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Considering a physics degree in the UK?

  1. Apr 29, 2006 #1
    I would just like to share some wisdom gained by experience.

    If you are considering doing a degree in physics in the UK, job wise it won't be a good idea to pursue that path unless you achieve a first class degree from a good university.

    If you get a 2:1 or less you'll most likely have to go into a career that is only losely related to physcis or not at all. In that case it would have been better, job wise, to actually do a degree specifically related to such a career, e.g. programming, engineering, design, etc, etc.

    I have a 2:1 honours, MPhys from The University of Sussex (a good degree from a good university) and have been unemployed for a year :S. Granted I haven't explored all my options and my personal circumstances are not usual but still...

    In conlusion unless you are confident you can get a first class degree and actually do your utmost to get a first, right from the start through to the finish, and attend a good university, choose something else. Competition in the field of physics is extremely fierce. You have been warned; I wish I had been.

    (P.S. my shortcoming was thinking that I could get away with a 2:1 and so not applying myself fully throughout the degree :S. I did that because my tutors at my sixth form college told me a 2:1 was the standard grade that would make you highly employable...regardless of the degree.. tools... worst advice I ever followed. Obvioulsy the job market is a lot more competitive than it was when they went to uni)
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2006
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  3. Apr 29, 2006 #2

    matt grime

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    not true at all... a 2:1 from a good university is very acceptable, heck you can even do a PhD and get funding with that...

    this is going to sound harsh, but Sussex does not raise pulses on many people's radar for its science.
     
  4. Apr 29, 2006 #3
    I think Sussex has a fairly strong Physics department, though most employers I suppose would just consider general science reputation, or overall "ranking".


    The big cut-off in employability does come between a 2:1 and a 2:2, you only have to look at most typical large graduate employers websites.

    Maybe you're short on other qualities employers are looking for Alfred?

    You could always walk straight into teaching with a decent degree in science.
     
  5. Apr 30, 2006 #4

    matt grime

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    Whatever Sussex's physics department 'is' is one thing, what people think it is is another.
     
  6. Apr 30, 2006 #5

    brewnog

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    I know several recruitment consultants who will pick 2:1 graduates over firsts, purely based on them generally having better social and interpersonal skills, and the lack of a degree-level knowledge required to perform the job. I'm not saying this is the case right across the board, but there's a lot to be said for a 2:1 in the right subject from a reputable university.

    Sussex is hardly a world class physics facility, but I have 3 friends who got physics degrees from various UK unis last summer (2 2:1s and 1 2:2). All three were employed by September, and one is now earning ~£45k P.A.

    No offence intended, but have you considered that you're not looking at the right jobs, or are lacking in the other skills needed to start your career (work experience, evidence of teamworking and social interaction etc)?
     
  7. May 1, 2006 #6

    J77

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    ^ The OP's talking about getting a job in Physics tho'

    You can get a 40k+ job in the city without any degree, if you're dedicated enough...

    He did have some very incorrect points tho', as Matt has pointed out.

    Sounds to me like the OP has given up and blamed it on something else - ie. their degree result from their university.

    edit: The University of Sussex did get a 5A in Physics in the 2001 RAE! http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/rae_dynamic.cfm?myURL=http://195.194.167.103/Results/byuoa/uoa19.htm
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  8. May 1, 2006 #7

    matt grime

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    You, the OP, might also want to examine that last paragraph in the parentheses. Your tutors will have seen you coasting, and by your own admission not applying yourself. Do they write your letters of recommendation?

    Besides, exactly what jobs are you applying for? A 2:1 is a good grade, and does make you quite employable, but the sad truth is that the graduate job market is saturated with people. You will get a graduate job, but it might not be in the area you first wanted. Did you stop to ask your teachers if they were specifically referring to your employability in the physics job arena, ie some highly technically specialized field? If you want to be that particular then you should bear in mind how many physics graduates there are each year, many of them with firsts.

    It is a sad truth but these days 'media sales' is often regarded as an entry level graduate job. Selling advertising space in magazines....

    http://www.graduate-jobs.com/gj/index.jsp

    for instance is a graduate jobs website (in case the url wasn't enough). Look at the two job sectors on the LHS: sales and recruitment. Pathetic really.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  9. May 1, 2006 #8
    Oh yeah... perhaps but it is very hard. I know for a fact that if I had a 1st I'd be well into my first year of a doctorate.

