I finally got my bachelor's degree in physics, now what?

In summary, the job search is hard, but if you have a physics degree you can still land a job. If you don't have a physics degree, you may need to go to grad school.
  • #71
Zap said:
I live in a boring desert town in the middle of nowhere

What is the population of the town in which you live?
 
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  • #72
George Jones said:
What is the population of the town in which you live?
Population is almost 100 thousand, so there are definitely other places that are smaller. However, I just don't particularly like it here, and despite not being a rural village, there really isn't anything to do here, except go to a few bars or climb a mountain. There are a few local companies that I've applied to (about 2 or 3), but they didn't want me. There are two national labs in this state, as well, which I've already applied to several times. I don't feel like reapplying to these places, because I really would rather relocate. I'm also not as interested as I once was to work at a national lab or in something science related after comparing salaries with non science careers and after being totally ignored by science related agencies for over two years now. My dream now is to move to the big city and do data analytics or something business or IT related. There are a lot of jobs out there, though, once you move out of the constraints of science and engineering. So many jobs that who knows where I'll end up. I'm in the final stages for a position as a digital marketing strategist. I don't really know what that is, but it sounds really cool, and the pay is damn good, too. I would rather get this job in digital marketing than continue with a career in science.

It's really funny. I first went to school to be an artist. I majored in painting for a semester or two and then changed my major to graphic design for about a semester before switching to science. Majoring in art completely sucks, because it's one of the most expensive things to study. You have to buy a bunch of art supplies. I felt like my grade was dependent on the materials I could afford. I also thought majoring in art at a university would be like an apprenticeship, but it's not. So, I quit. My main reason for switching to science was to try and learn something while I was in school. I remember as an art student realizing that I had no idea what an atom was. I had no idea how to do math, either. I didn't even know that I liked math. I felt like I should learn about these things. I still have artistic ability, though. It will be pretty funny if the career I land actually utilizes that.

For me, the most valuable thing I got from physics is learning math, and if you have a physics degree, math is your most valuable asset. Everything else is ... well, stamp collecting.
 
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  • #73
as much as i love the physics department where i graduated, they didn't do a very good job at preparing us for what to do after getting our BS. i don't remember anyone talking to us about graduate school or the work field. I understand that at that age you should be able to get some stuff done on your own, but the fact is you still need some guidance. the only reason i was fortunate enough to involved in undergrad research as early as i did is because a TA i got close to told me about how important it is.

for the people that i graduated with, they either were going straight to grad school or had no idea what they were doing.
 
  • #74
nmsurobert said:
as much as i love the physics department where i graduated, they didn't do a very good job at preparing us for what to do after getting our BS. i don't remember anyone talking to us about graduate school or the work field. I understand that at that age you should be able to get some stuff done on your own, but the fact is you still need some guidance. the only reason i was fortunate enough to involved in undergrad research as early as i did is because a TA i got close to told me about how important it is.

for the people that i graduated with, they either were going straight to grad school or had no idea what they were doing.
While guidance and counseling from the department people might be missing, a student should listen to conversations that Physics students have among each other. Student will hear of other courses which those other students are also studying, often being of Computer Science and Engineering courses, which are often also practical courses; and which help them later in job-searching and job-doing. Is or was there a lounge area where Physics ( and also some Engineering & C.S.) students hang-out casually between or after classes? Go there and sit and do some of you homework and some of your reading; and also listen to what they are talking about.
 
  • #75
I think this is a fundamental problem with universities and not limited to any particular physics department. I don't think taking extra classes will "save you," so to speak, because as long as you're taking university classes, chances are they won't be very practical. For example, I took a class in artificial intelligence, and we ended up spending three months writing logic with a pencil and paper, which nobody cares about. Even in my SQL class, we spent a lot of time studying the theory behind data bases and writing equations using relational algebra, which nobody cares about. After taking that class, I still failed a basic SQL assessment test an employer gave me. They didn't ask about functional dependencies or decomposition of databases, or any of that crazy stuff.

