Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics Finding a job with a B.S. in Physics?

  1. Jul 17, 2011 #1
    Here's some background information about my academic career to explain my situation:

    I came into college with a huge head start (>45 AP credits) and went straight into higher level physics classes; my original plan was to graduate in 3 years. My first year I did really well one semester (3.6-7ish I think) and bad my second semester (mid-low 2.something). I shaped up a little bit and was able to get into a Intro to Physics Research track at my university (University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign), which you had to be approved to take. The class sets you up with undergraduate research and gives you the option of writing a senior thesis.

    My undergraduate research was absolutely awful. I had an advisor with a really thick accent who I could never understand, a post-doc in charge of me that had no idea what he was doing, and my advisor even left the country for half of the summer! My project kept changing throughout the summer and in the end I just ended up throwing together a senior thesis based on what little relevant data I had. After my senior thesis was over, I was halfway through my 3rd year in college. Around this time, I decided I didn't want to pursue a Ph. D in the field anymore. This made me really depressed and caused me to lose all of my motivation; I had dedicated my life from the age of 16 to eventually going to grad school for physics and now I wasn't going to anymore. I decided to delay graduating and try to take more classes in other fields (mainly CS) to get a minor. I ended up getting the worst grades of my life due to complete lack of motivation and just butchered the hell out of my GPA. I was taking 4 high level physics and math classes every semester and that just completely burned me out. I think I graduated with somewhere around a 2.6-2.7. I don't think I ever got less than a B- in a physics class, I think I got a couple C's in math but not too many. Most of my bad grades came from classes unrelated to my major or CS classes I didn't do any work for my last semester.

    When I graduated (Spring 2010), I decided to just get a garbagety part-time job (completely not related to my degree) down in Urbana. I wanted a year off, the economy was tanking and the job market looked garbagety to me, and I just wanted to not do anything academically for awhile; I was happy just being able to barely support myself and be independent from my family for awhile. I spent too much time having fun with friends and my graveyard shifts at my job made me completely unmotivated to do anything to further my career; it was hard to want to do anything productive when you got off work at 4 AM. Now that my lease is almost up, I'm going to move back home with my parents (Chicago-land area) and get away from the temptations involved with living in a college town (going out way too much, etc).

    Right now, all I want to do is get a full-time salaried job or anything that will help me further my career. I want to not live at home and be able to move out and be independent. However, I just don't know where to begin to look for jobs. I have several plans and ideas for the future, but right now I need to secure myself financially. I've debated going to grad school to get a master's of education, but I'm worried my abysmal 4th year grades will prevent me from getting into there. Also, I'm not sure if I should get a teaching certificate first or if I should just go for the masters. I've also considered getting an MBA but I doubt I can get into a school with my lack of work experience and GPA. I'm also highly interested in doing actuary work but I realize that will take several years to pursue.

    I know I'm rambling, but I feel extremely lost. I hear a lot of people telling me not to worry, that I can get a bunch of different jobs with a Physics degree, but I just don't even know where to look. I also feel like every job I've seen online requires some experience I don't have. My resume looks kind of pathetic...my research experience was only for a few months and I kind of just left it after the summer due to how awful my advisor was...other than that my only other job experience is my garbagety part-time job I'm quitting soon. Where should I look for jobs? What should I do to boost my resume so I actually have experience? I like programming, but I have nothing to show I can do it other than saying I took a few classes in college. I would love to do something math and business related, but I don't have any business experience to get me a job. I was thinking of independent studying the first 2 actuary exams (the first is all probability I have already learned), but I don't think any actuary entry level job would take me. What is my best bet? Looking for a lab technician job? I know I really messed up my undergraduate career with regard to setting myself up for employment...I admit I sacrificed that for a really good social life, but I want to grow up and find a real job.

    Thanks to anyone who read this and can provide me some advice :)

    P.S. Sorry if this is just a bunch of disjointed rambling...I just feel really lost and scared that I wont be able to help myself :(

    Short summary: Had a little too much fun in college, burned myself out taking too many high level classes at once, decided not to get a Ph. D and became depressed and lost all motivation, don't have much experience, resume kind of sucks, and worried I wont be able to find a good job (and have no idea where to even begin to look for one...), but wanting to do something productive for my career
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2011 #2
    First, what do you want to do?

