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How difficult is it to get non-academia jobs for a theo. Physicist?

  1. Jul 5, 2011 #1

    I am not even in grad school yet. But I have been reading a lot about the "post doc trap" lately.

    I have also read some of two-fish quant's posts talking about jobs outside of academia.

    I'd want to know the landscape of employment opportunities for Physics Ph.D's outside of academia.

    For instance, what all jobs are easily availible to physics Ph.D.'s?

    Are the finance jobs more or less garaunteed to you if you have a phy/math Ph.D.?

    Does one need "contacts" for such jobs?

    Do universities also advertise non-academia job openings at the end of your Ph.D. just the way they might do it for various post doc openings?

    What is the pay?

    Basically wishing to know how easily can one get non-academia jobs, and what sorts of jobs, and what sort of money do they pay....

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2011 #2
    It depends on your definition of "easy". Looking for a job in industry is painful, frustrating, and annoying. It's however less painful than getting job in academia.

    I don't know of any physics Ph.D. that has made a serious effort to look for a finance position that has been unable to get something. To quantify serious effort, I mean a six month job search sending out about 200 resumes.

    However, "past results are no guarantee of future results." One thing that I try to make very, very, very clear is that I can tell you about what the markets look like now, but you shouldn't assume very much about the future.

    It helps, but there is a whole industry of head hunters that can get you connected. Also the most useful thing that someone on the inside can give you is information, and one the reasons that I post as much as do is to "level the playing field."

    Right now typical starting salary is $100 salary + $50K bonus. With three years of experience, total comp is typically in the $200K-$250K range, and I know of people in the business at the managing director level that likely make $750K-$1M/year.

    But "past results are no guarantee of future results." In particular, if the number of Ph.D.'s goes from 1000 to 2000, all the numbers change. One reason that I'm very careful about the advice that I give out is that if I convince an extra 50 physics Ph.D.'s to go into finance, then all of the numbers would change.

    On the other hand, one reason that I like my job is that I can look at someone with an astrophysics Ph.D. that likely makes $750K-$1M/year, and think "well that could be me in a few years." In most companies there is a "glass ceiling" for technical people, and I hit it. It's depressing to think "well it doesn't get any better than this."

    In finance there is a glass ceiling, but it's a lot higher. Also unlike academia, if you aim for the stars and miss, the consolation prize isn't bad. There is a 95% chance that I won't every make $1M/year, but in that case I'll have to settle for low six-figure rather than high six-figures. Boo hoo.......

    Job searching is hard. You will have to go through a lot of pain and frustration, but you are going to do that whether you get the Ph.D. or not.
  4. Jul 6, 2011 #3

    What if one gets an MBA. Will an MBA guy too have to go through all that?

    Also, can I start applying to companies around 6 months before I am about to be done with my Ph.D.?
    Or Is it advisable to go in for atleast one post doc?

    Secondly, I was told by a guy doing Ph.D., that a lot depends on the work you do during your Ph.D.

    Does the work one does, have any bearing on the probability of one getting a job in academia?

    Also, what If I make it to top schools, maybe the top 10.
    I know that for a Ph.D. advisers matter more than the school, but still, there is a good chance that the adviser I'll get in a top school would be in a much better position to get me an academia job as compared to someone in a low name school.

    I am a foreign student. So, if I decide to not go for a post doc, but a career in industry, will my visa allow me to stay for some extended period of time like a year or so, after my Ph.D. so that i can do the job searching or should I start with the job hunt even before I've gotten my degree?

    One last thing,
    does the field in which one does Ph.D. matter for non academia jobs?

    For example if I decide to do a Ph.D. in string theory/elemetary particle theory or cosmology, will that lower my chances of employability as compared to say a condensed matter guy, or an atomic physics or plasma physics guy?

  5. Jul 6, 2011 #4
    Yes. One thing about MBA's is that career services is a bit more organized for MBA's than for Ph.D.'s at most schools.

    It may be a good idea to get a summer internship while you are working on your Ph.D.


    Yes. All of the fields are overwhelmed, but some are more overwhelmed than others.

    Don't count on it. Physics doesn't work with a tier system, and who your advisor is is much more important than what school you went to. I know some "heavy hitter" advisors that are very good at getting people jobs in my field, and some of them are in schools no one has heard of.

    Someone else needs to answer visa questions.


    Depends on the details. A lot of jobs require good computer skills, and there are people in cosmology and particle physics that have excellent computer skills, but a lot of people don't, and this will hurt you.
  6. Jul 6, 2011 #5

    I was talking primarily about the "Quality of work" done during the Ph.D. and not so much about the field in which it was done. So does the quality of your work make a significant difference to the chances of your making into academia?

    How can I get to know under which adviser I'll be better off.
    I mean how do i chose which schools to apply for?

    I don't think I can start emailing people in physics departments straight away, because I'm not too sure which exact area or topic I wanna get my Ph.D. in.

    So how do I go about finding departments and people that would be better for my future prospects in academia, if the school's name or rank is not the criteria?

    Are such employers looking for formal proof of my computer skills? Like some additional courses I might have taken during my Ph.D.?
    If that's so, can one opt for these additional courses or do they come along with the area you chose to do your Ph.D. in?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2011
  7. Jul 6, 2011 #6
    Since "quality of work" is largely defined as "how likely it is that people will give you a job" this statement is vaucously true. However, remember that most people are average.

    If you are a senior in physics, you should be able to start reading research papers, and you pick advisers that are doing work you find interesting.

    You don't. You should expect going into the Ph.D. program that you will not get a job in academia, and plan accordingly. The Ph.D. is something that is so emotionally draining, that you have to do the Ph.D. for the sake of doing that Ph.D.

    Employers care that you can program. They don't care where you learn to program. In my life, I've taken only two courses on computer programming, and yet I've been employed as a computer programmer.
  8. Jul 6, 2011 #7

    Didn't get this. Do you mean that while doing a Ph.D. you start losing interest and feelings towards the subject and instead just want to do the Ph.D. so that you are done with it?

    Okay, but my question is how do they asses wether I can program upto their requirements or not?
    They must be looking for some past achievements or work that I may have done in software....
  9. Jul 6, 2011 #8
    You are going to have bad days when you do your Ph.D.

    But what I meant is that if you want a good career or make money or get the respect of people, there are better ways of getting that than to get a Ph.D., and if you are going to be disappointed that you get the Ph.D. and it doesn't help you in any of those ways, then you are better off not starting one.

    You have an interviewer who is a programmer that asks you programming questions.

    That helps, but they can just ask you questions.
  10. Jul 7, 2011 #9

    I do want all of that, a good career, decent money, and respect but I equally want to study physics else I'll regret it for the rest of my life.
    I know one can self study as much as they want. But that's hardly practical and you can never do it the way you can in a university.

    Also, I read some of your posts where you said something contradictory. You said, that physics Ph.D. is a very good degree (provided one is willing to be open to other options apart from academia), that it is as good as other degrees like an MBA, that one doesn't have the burden of debt like one does in most other careers like law, medicine, or MBA's.

    And what are the "other better ways to get all of that" as you suggest..?

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