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Graduating with a BA in physics, options?

  1. Dec 5, 2007 #1
    I'm graduating in a week with a BA in physics and a 2.51 GPA (WOOT!!!11) Yeah, well I didn't do so well in chemistry and some other general courses which caused me to switch majors several times. It looks like I'll be denied every job that asks for my GPA.

    Well, anyways, I feel I don't have much options at the moment. I barely have any major/study-related work experience besides part time jobs I took to help pay my bills in college. I've had all these people and advisers telling me the flexibility of a physics degree....... well, my degree isn't so "flexible", as I went on a 2 month job hunt on the internet and through connections and came up empty handed.

    It feels I should of switched to an engineering degree as those seem to be so high in demand. Can anyone recommend me specific what companies hire people like me? Do those companies even exist?

    Also, can anyone recommend some options/steps to take? I have a feeling I'll be unemployed for the next few months and will soon have to go on welfare or just live off my parents.... which is the last thing I want to do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2007 #2


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    I think you're being a bit too negative. There's no reason that you'd be unemployed, only through choice. You have a degree, after all, and there are plenty of jobs out there that do not require degrees.

    As for your specifics, I'm not from the US, so can't comment on that.
  4. Dec 5, 2007 #3


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    Are you physically fit enough to work in a warehouse which often does not require much experience? Finding a job may be tough but reaching some kind of employment should definitely be possible.
  5. Dec 5, 2007 #4
    There's no question that engineering degrees are in demand. You can, however, become an engineer if you'd like.

    What kind of companies hire people like you? I have no idea. I don't know anything about you, except for your GPA. And neither does your future employer. What do you want to do?

    There are literally thousands of companies out there looking for good, smart people they can train. They don't expect you to know it all coming out of school-- your Physics degree shows them that you have strong analytic abilities, are hard-working, smart, and able to handle a challenge. If that's how you explain it to them, that is. They expect to need to train you for the specific field you go into. You're not going to start at the top.

    So, what do you want to do?
  6. Dec 5, 2007 #5
    I'm in a similar boat. I had a sub 3 gpa and graduated with a BS in physics. And I've been working in a warehouse for a while now. It shouldn't be too hard to find some kind of job to pay the bills. But as to finding a longer term job that uses your degree, I'm not sure.
  7. Dec 5, 2007 #6
    Been There

    Don't fret too much. I was in your shoes 9 years ago. The job market was very similar then that it is today. I had a dual degree in Physics & Math.

    I considered jobs in statistics, engineering, teaching, ... practically anywhere that I thought I could apply my knowledge. Everywhere I looked, hirers wanted more specialization: more experience. This seemed like the chicken and egg paradox. I couldn't get more experience without the job. I couldn't get the job without the experience.

    I would recommend looking in technology. Be prepared to go in to an entry-level position (e.g. Technical Support) and work your way up. Try to start with a small company: < 150 employees.

    I eventually found my career in technology (I'm currently a DBA), although it was not a simple path.

    I do have a couple of pointers before you begin:

    1) Be confident - You have a degree in Physics. This is VERY GOOD. Physics is a difficult field of study. Solving freshman problems in Physics is more difficult than most of the work that I have found in business (and I gravitate to very technically challenging work).

    Know this. You have already worked harder and solved harder problems than most people you will meet in business EVER will. You have what business leaders refer to as "hard skills". Most (90%+) of the people you will meet are incapable of doing this technical work. It is an undiscussed secret which everyone in business knows. Carry this knowledge with you, but never forget to be compassionate and supportive of those around you.

    2) Be a good person - It is more important "who" you know than "what" you know. It is a cliche, but it is absolutely true.

    Don't interpret this as you have no chance because you know no one. Instead remember that the most important actions and choices that you take will be with respect to the relationships you build.

    You are right. No employer is looking at your resume and getting excited at your education or GPA. Frankly they don't care (except insofar that you have potential). They are much more interested in your character. This is what is going to make them get excited.

    3) Your character - THIS is the silver bullet. This is what will push you over the chasm you are about to jump.

    When I was looking for my first job, every time I had talked to a recruiter I wanted to emphasize my ability. At that point, all I was concerned about was impressing people with my intellect, my abilities, or my potential. I believed that this was what was going to get me hired. I was wrong.

    I got my first job (in technology) because I mentioned something to a recruiter that seemed insignificant to me at the time. I said, "I like to tutor. I like to teach. I guess I like to help people."

    That simple, unintentional comment launched my career. This wasn't because this is the right answer for everyone. This was because this was true for me. This is part of who I am. This is part of my character.

    People you meet in business will not judge you by your analytical or technical skills as much as they will judge you by your character. It would benefit you in your search to discover this secret about yourself.

    This is digging into a place in you that most people don't consider until they are much older. To dig here, I recommend this. Find a quiet place and sit and think. What makes you who you are?

    Don't look for _special_. Look for _meaningful_. Look for what you look for in friends. Consider the things that you do with others that you really like.

    Don't limit this to things that seem applicable to the jobs that you are considering. Instead look for things that are part of you. Look for things that are important to you that may or may not be important to your future employer. If you take a bias toward achieving a goal (e.g. a new job), people can tell. They won't trust you.

    Don't just look for things you find entertaining. Instead look for things that you do with others. Look for things that you do that focus on your relationships. Business is about relationships.

    This digging is much more elusive than the straight-forward problems we find in Physics, Mathematics, or technology. You can't start at the beginning and go to the end. You have to search who you are. For me, at least, this was very difficult.

    I wish you the best of luck (though I know that you don't need it). You have the ability. You just need to find who you are.
  8. Dec 5, 2007 #7
    my brother graduated with about a 2.80 gpa with a chemical engineering degree job from uc berkeley last may and STILL hasnt found a job. Only 1 company even accepted him, but they rejected him within a few days. hes applied to maybe a 1000 different companies by now, to companies throughout the world.

    so a 2.51 gpa in physics, should be even worse. Of course, maybe his interview skills, not his gpa is the problem
  9. Dec 6, 2007 #8
    The problems isn't finding a job, but finding a DECENT job. The problem is I'm repeating my parent's road/fate. I grew up with poverty in the U.S. with both my parents making less than $33k a year COMBINED atm.

    I'm going back home in a couple weeks. I've already spent 5 years in college with their support only to come back home for more of their support instead of getting a life of my own.

    Quoted for the truth.... Practically all of the jobs I've applied/looked at is hiring for entry-level technical positions. But what boggles me is that they require +1 years of experience. I've always thought entry-level was for people with no experience but just have the overall knowledge in the field..... I guess I'm wrong.
  10. Dec 6, 2007 #9
    "Entry level" usually means less than 3 years experience.
  11. Dec 6, 2007 #10
    Yeah, all jobs are like that. Ignore the 1 year requirement and apply anyway-- they put that because they want to ward off people without a degree, and figure putting a year requirement will be another hurdle that will keep these people away. One year of experience is an awful small amount.

    Entry level is for people who have no experience and no knowledge, but a desire to learn. Show them this, and you'll get the job.

    The first job is the hardest one to get.
  12. Dec 9, 2007 #11
    I went to five different job boards and updated my resume on a weekly basis. Preferably at 6:30 AM on Monday. Although I had loaded up my resume with a lot of extra stuff on it, I started landing interviews with out sending off any applications. In my experience, applying to jobs was an ineffective way to get interviews.

    I also have reason to believe that the post-office-mail thank-you-for-the-interview letter is much more effective than the email thank-you-for-the-interview letter. On the other hand I didn't write too many post-office-mail thank-you-for-the-interview letters.
  13. Dec 9, 2007 #12
    Why did they dump your brother?
  14. Dec 9, 2007 #13

    The physics department at UCSD said the same crap about physics degrees being versatile and valuable. What a bunch of bull****. Those people are dying to attract students to their shrinking department. This happens everywhere. Faculty are always eager to attract students to ensure there are people to teach and hence a demand for professors. I initially wanted to study physics but was skeptical of the job outlook so I did engineering science (currently).
    Have you thought about being a teacher? I believe science and math teachers are relatively in demand.
  15. Dec 10, 2007 #14


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    A physics degree does not deserve a degraded characterization. Two decades ago, someone with a physics degree might often find work as an engineer. The clever/smart people would take in a few other courses than just physics courses, such as maybe a couple or so engineering courses, and maybe a programming course or something from one or two other sciences. Physics students would best become experts at learning. Those graduates could still become secondary school science teachers if they prefer to steer their development that way, too; whether two decades ago or today.
  16. Dec 10, 2007 #15
    If the "clever/smart" people took nonphysics courses to supplement their degree then I see no point in having getting the degree in the first place. Following your logic, the "clever/smart" people should have been even smarter and switched to engineering.
  17. Dec 11, 2007 #16
    i think physics is indeed risky. i talked to alot of companies from school career fairs. if ur not an engineer, then ur prolly not gonan get a job in industry. One astrophysics major (who luckily landed a research project in school on opitical engineering) said dont expect to get a job w/ physics. Which is what common sense dictates.

    Anyone here love physics enough to go get a graduate degree and become a university teacher??
  18. Dec 11, 2007 #17


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    animalcroc :
    from animalcroc:
    Those clever people were PHYSICS graduates, and THEY BECAME ENGINEERS. I did not merely give you MY logic; I gave you THEIR logic. Those bachelor's degree students earned Physics degrees, not engineering degrees. They made their choices on certain desired engineering elective courses.
  19. Dec 16, 2007 #18
    Maybe not, but you don't give any good reason that his characterization isn't valid. I agree with you completely that if one simply adds and subtracts from the physics curriculum one can improve their job prospects hugely. They just shouldn't have to.

    I had an interesting experience with just this debate. About a year ago a colloquium speaker argued just this to our department - that physics curriculum, especially undergraduate curriculum, should include key courses that would improve their employability in the private sector. I thought it was well presented and well argued. The response wasn't apathetic - it wasn't even negative. It was openly hostile.

    There are exceptions, but as a general rule the typical US physics degree isn't half what it could be. I'm not convinced the Europeans are much better off.
  20. Dec 17, 2007 #19
    see this is what I am a bit worried about as I am a senior preparing to go to college.
    My intention is to major in physics and (at least try to) go to grad school perhaps followed by research and a Ph.D (very very vague hopes)
    I have had this persistent worry that I won't really be able to apply my physics degree to a career aside from teaching.
    yes, i have already read the entire so you want to be a physicist thread.
    Basically, I am just worried that a physics degree wont give me very many opportunites

    In response to RasslinGod, I do.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2007
  21. Dec 17, 2007 #20
    lol i guess we physics lovers can face it...we're prolly not gonan be gainfully employed or we can just TEACH.

    My Professor did say that with a PhD, you can get hired in industry because they're looking for creative thinkers, doign things engineers can't do. However, thats not giving me much hope. He said MAs dont really have much oppertunity at all.

    Anyone else thinking of just getting a bachelors in engineering instead?

    To the topic creator: maybe you can try non-science jobs like marketing?? i donno

    I've always thot of Physics like a degree in history or english, not really applicable to anyhting outside of academia. But man physics is AWESOME.

    i mean there are some skilsl from a physics major that might be useful:
    -programming (but i prolly wont want to get a job jsut programming alone)
    - [you fill in the blank]
  22. Dec 17, 2007 #21

    Well, I have a bit of advice for you, based on the stuff that's going on in this thread and the stuff I'm getting from real life and fellow physics friends.

    1.) A pure BS/BA in physics will definitely not get you anywhere without specialized experience in a more applicable area. Trust me, this is what I am facing at the moment. If you want to land a job with a bachelor's in physics, take some engineering courses along the way. Get an internship.

    2.) If you "feel" that a physics degree isn't worthwhile (career-wise), go towards engineering and take physics courses to satisfy your physics lust.

