I don't think it's possible to look at these sorts of things "objectively" and I don't see much point in even trying.

Neither do I. But sometimes one feels so much hatred and anger that the sane part of one's mind will be very aware of the fact that it is probably better to wait until one will calm down (which may take months) and then make an opinion. Of course, sometimes you need to form opinion quickly, but that is not my case right now.

It is like when someone makes you very very angry and you want to hit him in his face. You will be aware of the fact that it's maybe better to not do the thing, to calm down and then evaluate situation again. But it depends. Sometimes you will decide to hit him. This time I decided to calm down.

(And also, sometimes when there is too of painful things in one's mind something will happen [there are more possibilities what exactly] and then there is no more any pain, no nothing. Just emptiness. (Usually only temporary:) This makes forming an opinion quite a hard either.)

FroChro, even our 'romantic' ideals are brainwashed into us from somewhere.

No,no,no... don't play on words with me, I don't speak english :)

Here I used 'romantic' as something referring to what I think is a romantic opinion on why people work in science. Of course it is (the opinion) formed by society, but I was just trying to use it to express myself more easily. Maybe it was little contra productive... my fault.

StatGuy2000

I can second DaveyRocket's opinions of a career in theoretical physics. I didn't do condensed matter, I did high energy but I'm running into the same issues. I genuinely loved studying physics, but the intense job competition has killed the ability for researchers to work on tough problems- if you can't guarantee publications quickly, its career suicide. This leads to doing a lot of "busy work" churning out papers that your heart really isn't in.

I decided not to take a postdoc, because I think its a dead end career move for most people. Even still, I can find no industry positions, despite hundreds upon hundreds of applications. The phd makes you overqualified for lots of things, but at the same time no one will hire you simply because you know physics and can do research, which is the core of the phd. The core of the phd program will probably not help you get a job.

I'm currently bartending and make more than any of the postdocs I know. According to the APS salary numbers, I make more than the bottom 10% of physicists. I could have done this without a college degree, let alone the phd. If I could do it again, I probably wouldn't.

Also, if you are a woman- any sort of maternity will quite probably kill your career dead. This means if you want a career in physics and a family, you should look into freezing your eggs while in grad school, and maybe holding out until you get lucky and land tenure. Either that, or have a significant other who can both bring in cash and be a primary care taker, have children in grad school, raise them in poverty, and uproot them every few years as you postdoc all over the world.

ParticleGrl, in your previous posts, you stated that one of the reasons you were unable to find an industry position was that you were unable to relocate to where some of the jobs were based at the present time (you had wanted to stay in the San Diego area).

When I did a quick search on one career website, I find quite a number of positions where a PhD in a quantitative area (math, physics, engineering, statistics, etc.) is either required or recommended (the positions I found were based in Toronto -- I'm Canadian). I would think therefore that for many positions you would not be automatically be considered overqualified.

When I did a quick search on one career website, I find quite a number of positions where a PhD in a quantitative area (math, physics, engineering, statistics, etc.) is either required or recommended (the positions I found were based in Toronto -- I'm Canadian). I would think therefore that for many positions you would not be automatically be considered overqualified.

While I would still prefer to find work in San Diego, I've been slowly expanding my search further and further outward. I At this point, I'm looking all over the west coast.

Keep in mind that a listing asking for a physics phd doesn't mean every phd is qualified for that position. The company doesn't want you because you know physics- they want you because of some specific skill they want you to have. A computational biophysicist probably won't get a job working on fabrication of microprocessors, but the right condensed matter physicist might. So, the options aren't quite as broad as a simple search might lead you to believe. I get less then 1 interview per 100 or so applications I send out to jobs that require some form of phd (which is reasonable, as I very rarely match the qualifications, but if I only applied to jobs where I had every listed qualification, I'd never apply to anything).

I have applied for a few jobs that literally list "a phd in a quantitative area." These tend to be business consulting and finance jobs, which generally are not the jobs you expected when you signed on for a phd in science or engineering. I've applied for a few of the consulting type jobs, and landed interviews, but I think the interviewer was able to suss-out that my heart wasn't really in it (after more than a decade of school laser focused on being a scientist its really hard to switch off the idea that people who design the products and do the R&D are somehow better than the bean counters). Desperation may change my attitude in time.

I have applied for a few jobs that literally list "a phd in a quantitative area." These tend to be business consulting and finance jobs, which generally are not the jobs you expected when you signed on for a phd in science or engineering.

One reason I'm hoping these sorts of conversations are useful are that they set the expectations of people going to physics graduate school. If you know that going in to physics graduate school that you may be getting out doing something in business and finance it makes the transition less jarring.

Also, to answer the question "why do a physics Ph.D. taking eight years to get a job that you'd likely be able to get with a two year MBA?" the answer is because it's cool to explore the universe.

I've applied for a few of the consulting type jobs, and landed interviews, but I think the interviewer was able to suss-out that my heart wasn't really in it

Yup. One thing that interviewers look for in physics Ph.D.'s going into finance is a twinkle in their eye that signals that they are really interested in the job. In some ways this is impossible to fake, because if you are able to fake interest in a topic that means that you are interested enough in it to fake interest.

(after more than a decade of school laser focused on being a scientist its really hard to switch off the idea that people who design the products and do the R&D are somehow better than the bean counters).

The fact that finance was my third job helped a lot here. One thing that I learned early on is that the best technology is useless if you can't find someone to sell it.

Desperation may change my attitude in time.

Been there. The biggest barrier to my getting a job in finance was the idea that I would have to relocate to NYC. It took a while (a few years in fact) to get around that barrier, and it was when I realized that there was nothing for me where I was.

MATLABdude

I'm going to posit a bit of a philosophical question that may or may not take this thread off-topic (more so than it has already). Maybe it's the alcohol speaking, and maybe it's the recent viewing of Limitless, but...

If you guys are so smart (and I say 'you' since I'm in a terminal Master's degree in engineering, and struggling enough with that) and so often end up in finance anyway, why don't you all start up a hedge fund or two and start financing research, à la the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation? I guess the difficulty would be in convincing people to give up their dreams and aspirations (so to speak) and raise money for those of others and raising enough money and keep it going long enough to reap the rewards (without turning into, say, a cult or going wayward like the Templars).

EDIT: Mentat sounds neat, but it doesn't quite have the same oomph as the Bene Gesserit...

Last edited:

If you guys are so smart (and I say 'you' since I'm in a terminal Master's degree in engineering, and struggling enough with that) and so often end up in finance anyway, why don't you all start up a hedge fund or two and start financing research, à la the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation?

Because starting and running a hedge fund requires "football jock" skills rather than "physics geek" skills. To start and run a hedge fund you need to:

1) know some very rich people
2) convince them to let them manage their money
3) succeed in making money for those rich people

Most physics Ph.D.'s get stuck at 1). Rich people are hard to find. #2 requires a lot of football jock/smooth talking skills.

As far as #3 goes. One thing that is interesting about finance is that physics Ph.D.'s don't get most of the money. As with a lot of industries, the big bucks go to people in sales and trading, and physicists get the left-overs. However, because you have so much money running around, the left overs are pretty huge. In your typical firm, the managers make six maybe seven figure salaries, and the physics Ph.D. merely make six figures. Boo-hoo.

Finally remember that in finance, you are just moving numbers around. There is some wealth benefit in moving numbers around (i.e. efficient allocation of capital and all that other stuff), but if you start paying salaries above the wealth that is generated, then you have something that isn't going to last for very long.

I guess the difficulty would be in convincing people to give up their dreams and aspirations (so to speak) and raise money for those of others and raising enough money and keep it going long enough to reap the rewards (without turning into, say, a cult or going wayward like the Templars).

Something like that. The thing about most physics Ph.D.'s is that they would prefer to make a lower (even a much lower) salary going geeky things than to make a much higher salary doing non-geeky things.

Also it makes things overly complicated. If I did have insanely rich friends (which I don't) and if I was unusually gifted at convincing people to give me money (which I'm not) then I wouldn't be asking said rich person to give me money to start a hedge fund. I'd be asking said rich friends to give me money so that I could study astrophysics.

Trouble with that is that I'd have to be insanely good at sales, because said rich person is having dinner with a Nobel prize winner in physics who is trying to sweet talk said rich person into giving him money for his pet project. If that rich person has $5 million in spare cash, and it becomes a choice between giving it to me or that Nobel prize winner, I think I'm going to lose. I mean if the rich person gives$5 million to that Nobel prize winner to build a telescope, he can brag to his rich friends that he has dinners and plays golf with Nobel prize winners.

Finally there are institutions that specialize in wining and dining rich people and convincing them to give them money to study weird and esoteric things. They are called "universities". :-) :-) :-) and pretty much every major university has an internal hedge fund. Harvard has tens of billions of dollars in funds which they use to pay scientists. Now if you are a Ph.D. that wants some of that money, you can apply to get it. It's called "applying for a post-doc."

Be an engineer if it would make you happier. Maybe you could teach physics and study engineering for a while?