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Degrees and Careers - Options and Advice

  1. Jan 7, 2015 #1
    So, I'm currently in the process of getting my B.A. in physics from Miami University. Not exactly a top-tier school, but not a throwaway school, either. I should be able to graduate with a GPA between 3.2 and 3.4, and I tend to test very well, so I'm not worried about my GRE scores. Anyway, my plan is to go to grad school (I should graduate with my B.A. by the age of 28) and get a degree in a STEM subject that stands a good chance of landing me gainful employment in a STEM field. My question is this: given my track toward an undergrad physics degree, what graduate degree should I pursue?

    A little information about me: I enjoy using computers, I enjoy programming, and I need mental stimulation in order to function at job. I enjoy tasks that require me to absorb a lot of information and/or new concepts quickly. I also would like to travel and get out of the office occasionally. I do not like monotonous work that doesn't challenge my mind, because it makes me feel as if my brain is atrophying. I also do not want to be stuck in a job that is so specialized that I will never learn anything new or be able to change jobs or industries if my life goes in a different direction.

    Here are some options I am considering:
    1. Geophysics, hopefully with employment in the oil industry, since that's where salaries are higher. This is my number one goal at the moment, since it fits all of my likes and dislikes above. I'm a bit concerned about the future of fossil fuels, however. If fossil fuels begin to go away in 20 years and we're busy making the switch to alternative energy, would it be possible for an old bear geophysicist to make the switch to some other field? Or am I wrong to worry about fossil fuels in that way?
    2. Computer science/software engineering. Fits most of my likes, although the idea of being stuck in the same place forever is a bit frightening. I'm also a bit worried, since I've read from certain threads on here that a master's degree in comp sci can actually hurt you a lot more than it will help you.
    3. Biomedical engineering. Sounds like a really exciting new field with lots of cool work being done, but I've heard bad things about people who try to get work in biomedical engineering with actual biomedical engineering degrees. I've heard that people with chemical engineering degrees tend to actually fare better when it comes to getting work in biomedical engineering.
    4. Medical physics. The idea of doing something that benefits society in the way that medical physics does is very exciting, but I'm not sure I want to spend all my time fixing and calibrating machines and calculating chemo dosages. Can medical physicists do research? Also, I've heard that this field is oversaturated with graduates. Is that true?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2015 #2


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    All your options sound exciting, and it is great you want your brain engaged. I think your observations are similar to mine. It is probably a lot harder to get work in options 1, 3, & 4. In my experience any bio-related doesn't pay engineers well for two reasons. First, they don't really respect and understand technical capabilities (to a lot of bio companies you're a glorified technician) and second, there is a lot of competition for the job since everyone wants meaningful work these days.

    I imagine your best bet is number 2, although don't be shy applying to different jobs. I think an MS in Computer Science would GREATLY help you since your BA is in Physics, not CS.

    There are a lot of computer jobs including travel and different projects. Look at a consulting jobs like with Accenture, HP, or IBM. Sounds like just what you're asking for.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2015
  4. Jan 7, 2015 #3


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    Yes medical physicists can do research. For an idea of what the research looks like you may want to look up the journals:
    - Medical Physics
    - Physics in Medicine and Biology
    - Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics
    - International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics

    Clinical medical physics positions will vary with the amount of research that is expected, but the opportunity is almost always there. The issue facing those with primarily clinical duties is time. There is often a lot of work and not enough time in the day.

    With regards to "oversaturation" the issue is somewhat complicated. There is a demand for qualified medical physicists. However there's been a bottleneck introduced in the rules recently that requires an accredited residency to be completed by those going for certification through the ABR and currently the system is producing more graduates than there are residency positions to fill them. Slowly the number of available residencies are catching up though. For someone considering graduate studies leading to a career in medical physics I would hesitate to say its a guaranteed meal ticket. It's a competative field to be in for sure, but far less so than academia for example.
  5. Jan 9, 2015 #4
    Thanks to analogdesign and Choppy for your advice! I think I'm leaning in the direction of CS now, just from what both of you have said. I didn't know about the residency thing with medical physics. I think I'll stay away from that now. I'm 25 already and staring down another 3 years of undergrad plus 2 years of graduate education. I don't need another 2 years of residency after that. If I wanted to be in education/training until middle age, I'd be a doctor.

    That being said, given my expected GPA by graduation (3.2 to 3.4), what are some realistic options for graduate school? I know it's a bit early to be asking about this, but I'm just curious about what I could expect with such a GPA. Obviously, CMU and MIT and Stanford are all off the table, but what are some decent second-tier grad programs in CS?
  6. Jan 11, 2015 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    I am in biomedical engineering. I like it a lot, so I am glad that I did it.

    The thing with BME jobs is that a medical device manufacturer knows how to use an electrical engineer or a mechanical engineer, but an electronics manufacturer doesn't know how to use a biomedical engineer. The knowledge is a little more specialized, so the number of companies that you can work for is reduced. However, for those companies, you will be a better fit. In that regards it is similar to any specialization.

    Due to the broad changes in the healthcare system in the USA right now, I would probably recommend against that specialization unless it is a true passion of yours (which does not seem to be the case). Who knows what the market will be like in a few years.
  7. Jan 19, 2015 #6
    I suppose you could say I'm in biomedical engineering, but my job description is process engineer. I second DaleSpam that this is a field I enjoy. Biomedical engineering is different than biotech, and usually involves different kind of work. I'm rather more sanguine about this field's future. The future is always uncertain, but here is what I know:
    • My product's market is already world-wide, and most medical devices companies are similar. The US is the biggest market, but for most devices there are lots of other opportunities, and these opportunities are growing.
    • The other markets usually already have single-payer, single-provider, or other types of cost-saving systems in place. This doesn't seem to hurt sales in these regions.
    That being said, you don't need to get a degree in biomedical engineering to do the work. I'm a good example of this, my degree is in physics. Most of my fellow associates do not have a BME degree either, although the proportion is increasing over time. If you have a more general degree, like mechanical or chemical engineering, it might be easier to change fields later.
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