    Second, where can you do it?

    Third, how can you get your foot in the door?

    Those are the questions you should ask. The rest of what you've written is the result of being burned out.
  4. Jul 18, 2011 #3
    I know it doesn't help but I have a Ph.D. in physics, and a lot of the jobs I look for want experiences I don't have.

    So the issue isn't your degree, it's just getting started.

    Here's one thing you are lucky enough to try that I cannot:

    A *lot* of companies will still consider you just out of college. Many will consider you so for up 18-24 months after graduation. If you find something you want to do, APPLY NOW and get entry level jobs in engineering or something. A lot of those places will take people with a B.S. in physics. They'll probably even like you more because you don't have bad habits to break you of (don't say that though).

    You should at least get past the computer screeners with your recent physics degree. (the reason I can't do this is because the computer kicks me out because it sees BS from over five years ago)
  5. Jul 18, 2011 #4
    It’s going to be difficult. Don’t let that deter you, just accept it and be that much more stubborn. I don’t have long so let me just throw down some thoughts:

    Ask all your professors if they know of anything. That’s how I got my first job in research. Ask professors you took courses from and ask ones you don’t know. Especially concentrate on those whose funding comes from business; they may have a higher probability of knowing of a job you can work.

    Be prepared for an unexciting job. That’s okay, because it may be worth it in the future, but if you get something in research with your background it’s going to be doing some pretty basic (bordering on the janitorial) work for low pay. Prove yourself and you may move up quick.

    It’s too bad you didn’t apply yourself in your CS classes. Programming is a very marketable skill. If you have any background in programming then find a way to sell it.

    I think teaching school is more accomplishable than you make it sound. However, I think it’s a more awful experience than you can imagine.

    Some background on me: I had a terrible time as an undergraduate, mostly due to my own stupidity. I worked for a few years in research, got my head on straight, went back for my masters with the intention of working in industry. I ended up an actuary for reasons that aren’t obvious to anyone (including me, and especially my wife). I guess I feel my story started out not too much different than yours, though maybe not that much the same, either.

    Best of luck.
  6. Jul 18, 2011 #5
    Hah, I missed this in your post. Serves me right for skimming. Who knows what other gems I missed.

    You could try the actuary route two ways: side bet or all in.

    Side bet works like this: continue trying for a lab/research job but in the meantime pass a couple of exams. What’s that going to cost you, a few hundred bucks? Big deal. Just don’t underestimate them – those first two exams are easy compared to the later ones, but they still have 50% pass rates. Make sure you’re on the right side of that line. You may need a 3rd exam to really be a contender.

    Side bet doesn’t work as well for you as other people though because you don’t have a perfect track record and have no business experience. It’s low cost, but your odds of making the move aren’t great, either.

    Or you could go all in, which means finding an insurance job somewhere – anywhere. Go nationwide with your search and find an underwriting job that will hire you. That’s not easy, but it is doable, and it is a lot easier to move to actuarial work from underwriting than from a research lab. Some temp work in an office setting may help make the move to insurance.

    Being mobile will be critical. The vast majority of actuarial work is in a few very specific areas. If your family responsibilities are low and you have few geographical constraints your odds of making this work go way, way up.


    PS: Actuarial exams. . . actuarial entry level job. . . (the confusion over this designation is something of an inside joke among actuaries, but they'll still expect you to get it right in an interview)
  7. Jul 21, 2011 #6
    As a UIUC Physics graduate, you are entitled to use the University's Engineering Career Services, even if you were an LAS major. They can give you excellent advice on how to best present your resume, schedule mock interviews to help you practice for the real thing, and give you access to recruiters, as well as provide their list of job postings. I would be happy to meet with you anytime, anyplace, at your convenience to help, too. I have some ideas about what you might do and connections through our alumni network to employers who value someone with a physics degree from our department. I'm so sorry that you had such a bad experience in senior thesis, and that I didn't know about it then. You are to be commended for having the courage to frankly discuss your situation and ask for guidance, and we will do our best to help you. Please give me a call or respond to this post. Celia E.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook