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Physics I have a BS in physics; what do I need to do to get an industry job?

  1. Aug 7, 2009 #1
    I have a BS in physics. I still really want to go to grad school, but I've concluded that I should also be a tad pragmatic and at least have some skills on my resume that can land me an industry job, if need be.

    I'm not currently enrolled at a 4 year university, but there are some nearby, as well as community colleges.

    1) What about programming courses? Is programming, combined with a BS in physics, worth anything? I took the requisite semester of C programming and I did a bit of programming in Fortran during some undergrad research. Will taking a couple more programming courses make me more marketable?

    2) What about statistics? I just read an article in the NY Times about demand for statisticians. Should I take some statistics courses?

    3) Any other ideas? Engineering courses, for example?

    Like I said, I'm just trying to be as marketable as possible. In this economy, it seems like a smart thing to do.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 7, 2009 #2


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    I have a friend who is trying to get a job in industry with his masters and one problem he keeps running into is the fact that everyone wants you to know at least a couple programming languages. If I remember correctly, the jobs he was looking for was looking for knowledge in C++, java, mathlab, mathcad, etc. I'm not sure exactly what they were but those sound about right.
  4. Aug 7, 2009 #3

    It depends heavily on what industry you are planning to work in. If you want a software job, you really need to know at least two languages that are commonly in use in entry-level positions. C++ and Java are common, Python and ADA are used as well [especially in defense work]. LabVIEW, Matlab, and Mathcad are good as well. Knowing some programming is handy even if you are not going to be doing software. I work in manufacturing, and knowing some programming has helped me interface with controls engineers, script data collection, and perform software QA. The thing I like about programming languages is that if you know a couple, you can learn any of them if you need to.

    If you want an engineering type job, then statistics is a great thing to know. I read the same article in the NY Times, and while that was mostly about data mining and whatnot, statistics is valuable and somewhat rare experience. Most engineers have to take an intro stats class as part of their curriculum, but it really is not that useful. At my university, there were two graduate level intro stats classes that were very good. They were intended for practical applications by scientists, so they did not get heavily into the theory like an upper level undergraduate course might, but focused on the techniques that are most heavily used. If you can master this kind of thing, you can increase your employability in manufacturing type industries. I don't know much about the kind of data analysis positions that the NY Times article mentioned, but they do exist.

    Other kinds of courses that can be handy are specialties, such as mechanics of materials or metallurgy. You might not be able to take enough of these to be truly useful, but at least knowing a little bit about these things helps in manufacturing environments.
  5. Aug 7, 2009 #4
    I employ programmers (no current openings, sorry). I still find that the *best* programmers often come from non CompSci undergraduate degrees. Physics, engineering, and, of all things, music, figure prominently in great programmer backgrounds. More important than specific language skills, etc. is the ability to solve problems and think logically (a sadly less common skill than one would hope).

    Given that, to actually land a programming job, you will need some direct programming skills. C++ appears to actually be on the wane as the core language, but no one will hold it against you if you also have more current language skills. C# with .NET is hot for the windows side. Java is still hanging on. Ruby had some adherents.

    For more scientific oriented programming, an interesting niche skill in some demand is Matlab.
  6. Aug 8, 2009 #5
    The best way to land a job is to have a job.... You should look for an internship with a local company where you can prove yourself able to produce.

    To me a BS in physics means next to nothing. I've seen awful workers graduate with a BS and a near 4.0 GPA. It is your recommendations that will really count. A BS in physics with a 3.0 GPA and a letter from an employer that describes you as "hard working", "self-motivated", and "capable", will open doors for you.
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