Is Pursuing a Career in Physics the Right Choice for Me?

  • #36
Slimy0233 said:
I realize this sir, but I see so many examples of people who are rich and yet miserable and I don't want to end up like them.
Being rich and miserable is a lot better than being poor and miserable.
 
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  • #37
Slimy0233 said:
I beg you to write as much about it as you can, I realize it's a big ask. I really want to know more about this. I want to get rid of that and I want to learn to do something which I would find meaningful.
I don’t know what else there is to say about it. The idea you have that you will only be happy if you do physics, or that physics is somehow uniquely meaningful/pure/whatever. That idea is wrong. It is a lie. It is a fantasy. It is a mistake. It has no factual basis whatsoever.

Your belief that it is true will only cause problems and unhappiness. Either you will get into physics and be disappointed that your actual physics career doesn’t live up to the impossible fantasy you had imagined, or you take a different path and when normal challenges arise you will bemoan your lost fantasy. Either way, this false belief leads to disappointment. You must get rid of the lie from your mind.

You currently seem to be leaning towards finance, I have a friend in finance who finds it very meaningful. He works with people to plan and prepare for financial stability for individuals and their families. He absolutely would describe his career in finance using the same terms that you use to describe physics. Physics is meaningful, but it is not uniquely meaningful.
 
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  • #38
OP: Some additional comments.

* You keep saying you have a passion for physics. But from all your posts so far, it's more accurate to say you have a passion for some abstract, idealized vision of what you think physics is. Perhaps I've missed it, but I haven't seen you actually demonstrate passion for a particular field of research.

* With perhaps an outlier or two, a PhD in Physics is no guarantee of a long-term career in physics (or even physics-related) research. Others have discussed the minuscule opportunities for attaining a tenured professorship at a university. But even in industry, there are no guarantees. I'm in the US. I got my bachelor's at a top undergrad school and my PhD at a top research university. I then landed an R&D position at a top industrial lab. But after a relatively short 8 years (relative to 4 yrs undergrad plus 7 yrs grad), there was an industry-wide meltdown. I was then faced with a "Should I stay, or should I go?" scenario of my own. If I wanted to stay in the field I loved, I would need to uproot my family and move (or else split my family). If I wanted to keep my family intact and not relocate, I would need to switch fields. I chose to switch fields. And I switched fields several more times during my career in response to corporate and industry-wide "business conditions".

* So back to you. Suppose you spend the next 10+ yrs to attain a PhD in Physics, and you succeed. Now suppose you then spend several more years as a postdoc, aspiring for a career as a university professor, but don't actually land a position? Or suppose instead you land a job as an industrial physicist, but several years in are faced with an industry-wide downsizing? Will you be prepared to say, "Hey it was fun while it lasted," and move on to Plan X? Or will you be devastated and paralyzed?
 
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  • #39
My perspective is that I should have stayed with physics and I regret switching to engineering to some extent, although it has the benefit of being more applicable. It sounds like you are unsure of how much value you can add making small contributions to the physics community via papers and/or research. My advice to you would be to think bigger and find a way to motivate yourself to do big things in your field, it takes confidence but you enjoy physics now and if you keep doing it I am sure you will continue to enjoy it. However, for the sake of your family if you don't think you can muster up the confidence to make it work, then you may need to consider something else. Family is most important.

There is always what I did which was making a late switch to EE. I ended up with a BS in EE and minors in Physics and Mathematics. It wasn't really clear to me what year you are in currently based on your post, but the longer you wait, the less time you will have to complete engineering specialization courses that will enhance your job marketability. This of course depends on how much extra time you are willing to stay studying at university.
 
  • #40
CrysPhys said:
* You keep saying you have a passion for physics. But from all your posts so far, it's more accurate to say you have a passion for some abstract, idealized vision of what you think physics is. Perhaps I've missed it, but I haven't seen you actually demonstrate passion for a particular field of research.
The exact same thought occurred to me.
 
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  • #41
Me too.
 
  • #42
Lets look at this from the other direction.
  1. You need a job, You can't count on your family to support you forever.
  2. You have decided that out of all of the possible jobs out there, only one will m,ake you happy., This job appears unavailable to you. Furthermore, you have not demonstrated that you even know what this job entails. And, as you yourself admit, you might not be any good at it.
  3. Conclusion: you will be unhappy.
Now that we've established that, you can decide between the two options @russ_watters pointed out.

It was pointed out that counseling might help you understand why you have such a restricted idea of what will make you happy and seem to make only unrealistic plans to reach this goal. You dismissed it as too expensive. So in some sense, you have already decided.
 
