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High earning career paths

  1. Aug 1, 2013 #1

    I am a physics major graduating the next year with a minor degree in electronics engineering and need consultation on which career path to choose. The ideal career in my opinion is a high paying job which involves science and IMO have two options when it comes to specialize in a field, optics and HEP. There may be other options which I have not considered yet, but what are your suggestions I am pretty confused and want to ensure that I make the right choice. Any advice is welcome.
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  3. Aug 1, 2013 #2


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    If you want a high-paying career, you need to go into industry, as opposed to academia. This pretty much eliminates HEP, which doesn't really have many industrial applications.
  4. Aug 1, 2013 #3
    I know some people who went into Nuclear Engineering in industry. They make quite a bit of money not long out of school. Several of them were Physics majors in college and then took 2 years to get their Masters in Nuclear Engineering. From there, they went to industry, and now 2 years out of grad school (4 years out of college), they are rapidly closing in on 6 figures.
  5. Aug 1, 2013 #4
    Optics is a useful specialty in aerospace.
  6. Aug 1, 2013 #5


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    Have you thought about medical physics or geophysics?
  7. Aug 1, 2013 #6
    Thank you all for the answers.

    Well actually I have never thought about that can you describe these specialities?

    kinkmode I also wonder how being a nuclear engineer is like. Where do they work, is it dangerous, how much physics is involved etc.
  8. Aug 1, 2013 #7
    Physics: not a whole lot. I guess the people who work doing fuel calculations are doing a bit more physics than other people, but it's running a plant, not designing one. Not overly dangerous in my mind (I contracted at a power plant for a couple of months). There is radiation exposure, but it is STRICTLY monitored and limited. It can be a bit slow at times because of the heavy regulation, but it's also a pretty interesting environment to work in.

    Of course, if you went to one of the manufacturers and not an actual power plant, there is probably more design stuff going on, if that appeals to you. Another option is going to a national lab, but if that's the case, you can also do that as a physics Ph.D.

    That being said, the pay at a power plant is pretty good. Particularly if you end up going into operations as a Senior Reactor Operator. It can be tough to get into as a relatively inexperienced person, but people do get selected into the training program with only 1-2 years of experience. Then you do training for ~2 years (at quite a good salary), then you go into operations and run the plant. At that point, salaries can be around ~150k. Not too bad for a someone younger than 30, if you are able to get into it quickly.

    I only say this as a physicist. While I've found my work probably more interesting than I would find Nuclear Engineering, particularly in industry, my pay has a been a fraction of that, with a lot more time put into my training and education. I'm now in a position where it's rather difficult to get a job, and even if I was willing to live in the desert and work on weapons at LANL, the pay would still probably lag behind what a accomplished nuclear engineer makes in industry. And they get a ~5 year head start because they don't need a Ph.D. Similar arguments probably apply to geophysics (think oil/petroleum engineer) and a few other specialties. If money is your goal, good money and fast, than engineering is probably a better bet than physics. You can certainly do well as a physicist, but you will probably wait until your mid 30's before you crack 6 figures, if you do, while you can do it at a younger age with less education in other disciplines.
  9. Aug 2, 2013 #8
    Hmm okay so you say engineering is better than physics, now I would ask if an institution would accept me to a master's program in engineering taking into account that I graduated from physics.
  10. Aug 2, 2013 #9
    Some programs do, some expect you to make up more classes. I don't think there is a lot in Nuclear E that is taught to undergrad engineers, so as a physics BA/BS, you might not have to play any catch up during your Masters. This was true for the couple of BA physics people I know who got their Masters in Nuc E. Other types of engineering like mechanical or electrical would probably require you to make up some prerequisite classes.

    I'd just warn you that the mindset of engineers and physicists are often different (in my experience). So I'd think about what you are really trying to accomplish. Is money the most important thing?
  11. Aug 2, 2013 #10


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    With a major in physics and a minor in EE, you should have no problem being accepted into an MSEE program. I think EE is a better field than Nuclear Engineering these days anyway - the future of Nuclear Engineering is highly uncertain (unfortunately IMHO). There are lots of highly paid EE jobs out there if you are talented and work hard.
  12. Aug 2, 2013 #11
    Yes you can get into a graduate nuclear engineering program but you may have to take some catch up courses, especially courses in heat transfer and fluid mechanics. There is a lot of mechanical engineering core courses in an undergraduate nuclear engineering program. In fact for me the first two years were the exact same courses mechanical engineering students were taking. Our program is partnered with University of Wisconsin Madison nuclear program and we spend our last semester there as well so if you want to see the curriculum check that out
  13. Aug 2, 2013 #12
    Okay I will check the curriculum of Nuclear Engineering program and I will also consider applying for an engineering degree (probably electrical engineering). Money is pretty important for me now by the way.
  14. Aug 3, 2013 #13
    I should point out that even if you get a nuclear engineering degree since you get a strong background in mechanical engineering you should still be able to find a job. In fact a lot of nuclear engineers are in fact mechanical or electrical engineers by degree. So if you get a masters in electrical engineering you should still be able to find a job in the nuclear energy field if you so desire. My next degree will be in one of the more traditional fields, Im thinking mechanical engineering with a focus on thermal sciences
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