    How does a top 20 UK ranking sound? (Guardian physics rankings) Sounds good to me. Nothing amazing, but certainly respectable, and certainly not deserving of everyone's derision.

    I havn't seen a single job advert that doesn't specify they want at least a 2:1. Further those that are O.K. with 2:1, most require experience which you can't get unless you've already been in a similar job, or even more unlikely, happened to specialise in the field for your dissertation (catch 22 anyone?). The few jobs you can find that don't require much more than a 2:1, a bit of programming experience and lots of enthusiasm.. can you imagine how many people just like me, or with better qualifications apply for them?!

    Maybe.. but how the **** would they know? I make sure to write effective cover letters, targetted at the advert, telling them that I'm what they are looking for. But I never even get reply's. Why? They look at my C.V and realise that all I can offer is the experience gained at uni....they look at someone else's CV.. oh he has a first! oh he's done this and this! internship here, award there! his degree is specialised in our area of work (i.e. engineering, programming, etc, etc) wtf?! I can't compete with that, even when its just an entry level job (I specifically look for those btw...)

    You don't think I've tried? Can you imagine how many debts I've got? A teacher training course in the UK pays something like 6000 pounds a year. Not enought to live on and certainly not enough to pay bank debts. OK so go teach english in... Japan alfred! OK i'll try, specifically the JET program. I get invited for an interview. cool! my first one in a few months! (wtf?!) errr oops guess how many people were invited to the interview, according to the rejection letter around 1000... (wtf?!)

    Thanks for your relatively sympathetic and encouraging post tho Mulder.

    yes I certainly am lacking these skills you mention.. but how am I supposed to get them now? Like I said I wish someone had warned me before starting uni that simply getting a 2:1 in physics (especially physics) is not enough... this is the whole point of my OP.

    yes they do, but as far as I know they aren't allowed to write negative comments in references, and I doubt they do since they are probably eager to see me employed, if only for sake of not having to write anymore references... Further they certainly have good things to say about me. The frequent feedback I have recieved from them throught Uni and later, is that I'm a very bright and talented individual.

    EXACTLY

    NOW we're getting there... do you need a 2:1 master of physics degree to sell advertising space in magazines?! NO!! it's ridiculous! If I wanted do such mindnumbingly, soul destrying work I' d be half brain dead and wouldn't be able to string such eloquent arguments together. I'd rather do labouring than sell magazine space or cold call, hell I'd rather jump out of a high window than do any of these things, at least with labouring you stay healthy and get some fresh air.

    Now if I had done an engineering degreefor example, which is easier, or programming, again easier, (I know this from simply comparing the hours put in to study by the average physics classmate and the hours put in by the average engineering buddies of mine at uni, and also from having done quite a bit of programming) I probably would have done very well (without extra effort) and not only that there would be many more jobs open to me, simply because the first thing people ask you when you tell them you have a physics degree, is: what exactly do you go into with a physics degree? answer: research, teaching, engineering or programming... the last two are easier to get into if you actually have an engineering or programming degree...

    anyway that's enough of a rant. good day to you.

    ADDON: a little quote I'd like to go down into posterity: "Finding a decent job is much harder than doing the job itself"

    Oh and: "In physics, good is not good enough"

    omg, I can't stop. You see I'm even begin to think that there are too many educated people in Europe and US (I only mention those two because I know less about other job markets).
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  10. May 1, 2006 #9

    J77

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    If you really want to carry on and use your physics, do a PhD.

    There must be stacks of funding out there this time of year, eg. http://www.jobs.ac.uk/cgi-bin/searc...d+Jobs&contract=00&jobtype=02&referer=student

    Plus, if you can't get funding from a physics department, look to other departments: Maths, Computer Science and, even, Engineering would all be departments in which you could do a physics based PhD.

    If you want to go this route, do it now. If not it'll be too late and you'll find yourself doing that PGCE, working in a bank, or :surprised becoming an accountant :surprised :biggrin:

    One of my best mates thought the same as you after his physics degree - he went on to do a masters but he still felt down about wasting his time - now he does accounts... oh, well... :tongue:
     
  11. May 1, 2006 #10
    Thankyou J77 =)

    J77 you are a star. Your post brought me the first almost smile of day xD.

    My sincere thanks.