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  • #43
Vanadium 50 said:
Lets look at this from the other direction.
  1. You need a job, You can't count on your family to support you forever.
  2. You have decided that out of all of the possible jobs out there, only one will m,ake you happy., This job appears unavailable to you. Furthermore, you have not demonstrated that you even know what this job entails. And, as you yourself admit, you might not be any good at it.
  3. Conclusion: you will be unhappy.
Now that we've established that, you can decide between the two options @russ_watters pointed out.

It was pointed out that counseling might help you understand why you have such a restricted idea of what will make you happy and seem to make only unrealistic plans to reach this goal. You dismissed it as too expensive. So in some sense, you have already decided.
@Vanadium 50 , it is important to point out that @Slimy0233 is from India, whereas most of the people who have replied are from Western countries like the US. So the advice we provide here may not necessarily be applicable for someone like the OP.

@Slimy0233 , I have a few questions for you:

1. You state that you are from India. Where in India are you from?

2. Do you come from a religious minority? (e.g. Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Parsi) Or an ethnic minority (e.g. a tribal community)?

3. If you are Hindu, what is your caste? (e.g. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Dalit, etc.)

4. More broadly, what is your financial status, or the financial status of your family?The answers to the above 4 questions would help to determine next steps in terms of seeking employment (either within India or elsewhere), or how practical it would be to emigrate.
 
  • #44
I'm not 100% comfortable with asking people their religion here.

In any event, the OP has been absent for a month. Presumably he is hitting the books, as he has very little time left and most of the material left to cover.
 
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  • #45
Vanadium 50 said:
I;m not 100% comfortable with asking people their religion here.

In any event, the OP has been absent for a month. Presumably he is hitting the books, as he has very little time left and most of the material left to cover.
I asked the OP their religion and caste because given what I know about India and its society, it may be pertinent to the OP's ability to find employment, and would thus provide information that may be useful when we are offering advice.
 
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  • #46
For me, I will probably not stay on this forum much longer, maybe 2024 at the latest, as most folks are not my age, and PF is a little too formal. It is a good site, but is just not a good fit. But for you, it depends*.

*GDPR rules for EU inhabitants allows one to request right to leave a forum, and delete an account. I am not in the EU, so the rule may or may not apply in other areas.
 
  • #47
I understand why you asked. I am still not comfortable with the question, especially as the OPs whole plan depends on his being imhumanly smart - learn all of a physics degree 12x (originally 6x) faster than those slowpoke students at Oxbridge or Stanvard - without benefit of a university. Then outcompete his entire country for admission, and then do so well as an MS student to again outcompete those dummies from Oxbridge or Stanvard for one of the limited PhD slots in the west,

The OPs religion affects the probability of success of this plan in maybe the seventh or eighth decimal place.
 
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  • #48
StatGuy2000 said:
I asked the OP their religion and caste because given what I know about India and its society, it may be pertinent to the OP's ability to find employment, and would thus provide information that may be useful when we are offering advice.
If you have some special insights that would require the OP to disclose more personal details (not appropriate for disclosure on a public forum), you could send him a private message.
 
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  • #49
CrysPhys said:
If you have some special insights that would require the OP to disclose more personal details (not appropriate for disclosure on a public forum), you could send him a private message.
That's a fair point. I will take that into consideration going forward if the OP decides to respond.
 
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  • #50
CrysPhys said:
Some of the top business schools here won't even consider you for admission unless you have ~3 - 5 yrs work experience. You should check carefully the situation in India.
Sorry for the really late reply! I have got a ton of things going on right now.

Here most of the students who attend MBA colleges are freshers and 2-3 years of work experience is considered ideal for a 2 years MBA whereas for executive MBA 5 years is considered ideal. I must thank you for giving me that bit of information, had I seen it a month ago it would have saved me some time in research.

[and thank you generally] :)
 
  • #51
Mark44 said:
What you should abandon is this "follow my passion" bilge. It's very clear from the dichotomy that I quoted that running after money = bad while "follow my passion" = good. It's very easy to disparage "run after money" when you're being supported by someone else. From what you wrote about your father's failing health, you might not be able to run through daddy's money much longer.

You're 23 now. Have you ever had a job (one for which you were paid)?
I am 23 and no I have never had a job, but that's not considered unusual here in India. You are expected to finish your studies and then get a job. But in this at least, I prefer the western work cultural norms. A part-time job during summer vacations might have helped me widen my horizon and be less of an armchair everything.

I agree with your statements, especially abt passion and "running after money".
 
