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Programs How hard is it to get an industry job with a Physics Phd?

  1. Apr 6, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone. I'm a senior undergrad and about to obtain a bachelors in physics from a top US university. I specialized in solid state physics and am doing my undergrad honors thesis in graphene synthesis and characterization. I want to eventually work in the semiconductor industry or with nanomaterials. I'm set on going to graduate school but conflicted on whether to go into a Materials Science/Engineering masters program VS a Experimental Condensed Matter Physics Phd program.

    First of all, let me make clear that:
    -I DON'T WANT A CAREER IN ACADEMIA. I'm aiming for a career in industry. I'm more interested in working on applicable/practical projects with my physics education than having academic freedom. Also, I've heard that the job prospects in academic positions are dismal and that academia salaries cannot compete with industry salaries.
    -I don't mind working as an "engineer" as a title. I'm aware that it'll be very unlikely that I'll be working on a project that is related to what I'm doing research in and I don't mind. I'm more interested in applying my mathematical/analytic/programming skills to solve problems.
    -I'm more interested in physics than engineering. From my experience, physics courses has been far more challenging and interesting than engineering courses I've taken at my university. If I were to do choose a program simply based on what makes me happier, I'd go with physics. But because I'm worried about the employability of a Physics Phd in industry, so I'm considering MSE because it's the field of engineering that is most related to solid state physics.

    Does anyone know how hard it is for someone with a Phd in experimental condensed matter to get a job in industry? Can the physics Phd compete with others with advanced engineering degrees? How do the salaries compare for someone with a physics phd vs an engineering masters?

    Input from anyone with personal experience is greatly appreciated =).
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2012 #2
    I've worked for many companies that hire a bunch of engineers. I've always had coworkers with physics degrees. Some where PhD's. Some had engineering titles, and some did not. All were productive. Those with advanced degrees often help engineers figure out how to get the job done. No gas turbine ever went to the engineers for design without a bunch of science first getting worked out.
  4. Apr 7, 2012 #3

    Dr Transport

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    10+ years in industry with a PhD in Theoretical Solid State Physics, it isn't hard unless you want to do exactly what you did in graduate school. I have learned 3 new areas since I got my degree, all working with my physics knowledge and am able to move on to more challenging projects every time.
  5. Apr 8, 2012 #4
    Thank you very much for the input.

    For someone with a physics phd looking for a job in industry, is it typically for him/her to be hired to a job which requires a phd? Or would it be more likely that he/she will be competing against people with engineering or physics masters or even bachelor degrees? I heard a phd is overkill for industry jobs so I thought maybe phds had to compete with MS and BS degree holders. I guess what I'm really asking is a phd degree actually necessary for most industry jobs phd physicists actually do?

    Is there much difference in the kinds of work engineering phds and physics phd do in industry? Also, how do physics and engineering phd holders' industry salaries compare?

    I enjoy physics and really want to do a phd in physics, with the hopes of eventually working with cutting edge research in a hi-tech industry job. But I'm not sure whether or not doing a phd is worth it if a masters in engineering will suffice in getting those sort of jobs.
  6. Apr 8, 2012 #5
    There isn't a clear answer to this question. I've never had a job in which a Ph.D. was an absolute requirement, however in every job that I've ever had, the Ph.D. helped a lot. One reason that there are few jobs in industry that absolutely require a Ph.D. is that there are very few Ph.D.'s, so if you have a job to do, and you can't find a Ph.D., you make do. Conversely, the reason that academia requires Ph.D.'s is that there are more Ph.D.'s than jobs, so it doesn't matter how great you are, getting rid of non-Ph.D.'s removes a lot of people.

    I can say that the experience that I got with the Ph.D. is absolutely essential for the work that I do, but there are other ways of getting the experience.

    Depends on the field, but in finance, not really. People with different Ph.D.'s learn different mathematical techniques, but the work is pretty much the same.

    One thing about financial jobs is that it is very uncommon for people with technical masters degrees and no technical work experience to get research jobs.
  7. Apr 9, 2012 #6
    It probably depends very much on your specific phd and specialty, the industry you want to go into and the job market you graduate into. After my phd in theory, I can't even get engineering companies to interview me. I'm now working in insurance, even though I'd much prefer more traditional tech work.

    I'm a recent phd graduate and pretty much no one from my cohort managed to get a job in a traditional tech industry regardless of their subfield. Everyone is finance/insurance/management consulting, etc. If these are the industries you are thinking of, it doesn't appear hard to break in. If you are thinking engineering, it is pretty hard in my experience.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
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