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Physics I have a Physics B.S., now what?

  1. Jan 17, 2012 #1
    As the title says, I have a bachelor's degree in Physics. The question that's been haunting me for the last few months is... now what do I do?

    I'm serious.

    I'm thinking grad school is the way to go, its what I feel most inclined to do. Of course, I havent been involved in any serious research so I dont know if I'm good at it or if I even like it. I think I'd enjoy it though.

    I really enjoyed my Q.M. class, I'd like to get into an area that is closely related to it. I was thinking condensed matter but sometimes I have second thoughts about it. Astrophysics does not really appeal to me. I thought about quantum computing but havent read a lot about it so I'm not really sure.

    I thought I'd throw the question out in the air and see if somebody has any suggestions that might help me.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2012 #2
    Did you not do an undergraduate research thesis in your 4th year? You might find it difficult to get into grad school if you don't have one and don't have a prof to write a recommendation.
  4. Jan 17, 2012 #3
    I would not recommend going to graduate school just because you "do not know what to do." Graduate school is for people who know what to do. Try to get out and talk to people in your field. See what you might enjoy. Do some internships. Get a job. Do ANYTHING but enroll in grad school until you have a better idea of what you like!
  5. Jan 18, 2012 #4
    I'd recommend going to indeed.com or something and looking at different jobs to get a feel for what sort of field you might be interested in working in. Once you've done that, look at those jobs to figure out what sort of requirements are relevant and start working on meeting those requirements.
  6. Jan 18, 2012 #5
    getting a job with a BS in physics is quite hard.
    Like stats/math, physics is simply one of those degrees where you really kind of need a MS/doctorate to get into industry/acadamia.

    I would recommend getting a post baccalaureate degree in operations research/industrial engineering.
    The strong analytical problem solving skills will carry over very well to that type of stuff (eg linear programming/optimization)

    Computer science is also another good option
  7. Jan 18, 2012 #6


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    It can be a hard sell, getting a job with just a BS in physics. Especially landing that first job.

    Look for signals that an employer would be willing to consider you, such as listing their job requirements as "Engineering degree or equivalent".

    Larger companies may be better hunting grounds, such as Boeing.
  8. Jan 18, 2012 #7
    I disagree. I think graduate school is the best thing you can do if you "do not know what to do". Graduate school is basically what physics degrees train you for, so if you dont know what to do, do what you were trained to do.

    That is what I did. I went to grad school because I didnt know what I wanted to do. It didnt work out so great, but I got a paycheck out of it and had a funner time than I would have in a job.
  9. Jan 18, 2012 #8
    I sounds like people who finish high school and then go to college because they don't know what else to do. Another idea that seems wasteful of time and money.
  10. Jan 18, 2012 #9
    I made more as a graduate student than I do now with my degrees, so it certainly wasnt a waste of money. Most grad students get paid rather than pay for tuition. As far as being a waste of time, that is a judgement call. I thought it was great, and I love what I learned and did.
  11. Jan 18, 2012 #10
    You aren't helping your case- why put yourself on a track where you make substantially less than the average bachelors holder? A full time McDonald's employee makes about as much as a gradstudent.

    To the original poster- almost no one gets to do physics for a living. Even most phds will never find a full time job doing physics. They go through the phd and end up with the insurance job they could have taken after undergrad.

    Find something you don't hate that people will actually pay you a reasonable salary to do. Sadly, physics doesn't fetch a decent salary, and it's a career plagued by a tremendous lack of opportunity. So leave it as a hobby, and do some predictive modeling or programming. You'll make more money, have more free time, and find it much easier to move up in your career.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2012
  12. Jan 19, 2012 #11
    well, one thing i want to point out is, depending on how good you are, you can actually make a living being a grad student. I knew one electrical engineering grad student who was making 50K a year. Yes, its an incredible rarity, but if you can get people lining up to pay your for consulting/research work you can make money.

    If you were to land a job at the ziemens company working on developing MRIs and other technology related to QM, you can actually make a really good salary.

    The above cases i mentioned i will say are incredivbly tough, and yes, it is probably wiser to go with a more stable career choice , but i would say shoot for the stars first.
  13. Jan 19, 2012 #12
    Perhaps in the US there are way more industrial options for a recent graduate, but in certain parts of the world, at least in my country, the living stipend for a grad/phD student is a lot better than anything a plain physics graduate will ever earn after several years of working in the same area (and getting a first job is tough enough as it stands). If you're getting paid for it, grad school is a good option, at least I see it that way. If people are so concerned with maintaining a very high living standard, then a physics bachelors is probably not the best choice, no?

    To the OP: if you're lucky enough to get full tuition and a living stipend doing some research you like (and like the process of doing it obviously), and don't have any other promising job offers that will pay you enough to live on, go for it.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2012
  14. Jan 19, 2012 #13
    There aren't many industrial options for even a phd! Thats why most physics phds end up doing work unrelated to physics. In the US, at least, a phd stipend is roughly equivalent to a full-time minimum wage job. There isn't much that pays worse.

    The best thing for a physics bachelors to do is GIVE UP ON THE IDEA OF DOING PHYSICS AS A JOB. There just aren't any good career opportunities- even for phds. If you get a phd you will find yourself in a similar situation, just several years later! There are decent job opportunities in insurance, finance, etc. Find one that suits you, and learn what you need to know to get the job.

    In many schools in the US, your employment contract forbids you from taking outside work (you are expected to be a full time researcher). If you are good and lucky, you might get outside funding for a year or two during the phd process, but even that is rare. You might know someone who managed 50k a year towards the end of their phd process (when they were operating at a postdoc level anyway), but an electrical engineering bachelors with a few years experience would make more than that anyway.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2012
  15. Jan 19, 2012 #14
    Sorry, I meant to encompass both industrial & business type jobs, that's the way it is in my country, it is almost unheard of for physics graduates to get jobs in those areas. All the physicists I've known that didn't go to grad school and stayed in the country... in the best of cases went on to take exams to become public high school teachers or some other type of public functionary. That's really the best kind of job they can get.

    (I am desperately looking for success stories in my country that suggest otherwise, to no avail).

    I think you can see why I don't see going to grad school as so bleak. Maybe my quality of life standards are way lower than yours, so please do take that into account. I've worked a few hard and sweaty blue-collar jobs (that payed less than phd stipend) and I really don't want to have to go back there again, so I think even a tiny but nonzero probability of doing SOMETHING physics-related warrants taking a shot at a phd if given the chance to do so on taxpayer dime.
  16. Jan 19, 2012 #15
    Grad school is a whole lot better than nothing on a resume.

    Sure, I can list a thousand reasons why grad school stinks. And sure, it can be a poor use of time. Just about any job would be better than going back to grad school without a plan. I was surrounded by people floating around in grad school. I thank my lucky stars I wasn't one of them.

    But no job is much worse. Don’t leave that space on your resume blank.
  17. Jan 19, 2012 #16
    The only grad student I've ever met in the US with a high standard of living was a guy who worked 30 years in silicon valley, made a bunch of money then retired and decided he wanted a PhD.

    I agree that if your choices are between working at a paper mill or going to grad school in physics then a physics PhD is the attractive choice. But at least in the US, and probably many other places as well, there are more choices than that for someone with a physics bachelors. I think grad school can be a great choice for a physics bachelor, provided they don't study physics there. A physics bachelor should be a good position to get a master's degree in an engineering discipline. At least currently, there are a lot more jobs out there for engineers than physicists. That's why I recommend looking at job listings to get an idea of what kinds of positions might be interesting before making a decision.
  18. Jan 20, 2012 #17
    Thank you for the replies and advice, everybody.
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