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Job Advice Question: Physics PhD

  1. Jun 6, 2017 #1
    So I have a PhD in physics specializing in experimental soft matter physics/optics, and I have been unsuccessfully trying to get a job now for 9 months. I've been applying to engineering positions all of which I was very experienced in, but I can't even get a single interview (not even with a recruiter).

    Previously I was able to get an engineering/computer programming job in industry after 8 months of trying, but I am thinking of giving up at this point as this might have been a fluke occurrence. Really at this point I would be happy with any job that is even remotely technical in nature.

    What I want to know is what kind of jobs can I get now that I have a physics PhD and no chance of a job in academia? So far most of what I have been reading has been hearsay from what I am assuming are engineers or people with no real personal experience with this. Can someone else in a similar camp as me tell me about their experiences job hunting? And specifically, what job titles are actually hiring physics PhDs, because in my experience engineering jobs seem virtually impossible to get (bizarre since this is what I was trained to do)?

    The only jobs that seem slightly interested in me have been private high school physics teaching jobs, but they are all surprisingly low paying. And I am not sure if spending 2 years to get a teaching certificate is a good idea as I read somewhere that physics PhDs have a hard time landing public school teaching jobs (although I don't really know if this true or not). I'd like for someone with a BS or PhD in physics to weigh in on this.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 6, 2017 #2
    Getting a job you want is always easier if you have a job.

    Why not apply for local teaching jobs (community colleges, lower tier unis, etc.) and at least be gainfully employed while applying for the higher paying jobs you desire more? Often the local physics depts do not employ nearly as many teachers as the local math depts, so if you are willing to apply for the math jobs also, you will greatly improve your chances.
  4. Jun 6, 2017 #3


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    Education Advisor

    To the OP:

    How long has it been since you have completed your PhD in physics? Are you not able to reach out to say past PhD graduates who did not go into academia (and did not end up in secondary school teaching jobs) to find out where they are employed and network with them?

    Also, you have said nothing about where you are located, where you have completed your PhD, or in what locations have you been applying for jobs.
  5. Jun 6, 2017 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    This is confusing to me (what training in engineerind did you have? You only said physics) perhaps because you have listed an incomplete picture of your experience, but to repeat what I just told someone else in another thread:

    If a hiring manager asks for an engineer in a job posting they are more likely to hire an engineer than a physicsist.

    This should not be found bizarre.
  6. Jun 8, 2017 #5
    This is bizarre that people would ask what training an experimental physicist could have in engineering as if there is huge amounts of separation between the two (depending on the field of course).
  7. Jun 8, 2017 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    Physics and engineering are related, but they are not the same. The OP specifically said engineering training.
  8. Jun 8, 2017 #7
    It isn't that simple as you're making it out to be. I don't know about the OP, but I myself studied both and yes the physicist isn't as trained in design and such like but considering graduate school the experiences of the physicist and the engineer isn't so different as a hard and fast rule, just look at ZapperZ's thread about accelerator physics.
  9. Jun 8, 2017 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Note, I rewrote that post after I realized you were not the OP....

    I was giving the benefit of the doubt in my first post by not assuming the OP incorrectly believed he had engineering training if he doesn't. Why this matters is that it is a potential explanation for why he's having trouble finding a job; there may be gap between what employers are asking for and what he is offering. Or even worse, an accidental misrepresentation.
  10. Jun 8, 2017 #9
    These are valid concerns, but I've been on the job search recently myself and I've found many engineering jobs list physics as an acceptable field of study to pull engineering candidates from, especially in a field like optics (though that can be highly specific and out of the breadth of lots of physicists too).
  11. Jun 8, 2017 #10


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    Gold Member

    1) I'd examine your job search methodology. Are you replying to ads? Studies show that nearly 60% of job applicants who land jobs had a personal contact or experience within their new employer. These days it's all about networking.
    2) Employers typically want to know that you have the skills needed to do the job, and it's particularly true for engineering jobs. Have you shown how you have competence and skills needed for the job?
    3) If your background doesn't cover the needed skills, you may need to take a course and/or prepare on your own. If you are applying for a job in 5G mobile wireless engineering, you'll be more attractive if you list relevant extension or MIT OCW courses and say "have written Matlab simulation of end-to-end data and error rates for LTE waveforms with urban multipath scattering propagation model" compared to "physicist with graduate E&M course study and strong math skills." Your experimental physicist's ability to study systems and attack arbitrary new problems, coupled with that relevance, then amounts to something.
    4) My observation is that start-ups are stretched for resources and are often willing to take someone lacking a specific skill if they are generalists who can wear many hats and jump onto any task that arises. Large companies want someone whose already demonstrated competence in the specific area of need. You might search out start ups.
  12. Jun 22, 2017 #11
    Are you applying for R&D positions to which your thesis is relevant? Or are you applying to entry level positions?
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