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Disadvantages of employment before deciding on graduate school?

  1. Feb 17, 2011 #1
    Right now, I am working towards a BS in physics and applied math, and I have been planning on applying for physics PhD programs next year. However, I would really like to have some time away from academia. I think employment would help secure my finances, better allow me to develop my personal life, help me realize whether or not I REALLY want to do graduate work, and give me a break from 17 straight years of schooling. Right now, my interests mostly lie within the field of condensed matter, so the type of work I had in mind would be some kind of engineering-like position with a company that works in a related area.

    The disadvantages I can think of:

    1. Should I later decide to attend graduate school, I would have to study most of the material months ahead of time and more diligently/thoroughly than if I were to test and apply this coming Fall. The material would be much less fresh in my mind.
    2. Getting the type of employment I want could be difficult
    3. Time-wise, having plans on attending graduate school could limit my employment/career advancement options
    4. After the application period has passed, I could change my mind and be out of luck.

    And surely there are other things I haven't considered. So my question for you is: by seeking employment, how would I be limiting myself?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2011 #2


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    Sounds like a good idea. Grad school really isn't for everyone, and you can make just as much as a PhD in physics (especially one in academia) with a bachelors in industry. Yes, you might have some reviewing to do later if you decide to get a masters/PhD, but that's not too hard to do. Not sure what you want to do, so I can't say if you'd have a hard time finding a job, but there are lots of jobs in my area for physics bachelors (DC area).
  4. Feb 17, 2011 #3


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    Personally I think the biggest challenge that faces people who take some time off is that of returning to the student lifestyle. You're not going to be 22 forever. Once you get that first solid paycheque, it's awfully tempting to ratchet up a notch or two in lifestyle: mortgage, car, vacations, find someone to marry, start a family, etc. And before you know it, going back to bottom-of-the-barrel income is both a tough pill to swallow and a decision that may affect other people.

    That's not to say you should dive head first into graduate school either. I agree with Eri, that grad school isn't for everyone and getting into it just for the sake of going can be a recipe for misery.

    The good news is that while taking a year off may make it more difficult to return, it doesn't make it impossible - not by a long shot. If you end up hating whatever decision you make, you can always change it.
  5. Feb 18, 2011 #4
    good luck in this economy
  6. Feb 18, 2011 #5
    I appreciate your encouraging words, but do you have any input that could affect my decision making?
  7. Feb 19, 2011 #6
    Well I've been recommended many times to go to grad school as opposed to trying to find a job in this economy. Another possible disadvantage which I haven't seen mentioned here is that the longer you're out of school, the less your professors will remember you. Also, in case you haven't already, I highly recommend taking the GREs asap. I was careless, made a late decision to apply to grad schools this year, and missed the deadlines to take both the Math and Physics subject tests. I could only take the Physics. This backfired to an extent as I later found a grad program I really liked but I couldn't apply since they required the Math subject
  8. Feb 19, 2011 #7
    I agree with the disadvantages that others have mentioned, although I highly agree with the salary adjustment needed to go back to college. I'm not in grad school but have gone back for undergrad and after making "real" money, it's definitely a big change. Even with savings, going out to eat at a decent restaurant is a bit stressing, because not much money is coming in as it used to be. Depending how long you stay out of college, as Choppy mentioned, you might have a mortgage, kids, etc.

    There would be many advantages of going back later though. Work experience would be a huge factor in a research program. If you were an engineer or a programmer of some sort during your time off school and entered a related grad program you'd be a good candidate. Maybe not in terms of the actual work but everything around it wouldn't be a problem. Doing something 40-50 hours a week for a couple years is *a lot* different than taking a class. If you need to access a skill during research you won't be wasting anytime learning it and then be able to focus more on the actual research.

    If your final goal is industry work experience is always going to be a huge plus. Some companies would even work with you during your time in school. My job, for instance, is letting me make my own work schedule while I'm in school, then go back to full time in the summers and breaks. When I graduate I'll have 4 more years experience on my resume as opposed to other candidates. There's a lot job postings that say something like "each level of education can substitute 2 years of work experience", etc. Well what would happen if you had both? Would they even need to interview you? :wink: Good luck.
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