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Job Skills Good jobs for B.A. in Physics

  1. Mar 24, 2017 #1
    Hello everyone! Months ago I went on this site and encountered several kids like me having trouble finding good jobs with a B.A. in physics. I just got my physics B.A. and am now working as an industrial mechanic for General Dynamics, a defense contractor. I know there's been a lot of talk on this site regarding jobs for recent graduates, and my heart goes out to those folks. I, too, struggled for around 3 months to find a loosely related job. I would like to encourage recent graduates to look into manufacturing companies, and to go to their actual websites. I know I spent a lot of time on websites like Indeed.com and boy did I waste a lot of time! As one who spent countless hours on that site I can pretty much guarantee recent graduates will not find a job on there. Once I started looking into manufacturing companies near me in Connecticut, it didn't take long before I found a decent paying, loosely related job. I'm praying for everyone out there like myself who was misled into thinking that a B.A. in Physics was a good idea. My advisors, parents, friends and acquaintances all told me I would be well to do with a physics degree. The USA is a leader in manufacturing, with lots and lots of good jobs and no one to do them. Machinists, welders, electricians, pipe fitters, steam fitters, and industrial mechanics all make decent wages and there are a ton of jobs here. People with a physics B.A. make excellent candidates for any of these positions, with skills ranging from circuitry, tools and machines, measuring and data acquisition, spatial reasoning, computer skills, math, and laboratory safety according to OSHA guidelines and awareness of material safety data sheets. I hope this helps my fellow recent graduates! Electric Boat in Connecticut is hiring something like 1500 people this year for these jobs manufacturing nuclear submarines.
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  3. Mar 24, 2017 #2
    Also, I'm sure some donkey will respond by saying I didn't work hard enough, didn't have a good resume, didn't have research experience, etc. While I don't have research experience (huge mistake), I did and do have a very good resume and I've gotten lots of professional help with it. I also graduated with a GPA of a 3.68, and I have worked very, very hard looking for a job. Lots of people were more fortunate than me and have some programming skills, but I don't (apart from some basic C++ and python). I am particularly making this thread for those people like myself.
  4. Mar 24, 2017 #3
    I don't know about you guys, but I had no desire to sit behind a computer all day, or study some arcane topic like liquid crystals in graduate school. I just wanted a decent paying job that wasn't the food industry, retail, or sales. I love my new job and there is tons of room for growth in a manufacturing career. Let me know if you have any questions!
  5. Mar 24, 2017 #4


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    Some of what you describe or list would be closer to vocational training than scientific or technical preparation/education. How much of your Physics education or in what ways, does your Physics and your current job relate to each other?
  6. Mar 24, 2017 #5


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    It seems to have worked out fairly well for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I would argue that a bachelor's degree in physics is still a good idea, under the right circumstances. One major concern is that people have a tendency not to understand the difference between academic education and job-training or professional education. Community colleges are generally set up for the latter - providing students with industry-specific training that will qualify them for jobs. Professional degrees, like engineering, medicine, dentistry, nursing, etc. do something similar. A degree like physics will educate the student in physics - usually oriented towards further study in graduate school, but the degree itself will not necessarily prepare the student for work in a particular industry. That doesn't take away from the value of the degree. As you've stated, a physics student can gain a lot of very useful skills. It's just that the divide from academia to industry is a wider gap.
  7. Mar 24, 2017 #6
    You're absolutely right, Choppy. Physics programs are generally meant to prepare one for graduate school. I even thought I wanted to go to graduate school when I started, but later changed my mind. The problem, in my opinion, is that that is all they do -- prepare one for graduate school. Besides that, you can either teach, which generally requires more education, or get a job that's loosely related. The typical back-up plan is computer programming, which is also a great career for those who enjoy it (I personally don't). What I do now probably uses more of the skills I learned in college than I would had I become a programmer. Specifically, I read blueprints on a daily basis, which we do all the time when reading lab manuals, I use calipers and micrometers to make measurements, I do algebra to answer questions like, "How many 1 inch holes can a drill in a steel sheet 52 feet long if they all need to be .75 inches from each other?" I assemble, install and repair equipment according to manuals, and I write detailed reports to ensure safety standards have been met. I also have to effectively communicate complicated information. Frankly, I think my job uses a lot of skills that physics undergraduates learn.
  8. Mar 24, 2017 #7
    First, I'd like to congratulate you on expanding your job search and finding a job that you like. But I just want to clarify a key issue: the job that you have and the other jobs that you've listed do not require a 4 yr college degree of any sort, correct? So, yes, you are using some of the training that you learned in acquiring a BA in physics, but that training could have been acquired in a trade school or vocational school program, correct? Do most of your co-workers (doing what you are doing at the same level that you are doing) have 4 yr college degrees, 2 yr associate degrees, or high-school degrees? With the benefit of hindsight, would you still have completed a 4 yr BA in physics, or simply gone to a trade school or vocational school?

