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Industry and National Labs

  1. Apr 22, 2009 #1
    From what I've seen, most of the threads concerning jobs after receiving a PhD in physics focus on professorships. But I haven't seen too much about working in national labs and industry. So here are a few things I've been wondering about myself:

    How hard is it to get a job in industry? In a national lab? (in comparison to a job as a professor)

    What is it like working in industry?

    Is it possible (not too uncommon) to work in industry for an amount of time and move over to a national lab later?

    I've heard that some people end up taking multiple postdocs and are never able to get a job as a "real" physicist. What factors would lead to this? Would they still be able to go into industry?

    I understand that the answers to these questions depend on what your specialty may be (among other things), but I would still like to here more general answers. Personally, I plan on going into something in experimental condensed matter (big field, I know, but I have time to decide).

    Thank you for any replies.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 22, 2009 #2


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    I actually did cover a little bit on getting a job, or in this case, a postdoctoral position, at a Nat'l Lab in my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay.

    It is no different than getting a job at a university. Depending on the Nat'l Lab, it may follow the same tenure evaluation system. One just doesn't have any direct teaching responsibilities, and a lot rides on your ability to find funding, especially from DOE.

  4. Apr 22, 2009 #3

    Dr Transport

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    Industry is easy, apply for a job. I applied for exactly 5 jobs when I was finishing my PhD, I interviewed for 3 and was offered all of them. Almost 10 year down the road I have no regrets.

    Just be forewarned, the chances of working in your exact area of specialization will not be too high, you'll have to learn something new and be able to apply your skills as a physicist.
  5. Sep 4, 2009 #4
    I read some of your posts before and you said you got a phD in condensed matter theory, correct? I heard that there's few jobs outside of academia or national labs for condensed matter theoreticians, so what skills did you possess made you employable?

    As a result of your job, were you able to actually do work related to physics, or just engineering or something else, in those jobs? could someone with a phD or MS in engineering do the same job as you and be paid the same?
  6. Sep 4, 2009 #5

    Business GE Corporate
    Business Segment Global Research
    Posted Position Title Condensed Matter Physicist
    Career Level Entry-Level

    * Doctorate in Condensed Matter Physics, Applied Physics, Physical Chemistry, Solid State Chemistry or a closely related field.

    Of course, this is just one data point.
  7. Sep 6, 2009 #6

    Dr Transport

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    I do work in Physics, not as a Condensed Matter Theorist, but in Optical Materials doing theory in that area along with other areas of Electromagnetics and measurements. My skills that made me marketable were an ability to work across different areas of physics along with strong computational skills (I have worked with multiple computing platforms) as well as multiple languages. Right now I am the most conversant in Matlab in my group and spend almost all of my time writing routines for data analysis.

    Someone with a masters could do my job, as well as an advanced degree in engineering (most of my co-workers have engineering degrees). In my company, PhD's get paid a little more because of the advanced degrees (we start at a higher pay scale and just keep going up from there).
  8. Sep 6, 2009 #7
    How did you get those strong computational skills and pick up multiple languages? If you learned it in grad school, why can't all theoretical physics phDs get those and hence not have trouble finding jobs?
  9. Sep 7, 2009 #8

    Dr Transport

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    My dissertation was primarily computational in nature. The theory was about 2 months worth of working thru the equations, but it took about 4 years to get it completely coded up, checked out and running to my satisfaction.

    As for multiple languages, I picked up C just screwing around in my spare time during my graduate career. I would compile my code, then run some test cases on my laptop. If I was satisfied I'd ftp up to the CRAY that I had access to and recompile, link and set it off to running. It had a priority queue, so depending on how long my job took I might have to wait a week or so to get my data back, I'd then check it and get onto the next step. So in between I'd screw around learning a new language and fiddling around with different flavors of Unix/Linux.

    As for learning the skills in grad school and other theoretical PhD's getting jobs, I can't give you a definitive answer. My topic wasn't in the "sexy" areas of theory, but what some may call mundane. It was a solid topic and was a good project. I see young theorists today who don't want to branch out of their thesis topics and only want to do a post-doc or two then right into a tenured position. I, on the other hand wanted nothing to do with academia when I finished and was leaving for the greener pastures of industry. I might have lay-offs looming during my career, but I am making 50-75% more than the people who I went to grad school with.
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