    You know I was at a loss as to what to do: whether to keep applying for unlikely jobs, go to yet another expensive interview in the UK for Japan teaching (with Nova) (I live a 200 pound flight away from the UK at the mo) or stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is fine the way it is. (dispensing with the breathing tube, and holding it there for a long time :P hehe, sorry I like black humour)

    But you've given me a really good suggestion. I like learning, hence an interesting PhD (not necesarily a physics PhD, but as you say physics based, and as long as its funded) is probably the best option for me =)

    cheers ^^ (I'd hug you if it wasn't ghey) :P xD
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  12. May 1, 2006 #11

    matt grime

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    So, it looks like your rant isn't against your particular degree, or University, nor to be honest with the advice of your teachers, but the graduate job market in the UK in general. It is a sad state of affairs, but this is what Blair has forced upon us with a completely invented target of 50% of people in higher education without any reference to the need for that many people with degrees. Not to mention a devaluing of qualifications in general. And then there's the whole issue of student debt as well. It is a sad state of affairs.

    6,000 GBP is a reasonable amount to live on for one year if you're prepared to make a few sacrifices (choose your location wisely), and then there is the golden hello for science, not to mention student loan repayments will be deferred until after you graduate from the PGCE. Or there is the teachfirst path into teaching which is financially better, though it will require a commitment to teach in London, I think. Not that I am condoning that pitifully small amount of money to train (nor a teacher's salary afterwards either).


    I wouldn't say that 'hours studied' was at all a reflection of the difficulty of a degree.
     
  13. May 1, 2006 #12
    This is not exaclty typical, on the other hand not unusual, but I owe LOTS of money to the BANK. Government loan repayments are for pussies. If that's all I had to worry about I'd be laughing. (I didn't cotton on to the fact that using the interest charging part of your overdraft was a very bad idea until half way through :S)

    No? Hours spent studying by the average student in order to do well is not at all a reflection of the difficulty of the degree? what is a reflection of the difficulty of a degree? Maybe its the pass rates? let's take a look. There were around 100+ people in the introduction lecture for Physics (actual physics students). How many managed to complete their BSc regardless of the grade? mmmm about 20... How many went on to complete the MPhys degree? (extra year) 7... doesn't that seem extreme?
    _________
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  14. May 1, 2006 #13

    matt grime

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    Oh, I just checked the PGCE 2006 details and a science student's bursary is 9,000 GBP and the golden hello is 5,000GBP. Have youbeen to the bank and asking them to consolidate your debt with a (graduate) loan? I know they keep changing the eligibility for them, but it might be worth asking. Or would that be thought of as something a 'pussy' would do?

    Number of hours work required is a measure of the amount of work required, not the difficulty of the work done in that time. That is all you can say about it, no more no less. It is specious to draw comparisons of the relative difficulty of different subjects merely based on the amount of work required.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  15. May 1, 2006 #14
    really? 9000? Golden hello of 5000? ok I stand corrected. I remembered wrongly, or understood incorrectly when I last looked. Thank you for the information.

    I disagree but we could get into a long argument over this. On the other hand did you consider my pass rates argument?
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  16. May 1, 2006 #15

    J77

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    Teaching's not bad - my gf went that route - bonus is that the pay-scale rises quite fast and you can step-off, and later back on, at any time. Downside is that you won't have any free-time, including weekends, for a few years...

    With the EPSRC PhD studentships. These days, they're as good as your average starting salary - typically around 10k (tax-free) a year plus additional money from eg. teaching UG support classes and, if you can swing it, you can get an extra 3-4k (tax-free) a year from industrial sponsership (http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/PostgraduateTraining/IndustrialCASE/default.htm)
     
  17. May 1, 2006 #16

    matt grime

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    There is no long argument to have. We have different opinions about a subjective thing. Determining relative difficulty of subjects and course both intra and inter university is nigh on impossible in my opinion. I can see no way to quantify it, not that that doesn't stop people trying. You disagree as you're perfectly entitled to do. I don't accept pass rates, relative hours or relative grades since there is no uniformization between universities; marks are purely relative to people in your own course at your university and entirely fixed at the whim of each university. It would be foolhardy to state that someone with a 2:2 from Cambridge in Natural Sciences is 'worse' in any sense than everyone with a 2:1 or better at all other universities.
     
