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Physics Inadequate Physics Experience/Job/Grad School

  1. Mar 15, 2013 #1
    Hello everyone!
    I am a married female in my early 20s.
    After completing my bachelor's in physics from UTD (University of Texas at Dallas) with a GPA of 3.48, I am now about to finish up a year of teaching physics at a local public high school.
    When I was getting my degree, I didn't think ahead, and therefore did not get involved in much research. I also just studied enough to get by.
    I have lately started studying again. My goal is to fill in the gaps (which there are substantial amounts of, for example, I learned practically nothing in my quantum class) and be able to pass a test at the level of advanced undergrad (the UTD PhD Qualifying exam for example - it covers the four basic topics of physics at the advanced undergrad level - I took it before and failed).
    I want to get a job related to my degree (but not teaching) or go to grad school.
    I think that, considering the holes in my knowledge, the lack of research experience, the fact that my college references are too old now and that, despite my best efforts, the recommendation from my current boss may be non-existent or not that great, I don't have much to offer a prospective employer.
    I am going to a career expo at my school on Wednesday to see what is out there and what I might be able to do to achieve one of my goals, and I will post an update after that.
    In the meantime, any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you so much for reading, and for any advice provided!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2013 #2
    I think a job related to your degree could be had by going to graduate school. A masters in engineering, computer science or applied physics would make you more competitive. I suggest going to a program that is near a "tech center" or large population. You want one that has connections to and internships from nearby potential employers. You want to get practical skills and networking/connections from your program.
  4. Mar 16, 2013 #3
    It appears your goals are as follows:

    1) Fill in the undergrad curriculum gaps you have
    2) Get a job related to your degree
    3) Go to grad school

    Use the career fair to see if #2 is feasible. I think it isn't. I think there are no jobs related to your degree that you have the skills to perform. Most physics undergrad programs leave their students with no employable skills, and yours does not sound like an exception.

    You may be able to use the career fair to expand on #3. Going back to grad school isn't a plan (or at least not a good one) unless you also look beyond it. A plan should include how what you'll be learning will going to allow you to continue working in a field you enjoy. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible to spend another 7 years getting a PhD and still have no employable skills. So narrow down what you'll be going back to grad school for, exactly.

    Since you're married academia is probably out, unless your spouse is very mobile. Even if they are mobile, it's not a very practical goal.

    So what you are looking for is an area of study that will leave you with skills that will be useful in industry 2 years from now (Masters) or 5 - 7 years from now (PhD).

    Keep us updated, and best of luck.
  5. Mar 16, 2013 #4
    I'm afraid this is 100% spot on. Definitely attend the career fair and see if you find something you like, some STEM field for example. Then consider getting a masters in that field that has a lot of internship opportunities/industry contacts.

    If you're going all the way for a phd without an interest in pursuing academia, heavily computational subjects would probably leave you in a better position.
  6. Mar 20, 2013 #5
    Nearly all of the classes I took (and that's a large number) were neither necessary nor sufficient for learning anything. For example, I also learned practically nothing in my undergrad quantum classes. The other students also learned practically nothing, though some of them pretended otherwise in order to bolster their wounded egos.

    The good news is: you can be really bad at a subject and get better at it - even if the subject is as complicated and confusing as quantum physics, and even if you're on your own. My worst grades were in linear algebra, group theory, and statistics. Now I've published a paper which uses density matrices, unitary groups, and the Central Limit Theorem to explain part of a quantum time-reversal paradox.

    I don't mean to say that all classes are worthless. Rather, I mean that for every advanced topic I know, I taught most of it to myself. Sometimes classes helped, and sometimes I had substantial help from friends. But the main factors seem to be free time, willpower, and a few good textbooks and/or websites. Several of my colleagues have similar stories as well!
  7. Jun 13, 2013 #6
    Hello everyone!
    Thank you for your responses.
    I attended the career fair, and had some nibbles and interviews that didn't pan out.
    I'm getting a divorce.
    I finished up my first year of teaching, and I have the following options:

    1) Apply for another teaching job and possibly take some night classes in engineering to add to my resume
    2) Take out a loan, get a master's in engineering and try for an internship

    I want to get the master's (I'm thinking computer or software engineering) because I see tons of jobs for that and I've never come across a programming class or project that I didn't like. I would have 15-18 hours of undergraduate prerequisites to take.

    I'm scared of being in debt. Five semesters, as well as living expenses, would be a lot, even supplemented by a part-time job. I had a full-ride for undergrad, so I have no debt.

    What do you think?

    Thank you very much.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2013
  8. Jun 13, 2013 #7


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    If you've only been working for a year or two, references should not be that out of date. You can always check with them (ie. would you feel comfortable writing me a positive reference letter for graduate school?) and then make these kind of big life decisions based on actual responses rather than what you think people might say.

