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Physics Considering Physics. Would you leave a lucrative job for your current career?

  1. Mar 7, 2012 #1
    I would be so grateful to get the prospective of some people currently working, specifically research - or even grad students.

    I work in a totally different profession and I am considering studying physics on the side (who know what it might lead to). I wanted to hear alittle about the profession first hand. This website has been a great resource for me.

    Physics is someonething that has been on my mind for years and I read (not study) about physics quite often. I am 25 yrs old. If I continue to work very hard my current career is going to be very lucrative but stressful. I understand that every job has it's positives and negatives.

    Would you leave a very high paying job for your current position?
    Is the job stressful? (I know it is hard work - but I am used to hard work but is it worth it?)

    How bureaucratic is it?

    Tough to find jobs (I read yes and no)?

    Are you intellectually challenged and stimulated? Do you still find the subject interesting?

    I'm not going to make a drastic change. I'm probably just burnt out. Plan is to take 1 course part time which isnot going harm much.

    The reason I want to study this is because I do not want to be bored with my career and want something that I can be passionate about .
    Thanks for reading
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2012 #2
    Many, perhaps most, people who get physics phds will never have a job in the field. I got my theoretical physics phd, did a stint as a bartender, and now I work for an insurance company making models.

    Physics is a pit-stop, not a career. If you want to kill a decade studying physics and then bounce back into whatever career path you are on (or some other non-physics career path), more power to you, but thats the likely outcome.
  4. Mar 7, 2012 #3
    what do you consider to be physics?
  5. Mar 8, 2012 #4
    I started in one area of physics and ended in a related area. Stress will exist in any job, IMO. Politics, contract stability, project duration, funding stability, etc. If you are good at what you do, stay put. Jumping into a new field will just change your stressors, especially if your choice ends up bad. If you are feeling burnt, it happens. After 30 plus years in the same field, I sometimes do too. IMO, you need to look at your life outside of work. Don’t stockpile your PTO (this was me), burn it on some quality time vacations that don’t involve cell phones or logins to work remotely. A 40 (sometimes 50-60) hr work week shouldn't dominate the other 100 plus hours each week.

    As a college student in the 70s, I remember several 60 to 70 year old students that took courses because they loved to learn and the atmosphere. So, taking a class now and then is never a bad thing, and it may even keep you young at heart :). Over my 30 plus years working, most of my peers have migrated to various specialties that have only a loose connection to where they started. At 25, you are very young and you will find your niche as your career matures.

    One final thought, when you get a spouse and kids, stress becomes the norm, so now is the best time to discover ways to deal with it. IMO, the friends and family that I get together with and never talk shop are the best mental break there is, especially on vacations like ski trips, canoeing, fishing, traveling, etc.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2012
  6. Mar 9, 2012 #5
    I was in a similar place a few years ago, working in a fairly lucrative career but fascinated to learn more about science and explore something different. In my experience, it can work, but there are some things I would have done differently.

    My advice is go for it, but don't get a PhD in pure science; the job market for pure science PhD's is extremely competitive. Instead, try a MS in pure science, or a MS/PhD in engineering. In either case, you can take all the same classes as the pure science PhD's and even get involved in research, and your degree will still be a good fit for today's job market.

    On the other hand, the job market might radically shift in the next few years so nobody EXCEPT science PhD's can find a job. Haha, I wish ...
  7. Mar 9, 2012 #6


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    Are you talking about a bachelor's degree only, or going on for a PhD? The jobs are completely different in the two cases.

    Here's something I wrote up recently for our students, based on APS statistics: Of people who obtain a terminal bachelor's degrees in physics, about half work in industry, in fields such as aerospace, military, software, and electronics. Most of the other half work either as as high school teachers or as lab technicians at universities or government-funded laboratories.

    With a physics PhD:

    It's not tough to find a job. The unemployment rate among physics PhD's is essentially zero.