There's no easy fix, or simple path one can take to ensure success. I think a physics degree is pretty good in and of itself, but we need to take extra time to figure out what it is useful for and what exactly we want to do with it. Good math skills and spatial reasoning will forever be good to have and easy to apply to many different things. Not everyone has even basic mathematical reasoning abilities. I think of my physics degree as an applied math degree, which is applicable to just about everything, but unlike an engineering degree. There are a lot of other careers out there other than engineering, anyway.

I forgot where I heard this from, but there was some youtube video in which some guy was talking about whether or not college was worth it. He mentioned that people with high IQ tend to earn more and that going to college does not increase your IQ. Therefore, someone with a high IQ and a college degree will most likely be more successful than someone without a high IQ with the same college degree.

I don't know if I buy that, but it's something to think about.
 
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  • #76
nmsurobert said:
as much as i love the physics department where i graduated, they didn't do a very good job at preparing us for what to do after getting our BS. i don't remember anyone talking to us about graduate school or the work field.

This reminds me of a good story. It happened over 15 years ago, when I was just about to get my BS. I needed to get a job, so I set up time to sit down with my undergraduate advisor.

I explained to him that I was pursuing the Navy and Air Force as options, and that I had applied to a handful of local companies. However, I felt that I needed to widen my net. Did he have any suggestions for companies I should apply to that might fit my skill set?

He nodded as I spoke, and sat thoughtfully for a few moments after I finished, rubbing his chin. Finally he replied.

"No."
 
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  • #77
Locrian said:
This reminds me of a good story. It happened over 15 years ago, when I was just about to get my BS. I needed to get a job, so I set up time to sit down with my undergraduate advisor.

I explained to him that I was pursuing the Navy and Air Force as options, and that I had applied to a handful of local companies. However, I felt that I needed to widen my net. Did he have any suggestions for companies I should apply to that might fit my skill set?

He nodded as I spoke, and sat thoughtfully for a few moments after I finished, rubbing his chin. Finally he replied.

"No."
Locrian,
Sad! Your advisor had no actual normal job with any company with which to give you any counsel. He could have had only academic experience and an advanced maybe PhD degree. I am now curious what kind of progress YOU made since that advisor meeting. You may now have advice to give about this.
 
  • #78
Locrian said:
This reminds me of a good story. It happened over 15 years ago, when I was just about to get my BS. I needed to get a job, so I set up time to sit down with my undergraduate advisor.

I explained to him that I was pursuing the Navy and Air Force as options, and that I had applied to a handful of local companies. However, I felt that I needed to widen my net. Did he have any suggestions for companies I should apply to that might fit my skill set?

He nodded as I spoke, and sat thoughtfully for a few moments after I finished, rubbing his chin. Finally he replied.

"No."
ha. excellent advice.

and i lied. i remember one instructor that went out of his way to talk to us about future jobs. he usually only told us reasons he would fire us though, which is still valuable.
 
  • #79
Locrian said:
This reminds me of a good story. It happened over 15 years ago, when I was just about to get my BS. I needed to get a job, so I set up time to sit down with my undergraduate advisor.

I explained to him that I was pursuing the Navy and Air Force as options, and that I had applied to a handful of local companies. However, I felt that I needed to widen my net. Did he have any suggestions for companies I should apply to that might fit my skill set?

He nodded as I spoke, and sat thoughtfully for a few moments after I finished, rubbing his chin. Finally he replied.

"No."

I asked my "advisor" about where I should apply for jobs. He recommended me to apply to the FBI, the military and the boarder patrol. I guess those are viable options, but I was kind of disappointed with his response. My dad would have told me the exact same thing. "Join the armed forces, boy."

One of my professors actually recommended going the financial route and another into geophysics, which I thought was better advice and better suited my interests.

I did apply to the CIA and FBI, though.
 
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  • #80
symbolipoint said:
I am now curious what kind of progress YOU made since that advisor meeting. You may now have advice to give about this.

