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Ex-Grad School Physics Major looking at Military for Job

  1. May 14, 2014 #1

    I currently hold a B.S. in Physics with a minor in Mathematics, but personally felt that to be more prepared for a job in industry, I would need to obtain a Master's degree, so I went through the whole graduate school application process, got into graduate school, and just recently withdrew. For several reasons, I was just not doing well and was not happy in the least bit at that school.

    Like everyone else, I would love to obtain a job where I can use my degree to conduct research and do some great hands-on work, but I am finding from a lot of these companies that I apply to, that there is a huge emphasis on prior work experience (with leadership-type roles). I am 24 and have been a student for as long as I can remember, so that is something that I am seriously lacking, right now.

    Shell, for example, has a pretty rigorous application process and, although, I feel confident I will do well on the online assessments and my resume looks great, I feel that I will fail on the phone interview where the HR representative will ask me those "What would you do if..." or "Name a time where you had to...".

    Enough of the background information. I am also looking into careers in the Air Force which would help me get some solid work experience, but I have gotten advice from current/prior-enlisted friends that is all over the spectrum. Different branches+different experiences (good and horribly bad)=different advice. What I'm looking for on here is some more advice from like-minded individuals who have maybe experienced what I am experiencing now or can give me some more advice on the military job idea. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2014 #2


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    Have you considered civilian work for the military? There are many job openings which can be viewed at USA Jobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/

    You can make a single, detailed "resume" online, then apply for jobs which fit your background.

    As for military service, college graduates often enter as officers, which requires having taken ROTC courses. If you were going for enlisted work you would want to carefully consider the tech specialties for which you are interested. For example, if you have taken courses in nuclear physics, are not claustrophobic, and are not too tall ... then you might enlist in the US Navy, and go to nuclear submarine school as a nuclear tech/operator. There are many other specialties.

    But with the winding down of the current wars all of the services are cutting back on personnel, so some specialties may not have any openings.
  4. May 15, 2014 #3
    I looked into the military after I got my bs. It was over a decade ago, but there's one critical piece of information I gathered that I feel strongly still holds true and that you should know:

    Enlistment recruiters can and often do lie. Not bend the truth, not hard sell (though they do that too) , I mean straight up lie. Believe nothing they say.
  5. May 15, 2014 #4
    Don't let the interview scare you away from Shell or other companies. You know what questions they're going to ask so come up with smart answers.

    No one expects a fresh college grad to have had much meaningful leadership experience. Stress what you're going to do for them in the future.
  6. May 15, 2014 #5
    This was the route I went after college. I graduated with a math and physics degree and ended up getting a job as an operations research analyst with the Army (as a civilian).

    Although, keep in mind that there is a hiring freeze across all DoD organizations - they are not bringing anyone new in, except under very limited circumstances.

    Also, I should mention that if you decide to try to get commissioned as an officer, the Air Force may be your best option considering your background. New 2nd Lieutenants in the AF can immediately branch off into analysis fields. In the Army, you have to wait until you are at least a senior Captain (~10 years) before you can branch off into the analysis field.
  7. May 15, 2014 #6


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    My experience is with the Canadian Armed Forces, but my advice is more-or-less universal.

    The first thing to understand about military is that you're a soldier (or airman, sailor, marine etc.) first. Whatever skill set you have or whatever career route you hope to follow is secondary to the operational needs of the service. Generally speaking they try and usually do get you to where you want to go, but if they need a cook - you're a cook - at least for the moment.

    Perhaps more importantly, you give up certain freedoms that you have as a civilian. You have little control over your schedule (particularly at first). Also you have to have a certain amount of faith that the powers that be are making decisions that you agree with.

    That brings me to my final point. The military exists for a number of purposes, but ultimately, when you sign up, you're volunteering to go to war for your country if so called, and that carries with it the weight of all the related consequences.

    So you have to be alright with all of that. If you are, it can be a great career, or a great opportunity.
  8. May 18, 2014 #7
    FWIW, here's my experience. I started as an English major (yes) and wanted to serve in the military, so I went through a Marine Corps officer program where I participated in two 6-week training sessions in two summers of college. En route, I switched to a Physics major with math and English minors.

    After I graduated college I started in active duty in the Marine Corps, and requested (and received) the speciality of communications (information systems) officer. This was a good fit for me because it included both troop leadership and knowledge of how to integrate the different technical systems we had available - although there was no direct application of physics.

    After about four years of that, my wife and I decided to hang up the uniform and rejoin civilian life. I began pursuing my MS in Operations Research part-time, and I used my veterans' education benefit to pay for nearly all of it (and I have some left over so my wife can pay for part of her grad school). I now work as an operations research analyst for a major corporation. Overall my military experience was great for me, and helped me develop confidence in my ability to adapt to new situations and overcome challenges.

    And no, you don't have to have taken ROTC classes in college to become a military officer. All services have officer programs for those who already have a bachelor's degree. And Choppy's commentary about the service coming first - that's 100% true. Someone who "doesn't do windows" has no place in a military that requires self-sacrifice for mission accomplishment.
  9. May 21, 2014 #8
    Thank you for all of your responses as I found them extremely helpful. I have always thought about joining the Air Force since high school, but at that age, I was dissuaded by my parents (and still are) from pursuing that interest. I also realize that as a soldier, I would be serving my nation first before anything else and that is something I would still be on board with doing. I am not/do not want to be married nor do I have/want any children, so I would just be representing myself and my family back home.

    As for the Shell application, I do not think I did too well on half of the online assessment, so I'm not expecting any good news from their next email. I'm not finished yet, though. I will be applying to other companies and may eventually look back into other Master's degree programs, maybe in Engineering. That is a story for another day, though.
  10. Jun 9, 2014 #9
    If you want to know whether or not joining the army is a good idea look up the soldiers creed. I know your asking about the air force and the soldiers creed is for army officers but the point I want to make is best embodied by its words. If you feel on any level that you could not support these words, or that they hold little meaning to you, then its a no. Yes the military gives great leadership experience and can open great doors, but as you acknowledged you are a soldier first meaning that your duty to fight for your country, mission, and comrades comes before any research you want to do.

    If you feel as if you are willing to fight for your country and that this is a route you want to follow then look up information on direct commissions. You'll still get further with a higher degree, but the military is competency based (minus some *** kiss). Look up a recruiter in your area. If your near a college with an ROTC program there are officers there who can help too.

    Soldiers creed:
    I am an American Soldier.

    I am a warrior and a member of a team.

    I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

    I will always place the mission first.

    I will never accept defeat.

    I will never quit.

    I will never leave a fallen comrade.

    I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

    I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

    I am an expert and I am a professional.

    I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

    I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

    I am an American Soldier.
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