    It's extremely tough to find jobs doing research at government labs and high-powered research universities. "Tough" means that your chances are probably about 10% at best (much lower if you are not an absolutely stellar student).
  8. Mar 9, 2012 #7
    Judging by the students I taught while I was a graduate student, I would add IT and actuarial work. Industry is sort of a catch all term. From my limited sample, with a physics major, it seems more likely that you'll be doing IT work or programming than that you'll be doing work in engineering/aerospace etc. Basically, don't picture a job where you deal with physics or engineering, picture a business oriented job with some numerical or programming components.

    But this is a terrible metric- things like involuntary out-of-the-field rate and how much of the field is stuck in postdocs is a better metric. On these counts, the job outlook is substantially better for a master or phd in engineering than one in physics. There are phds working in retail and in bars, I've met them, and I've been them. It is tough, even with a phd to get a job where you are required to know any physics, and deal with physics regularly. That doesn't mean you are doomed to retail, the economy is improving of late- getting into finance or insurance seems to be fairly easy, but if the OP finds himself currently unfulfilled it seems unlikely he is thinking of a big lateral move to the insurance industry after the hardwork of a phd.

    It seems to me the original poster is thinking of leaving a challenging, high paying job for a career where he deals with physics and science on a day-to-day basis. If he gets a phd, he is likely to be disappointed that he doesn't have a job that deals with physics, and may well end up back in the sort of challenging, high paying job he left for a decade to pursue physics.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  9. Mar 10, 2012 #8
    If a job was burning me out I'd leave it, or change it, until I found something that didn't burn me out. That could be anything that has the right balance between challenge and ease. I've done physics and computing science research (various jobs) and one wasn't better than the other content wise - it's all to do with 'environment'. It's best if you can find a job where you are left to your own devices most of the time - although you need a good manager to help you set 'the right' goals, create a good environment, and keep you happy and motivated. Then you can work at a pace and a level of challenge that (i) doesn't burn you out (ii) is enough of challenge to keep you from being bored.
  10. Mar 13, 2012 #9
    After coming out of my school I had many options for choosing my graduation as I had Physics, chemistry, maths as well as biology subjects for 1o+2. I could have gone for
    medical, aerospace, architecture etc. But physics and maths were my favourite subject
    I would have love to graduate with physics major. But in my country thats India, getting
    BSc in physics does not offer you a good job. So I opted for mechanical engineering.
    when I look back at my past I think i did the right thing in chosing engineering over physics as most of engineering is basically application of physics and maths.
    But given an opportunity I would love to study Physics and explore the real world
    or even universe of the subject. I belong to same age category as yours so rather than
    advising you what to do I would rather share my experience with you. Only thing I can tell you is that "Do what you love and love what you do."
    In fact there are many opportunities with physics not only in academics but also at industrial level. But you should always give a second thought before leaving a lucrative career. Also one thing is for sure that you wont get bored with career if u choose what u enjoy doing and in your case its physics. So wish u all the very best in your future career adventures.
  11. Mar 13, 2012 #10
    One thing that you have to understand is that most physics majors don't end up working in jobs that most people would consider "physics." If you go out for a physics degree, it needs to be for personal satisfaction since the odds are that at the end of it, you'll be doing more or less exactly the same job that you are doing now.
  12. Mar 13, 2012 #11
    I did leave my job to go back for my PhD. It was a quasi plan the entire time, but I thought I would get back faster. Maybe work for a year or two then get back into it. I ended up spending 4 years working before I finally made it back.

    Honestly, I know that I'll probably go right back into software after my PhD. I could try to call up my older job and then try to get back working in physics but the PhD positions were locked up pretty tight. They needed many software debuggers and lower level stuff.

    I really had to ask myself why I went back for my PhD. I don't really have an answer but it just felt right, I love learning about physics and wanted to experience some more advanced stuff. I know if I failed out or decided it wasn't for me I could always go back to my old job. My supervisor absolutely loves me and would take me back in a second. That's a very reassuring feeling when you're about to take a chance on something.
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