I - like lots of others - built my career the way one hacks their way through the jungle with a machete. Tirelessly, and often without clear direction.

Looking back, it seems pretty clear how I got here and what I should have done. Looking forward, I'm as unsure as I've ever been, with my only consolation that I've managed to get this far.
 
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  • #81
This is a better analogy.
244268
 

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  • #82
Locrian said:
I - like lots of others - built my career the way one hacks their way through the jungle with a machete. Tirelessly, and often without clear direction.

Looking back, it seems pretty clear how I got here and what I should have done. Looking forward, I'm as unsure as I've ever been, with my only consolation that I've managed to get this far.

This reply, as well as @Locrian 's reply in post #76 (along with others in this thread) pinpoints the issue of faculty members trying to advise students on non-academic career paths -- unless these faculty advisers have experience working in industry as physicists (and frankly, given that most research in physics departments are only tangentially related to anything in industry, the majority would not have such experience), physics professors are the least equipped to provide guidance or advice in this matter.

I know that in my alma mater (University of Toronto), there is a program called a Physics Career Accelerator Program that is supposed to provide just such mentorship to guide students in future careers. Here is a link below.

https://www.physics.utoronto.ca/students/undergraduate-program/physics-career
 
  • #83
You guys want to hear another funny story? The physics department head where I am neglected to inform me that I had to take a comprehensive oral examination, even when I had asked him. Therefore, I wasn't able to graduate lol.
 
  • #84
Zap said:
You guys want to hear another funny story? The physics department head where I am neglected to inform me that I had to take a comprehensive oral examination, even when I had asked him. Therefore, I wasn't able to graduate lol.
?
?

Once in a while, people communicate badly.

Once in a while, people SEEM to communicate badly.
 
  • #85
Zap said:
You guys want to hear another funny story? The physics department head where I am neglected to inform me that I had to take a comprehensive oral examination, even when I had asked him. Therefore, I wasn't able to graduate lol.

You are telling me that there was a requirement that was not listed in the course catalog, and you were held to it? I find this very, very hard to believe.
 
  • #86
Locrian said:
This reminds me of a good story. It happened over 15 years ago, when I was just about to get my BS. I needed to get a job, so I set up time to sit down with my undergraduate advisor.

I explained to him that I was pursuing the Navy and Air Force as options, and that I had applied to a handful of local companies. However, I felt that I needed to widen my net. Did he have any suggestions for companies I should apply to that might fit my skill set?

He nodded as I spoke, and sat thoughtfully for a few moments after I finished, rubbing his chin. Finally he replied.

"No."

My advice tends to be closely tailored to the individual student. I'm not a fan of shotgunning every possible idea given the time and effort required for each job application if done right. All physics majors approaching graduation are not the same. Abilities, GPA, interests, and background can narrow the field considerably regarding jobs I recommend applying for.
 
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  • #87
I was initially in the accelerated program and I read what was written in the course catalog, but after passing the quals at the PhD level, I went into the Department Head's office and I asked him what else I needed to do to graduate. He told me that was it. He said master students do not have to take a oral comprehensive, even though it is written in the course catalog. I took his word for it and didn't take it. So, you could try to put the blame on me, but I think everyone here can agree that I was horribly advised.

Anyway, on a very positive note. I got into a free Data Science and Analytics 12 week training program. I am super excited! I will have to leave for the training next week, and somehow fly back to this crappy department and take the oral, and then fly back to complete the training. Finding a job is my number one priority, not passing a random exam. So, if the exam gets in the way, than I won't be taking it.
 
  • #88
you should go for job to earn more experience . If you have more experience you can select anywhere in the world i am saying with my own experience you better be hurry to find a nice job ,its ok if it has less money in starting but it will increase according to your experience in the field.
 
