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How to get a career in physics?

  1. Dec 27, 2015 #1
    To start, what would be required to stand out from other PhD graduates in order to grab jobs in research or in the space industry? I want to do science for a living and I've now come to realize just how competitive that is. So what exactly makes an applicant attractive in this field?

    I remember back when I was told that with my grades and test scores, I could do anything I wanted. Now here I stand trying desperately to avoid the collegiate meat-grinder. Any more of this and I'll major in engineering and enjoy job safety and probably higher pay.

    However, assuming I keep with physics, my future college offers different concentrations with the physics degree. Which of Astronomy, Bio, Computational, Electronics, Geo, Optics, or Professional should I choose? As far as what I hope to do in the future, Astronomy sounds the most logical, but what would professional entail?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 27, 2015 #2
    Hi, I don't know that which country you are from but here in my country engineering has a HUGE advantage compared to sciences. Sciences don't really have job security and unless you are a full professor pretty much any engineer makes more money than you. But here is the deal, if you are a really successful student nothing can stop you. For example here if you get your PhD in a prestigious school in us or uk they treat you like a new Einstein or something. I think that anywhere it depends on how successful you are. Get a good education, work hard, publish more nothing can stop you.
    As a concentration I think it doesn't really matter much. Your PhD is what matters you can shift to any field. This is my first year at Physics and the one thing the professors tell me is that I should be patient. The first two years try to get a little from this and a little from that. Then you can chose what you enjoy and should look for job security and stuff. So I don't think that you should concentrate deeply on one subject a good scientist, a good physicist needs to be good at most of the fields.
     
  4. Dec 27, 2015 #3

    jtbell

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    Staff: Mentor

    Just to make clear, is this for undergraduate or graduate school?
     
  5. Dec 27, 2015 #4
    I'm still a senior in high school. The part about concentration is undergraduate, which is what you quoted.
     
  6. Dec 27, 2015 #5

    jtbell

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    OK, then you're about ten years from reaching the point of being a PhD graduate. Don't think too much about looking for a job with a PhD just yet. A lot can happen in ten years. You shouldn't need to settle on a concentration for your undergraduate physics major until your second or third year. The coursework is probably mostly the same for all of them for the first two years. Even a lot of the upper-level courses will be the same. Physics majors planning to go to grad school need to take upper-level classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics regardless of what they're going to do in grad school.

    If you have to put down a major and concentration when you apply to a college, just pick a concentration that looks interesting. You can change it later if you want to. I'm assuming you're in the US and not in some country where you have to lock yourself into a program right at the beginning.
     
  7. Dec 27, 2015 #6
    Yes, I understand that this is all extremely preemptive, but I'd just like something to ease my nerves. I'm pretty sure the different concentrations are labeled, at least in the computer system, as different majors altogether. However, you're right in saying I'd have plenty of time to change, most of the concentration stuff is at the end. Another question I had which you answered in part was the length it'd take to get this degree. I've heard certain professions don't require a Masters before a PhD, is physics one of those? Approximately how much of my life am I going to be spending in school?
     
  8. Dec 28, 2015 #7
    In US masters degree is mostly not required but phd's take 4-6 years. In Europe you usually need a masters it takes 1-2 years. But phd's are 3-4 years. So with your undergrad you should expect 8-10 years of education.
    But if you want to be an academic then you are going to spend your whole life educating yourself which is great I think.
     
  9. Dec 28, 2015 #8

    jtbell

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    Right, in the US you enter a PhD program directly after your bachelor's. You start with a couple of years of mostly coursework and maybe some research. Then you (optionally) pick up a master's degree, put together a dissertation committee (dissertation adviser and a few other professors), become an official PhD candidate, and spend most of your time doing research from that point on. For experimentalists the whole thing typically takes six years, for theorists maybe a bit less. I took seven, in experimental high-energy particle physics.

    In other countries the coursework + master's part is a separate program.
     
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