    Just to emphasize, I'm not knocking any of these jobs; my dad was a master precision machinist.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
  9. Mar 24, 2017 #8

    Thanks! You're right in pointing out that the job I now have does not require a 4 year degree. I could have gone to vocational school for 2 years or so instead. However, my point was not that people should get a B.A. in Physics in order to get manufacturing jobs. My point was that if you made the choice to get the degree already then you may want to look into manufacturing. In fact, the number one concern my supervisor had when interviewing me was that I was over qualified.

    In response to your question, if I had a choice I would definitely go back and study something that would probably land me a good job. I would have probably done some form of engineering or applied mathematics. But even then, I have heard of several people who got various engineering degrees and still had trouble finding a good job. If you go to vocational school for manufacturing you will get a decent paying job with no problem. I don't entirely regret getting a physics degree, though. I still love solving physics problems and I regularly do practice GREs online for fun. I'm actually considering buying some graduate level textbooks to work through as a hobby. I also want to point out that I love my job, which may be the case for other students with similar interests and skills.

    On I side note, I think my number one advice for college students or incoming college students would be to make sure you aren't wasting your money on a degree that won't get you a good job. Do some research and make sure that you have a plan for your career after your graduation. And I'll warn you, just because physicists get paid a lot does not mean there are jobs for physicists. Apart from NASA and Space X, I don't think companies like Lockheed Martin care much for physicists. They aren't solving new theoretical problems. They're looking for engineers who know how to work with known physics.

    I appreciate these questions. Keep them coming!
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
  10. Mar 24, 2017 #9
    4-6 years in education and forced into manual labor.
  11. Mar 24, 2017 #10


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    I met a few maintenance mechanics. They ARE intelligent people. Their work requires good common sense of a sort, something I do not at the moment know how to say,... but some good sense about the parts and equipment they need to check, adjust, repair, or work-on.
  12. Mar 25, 2017 #11
    These are key points I wanted to bring to the attention of others in your situation. But I wanted them to come from you.

    I think you have a reasonable career track, now that you've gotten your foot in the door. Physics gives good training in conceptual thinking, modelling, problem solving, and planning. All of these can help you advance up the manufacturing hierarchy to shop supervisor, project manager, and product manager. A couple of years down the road, if you are happy where you are, look into opportunities your company offers for training in project and product management (some will even pay for a masters). Of course, if you prefer to spend your time on the shop floor, rather than behind a desk or in meeting rooms, that's fine, too.

    I applaud your pragmatic and positive attitude. I run into too many students these days who are crying in their beer because they haven't landed their dream jobs. Good luck in your future endeavors.
  13. Mar 25, 2017 #12


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    Manufacturing jobs of the type the OP is talking about is not manual labor (i.e. ditch digging, construction, etc.) like you're talking about. How about showing some respect to the OP!
  14. Mar 27, 2017 #13
    It' because physics degree (and I mean "pure" physics degree, not degree filled with cs and applied math courses) is not very useful outside of academia/grad school. If you want to make it more marketable you need extra training otherwise you aren't qualified for job. Because of that most people who study physics do that because they want (or they think they want) career in physics (research, academia). If they can't land the only job they are qualified for they are crying. Even OP could get his job with less money/time/training. That's often the case - with degree in physics in the end you are fine but the time and money cost is higher. More or less physics degree can be seen as detour and not everyone are ready for that.
  15. Mar 27, 2017 #14

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    The OP has a job he's happy with. You could, instead of belittling his accomplishments, be happy for him.
  16. Mar 28, 2017 #15
    I've been to the Electric Boat facilities, their mechanics and technicians are top notch, know what they're doing (hell some times more so than the engineers), and have years of experience building some of the most complex engineering systems in the world. You don't get to that point being stupid.
  17. Mar 28, 2017 #16
    That's a misconception, physicists don't just do theoretical research; also companies like Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grumann, and others do hire physicists by name or as acceptable degree to have alongside the engineers depending on the project (usually for electromagnetics, optics, systems engineering, or modeling and simulation type work).
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