  • #89
Answering OP, here's a few ideas for getting the foot in the door:
- Go to your nearest startup incubator or meetup event and just tell everyone that you're interested in startups and willing to code for free.
- Go to your university's job fair or any large conference (ICML, ACL, ACM, SC, PyCon, cppcon etc.) and just drop by the company booths and try forward your resume through a backchannel.
- Find a development 'bootcamp' with a high placement rate (but beware of scams).

The biggest difficulty trying to find a programming job as a physics major is that most firms, university job listings sites etc. will just screen out your major in bulk. It doesn't help that most recruiters are none the wiser. It becomes significantly easier once you've had a relevant job title on your resume. A startup is a good way to transition. Also, your resume looks less desirable the longer you have a gap where you're doing nothing, so volunteering to work for free is almost always better than concentrating your efforts solely on the job search.
Zap said:
How can someone who just graduated and has little to no professional experience be worth over 100k?

Depends on the city you're in. 130-170k base with 20k+ of guaranteed bonus and another 15k-25k per year of restricted stock units is possible for a fresh graduate going into SF or NYC, putting this into the 200k total compensation range.

It's a calculated bet. Sure, most of the ones you hire at 200k will just be a warm body worth no more to your organization than minimum wage, despite whatever their college credentials or job title might suggest. Some will even hurt your organization. But every now and then, you hit a Kyle Vogt who famously engineered his company out of impossibly unprofitable situations and will have a 10-50x return on your investment. I had 3 of these in the lifetime of my firm, and they were worth every gram of their weight in gold.

Also, I never quite understand this but it's conventional that salaries hardly increase. Some firms will deliberately hire at a premium but have an amazing HR apparatus (e.g. passing off the premium as a signing bonus with conditions, vesting restrictions on RSUs/options, bonus vesting, family perks etc.) to retain people for 8 years below market rate.
 
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  • #90
Prioritize getting a job. Advanced degrees won't solve the problem of employment.

There is a gap between academia and the industry. It's either universities don't prepare students well, or employers don't value the skills graduates have. I think it is both.
 
  • #91
EngWiPy said:
Prioritize getting a job. Advanced degrees won't solve the problem of employment.

There is a gap between academia and the industry. It's either universities don't prepare students well, or employers don't value the skills graduates have. I think it is both.

The issue is not that universities don't prepare students well, as much as universities were never designed originally to train students for the work force, at least in most university programs. Historically, employers took any university graduate as potential workers and offered full in-house training to get them ready for their particular jobs.

Nowadays, due in part to global competitive pressures, employers want someone who can start a job immediately with very little preparation or training (to "hit the ground running", so to speak). Many universities in both the US and Canada (and possibly other countries) have been slow to adapt to the new reality in the way their degree programs are set up.

This means that it is up to the individual students to train themselves and get the experience or knowledge.

My number one advice above all, get an internship while you are in school!
 
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  • #92
StatGuy2000 said:
My number one advice above all, get an internship while you are in school!
I agree, but what kind of internship would you suggest for a typical physics students? Computer Science students get internships at software companies, and engineering students get internships at engineering companies. But I think most physics students would struggle to qualify for either of those.
 
  • #93
pi-r8 said:
I agree, but what kind of internship would you suggest for a typical physics students? Computer Science students get internships at software companies, and engineering students get internships at engineering companies. But I think most physics students would struggle to qualify for either of those.

Physics students (along with math students) have (or should have) the requisite skills to qualify for internships in many different companies, including software companies, as they are generally required to take programming courses as part of their curriculum. I know many physics students even back in my undergrad days who had done just that. Physics students can also qualify for internships at some engineering companies as well, depending on the particular company. After all, physics students take lab courses where they are taught skills like experimental data analysis, instrumentation, etc., all skills that employers find valuable.

Also, when I talk about internships, I'm not just talking about internships at private companies. I'm also talking about research internships like REUs (or NSERC USRA, the Canadian equivalent of REUs) with physics faculty members, either at their own university or with faculty in other colleges/universities. Employers greatly value students with research experience, which counts as work experience.
 

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