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Physics Careers w/ physics

  1. Feb 6, 2010 #1
    Hello all,

    I am currently pursuing a B.S. degree in physics. My main concern is finding a job that isn't just laboratory research. Can anyone give some of the popular areas that physics degrees would be applicable for?

    Any advice would be much appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2010 #2
    I can give a few things that aren't exactly laboratory research, and you may not even use physics...but all the skills you've acquired while learning physics can be used. So I'm going to give you a list that involves careers outside of physics, even though you're getting a physics degree.

    First, let me just say - even with a B.S. degree in physics: you can become WHATEVER you want. The fact is that you possess high analytical skills that will be useful in any field. It's what you make of it, and how hard you're willing to work for it.

    Here are only a few things from the vast sea of opportunity available to you that are common for physicists:

    - Software Engineer
    In your physics courses you may have played with MatLAB or Mathematica, and this puts you in a position to have some knowledge of how programming works. You just have to sell yourself well.

    - Doctor (Radiation Oncologist)
    You can always get a MD or find a residency program and become a doctor! Radiation Oncologists deal with physics concepts, particularly in high energy physics.

    - Patent Attorney (Just by passing the patent bar - quite an small investment in time for the benefits you'll gain)
    - Patent Lawyer (You'll need a JD for this)
    It has been common in the last decade for people with technical backgrounds to apply their skills to the legal world. By knowing some things about physics, you will be able to better understand some of the inventions people come up with, and intellectual property is a hot field.

    - Business (Management Consulting, Banking)
    Putting your analysis skills you've developed from endless problem sets to good use, you'll be able to help big companies make big decisions.

    I've given some fields that seem to be unrelated to physics, just to give you a feel of the options out there.

    If you wanted to stick to physics, you could become a high school teacher. But if you really wanted a job that uses physics directly, I think you would be better off in research, so you could look at national labs, or industry labs. And to work on more interesting things, you would probably need a PhD.

    But the point is, you can do anything you want. It may be harder to get into some fields than others, but try to follow what you love. If it's physics you love, though, just make sure you understand that becoming a physics professor is like making the NBA.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  4. Feb 7, 2010 #3
    thanks oreliphan
  5. Feb 8, 2010 #4
    If you like to code physics, you could try the game industry. There's usually some classical mechanics involved in every 3D game out there, and computer graphics somewhat resembles optics. Some companies, like EA, explicitly state they hire physics graduates. There are also some companies that make only physics engines for others to license. You'll need fluency in C++ though, as it's probably the most widely used language due to performance.
  6. Feb 8, 2010 #5
    Oh. Well I don't know C++ but I do know Fortran.
  7. Feb 8, 2010 #6
    Do you know of the top of your head, Oreliphan, what type of extra credentials I would need to go on a path in radiation oncology. I have found radiation oncology interesting but I thought that after two years as a physics major it was too late to switch focus. I assume there are other classes I would have to take, because having at least a B.S. Physics degree can't get me there all on its own, right?
  8. Feb 8, 2010 #7


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    Radiation oncology is a medical discipline. To become a radiation oncologist, you first have to go to medical school, which means completion of a degree with the prerequisits that qualify you for medicine - and then making the cut to get in. After medical school you have to go through a five year residency. I'm not sure I would say their work deals with "high energy" physics (it's generally in the keV to MeV ballpark).

    Other lines of work in this area include radiation therapists (the people who operate the machines day-to-day to deliver radiation) and imaging technicians (MRI, nuclear medicine, x-ray, CT, ultrasound). These would require ~ 2 years of additional training beyond your degree, but a background in physics would help you considerably. And then, of course, there's the profession of medical physics which has a strong clinical side to it, so not all work is spent in the lab.
  9. Feb 9, 2010 #8
    You can pretty much do anything with a degree in physics. So you really should figure out what you're actually interested in. Do you want to teach? Go into engineering? Finance? Programming? etc...

    Once you figure out kinda what you're interested in, you can look into specific jobs and career paths; but just asking "what can I do with a Physics degree?" is way too broad... there are an infinite number of things you could do.
  10. Feb 12, 2010 #9
    In a biased overstatement, I would say asking about the career options you can take after your physics degree is like asking exactly when 0.9999...(to infinity) will reach 1.
  11. Feb 12, 2010 #10
    Then, perhaps, a better question would be what are quickest growing areas in physics? I could then filter out what I find interesting instead of bothering all forum-ers about finding my particular interests.

    I have a feeling that one of these areas is solid state physics and areas dealing with materials. Any others?
  12. Feb 12, 2010 #11
    Biophysics is another.
  13. Feb 12, 2010 #12
    I guess I should put out there that I do not like biology in the least bit. I am fine with chemistry, but biophysics sounds like I would need a substantial background in biology. Thanks though for the suggestion.
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