with some interesting inventions and are well remunerated for their efforts but often long hours can follow in this profession and it can take a long time to get acquainted with the complex nature of patents even as a trained lawyer.

    You could also work for a software development company if you like working on those sort of projects.

    To be honest there are so many things out there that I've barely scratched the surface. Perhaps if you told us some of your passions or interests someone might have a better idea of what you're suited to.
  6. Feb 3, 2009 #5


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    You should head on over to CaPS and see what's listed (or chat up the Physics Club people). A good number of the specialization/honours guys/gals I knew migrated across campus to take Engineering undergrad (they figured the few years it would take to get a BSc engineering--there's a lot of classes you don't have to take--would serve them better than getting an MSc.)

    In regards to grad school, there's also a large number that go onto grad school not in physics itself, but in one of the engineering departments (especially in the nano / electromagnetics and lasers field). The reverse is also true, but they're usually Engineering Physics to begin with. There's a path to getting your APEGGA certification with just an MSc or PhD in engineering (and under the supervision of an APEGGA member), but it involves taking some makeup undergraduate courses.

    And then there's the option of transferring into engineering altogether for first or second year physics types. If you transfer into Engineering Physics (or one of its new derivatives), you'll probably notice that you're still in a lot of the same courses as your physics friends.
  7. Feb 12, 2009 #6
    What? A PhD gets you on the trading floor? Not that I'm aware of. Are you sure you don't mean work as a quant? Cause you'll most likely be back office, with the potential - a ways down the line - to move to front office. Frankly, guys on the floor used to have a reputation for looking down on anything past a basic (ivy league) BS - the time spent getting it you could have been learning the ropes. That may have changed, but it's still not PhD in math type business. Quantitative analysis is. Lots of physicists used to end up as back office quants too - lots of second order differential equations (see Ito's Lemma).

    Also, how much work have you done as an actuary?
  8. Feb 13, 2009 #7


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    Sorry I was talking about quantitative analytic type work not trading work per se, so yeah I agree those roles are usually reserved for certain types of people who can work with numbers but not in the same way quants work with them. I know very little about trading but i what I do know is that its a whole different ball game to coming up with models and doing some monte carlo modelling.

    I have most of the study materials for all of the core exams plus I have the books for the Part II and one Part III subject FIAA qualification in australia. I haven't pursued it but I did at one point until I found out about the role. Most of it uses standard probability theory which is acquired within a normal 3 year maths degree and it was just my opinion that the work was boring because when I did the exercises I found it boring. Its probably interesting for those kind of people that like insurance and business though which i ended up not liking.
  9. Feb 13, 2009 #8
    Well it all depends on your point of comparison. Undercover police work is exciting. Patrolling Iraq is exciting. Mountain climbing and testing parachutes have moments of excitement between longer periods that lack excitement. Physics, electrical engineering and actuarial work are not exciting. Interesting, maybe - rewarding, maybe - but not exciting.

    But I'm not sure they're boring, either. Actuarial work has a great deal in common with electrical engineering and physics, at least as far as the daily routine goes. All three are indoor jobs that are usually fairly sedentary. They rarely (with some exceptions) present any real danger in the day to day work. Certainly it somewhat depends on your particular job in the field - if I was working as an actuary in a large department reserving every day, that would terribly boring because of the lack of variety. However actuarial work can often have more variety than science and engineering because you have so many smaller projects you work on. Similarly, gathering data in science and engineering can be brutally tedious.

    Probably the biggest difference between physics and actuarial work, as far as excitement goes, has to do with job security. Those ancient tenured professors who wander the halls quietly, all their good publishing days behind them - well I'm going to say their lives are boring. On the other hand, a postgrad student in the last year of their postdoc and with no idea where they'll be working next (or if they'll be working next) - well that's exciting, though maybe not in a good way.

    How interesting and rewarding a field is can be very subjective, but I think excitement is a bit less subjective. If you think actuarial work is boring, then either you'll hate physics (in the long run), or you've got the wrong idea, because they just aren't that different in that department.
  10. Feb 13, 2009 #9


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    How peculiar a misconception.
  11. Feb 13, 2009 #10
    Surprisingly no one mentioned uh...BECOMING A PHYSICIST!!!

    Funny thing at my schools website they do they same thing, they list a ton of jobs you could have with a degree in physics, besides doing physics. What gives? It's like they are almost apologizing for a degree in physics by saying "well tangentially you could possibly do this to".

    ps. What's up with this guy who thinks that your job has to include a high possibility of death to possibly be exciting?
  12. Feb 13, 2009 #11
    It's neither peculiar nor a misconception.

    Hey look! This post is as helpful as yours!
  13. Feb 13, 2009 #12
    I never said that. I felt that since this was a forum devoted to physics, people would be comfortable with the idea of taking a limit to aid in comparative judgment. I do also accept that there will be exceptions.
  14. Feb 13, 2009 #13
    Chiro did, actually.

    However, he did so in a much larger post that spent much more time on various other careers one could have. His post was well thought out and I think helpful to the OP. However I have a philosophical disagreement with it because of this emphasis (and edit, to be clear, I'm agreeing with that paragraph in your post). To me, saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Once you get your physics degree(s), look at all the not physics stuff you can do” sounds more positive than it is.

    Firstly, it ignores the difficulties of actually getting work in those other fields – getting into many of them can be easier via other routes and some of them have wildly varying demand. Quantitative Analysis is a good example – it got a reputation for absorbing physics and math grad students in the 90’s, but this trend dropped off some in the new millennium. It should be obvious that a current physics student’s probability of getting such a job right now is very near zero. Actuarial work is also very hard to enter right now, and career changers are having a tough time of it. Listing all the jobs one might be able to do with this training can make it sound like a safer bet than it really might be.

    More importantly though, this disguises one of the big problems in physics today, which is that more and more graduates are having a tough time actually getting to do, well, physics. The very fact that so many physics grads have had to forge other paths is to me more evidence of a problem than it is an intrinsic benefit. It sounds great to have options, but had you really wanted to go into another field, you probably would have in the first place.

    Physics can certainly be a rewarding career, but those going into the field would do well to do a great deal of research and think critically and carefully about the information they dig up.
  15. Feb 13, 2009 #14


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    The reason I found actuarial work boring was basically because I didn't care about what I was learning. There is a lot of variety in actuarial work and yes I would agree that the scope is probably roughly equivalent with that of an engineer, but to be honest I couldn't care less about insurance or run-off triangles or accountancy or anything in that light. I like what i'm doing now which is basically math and some electives like legal studies.

    Also yes I was being completely subjective. What is boring to one can be interesting to another. I am just someone who found it very uninteresting, so much that I couldn't stand to think about the next topic with some general insurance calculation.

    Anyway to each their own
  16. Apr 4, 2010 #15
    Hello am a young boy in year 10 who took physics as an option but sometimes i wonder why i actually took can you please help me figure out what jobs you can do with physics. I really need the help so i can get some motivation to do well.
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