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Physics In what fields do physics majors end up working in?

  1. Jun 2, 2016 #1
    I've read a few other threads on the site, and many say that it's hard to get a job that has to do with Physics, at least with only an undergraduate degree. Is that true? I'd like to get onto physics because I'm curious to know more about the science, but I wouldn't like to end up working as an engineer or anything not directly related to what physics studies.
     
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  3. Jun 2, 2016 #2

    phyzguy

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    How is working as an engineer "not directly related to what physics studies"? Engineering is basically putting the tools of science to practical applications. I worked as an engineer for many years and found the work technically challenging and satisfying. What would you expect to do with your physics degree? Is creating a groundbreaking new theory the only thing that would satisfy you? If so, you should definitely have a "Plan B", since the odds of this happening are quite small.
     
  4. Jun 2, 2016 #3

    e.bar.goum

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    There's actually data on this! For students in the US, graduating in 2011 and 2012: https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/employment/bachinitemp-p-12.1.pdf

    After graduation, 57% of students went into graduate study, and 43% entered the workforce.
    Of those who entered the workforce:

    61% of graduates went on to work in the private sector, where the work can be categorised into:
    Engineering, 30%,
    Non-STEM, 30%
    Computer or Information Systems, 24%
    Physics or Astronomy, 3%
    Other STEM 13%

    13% of students were employed in a College or University
    8% of students were employed in a high school
    7% "other"
    6% active military
    5% civilian government, or a national lab.

    So, that's where physics majors end up.
     
  5. Jun 2, 2016 #4
    Exactly, I enjoy more the theoretical side of physics rather than the (still interesting of course, but not as much for me) applications of it. That's why I'm asking this. I wouldn't mind being a teacher or something directly related to the subject... although it's not as good of an option as doing research in a university.

    Thanks for the data. Wonder what "non-STEM" refers to though. That's a very important portion of the jobs physics graduates get to.
     
  6. Jun 2, 2016 #5

    e.bar.goum

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    Jobs that aren't in science, technology, engineering or maths! :wink: I know a few physics graduates who have gone on to work in management consulting, finance, jobs like that. They still make use of their analytic and problem solving skills, just on non STEM problems.
     
  7. Jun 2, 2016 #6
    There are lots of different kinds of engineering. Neither of the engineering jobs I have had were directly related to what physics studies. I've never used my physics studies in either role.
     
  8. Jun 2, 2016 #7

    Dr Transport

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    Aerospace...... A large portion of the group I worked in had physics/optics degrees.....
     
  9. Jun 3, 2016 #8

    Chronos

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    Engineering seems to be the low hanging fruit for Physics majors, IMO. Most engineers tend not to find their physics knowledge taxed very severely. Comprehending and properly applying design tables is the primary functional skill in my experience.
     
  10. Jun 4, 2016 #9
    Some physics majors go into Geodesy. I know I completely overlooked this area when I graduated in 1978. With the explosion of GPS and GIS etc, there seems to be a calling for scientists working on gravitational and magnetic field models for the Earth, and the other planets. Geodesy is highly math and computer science intensive as well as the physics of potential theory.

    I read that the gravity probe B verifying relativistic frame dragging relied on the best current Earth Gravity model supplied by professional geodesists.
    Professional (graduate) programs in geodesy may be found in civil engineering departments in a few universities. I believe Purdue and The Ohio State University have programs.
     
  11. Jun 6, 2016 #10

    StatGuy2000

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    Maybe not directly related, but it is expected that all engineers have at least a basic understanding of, say, Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism, etc. Would you think that someone who doesn't know anything at all about these could work in your engineering jobs?
     
  12. Jun 6, 2016 #11
    That depends on how you're defining 'using my physics studies'; you're defining physics in a very narrow way if you can say that with a straight face. I may not be solving equations on a daily basis but as an engineer myself I do use physics in some way or another most work days.
     
  13. Jun 6, 2016 #12
    I think HR expects that basic understanding, and managers assume one will have it if they make it past HR. I'm not sure what you mean by "...doesn't know anything...". I recall a snarky comment here once that - Every job requires physics! Even a window washer needs to know which direction the solution will drip! That is a basic concept of physics and Newtonian Mechanics, gravity points down on earth. I think this knowledge is required for all jobs. But in the spirit of the original post, this is not what the student wants, obviously.

