Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Jobs available by majoring in physics?

  1. May 17, 2008 #1
    Everyone tells me its useless to major in physics and that if I like science I should just study engineering.I also hear that the only jobs availabe with Physics is with teaching.So I was wondering what jobs are available by majoring in physics?I know that one can be a researcher but isn't a researcher someone who is also a professor?I do not want to be a professor.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2008 #2
    This is pretty much my feeling, that I don't want to teach, but I really want to major in Physics. People who tell you there aren't any jobs other than teaching are wrong. It's just that it's easy to do research AND teach. You can definitely find jobs with independent companies doing research or even helping in engineering.
  4. May 17, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    You don't specify whether you want your job to be related to physics or not. Yes, if you want to work in Physics, then you are somewhat restricted, but a degree in Physics will open up the door to a myriad of other career paths.
  5. May 17, 2008 #4
    Not all researchers are professors.
    Most "pure" research is done in an academic setting or national lab because it is unlikely to have a payoff in the near future. Much applied research is done in industrial settings.

    If you want to do research in an engineering field, it is much easier to major in that field. It is not impossible or even prohibitively difficult to enter engineering fields related to physics after an undergrad degree in physics. Note that for some fields, e.g. chemical or biomedical engineering will require a lot of unrelated background knowledge, it will take much more effort than others! This may also affect your career paths by limiting access to a PE license, et cetera.

    It depends on what you want, but it's definitely not useless.
  6. May 17, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I've never had trouble finding work with my BS in physics, but I also took a whole lot of chemistry classes. I did have to start at a pretty low-level, but I worked myself up pretty fast. There are many labs that employ physics majors. But it's also true that there are more opportunities with an engineering degree.

    A bonus that you get with a physics degree: in the interview process, you will stand out. It's nice to come back for the second interview in the hiring process and hear the interviewer say, "Oh, I remember you! You're the one with the physics degree!!!"
  7. May 17, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    One thing to remember is that an undergradute degree in any science, including physics, is not job training, it's an education. Engineering is a little different because it's a professional degree that can be more directly translated into the workforce.

    That being said here's a list of various positions assumed by people I have known who started out in physics (in no particular order):
    - medical physicist (some completely clinical, others with academic and research appointments)
    - financial analyst
    - dentist
    - radiation therapist
    - scientific journalist
    - department of national defence scientist
    - meteorologist
    - geophysicist (working in oil exploration)
    - radiation protection officer
    - teacher: high school, private school, tutorial service manager
    - astronomer
    - various sales associates for medical technology companies
    - entrepreneur
    - medical doctor
    - actuary
    - science centre demonstrator
    - police officer
    - computer programmer
    - nuclear medicine technologist
    - ultrasound technologist

    I'm sure I'll think of about 10 more to add to the list as soon as I post this. The vast majority of people I have known have gone on to follow the academic stream (working towards a tenured professor position).
    Last edited: May 17, 2008
  8. May 17, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Excellent point, Choppy!
  9. May 17, 2008 #8

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    The point of a college degree is education, not to get you a job. We have places that are designed to get you a job - they are called trade schools. (Engineering is a bit different, as it's a professional degree.)

    Looking at your thread on "How shud [sic] physics be taught", though, I'd have to wonder why you want to major in physics. Many of the complaints you have won't go away - they'll get worse. You'll have professors that aren't entertaining. There will be things you have to memorize. And you certainly won't have the subject matter's relevance demonstrated through video games.
  10. May 18, 2008 #9
    This here is an interesting question and I'd like some of you in the know to further comment if you don't mind. Where I'm from, universities don't allow physics graduates to pursue post-grad qualifications in engineering fields (you need to have studied BEng), but it seems that this might just be an issue over on this side of the water. Is it relatively easy to get into engineering fields over in the States with a physics background? I understand that some fields will be tough going, but say, for example, robotics/mechatronics/electric?
  11. May 18, 2008 #10
    As someone in their last year of high school (Australia) that has to consider Uni choices in a couple of months, this thread is of increadible interest.

    While I have a broad facination in all the science subjects I do (chemistry, maths and physics) I would have to say that I enjoy Physics the most. I love the concepts and the thinking required.

    Now, I've heard that it is very hard to get a decent job in the physics industry (for lack of a better word) without going all the way to PhD level, and even then it's still quite hard. I've also heard that a straight BSc is one of the most useless degrees you can get on it's own!

    So anyway, while I would love to do major in physics, I'm begining to think that it would be better to go in the way of an engineering course as so many people that are interested in science seem to go. However, I really do enjoy physics and even though, as I understand it, there are physics subjects intertwined within engineering courses I don't know if it'd be the same.