  18. May 1, 2006 #17
    hmm i see your point. But you've just rubbished the entire grading system in the UK with one paragraph! Surely there's at least a very rough correlation between a 2:1 here and a 2:1 there no? If there is then we can handwave and say that a result which is in extreme disagreement with the average is telling us something... no? what i mean is that if pass rates in a particular subject are very low across the board compared to other subjects then we can safely assume that the low pass rate subject is significantly harder.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  19. May 1, 2006 #18

    matt grime

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    I have not rubbished the whole system. I have merely said that it is not set up to allow you to draw conclusions based upon the numbers you are looking at. I would say that you cannot not assume those things at all. The standards of students at different universities are different (the entry requirements of Cambridge are not the same as those at Keele), the course structures are all different, the evaluation methods are all different, the pass rates are all different.

    What would your opinions be of two potential candidates:

    1. Has a 2:2 in mathematics from Cambridge, thus meaning that they came in the bottom third of of the year (Cambridge awards a greater percentage of firsts than most in maths, and justifiably in my opinion), they have 40 UCAS points, or 400, or whatever the maximum is these days, as well as STEP qualifications in mathematics, they have 3 or 4 A* at GCSE in maths and science, and straight As in the rest of their courses. In order to get in they probably beat of 9 other people with similar grades.

    2. Some one with a 2:1 in maths from Expoly Y, who has, in the old money the Cs at A-level and a C average at GCSE, and who got in through clearing and didn't really care what subject they did or where they went?

    It's an extreme example.

    As it happens I believe physics degrees at some universities are harder than certain other degrees from some universities but my basis on that is from knowing students with different degrees and judging their abilities from talking to them. People have their perceptions of institutions, some reasonable and based upon experience, some simply presumptions that are unfounded. This is one of the reasons why it does matter what institution you went to and for which subject.

    One other statistic that you have perhaps cited is 'drop out rate'. Drop out rates, for instance, merely show the relative difficulty of a course compared to people's perceptions before starting, and perhaps the disparity between that subject at university and at A-level. English literature is 'more of the same' in comparison with mathematics which requires a whole change of attitude. A harder degree program probably has a higher drop out rate owing to a higher calibre of applicant, too. There are cases of people being asked to leave Cambridge after failing the first year and getting 1sts at other universities in the same subject.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  20. May 1, 2006 #19
    Well judging form the GCSE grades I would say that pupil 1 is brighter than pupil two. By UCAS points I assume you mean the studies just before university (e.g. A-levels). Here is where, in my opinion, it starts to get complicated and so I refuse to make further judments between the two pupils on the basis of A-level studies, other than to say I'd rather employ pupil number 1 at this stage. On the other hand once we get to talking about university grades, I think your clearing example shows that pupil 2 isn't so enthusiastic, but no more. I very much respect Cambridge and would be impressed by that. I would very much like to know which university pupil number 2 is from (in fact I would dismiss him altogether for neglecting to mention the name specifically... :S..). As far as the 2:1 vs 2:2 grade is conncerned... as you say the information is uselss unless I know the name of university number 2. All said, in conclusion, without knowing the name of the university pupil number 2 attended I can't make any judgment about which one to invite for an interview, unless to say number 1 due to number 2 providing incomplete information.

    Just for the record, I've got 11 GCSE's (2 A*s, 6 A's and the other 3 are a mixture of B's and C's) A-level grades are 2B's and a C. At this point I would like to mention that I suffer from ADD which really begins to affect you at A-level and above because you actually have to pay attention in class :P, and it makes you run out of time in exams (i was undiagnosed) and also would like to present the case of a friend of mine who had dyslexia, had poor grades before his University studies, entered via the foundation year route (which requires much lower entry grades) and went on to get the third highest grade of all those initial 100+ students. I mention all this to support my argument that A-levels are complicated. I had offers from Bath (physics), Reading (cybernetics) and Sussex (physics). I chose Sussex because it looked like the best place in the world to spend the next four years and it was a decent uni, and I love physics. I don't regret my choice of university at all. I do regret adopting the attitude right from the word go "I only a need 2:1 that's what I'm aiming for" and not having my ADD diagnosed (= extra 15% time in exams) until the end of the 3rd year. Also umm because I can't pay much attention in lectures I never went to them. I probably attended only a quarter of them overall. My point is that these learning disorders are much more common than people generally think. Anyway... I wouldn't have posted again in this thread had you not asked me a specific question about my judgments of each pupil. ;)
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2006
  21. May 1, 2006 #20

    matt grime

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    I didn't name a university (Expoly Y) purely because I did not wish to enflame someone's opinion unnecessarily from a poor choice of example.


    And as if to make it even more complicated you've got to factor in information like all those people who were put off Cambridge by bad advice at school, again based upon misconceptions.
     
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