  • #52
CrysPhys said:
If you have some special insights that would require the OP to disclose more personal details (not appropriate for disclosure on a public forum), you could send him a private message.
replying to @StatGuy2000 to the message which is quoted by @CrysPhys

I think it my duty to somewhat inform you that my caste and religion doesn't really play a major role in the job I may get. It might play a small role in the rural areas, but generally it doesn't hold me back. In fact if anything there has been reservations since our constitution was drafted which makes sure that a good percentage of "lower caste" communities get a go at success, we have scholarships and reservations (which is a contentious topic in itself, I feel like reservations shd end). But no, even though caste still remains a part of life, it doesn't determine my future, it doesn't have much power over me.

I might myself be described as "Hindu lower caste" (although, I am an atheist) but I have never faced adverse effects of caste I was born into anywhere but in my grandpa's village which I visited annually and that too very mild.

I am sorry, I just want all of you to know that caste isn't a big factor in Indian cities anymore, it doesn't hold that much power over us.
 
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  • #53
Dale said:
You currently seem to be leaning towards finance, I have a friend in finance who finds it very meaningful. He works with people to plan and prepare for financial stability for individuals and their families. He absolutely would describe his career in finance using the same terms that you use to describe physics. Physics is meaningful, but it is not uniquely meaningful.
Sorry for the late reply sir, I have been having a full plate last few months with unenviable tasks of self-discovery and reflection.

Also, finance apparently seems to have a low "meaningfulness rating" but of all the categories in finance people who help families/individuals manage their wealth seem to be have a higher than average sense of satisfaction.
Apparently the field will make me good money and it is fluid, if I don't like one thing I can switch to another, I believe I can do some good for myself and for others over there. Let's see! thank you!
 
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  • #54
Vanadium 50 said:
I'm not 100% comfortable with asking people their religion here.

In any event, the OP has been absent for a month. Presumably he is hitting the books, as he has very little time left and most of the material left to cover.
I gave up sir! I think I took the right decision. I did what I could while studying physics but laziness and lack of hard work cased me to fail. I don't completely regret it (giving physics a shot) and I am somewhat happy I am quitting it now rather than later (although Ik for a fact that I could have made it work had I put my stuff together) and you are one of the people who helped me make that decision. Although I feel like you have mischaracterized me when you said my plan depended on being "inhumanly smart", and you were somewhat rude to me, I am extremely grateful to you of all here because you really gave me the truth without sugarcoating it and it helped me to give up Physics.

I don't know how you will take this comment but I am just trying to say that you have had a meaningful and a positive impact on my life. You were the brick wall of reality that I needed to hit and I am glad you were there. That previously linked comment especially was very helpful.
 
  • #55
Dear all who commented here and tried to help me, I am eternally grateful.

All of you have been very very helpful in the hardest time of my life (yet)! I just want to thank each and every one of you (especially the mentors and educational advisors) for you really did help me more than I could have expected. Most of you were kinder and patient to a stranger than one could reasonably expect. This might sound cheesy but I really am grateful for all your help!

I have realized that I don't need Physics to lead a meaningful life and I realized some of the errors of my ways and I am trying to correct it. I still don't know how to lead a meaningful life though but I will try and find it out.

Some of you were concerned and curious abt my well being, thank you for that, I am not well, but I am much better than when I created this post. [sorry about my English]
 
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  • #56
Slimy0233 said:
what do you think about MBA though? Or finance? I would need some challenging and difficult. And I might want to leave my country for good so that my kids won't have to go through what I am going through right now.
Here are my belated two cents: don't be afraid to explore the world outside physics. After my degree I worked in McKinsey, the financial sector and then on Boston Consulting Group. These are fields where I've met a lot of other physicists and mathematicians and all of them enjoyed their work very much.

And contrary to what is usually thought us physicists don't have value only as quants and data scientists. We also excel in the more strategic parts of consulting and in my view this is the ideal path for physicists that are more on the theoretical side.

My belated advice is for physicists that are thinking about dropping out of physics to read "The McKinsey Way" and get an idea of what it is that strategic consultants do.

Now that I think of it I think I will write a thread on avenues outside physics that aren't the paths usually taken and talked about.
 
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  • #57
Slimy0233 said:
replying to @StatGuy2000 to the message which is quoted by @CrysPhys

I think it my duty to somewhat inform you that my caste and religion doesn't really play a major role in the job I may get. It might play a small role in the rural areas, but generally it doesn't hold me back. In fact if anything there has been reservations since our constitution was drafted which makes sure that a good percentage of "lower caste" communities get a go at success, we have scholarships and reservations (which is a contentious topic in itself, I feel like reservations shd end). But no, even though caste still remains a part of life, it doesn't determine my future, it doesn't have much power over me.

I might myself be described as "Hindu lower caste" (although, I am an atheist) but I have never faced adverse effects of caste I was born into anywhere but in my grandpa's village which I visited annually and that too very mild.

I am sorry, I just want all of you to know that caste isn't a big factor in Indian cities anymore, it doesn't hold that much power over us.
There's a program to help lower castes that I know about, but it's in IT, and it's called " Ctrl, Alt, Dalit".
 
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  • #58
ateixeira said:
Here are my belated two cents: don't be afraid to explore the world outside physics. After my degree I worked in McKinsey, the financial sector and then on Boston Consulting Group. These are fields where I've met a lot of other physicists and mathematicians and all of them enjoyed their work very much.

And contrary to what is usually thought us physicists don't have value only as quants and data scientists. We also excel in the more strategic parts of consulting and in my view this is the ideal path for physicists that are more on the theoretical side.

My belated advice is for physicists that are thinking about dropping out of physics to read "The McKinsey Way" and get an idea of what it is that strategic consultants do.

Now that I think of it I think I will write a thread on avenues outside physics that aren't the paths usually taken and talked about.
hey there, thank you for trying to help! since I have done only a bachelors and that too a triple major (Physics with Maths & computer science), I doubt if McKinsey or any other consulting groups would be interested in someone with that and mediocre grades. Moreover, from what I have heard, if you don't have good grades or great alma-mater, you don't exist for consulting firms (we have an oversupply of everything here, even PhD's in Physics)

But, I would nonetheless be interested in hearing what you have to say, following you! :)
 
  • #59
Slimy0233 said:
what do you think about MBA though? Or finance? I would need some challenging and difficult. And I might want to leave my country for good so that my kids won't have to go through what I am going through right now.
I know that the
Slimy0233 said:
hey there, thank you for trying to help! since I have done only a bachelors and that too a triple major (Physics with Maths & computer science), I doubt if McKinsey or any other consulting groups would be interested in someone with that and mediocre grades. Moreover, from what I have heard, if you don't have good grades or great alma-mater, you don't exist for consulting firms (we have an oversupply of everything here, even PhD's in Physics)

But, I would nonetheless be interested in hearing what you have to say, following you! :)
Yes grades are very important for the MBB companies but they are not all. One way to get the foot in is to have connections. If you can support your case by having some excelent extra-curricular activities it won't be bad either.

I was thinking and maybe it makes more sense to have a kind of a videotalk around this (or a llive in one of those "new" platforms). In any case I will make a thread about this and then if we can get a three or for people from this forum to debate this topic and leave in video format for other to see and add it would be nice.

I will post the thread tomorrow, as soon as I finish organizing my thoughts.
 
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  • #60
@ateixeira . To help you kickstart your effort, the American Physical Society (APS) has some material discussing career options for physicists as consultants. See, e.g., https://www.aps.org/careers/physicists/consultant.cfm. I also recall an article in APS News written by a physicist working at Boston Consulting. Maybe also a video on the APS careers website.
 
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  • #61
CrysPhys said:
@ateixeira . To help you kickstart your effort, the American Physical Society (APS) has some material discussing career options for physicists as consultants. See, e.g., https://www.aps.org/careers/physicists/consultant.cfm. I also recall an article in APS News written by a physicist working at Boston Consulting. Maybe also a video on the APS careers website.
I earned a degree called Licenciatura in Physics from Portugal; it's an old program that's not offered anymore. After that, I spent some time teaching, then took a leap into strategic consulting, did a bit in finance, circled back to consulting, and now I'm trying to dive back into physics. It's been quite a rollercoaster!

Now, here's why I believe strategic consulting could be a great fit for physics enthusiasts who love theoretical and mathematical physics, as opposed to heading into data or quant jobs.

In strategic consulting, our job is to help companies tackle tough questions like how to grow, what products to make, or where to invest. It's a lot like physics in the sense that we take complex problems, break them down, and find the best solutions.

At the top of the consulting hierarchy are MBB – McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These are dream jobs for many. They don't just create impressive presentations; they get hands-on with data analysis, even working on projects involving AI. For instance, McKinsey might help a tech company develop a new product strategy, or Bain might assist a retail business in expanding its market.

There are other consulting firms, too, like Oliver Wyman, Strategy&, and Roland Berger. These are smaller than MBB but still excel in specific areas. For example, Oliver Wyman might focus on transportation and logistics strategy, helping companies optimize their supply chains.

Now, let's talk about the Big Four – Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG. These companies are mainly known for auditing, which involves checking a company's financial books. Auditing ensures accuracy and compliance. However, they also delve into consulting. While it might not be as prestigious as MBB, it's still significant. For instance, PwC might help a healthcare company with its overall business strategy.

Auditing, in a nutshell, is about verifying financial information, making sure everything adds up and follows regulations. It's different from strategic consulting, which is about guiding a company's overall direction and decision-making.

Moving on to the similarities between theoretical physics and strategic consulting, there are quite a few. Both fields rely on conceptual frameworks, a top-down approach, and being hypothesis-driven. In physics, you might build a theoretical framework to explain a phenomenon; in consulting, you construct frameworks to analyze business problems. The top-down approach involves starting with the big picture and then breaking it down into manageable parts, much like how physicists approach complex theories.

Now, the hiring process. Getting into these consulting firms isn't easy, but it's doable. Books like "Case in Point" and "The McKinsey Way" can help you prepare for case interviews. Networking is crucial – attend events, connect with professionals, and join online forums. Extra-curricular activities, especially those showcasing measurable impact, stand out. Think about leading a project or initiative that makes a tangible difference.

In summary, if you're a physics grad considering a path beyond labs and research, strategic consulting offers challenges and excitement. It's a place where your analytical skills can shine, and you might discover a passion you didn't expect.
 
  • #62
I spent almost 10 years at one of Mckinsey BCG Bain (MBB) and was very active in recruiting both undergrad and PHD students (this is in the US context). I absolutely agree that physics student can make excellent consultants and is probably one of the highest paying options they can get.

However, I would not characterize the hiring process as "getting into these consulting firms isn't easy, but it's doable". Getting into a MBB is much more difficult (in my opinion) than getting into a PHD program. So, those who are struggling to go to grad school, I really don't think MBB is an option with any probability of success. We had something like 10,000 applications for each undergrad hire (or something crazy like that). I heard anecdotally that it was even worse in India (where the OP is located).

To even get an interview, you have to have great test scores and near perfect GPA from a top school. Lots of people on this forum state the reason they can't get into grad school is because they lack one of these things (plus research experience). I got in after my MBA and would definitely not have made the interview list coming out undergrad based on GPA alone.

Assuming you do have great GPA, great school, etc. the next thing is do you have EQ / ability to navigate complex social situations and provide advice to executives decades older than you? Undergrad physics training doesn't really help with this so you have to demonstrate it through extra curriculars, networking, and how you show up at the recruiting events. Not to lean to heavily into stereotypes but many Physics students don't have the extroversion, social acumen, and executive presence to be a viable hire at the age of 22.

Needless to say, I don't think giving advice to the OP about MBB is reasonable.

You also mentioned "connections". I also believe this is somewhat misleading. There are two kinds of connections: "My father is the CEO of one of the biggest companies in my country and spend 10s of millions of dollars a year with this consulting firm" and "I called an alumni who is 1.5 years into the job at MBB and made a good impression". NEITHER of these will get you the job. The first will get you an interview but not the job - I was on the interview cadre for these applications and we held them to the same standard as everyone else (meaning most were rejected). The second MIGHT get your resume to get a second look but that's probably about it. Once again, this is in the US context and I've been gone from MBB for a few years.

I believe this is a viable career path for an undergrad majoring in physics at a great school with a great GPA etc., who has set the stage by being involved in the consulting club / finance club or something similar and chooses NOT to go to graduate school. I also think this is a great opportunity for those finishing their PHDs who are older, wiser, have been forced to work in an actual job (PHD) requiring collaboration and building of social skills etc. HOWEVER, these are not the situations that the OP is currently in.
 
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  • #63
@PhysicsRelearner if the OP doesn' try then we won't get it for sure. I was in M and also one of the Bs in MBB and it wasn't hard for me to get in in none of them. Yes I know as we all know that it is hard to get into them, but again: if the OP doesn't try he won't get in for sure. As for connections: I never said that this would get you the job. I just said that it would help. So I guess we are in agreement.

I mentioned the big four in auditing, and also smaller strategic consultancy companies and my idea was to say that if MBB fails these can be used to later try and enter to MBB. But I for to write it up. And I know a lot of people that started in one of the big fours, or even niche and boutique strategic consultancies and then moved to an MBB and made it big there. Some of them are even partners now in MBB.

So may main messages are:
If you are a theoretical physicist, mathematical physicist and/or like more conceptual physics, then strategic consultancy is, in my view, a much better fit for career outside physics than data, coding and quant
If you have the goal to go to MBB firms than practice a lot of cases, network and do extra-curricular activities
If MBB doens't work or isn't realistic at first, start with smaller strategic companies, niche firms or boutique firms and then try to move "upwards" to MBB. Deloitte in particular seems to be a good company to do that and they are very good on their own.
 

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