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Feeling so confused about what I want for Career

  1. Nov 30, 2014 #1
    So I have been roaming topics in this forum for days now...

    Short story (past): I enjoyed science ever since I was young. It was always my favorite even if it was not my best subject. I went through phases where I wanted to be a volcanologist, a paleontologist, a doctor, a biologist, chemist, ENGINEER, chemist, and now I am at the physicist phase.

    The physics phase started in college and I have already gradated with my degree. I really loved it then and I was doing well in my research, but I am not sure I want to do high energy theory anymore. Actually, I just do not.

    I want to do something that is closely related to experiment, or experiment. However, I also want to be a part of something that will better this world too. That does not mean I have to do something that involves "curing cancer", but just something that makes a difference (however small it is).

    I emphasized engineer because I applied to engineering programs as an undergrad (did not go) and was even deciding to transfer out of my college to pursue it again. However, I stayed and did physics. I do not regret majoring in physics, I have learned soo much and I love it. It's just not something that points to a career so readily. Most non professional majors do not.

    Since I loved doing physics research so much, applying to graduate school makes sense. However, I want to remain in the STEM industry. I have read several several threads where physicist end up leaving STEM altogether, and that would honestly make me very sad. I know it would make me sad, because currently I am not working in STEM and I am unhappy with my job. Would money buy happiness? haha

    I am applying to many master's in EE programs because I don't have enough background for PhD, but eventually I want that degree.

    IS there away to remain in STEM with just a BA in physics? Does choosing PhD programs in fields like condensed matter ( depending on topic) guarantee remaining in STEM ( in some way or another)?

    I have seen the threads about jobs and job opportunities for both physics and engineering already. Even if I chose engineering, I want to work in a research oriented field. So PhD just has to happen it seems... It seems many chemists/biologists can get R&D work with just a bachelors, but this is rare for physics! Why is it rare for physics btw?

    Thanks for any insight or comments.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 30, 2014 #2
    There's never any guarantee that a certain degree will give you employment in a specific field. If you want statistics, I suggest you look at the National Science Foundation's survey of doctoral recipients at http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/doctoratework/2013/.

    These surveys were conducted in 2013. It seems the current involuntary out-of-field rate for those with a Ph.D. in physics is at 7.4%, while even electrical engineering has a 2% rate.

    I suppose it all depends on whether you enjoy the kind of research engineers do, as well. I'm partially biased, as I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree in EE at the moment, but if you're determined enough, you can find a way to make a difference in any field.
  4. Nov 30, 2014 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I don't know how common this is. It's certainly the case that chemistry or biology majors with bachelor's degrees are not conducting their own research programs.
  5. Nov 30, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Sure. In most job descriptions it will say "degree in X or related field". It is then up to you during the interview to convince the hiring manager that you would be worth it. A lot of STEM jobs require substantial on-the-job training even if you come in with the "degree in X". Target those and you won't be too far behind in the running.

    As V50 says, you will not be in charge of a research lab with a BS.
  6. Nov 30, 2014 #5
    Thank you for the responses!

    Thanks for the link. I know there isn't really a guarantee, but I would do almost anything to remain in STEM. Once I left it, I became very sad and very depressed almost. I just find happiness doing research and I know I will be even happier if I partake in something meaningful ( which I guess is different for people).

    That's very true! All my friends who are working at either at companies or universities have a PI . However, these opportunities are soo rare for physics. When I was looking for jobs, there was soo many for biology and chemistry. Even lab technician kind of things.

    Thank you! I found a couple that are as you describe, but most require PhD. Which is what is propelling me towards graduate school. The ones for bachelors, I found are in AMO for some reason. Problem is I have no research experience there :/ I spent my undergrad doing high energy theory, the pen and paper kind! I loved it a lot, but I should have worked harder on seeking other opportunities too.

    A part of me wishes I didn't enjoy things the I did enjoy, then I could choose from a variety of jobs. I would not think about satisfaction or whatever.
  7. Nov 30, 2014 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    My advice is to not think about "what you like" so much as the reasons why you like them. Chances there are good fields outside of "what you like" that will provide you with all of the same sources of personal satisfaction as well as being employable.
  8. Dec 1, 2014 #7
    My conclusion, after working a couple of years and doing my own bit of study, was that the "research" that most people with a BS get to do is outrageously, mind-numbingly boring.
  9. Dec 1, 2014 #8
    I enjoyed learning physics and new mathematical techniques ( qft, gr, quantum fields in curved spacetime). I enjoyed the flexibility of where I could work and when I could work. I liked going to journal clubs and talks and to learn stuff. I liked working and discussing with my advisors. Being in a road block for research is not always an ideal situation, but I enjoyed the process of figuring how to get out of it.

    I honestly do not know what type of career I would enjoy other than research? I looked into finance and stuff before, but it doesn't appeal to me. I was hoping it would. I have been working on detaching myself from the things I enjoyed about my past research to open myself to new opportunities.

    It worked! I no longer want to do high energy theory. A friend suggested looking into condensed matter theory, but I am also looking into experiment. I also ask around people who are in experiment to get a sense of what their work life is like.

    I sort of figured...but it's better than nothing right? If only I could land one of those... I even applied for biology/chemistry positions, but I doubt my bachelors in physics was going to get me those, haha.

    Important question: Are the research opportunities for post graduate? I know Los Alamos lab has one and Fermilab has one. I was already rejected by Los Alamos and I rather not go into high energy experiment. Are there any other?
  10. Dec 1, 2014 #9
    Hmm, I dunno. If "nothing" is death, then yes. Maybe.

    But we live in a rich, fascinating world. I can think of nothing short of slavery that will ever leave me at the bottom of the research heap again.

    Your mileage may vary.
  11. Dec 1, 2014 #10


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    On the other hand, if you hadn't pursued your studies in physics and worked in research for a while, would you have discovered the actuarial field (a field that according to your original post you knew almost nothing about, but which you are now currently gainfully employed)? Just a thought.
  12. Dec 1, 2014 #11
    Well, sure, why not? The physics to actuary thing is pretty rare.
  13. Dec 1, 2014 #12
    You might try the Naval and Air Force Research Labs, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab as well. From my experience, they have/had job openings for physics majors for math modelling and programming jobs (though the physics major is named alongside engineering majors as well).
  14. Dec 1, 2014 #13
    Thanks Clope023, I'm looking into your suggestions! I'm still applying to graduate school, it just seems that research opportunities increase when one has a PhD at least.

    I wished I had thought more about the career I want during undergrad. I sort of thought, I love high energy theory so I'll make that into a career (not).
  15. Dec 2, 2014 #14


    Staff: Mentor

    OK, but all of that is WHAT you enjoy, not WHY you enjoy it.

    Why do you like learning new physics and math, why do you like going to journal clubs, why do you like the process of figuring how to get out of a road block?

    If you understand those then you will likely find that there are many other things which give you the same enjoyment.
  16. Dec 2, 2014 #15
    Not necessarily, that process of research is largely the same across the board of science and engineering but if it's not related to the area that one enjoys, it can be a motivation killer.
  17. Dec 2, 2014 #16


    Staff: Mentor

    The key is to understand WHY you enjoy that area. You don't come born inherently interested in some area of research, there is something about it that you like and other areas may have those same qualities.
  18. Dec 2, 2014 #17
    Other areas most likely will have those same qualities, but one might be interested in the progress of one field to the point where the fact that other areas are run in a similar manner becomes irrelevant.
  19. Dec 2, 2014 #18


    Staff: Mentor

    I don't think that is correct. If you enjoy something because X then you would necessarily also enjoy anything else for which X is true. If not, then X was not actually the reason that you enjoyed the original thing.
  20. Dec 2, 2014 #19
    Well, if biology/chemistry have better opportunities, but you like physics, why not physical chemistry/chemical physics/biophysics/computational biology etc?

    Some people doing work in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics in biological or chemical systems do work which looks an awful lot like quantum field theory given the formal connections between the subjects (although I don't know how useful that line of work is), which could be an excellent compromise.

    Take Brownian motion for instance. It has a straightforward representation in the path integral formalism. Brownian motion, as a stochastic process, emerges absolutely everywhere, from finance to neuroscience to polymer physics to gene regulation. There are probably people using field theory to study these critical phenomena, Feynman diagrams and all. Even if you don't need the Feynman diagrams to be happy, the underlying mathematics is quite sophisticated and interesting, as well as the application (even finance). Differential geometry and field theory are used by some to study lipid membranes, although again I'm not sure how mainstream that stuff is.

    Blundering about the internet, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across this guy, who uses field theory to study influenza A evolution for some inexplicable reason:

    Seems like a reasonable compromise to me, even if it is slightly suspicious.
  21. Dec 2, 2014 #20
    Physics and math(for physics) are fun. I liked going to journal clubs because you learn about new research/problems and you can bounce back ideas and get into deep discussions. Sometimes I just sit back and watch two people get into debates ( but I still learn). I liked the process of figuring out how to get out a road block because it pushed me to think outside the box. I approached the same problem with different perspectives and tools ( which I had to learn). I enjoyed the challenge. To me it was like a very complicated, but fun, game, but you didn't have to worry about winning. However, to make it as a career it seems that you do... (since HET is do damn competitive).

    I know you can get these with other jobs, but I feel like clope023 is right. I might love these things when they are related to physics and math.

    Thank you Arsenic&Lace for the detailed response! I only applied to those jobs because I was at a point in my life where I would just take anything. I played around with biology and came to conclusion that it is definitely not something I am interested in working in. Same goes for chemistry, unfortunately. I had research experience in chemistry and did not enjoy it all :/

    Which is just my problem exactly! I wish I was more detached and just had the goal of making money in my mind, then I would just take any job and stick with it because $$$. However, I am not like that and I care too much. I am trying to change that about myself.... makes life easier ( in a different way).

    However, since I am applying to graduate school I'll check those research areas (biophysics etc) out if I get admitted. I'll ask people around to see what it's all about.
  22. Dec 2, 2014 #21

    Now that I want to become a billionaire or w/e... but the research that Elizabeth Holmes works on is pretty damn neat:

    "She's spent the last 11 years developing a revolutionary blood testing technology to run diagnostic tests with a single drop of blood, drawn by a painless fingerprick. Imagine completely accessible diagnostic testing available across the country, capable of running hundreds of tests with a tiny amount of blood — and at a fraction of the cost."

    I guess I should start liking biology again... maybe go into bio engineering or something. Seriously I don't know :/
  23. Dec 3, 2014 #22
    The suggestion I was making is that you shouldn't stop doing physics: you should work on problems in chemistry and physics from the point of view of physics, which is a very good compromise.
  24. Dec 4, 2014 #23
    I knew what you meant Arsenic&Lace, sorry if my posting above indicated otherwise. I would rather do chemical engineering than chemical physic, and possibly look into soft condensed matter rather than biophysics. However, I am keeping my mind open! Maybe once I (hopefully) attend graduate school I'll look around at other areas with an open interest in learning! =)
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