    The way I'm seeing it now is the physics degree is a proof that you can be very technical, but that really offers nothing to an employer unless you have that "specialized experience/ability".
  23. Dec 17, 2007 #22
    Well, there's me. I just finished my first semester of graduate school, and I'm working on my PhD in astrophysics. What you said is quite correct: if you aren't an engineer, or if you don't at least have several engineering courses under your belt, you aren't going to get a job. The semester before I graduated, I started applying for jobs even before I applied to graduate school. Only one company gave me an interview. It was Target Corporation, and I really didn't want to work for Target for the rest of my life.

    I'd more or less concur with this advise to an outgoing high school senior. And I say this as someone who did a "pure" BS in physics. Oh sure, I took a diversity of classes, including biology, math (enough math to get a math degree also), and even organic chemistry. But I didn't take programming or engineering. I think this is why I wasn't very marketable. I would suggest either majoring in engineering and taking a few physics courses as fizziks said, or attend a school that has an "engineering physics" degree. Or you could just double major in physics and engineering.

    My only caution is that some people have a sort of insatiable physics lust. Heck, after spending a semester in grad school and seeing how real science is done, I don't even really want to be a scientist. But I'm definitely going to complete my PhD, for no other reason than because I really want to know how all of this physics stuff works. Do you want to be stupid like me and spend nine years of your life satisfying your desire to learn more about physics? I'm not saying that "no" is the correct answer. All I'm saying is that if you're going into physics, do it because you like it, not because it pays well (because it doesnt).

    Now Fizziks, about your problem, I have a suggestion. Have you considered graduate school? You could just go for your Master's, at which point you'd be significantly more employable. Is it possible for you to delay graduation and spend an extra year in school? You really should get that GPA up. By the time you start getting near 2.80, there are grad schools out there that will take you. And chances are you'll do much better once you get in. I just finished up this semester with a 3.47, which is better than I ever had in undergrad (I graduated with a 3.1). Secondly, you might try taking the GRE. If you score very high, then you'll have an even better chance. I have a friend who is just finishing undergrad, and last I heard he was at ~2.7. But he somehow got 740 on the physics GRE (that's really, really good). If you can pull that off, then you should be OK.

    Anyway, that's just one possibility. There are plenty of other ones...I think.
  24. Dec 17, 2007 #23
    I have taken way too much classes in college now. I'm 15 credits over the maximum amount of credit hours my college will allow and I had to persuade them to let me continue.... otherwise, I had to drop out which was not an option for me. I wished I could of taken more classes to help my GPA and future work.

    I got accepted to a graduate school already. I got into a Masters of Information Security program down back at home. It's not a well known school and it excels at distance learning. All my classes are online (in fact ALL of the graduate classes are online). I got rejected from every grad school except for my "safe school", which is this one.

    The point is, I've spent +5 years trying to get my undergraduate degree. I barely passed and I don't think I would survive a day in graduate school. Sure, I went to a very difficult school that's in the top 10 and now I will be attending a school in the bottom tier (4th tier ranking according to US news).

    So, should I take the risk and get loans for graduate school? If I fail, I'll have loans to repay and be back to where I am now. But, if I pass and get some internships/work experience in the IT security industry....... big bucks might be coming my way.

    EDIT: And I just got my degree this week and grad school starts on the 7th of Jan. Even getting my degree, I was really depressed on my lack of finding work and didn't really celebrate or congrats myself. I would really like to enter the middle class workforce than go on for 2 more years of schooling.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2007
  25. Dec 17, 2007 #24


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    Just as a side note, I graduated with a BS in physics in 1977, I have been out of work for a total of 8 months since graduation. Most of my work has been engineering related. I know of several "engineers" with a BS in physics. Getting a job is a matter of selling yourself, not so much the degree. Some places actually VALUE the skills that are aquired working to a Physics degree.
  26. Dec 18, 2007 #25
    Very interesting conversation here!

    Im actually planning as a backup to minor in EE. I actually love it, not doign it for money. It came outa my second physics class on E&M, and i soon loved circuits! Sometimes i question wheter i like physics or EE more.

    Arunma, im curious as to why you said you might not want to be a scientist now? WHat about it turns you off?
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