    Ideally, I'd love to be be doing research in a physics role, but I'm unsure how practical this would really be and I'd hate to waste time doing a degree and then have to go back and do another one to get work. I have also heard that many employers like employees with physics degrees. It'd be nice to know what sort of non physics fields it would be possible to get into with a physics degree, without any extra training I guess. (Or training that the employer would pay for).

    Any advice would be superb. Thanks again.
    Last edited: May 18, 2008
  12. May 18, 2008 #11
    What has the physicist learned in his undergrad and grad-years?

    - Mathematics

    this can translate into analytical thinking, highly sought after in finance, R&D, and even other lines of work.

    - Physics

    This translates into knowledge about how the world works, and the ability to learn and understand very difficult things in a limited amount of time.

    - Working in teams

    The physicist almost always have some kind of labwork or project and even a longer essay of some sort in the end of his/her educational experience. Here the physicist learns (hopefully) how to interact and hone interpersonal skills, something that is very important, even for the physicist in the ivory tower of academia.

    - Being creative

    Science and engineering isn't about firing a lazer, boiling stuff, make things explode and stuff like that. It's about finding a solution on a problem that needs to be solved yesterday. Solving problems in a limited amount of time. Being creative and look at problems in many different ways. Being a multi-dimensional resolute creative entity.

    - What jobs can you get in the field of science and engineering?

    Being the creative problemsolver I hope you are, you can get almost any job. It would have been cold to just stop there, but I will give some additional guidance.

    In sweden (you must always look at what your country and your region has for opportunities);

    As a pure physicist, you can work with medical imaging, medical diagnostic equipment, materialdesign, enviromental tech and probably electronics. I think that a more mathminded physicist could get a job as a numerical analysis scientist. Another filed of work that will be pretty large in europe is reactor-physicists or nuclearpower-physicists.
  13. May 18, 2008 #12
    Yes I agree with you.But we live in a very competitive world where education is expensive and a big risk.So after investing all my parents money and all my time I think studying for a job is more important than just learning for fun.

    Yes I have complaints with physics but I love the idea of trying to solve different problems by looking at it in different angles and using logic.I also like searching the net and finding stuff for myself so its okay.
    I am willing to major in physics if money was not a problem.I am scared of engineering...it involves too much math and I am a bit weak and a slow thinker with numbers.However,I guess I have to take engineering to ensure my future.....
  14. May 18, 2008 #13
    Yeah I feel the same way and have the same question.
  15. May 18, 2008 #14
    Thank you for your comments.Environmental tech seems interestinng.
  16. May 18, 2008 #15


    User Avatar

    Both physicists and engineers have to know a lot of math. The material in both disciplines can only be understood once the math is understood. You're fooling yourself if you think you can major in physics and not have to use math.
  17. May 18, 2008 #16

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    If you don't like this aspect about engineering, why do you think you will like physics? There is at least as much math. When I graduated with an SB in physics, I was one class short of a math major (and if that were my goal, I could easily have substituted one math class for another to do it).

    I think you also don't appreciate the value of education for education's sake. Businesses don't, as a rule, hire college graduates because of what they studied in college. They hire them because they have become educated and have demonstrated that they are able to quickly learn and assimilate new information. In the business world, that is much more important than a bunch of facts. Carly Fiorina majored in medieval history. Michael Eisner majored in history - didn't take a single business course. In a very real sense, an attitude of "I only want to learn what helps me get a job" makes one less likely to get this job.
  18. May 18, 2008 #17
    Why not double major and hedge your bets?
    Or major in engineering and minor in physics?

    There are lots of options, and if you're worried about employment opportunities, take steps to make sure you'll get a job.
  19. May 18, 2008 #18
    For grad school you mean? I think it's a bit easier to chance form physics to engineering, but not so much the other way around.
  20. May 18, 2008 #19


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    If the Mathematics is troublesome for you, could you spend extra time developing your Math skills and knowledge OUTSIDE of the semesters? Could you spend two or three additional semesters for re-enrolls or for an extra Math course? Anyone who want work with physical sciences must be skilled with Math. When you leave school, or graduate, the very bare minimum that you must retain is two semesters of Algebra (Intro & Intermediate), and maybe some practical Geometry, depending on the work you expect to find --- but that is the BARE MINIMUM. Some jobs may require more, some maybe require less. Even by a year's time after you graduate, if you do not at least still know some intermediate algebra, then you should restudy it, and maybe more. ALWAYS MAINTAIN some Algebra skills! You would still need it in the most dead-end scientific jobs.
  21. May 18, 2008 #20
    You're most likely not goign to get a job w/ just a physics degree. employers need you to know some engineering too, and even getting those engineering jobs are highly competitive and few opennings are avail. Getting emmployment in the high tech industry nowadays is very hard and frustrating. Ask your school's career counselor more about it.

    Finding a job might be so hard that you'll regret ur initial career and educational experiences. Keep physics as a hobby...dont rely on it for a job.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook