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Job Skills Fields of Physics I'm Most Likely Able to Do Research In?

  1. Mar 19, 2017 #1
    First, a bit of background. I am currently in a Master's program, studying specifically particle physics and astrophysics. I've always wanted to do research in astrophysics, even from my first day as an undergrad. I've thought about doing research in other fields, but I've never really given it too much priority.

    However, after doing a lot of research in job prospects in the various fields of physics, I've found that I'm very unlikely to land a job that does research in astrophysics, be it at a university or a national lab. Instead, most people seem to think that I'm much more likely to land a job in oil and gas, finance, or defense. Is this true?

    For various reasons, I don't want to do a job in any of those fields. And, while I'd be comfortable doing a non-research job outside of those fields, I would still like to do physics research. So which fields (besides biophysics) am I most likely to land a research job in?

    I thought I had my life more or less on solid path, but mitigating circumstances and nagging doubts are ruining it, so any help here would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2017 #2

    Dr Transport

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    Numerous thread on this within this forum......

    The likelihood of doing astrophysics research is slim. Frankly landing a position in physics doing research full time is not high. A large portion of the people who get a PhD end up in industry at some point in time, the percentage is higher for a person with a terminal masters and even higher percentage for a bachelors only.
     
  4. Mar 19, 2017 #3

    Choppy

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    For some data, you might want to check out the APS Statistics. Here for example.

    The way I tend to look at this kind of question is to think about what kinds of things are people going to be willing to give you money to solve. The fact of the matter is that it's easier to convince people to pay you to help them discover a new reservoir of oil than it is to convince them to pay you to discover a new planet. A lot of people are "interested" in other planets. But a planet that's twenty light years away is not going to put food on anyone's table - at least not any time soon.

    Another approach that can be helpful in terms of survival is to get a job first, then worry about what field you want to work in. I recognise there may be moral objections to supporting specific industries, but blindly wiping them off the map as potential employers will quickly reduce your job options and getting into certain sectors may not be as much of a moral compromise as you might think. For example you could get into the defence industry to work on landmine detection, disaster relief, or the epidemiology of low levels of radiation.
     
  5. Mar 19, 2017 #4
    I'm aware of that, but none of the threads I found addressed my specific questions.

    Regardless of field? That's pretty depressing. Like I said in my OP, I'm not really interested in working in industry, and I'm definitely not interested in working in the industry fields that seem to employ physicists. I want to do research. I mean are the barriers that formidable?
     
  6. Mar 19, 2017 #5
    I may be missing what you're saying, but you didn't really answer either of my questions. I'm aware that the marketability of your skills is the determining factor in getting a job. And I'm aware that there are often "less objectionable" jobs in defense. But neither of those facts address my concern about the job prospects in astrophysics research, or more broader physics research in general.
     
  7. Mar 19, 2017 #6

    Dr Transport

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    I think we both of did, the prospects in the future are not good, astrophysics depending on the source, isn't a hopping field of en devour. Pure physics is a little better, but the chances are better in the more applied areas, semiconductors etc....but cogitating QFT theory in industry is not going to happen very often if at all. if I had a crystal ball, I'd look, but it would be for high return bets making a lot of money on sporting events.

    We can't forecast any real job prospects for the future. I told my college age kid when he was choosing a major, biomedical and environmental engineering are pretty safe bets, as long as there are people, they will be sick and they will pollute.
     
  8. Mar 19, 2017 #7

    Choppy

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    Well, the main issue is that the number of PhDs that are awarded in physics outweighs the number of academic research positions - probably by a factor of 3-10 (depending on how you define the details). How many PhD students will a typical professor supervise over his or her career? One only of them will replace that professor at his/her retirement and the field isn't growing all that fast. Hence you have an over-supply of PhDs and so they tend to spill out into industry.

    Fair enough. Are you asking about the prospects for an MSc grad in astrophysics? I'd say they are very small, unless you develop some very particular skill set that other researchers are willing to hire you on for as a research associate. Even then - you're probably not looking at "career" type jobs. You're looking at temporary contract work off of someone else's grant.
     
  9. Mar 19, 2017 #8

    StatGuy2000

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    As an aside, just because people get sick or will pollute does not mean that biomedical or environmental engineering are safe bets. For example, as far as I'm aware, there is little demand for biomedical engineering in Canada, particularly in comparison to the US.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
  10. Mar 19, 2017 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    I think this is exactly backwards. The normal path for a PhD is to go into industry. As you say, the number getting academic jobs is small. The exception is to go into academia.
     
  11. Mar 19, 2017 #10
    While I prefer theory, I'm aware that applied physics is much more marketable. Could you tell me which fields of applied physics I could study where I'm most likely to land a job doing research in that area, be it at a university, national lab, or industry?
     
  12. Mar 19, 2017 #11
    I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding. While I'm currently doing a Master's program, I'm still going to go on and do a PhD. Does this significantly increase my chances of landing a research job in astrophysics?
     
  13. Mar 19, 2017 #12

    StatGuy2000

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    The problem with your assertion above is that many research areas within physics don't immediately lend themselves to direct applications in industry (e.g. particle physics, cosmology). And physics PhD program were, for the most part, not designed to really provide the type of training that could facilitate a direct, visible path to industry -- the PhD program was designed specifically to train someone to pursue physics research, most naturally in an academic or similar setting. So even though most physics PhD graduates may ultimately find their way into industry, in essence many of those who do so are in reality leaving the physics field entirely.

    Of course, this issue isn't unique to physics, nor even essentially to science. But it bears repeating.
     
  14. Mar 19, 2017 #13

    Dr Transport

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    much more safe than trying to go into academia as a theoretical astrophysicist....
     
  15. Mar 19, 2017 #14

    Dr Transport

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    Again, we are not in the business of forecasting the future job market, I mentioned semiconductors, there are others, accelerator science has been mentioned here in the past.

    My degree is in pure semiconductor theory, have not worked in it ever since graduate school, no jobs in industry in it, but I have used my knowledge in the lab helping to characterize materials.
     
  16. Mar 19, 2017 #15

    Choppy

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    Of course it does. I don't know what the odds are for an MSc getting such a position, but they are probably small enough that assuming they are zero is not unreasonable. And then, as I mentioned above, you're looking at a 1 in 10 chance if you successfully graduate with a PhD. So sure, graduating with a PhD drastically improves your chances. But they're still small, and you need to account for that as you plan out your transition from education to career.
     
  17. Mar 19, 2017 #16
    You can always get a faculty job at an institution that focuses on teaching and do (unfunded or self-funded) research on whatever you want while you earn your living meeting the teaching requirements of the job: usually they amount to teaching 10-15 semester hours each term.
     
  18. Mar 19, 2017 #17

    Dr Transport

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    Even those are very selective and far between....
     
  19. Mar 19, 2017 #18
    I've been on enough hiring committees to know that a PhD in the discipline and a history of teaching success (even as a TA) gives one a really good shot.

    Seen a number of jobs at community colleges without any applicants with a PhD in the discipline.
     
  20. Mar 20, 2017 #19
    So what you're essentially saying is that, if I want to do research in astrophysics, I'm just up a creek? God this whole thread is horribly depressing. I want to make contributions to science, not be a cog in the wheel of industry, especially the industries I'm being pushed towards.

    Sorry if I seem stubborn. I'm just uncertain about a lot of things right now.
     
  21. Mar 20, 2017 #20
    Not at all. You are free to research astrophysics to your heart's content. It's just unlikely that someone will be willing to PAY you for doing it.

    To get a paycheck, odds are you will need to produce a work product that has more value than astrophysics to whoever is paying you.

    Well grow up and join the real world.

    This is the logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy. For most of my career, there has been enough time in the week and year to both earn a paycheck contributing to industry AND make contributions to science.

    See: https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/science-love-money/

    The more constraints you put on things, the harder life is. Most teaching jobs will leave more time for research than most industry jobs. A broad geographic search for teaching jobs that includes community colleges and lower tier teaching schools is more likely to be productive than one subject to narrow geographical constraints.

    If you feel like you are being pushed toward industries you don't like, read, "What Color is Your Parachute?" and identify alternate industries that are a good match for your skill set. Still stuck? Figure out how to broaden your skill set for jobs you like more. Usually teaching and programming are the skills most likely to lead to greater employment options for a young PhD.
     
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