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Physics Is a physics degree good for a stable job?

  1. Oct 13, 2016 #1
    I am really interested in physics, and have a knack for it (am currently in my second year of physics at college, so I think I can honestly match myself up with other physics majors), but am not a savant or anything. I would love to push through and finish the degree, but the degree doesn't seem very reliable outside of school, Especially considering my other choice is statistics. Can someone confirm or deny this?

    I've seen the numbers, and by the looks of it, most physicis majors don't get jobs in physics. I would love to go the PhD route, but it doesn't seem to really guarentee any sort of security in job searching. If there is a way to skew that, what is it? For example, is going into military post PhD a way to secure a physics related job? Any input would be very appreciated.

    Thank you for your time!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Are you sure to get a "stable job" with a physics degree? No.
    Are you sure to get a "stable job" with a statistics degree? No.
    Should you rely on being able to get a job right out of college? No.

    It is true that most physics grads do not get jobs in physics. But the same is true for any non-vocational qualification of any kind.
    OTOH: I know plenty of people who gambled wrong in a vocational degree and they are out of work now even though all the people in work are in the degree field. The main trouble is trying to predict the job market when you graduate. It's a gamble. If you want to play the odds, then you should seek a vocational degree ... a way to do physics in a vocational degree would be to take up engineering.

    Joining the military post PhD is, indeed, a way to secure a job in physics - but it is not guaranteed that they will give you one.

    The way to skew your job security prospects is to be very good at what you do, and be indispensible in your job. You can try angling for work where the skills inherent in your physics, or stats whatever, will help you over the others who may not have those skills. Bear in mind too, that the most secure jobs tend to be low paid. ie. janitor.

    I understand that law firms like to hire people whose second degree is in science, especially physics - they make better litigators apparently.
    That can lead to better security as a lawyer - and it can help avoid the law-mill type work. On the downside, it is lots harder compared with the usual LLB-BA, and, after all that, you'll have to be a lawyer...
  4. Oct 13, 2016 #3


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    Physics is an academic subject - so studying it is going to give you an education that's largely geared towards academia. Outside of academia, there is not a lot of demand for academic-type work, so it's rare to get a job doing physics, at least in the academic sense. That said, it does have a lot of tangential applications and physics majors on average tend to do rather well once they enter the workforce. The hurdle is that as a physics graduate you have to figure out how to market yourself and transition from an academic education into a professional career. Some people really struggle with this. And it can be very frustrating compared to someone with an engineering degree who do a job search for engineering jobs and have a lot of stuff come up that he or she is qualified for.

    One way to improve your odds at getting a job doing physics is to consider the more professional branches such as medical physics or geophysics. Because these have places that will employ you outside of academia, their is a greater demand for graduates from these programs. There still aren't any guarantees, but the odds are better than academia.
  5. Oct 14, 2016 #4
    You seem to have got some good advice. I endorse all that they have to say. I would like to add that instead of studying pure Physics at post graduation level if you opt for Applied Physics then your job prospects are better. This will be a course which will be like a bridge between Engineering and Physics. I have seen a lot of students getting jobs in Institutions where they required Physics related personnel.
  6. Oct 22, 2016 #5
    The answers to your questions will depend a lot on what country you're in. From your use of the term "military post PhD", I suspect you are not in the US. Anyway, here is my US-centric view. I got my Physics PhD in the early '80s. I've gone through 2 major and several minor industry meltdowns, 4 major and several minor career shifts; and I've lost count of the number of rounds of downsizings and layoffs I've gone through.

    (a) If you want a guaranteed long-term career after you finish your schooling, go into healthcare; that is, go to med school or dental school. There will be a job waiting, and a long-term career as well; no shortage of patients; and, at least in our lifetime, will still require on-site acts by humans (though some work will be increasingly computerized and outsourced). How financially rewarding it will be, however, will be subject to government policy (e.g., socialized medicine).

    (b) You should consider PhD research experience in physics almost an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Especially if your research is in something esoteric such as string theory or high-energy particle physics. The number of people who make a career in those fields are relatively small.

    (c) What has really limited the career opportunities for physicists in the US has been the collapse of major corporate industrial R&D labs that used to hire physicists. Many have simply vanished. And those that are still around are either greatly reduced in size or redirected most of their efforts from devices and hardware to software.

    (d) That said, a physics PhD gives you a broad range of skills that can keep you employed, *if* you are flexible and adaptable. For example, experimental high-energy physicists with experience mining large databases have gone into insurance and finance.

    (e) Job markets can change rapidly. For example, optoelectronics was booming towards the end of the '90s during the inflation of the Internet Bubble; and there was actually a shortage of R&D scientists in this sector. Just a couple of years later (2000 - 2001), the Bubble burst, followed by major hi-tech industry meltdowns, and massive layoffs.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2016
  7. Oct 29, 2016 #6
    As others said, physics is an academic degree. However, that does not mean you won't learn any applicable skills along the way. In fact, you learn a lot. I applied for a lot of jobs with just a B.A in physics, and I was able to get a decent amount of interviews. I also did get a job offer in consulting at a well known company (not listing it so I can keep myself anonymous).

    It really depends on what you do in undergrad. If you do research, there are plenty of skills to talk about. You will also have concrete examples of how you used those skills. What's stopping you from applying to internships? There are definitely internships available for physics degrees too, you just have to look for them.
  8. Oct 29, 2016 #7
    "Stable job" is something of an oxymoron in the 21st century.

    I would worry more about a good work ethic and a good skill set for doing the job you happen to have and finding a new one when that one goes south.

    Some entrepreneurial attitude also helps.
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