    With resepect to debt, it's nothing to fear. You just need to understand it and keep it under control. Furthering your education or marketable skills can be a good reason to take on some debt as it generally translates into better (and more enjoyable) job prospects. It's not a good reason to plunge into an avalance of debt. Also, if you're looking at graduate school, remember that graduate students are often supported on stipends and research assistanceships too. I think in the US that's perhaps not as common for MSc programs, but it's definately worth looking into the level of financial support you can expect.
  9. Jun 13, 2013 #8
    Thank you for your response.
    I'll know for sure soon (emailed graduate admissions advisor for computer science department who I recently spoke with), but I think they would choose PhD candidates or atleast those wanting to do research to award the TA-ships to. I don't want to do research, just coursework and hopefully a good internship.
    I would be 26 when I finish.
  10. Jun 14, 2013 #9
    Have you considered the Teach for America program? Two years of teaching for about 11k which can be used for school. I'd recommend this instead of going back into debt. Do anything you can to find aid. School is rarely worth it if you have to pay 100% of the cost.
  11. Jun 14, 2013 #10
    Well she did say she didn't want to continue in teaching.

    You have a ~3.5 GPA, this is sufficiently good for most grad programs irrespective of your research experience. If you still want to take a crack at physics or cognate research and you're a citizen, you are eligible to apply for internships and research initiation programs at the DOE (there are ones in the summer and fall, for physics graduates, not REU's which require being enrolled), national labs, NASA and similar programs at universities/research institutes, to name some: US Geological Survey, environmental agencies and consultants, NRAO (there are very few, but they're out there. If you want my own much-researched comprehensive list (mostly in astro), PM me). Not all of these require citizenship or security clearance, but if you can meet those requirements, you might also consider looking into entry or internship positions at defense contractors: Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, etc.

    I read a story of a physics masters graduate getting a temp TA position without being enrolled as a student at Ohio State University (at reddit, if I remember correctly). But something tells me getting into something like this would require serious contacts through academics and it's not something readily available to non-graduate students or even publicly advertised.

    There are a few funded masters programs, I believe U of Az has a TA-ship-funded optics masters program as does Rochester Institute of Tech ("Imaging Science" or something like that). The only other funded masters programs in North America I know about are the Perimeter Institute (highly competitive Canadian program, in fundamental physics), Stony Brook and Rennsaler Polytechnic Institute in NY. There are likely more but I have not had luck finding them. Since you're a minority, consider the APS' "Bridge Program" (google it), which is essentially a funded masters program with research experiences, which is what you want if you want to go to grad school. I think there's a similar program specifically for promoting gender diversity in Physics, I know the EU has the Marie Curie fellowships for this purpose (although I think chromosome-Y bearers can and have received it in the past).

    In my own personal opinion, I think getting into debt beyond $10k for 1 year of tuition is probably not a wise idea, especially now that state-subsidied low interest loans for postgraduate studies in the US have disappeared (I forget the name of the loan, was it Staffords that was recently limited to undergraduate studies?). The cost of education has been grossly inflated in the US and guarantees of return on investment are probably not too great for many. IMO, take everything you read or hear about employment trends and future prospects in the media with a potato bag of salt. Use your best judgement.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2013
  12. Jun 14, 2013 #11
    The other fact to consider is that there is income based repayment for student loans. This is an option added a few years ago and it amounts to a bail out for your student loans. You only have to pay 15% of your above poverty line income and after 25 years the rest is forgiven (10 years if you do certain public works). Both my wife and I are on this plan. So are many of our friends and fellow grads. If I recall correctly, half of all student loans are either in-school deferment, default or income based repayment. This means many, maybe most, loans will never be paid back in full.

    So in terms of return on investment... If one gets a high paying job they will be expected to pay off their loan in the standard 10 year plan. But if one does not manage to get a high paying job after graduation they can expect to pay only a fraction of their loan via the income based repayment plan.
  13. Feb 28, 2014 #12
    Go to Sweden or Finland. College is free.

    On a more realistic note (although I like the sound of the above a lot O_O), here's this: http://www.nsa.gov/careers/opportunities_4_u/students/graduate/npsc.shtml In case you were to consider doing a Ph.D, or http://www.nsa.gov/careers/opportunities_4_u/students/graduate/smart.shtml for just a Masters. Working for the Department of Defense or other government agencies.. well, look into them. There are a lot of "we'll pay for your schooling if you work for us for 150% the amount of years we paid for your schooling" things that I've seen. Here's one: https://www.cia.gov/careers/student-opportunities/graduate-scholarship-program.html

    In it, they'll do an 18,000 a year scholarship, PLUS a salary for working for them during the summer, plus health/dental plans, etc. Just gotta work for them for 1.5 years after your education's done.
  14. Feb 28, 2014 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    The thread hasn't been active for almost a year, and the OP not much longer. So it's probably time to close this.
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