    I think that someone without any college or university level understanding of Newtonian Mechanics or Electromagnetism could perform my job just fine. I could do my job without any college at all. This is what I meant by my post.



    I am defining using my physics studies here like I mention in my above sentence. Physics knowledge and techniques gained from community college, university and graduate school. Everything from Newton's Laws to calculating crystal properties in k-space. I have used none of that at all. The only concepts I have used are super basic intuitive stuff that nearly everybody knows. Gravity points down, circuits require a power source, heating things dries them out, etc.

    I'll still try to get a job that does use physics/science in some way or another (and by "use physics" I mean use college level physics), but they look to be very hard to find from my vantage point.
     
  14. Jun 6, 2016 #13
    I double majored in Physics and mathematics. Upon graduation, a few of my classmates went to work in finance. I went to graduate school in mechanical engineering. Don't assume engineering is all practical as opposed to theoretical, because that is quite false. I was worried about it as well when I switched fields, because I so loved studying the underlying and often beautiful theoretical side to mechanics, E&M, relativity, etc. Fortunately, a major part of my first job out of graduate school was developing a rigorous theoretical basis for how a certain as-yet unmeasured property could be measured based on my knowledge of physics and engineering. After more than a year of theoretical development, a proposal was made, accepted and funded. It was then that the practical aspect came to the forefront as to how to turn theory into reality. Many of us do theoretical stuff quite well, actually. :-)

    But if you really have a distaste for the practical, you might consider going into theoretical physics or mathematics in graduate school to pursue teaching as a career.
     
  15. Jun 9, 2016 #14

    ZapperZ

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    Before things go much further, there are a few things that need to be either cleared up, or corrected.

    1. Are you aiming to stop your education at the B.Sc level? You asked about getting a physics job with an undergraduate degree (highly unlikely). Is this STILL your aim? Because if it is, then the likelihood of that happening is extremely small. You may be able to teach high school with such a degree, but you will most likely not work at a practicing physicist, certainly not when there are a lot of PhDs looking for similar career and positions.

    2. The "theoretical versus application" statement causes lots of warning bells in the sense that you may not have the proper idea of what physics is. Please note that even in fields of physics that are considered to be "applications", there ARE theoretical work being done! Fields such as condensed matter physics are often considered as "applications", but yet, look at Phil Anderson, Bob Laughlin, etc.. these are condensed matter theorists who have won Nobel Prizes!

    I have written something about this a while back:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/i-want-to-do-theoretical-physics.765732/

    Maybe what you prefer not to do is "experimental physics". That would be sad, because if you intend to stop at just the B.Sc degree, knowing some experimental skills and techniques make you much more "employable" than just being a "theorist".

    Zz.
     
  16. Jun 9, 2016 #15

    StatGuy2000

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    ZapperZ, let me ask a different question (more directly tied to the OP's title question). In what fields (other than teaching elementary or secondary school) do those who have completed an undergraduate degree in physics and who do not pursue further graduate studies end up working in?
     
  17. Jun 9, 2016 #16
    My anecdotal experience has seen physics undergrad degree holders qualifying for jobs as systems engineers and software engineers, no general data to back that up though.
     
  18. Jun 9, 2016 #17

    ZapperZ

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  19. Jun 9, 2016 #18
    In New York State, secondary school teachers usually are required to get a Masters degree in education long term, although this is usually completed after a few years teaching. Without future graduate studies the options are limited. Most businesses require continuous learning.
     
  20. Jun 10, 2016 #19
    1. Uhmm, I'm not sure I'd want to stop there, but I read that the road to getting a PhD is a strenuous one. So considering I can't get that far (as someone with an average intelligence and very little exposure to basic physics at a young age), I wanted to know what were the chances of finding a related job to the field with only a bachelor. From what you say, it's not very likely, apart from high school teaching, right?

    2. I didn't mean to distinguish between theoretical and experimental physics. I was referring more specifically to engineering jobs, as that field is more concerned with the application of physical principles to the real world rather than any strictly scientific investigation, be it theoretical or experimental in nature (Don't hate me for that engineers, I just don't know if it's for me).
     
  21. Jun 10, 2016 #20

    ZapperZ

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    This then limits your "employability" with just a B.Sc degree even more, since you are practically useless for many sectors in the private industries.

    If you want to do physics jobs and scientific investigation, you need a PhD. Otherwise, you should equip yourself with practical skills by the time you finish your undergraduate degree. Look at the link to the statistics that I posted.

    Zz.
     
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