# Jobs immediately post-PhD

Let's ask some different but related questions here. Suppose that someone were to graduate with a PhD in the sciences in 2013. For simplicity's sake, we will consider 3 areas: (1) physics (for the moment, I'm not distinguishing between experimental or theoretical physics), (2) chemistry, and (3) mathematics (excluding statistics).

Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?

Let's ask some different but related questions here. Suppose that someone were to graduate with a PhD in the sciences in 2013. For simplicity's sake, we will consider 3 areas: (1) physics (for the moment, I'm not distinguishing between experimental or theoretical physics), (2) chemistry, and (3) mathematics (excluding statistics).

Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?

Question 1: 0% (rounded) immediately upon graduation. For National Lab jobs, Chemistry and some branches in Physics have at least some chance. After 1 postdoc, in Physics it would be about 10%. I don't know enough about the other fields to comment.

Question 2: Near 0%? Don't aim too far theoretical, and you'll almost certainly be able to find a job if you look widely and actually try. Those that "screw up" the job search, so to speak, get part-time teaching jobs (i.e. adjuncting), which pay poorly but are better than nothing, while they continue the job hunt.

I am from a low ranked Ph.D. program, but my predecessors have all had eventual luck... as long as they were actually applying to things outside of a handful of postdoc jobs. It hasn't always been an easy path, though.

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Question 3: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(2) (i.e. physics or chemistry) would end up working in areas completely unrelated to their field of expertise immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1-2 years (either unemployed or underemployed)? Same probability after 1-2 years of postdoc?

(Please note that for mathematics, determining whether a field is completely unrelated is more problematic since so many areas of business and industry involve some quantitative work at some level which could be considered related to math).

analogdesign
Question 1: 0% (rounded) immediately upon graduation. For National Lab jobs, Chemistry and some branches in Physics have at least some chance. After 1 postdoc, in Physics it would be about 10%. I don't know enough about the other fields to comment.

Here's a datapoint. I'm a Ph.D. Engineer at a US National Lab. Here, at least, we don't hire any career-track (our version of tenure-track) scientific staff without at least a postdoc. We just hired a new HEP postdoc in our group a few months ago. She was a stellar performer working at the LHC and got her Ph.D. from a top-10 world University. Yet, 6 months after graduation, she was doing contract work for a software company trying to get a postdoc when we contacted her. We had probably 20+ applications for this requisition. With Fermilab on the ropes and SLAC reinventing itself... it's tough out there for physicists right now.

Also, how did we know about her? Networking. She came up and introduced herself to me at a HEP conference in 2011 and I remembered her initiative. Once she applied, we were able to talk to her work group at CERN (we knew them personally) and learned how good she was. If she had just focused on her studies and not put herself out there and met people she wouldn't have this job.

The moral: Show initiative and network!

Staff Emeritus
Since this is taking the thread in a new direction, I've separated it.

Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

I can only answer for physics, where the probability is about 0% immediately after graduation. Postdoc is pretty much required. Even the people I know at liberal arts schools in tt positions did at least one postdoc. I'd guess 1/20 after 1 postdoc, maybe 1/10 after 2 (across subfields, in some fields the norm is 1 postdoc, in others its 2).

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?

It might take 6+ months to find something, but I'd estimate the probability you can find SOMETHING near 100%. In many cases it won't involved physics.

Yet, 6 months after graduation, she was doing contract work for a software company trying to get a postdoc when we contacted her. We had probably 20+ applications for this requisition

A question for you, relevant to my own interests- how long would she have had to work at the software company before you consider her skills "expired," and would no longer consider her?

D H
Staff Emeritus
Three datapoints, all PhDs who work outside of academia.

One holds a PhD in astronomy. He went the normal postdoc, ..., postdoc route and eventually landed a tenure track position at a midlevel university. After one too many reorganizations, one too many dumbing downs of the curriculum, one too many misses (but no rejections) at getting tenure he finally decided to look to industry. This was a hard, gut-wrenching decision. He had been trained for years to think that any job in industry was the equivalent of flipping burgers. After the fact, his one regret is that he didn't make the change a whole lot sooner.

Another holds a PhD in mathematics. He followed a similar route as did the first, including a postdoc at the IAS. Even with this, he didn't get that vaunted job in a research college. He did land a tenure track position, but it was in a teaching college on a peninsula in the middle of nowhere. His transition out of academia was a bit easier than was the first person's because this guy had also done a couple of non-academic internships. The mathematics department where he received his PhD had some ties with government and industry. His training said that while working outside of academia wasn't the ideal, it was far superior to flipping burgers.

The third holds a PhD in aerospace engineering. He had the easiest going of the three. He regularly did internships outside academia. Engineering departments have immense ties with government and industry. Doing an internship (and, BTW, getting paid more than twice what TAs and RAs are paid) is SOP for an advanced engineering degree. Professors regularly move from academia to industry back to academia. Working outside of academia is viewed as anything but a burger flipping job. This third person didn't even look for work in academia. Postdoc after postdoc at subsistence wage levels, only to be rejected for tenure at 40? Why?

The attitude that any work outside of academia or a government lab is the moral equivalent of flipping burgers seems to be pervasive in some parts of physics. I've tried to cultivate ties with my alma mater's physics department. No go. Ties with their aerospace engineering department? No problem.

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jtbell
Mentor
Even the people I know at liberal arts schools in tt positions did at least one postdoc.

Or a sabbatical-replacement position (often called "visiting assistant professor"). I had a two-year position like that right after grad school, then got lucky with a tenure-track job.

I've known a handful of people over the last 10 years who went directly from grad school to tenure track position in physics. One or two went to small (just so-so) liberal arts colleges, and one went to UCLA. The another batch went to big R1 universities after a short stint as a post doc.

The sad thing about industry work as a physicist is that even if you don't think it's the equivalent of flipping burgers, a lot of people in industry view you as only capable of flipping burgers.

analogdesign
A question for you, relevant to my own interests- how long would she have had to work at the software company before you consider her skills "expired," and would no longer consider her?

That's a tricky question, because it can only be answered on a person-by-person basis in my opinion. While this is all nebulous I think the fact that she was taking contract work, rather than having spent two years as a software engineer is a big point.

I imagine if someone had done technical work that is relevant to the activities of a postdoc, then sure, I think we would be open to someone at least several years out of the Ph.D. Hopefully in a personal statement the candidate could indicate why he or she was in an industrial job. Something like "family obligations required me to remain in the Boston area for two years" or something similar would be good enough for me.

I have to be honest with you, our new postdoc took a significant paycut to come work with us. Hell, I took a huge paycut myself to come work here. Science isn't lucrative, that's for sure. On the other hand, you have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects at the national labs.

analogdesign
The third holds a PhD in aerospace engineering. He had the easiest going of the three. He regularly did internships outside academia. Engineering departments have immense ties with government and industry. Doing an internship (and, BTW, getting paid more than twice what TAs and RAs are paid) is SOP for an advanced engineering degree. Professors regularly move from academia to industry back to academia. Working outside of academia is viewed as anything but a burger flipping job. This third person didn't even look for work in academia. Postdoc after postdoc at subsistence wage levels, only to be rejected for tenure at 40? Why?

The attitude that any work outside of academia or a government lab is the moral equivalent of flipping burgers seems to be pervasive in some parts of physics. I've tried to cultivate ties with my alma mater's physics department. No go. Ties with their aerospace engineering department? No problem.

It's been pretty easy for me as well. I worked for over 7 years post-Ph.D. in industry (some at a startup, some at a well-known large semiconductor company). I had no problem coming back to a research role at the national lab. In fact, there wasn't that much competition since the pay is comparatively low here (I love the work here, though). I think industry is thought of much more of as a one-way door on the physics side.

The irony is that my industrial experience has made me MUCH more effective than if I had gone directly to a national lab. As I'm sure you know, national labs (and universities) lack the kill-or-be-killed aspect that you get in a high-pressure industrial job. I am certainly the better for having been forged in industry. It's too bad that's not the standard in science, as well.

It's been pretty easy for me as well. I worked for over 7 years post-Ph.D. in industry (some at a startup, some at a well-known large semiconductor company). I had no problem coming back to a research role at the national lab. In fact, there wasn't that much competition since the pay is comparatively low here (I love the work here, though). I think industry is thought of much more of as a one-way door on the physics side.

The irony is that my industrial experience has made me MUCH more effective than if I had gone directly to a national lab. As I'm sure you know, national labs (and universities) lack the kill-or-be-killed aspect that you get in a high-pressure industrial job. I am certainly the better for having been forged in industry. It's too bad that's not the standard in science, as well.

I want to make the transition to industry right post-Ph.D. What did you do to make the transition? Was it networking or regular applications? What did you do to make the network/connection, if that is what it required? I'm in an isolated field with a low transition to industry/non-science-related jobs, from a new Ph.D. program, so it feels like I'm lacking in connections relative to the HEP people.

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analogdesign
Hi AccAcc,

I did it entirely through networking. I've had 4 post-PhD jobs in my career and I've never applied for a job. I was lucky to have strong industrial connections with my University group. If you don't you need to cultivate them yourself. Do you know former students from your lab who work in industry? Can you go to conferences and introduce yourself (and give a business card you can make from Vista Print or something)? It might sound weird but I am always impressed (and remember) when a student introduces him or herself to me.

What is your field of research and school's physical location? What industrial field are you interested in? Maybe I can give better ideas if I know where you're coming form. Applying to jobs on the web probably isn't going to get it done, I'm afraid.

Staff Emeritus
The sad thing about industry work as a physicist is that even if you don't think it's the equivalent of flipping burgers, a lot of people in industry view you as only capable of flipping burgers.

I don't understand this.

If they think they are only capable of flipping burgers, what did they hire them?

I don't understand this.

If they think they are only capable of flipping burgers, what did they hire them?

There are plenty of people in industry who don't hire physicists even though they are quite suitable for the work. I wasn't talking about the ones who were willing or eager to hire one.

Hi AccAcc,

I did it entirely through networking. I've had 4 post-PhD jobs in my career and I've never applied for a job. I was lucky to have strong industrial connections with my University group. If you don't you need to cultivate them yourself. Do you know former students from your lab who work in industry? Can you go to conferences and introduce yourself (and give a business card you can make from Vista Print or something)? It might sound weird but I am always impressed (and remember) when a student introduces him or herself to me.

What is your field of research and school's physical location? What industrial field are you interested in? Maybe I can give better ideas if I know where you're coming form. Applying to jobs on the web probably isn't going to get it done, I'm afraid.

I'm in accelerator physics, which nearly nobody leaves because of how favorable the job market is. Graduate school hasn't been the best experience for me, which is why I'm prefer to leave physics in general and not just academia. Industry connections have been hurt by government funding; a company that I worked with in the past frequently asked me over the years when I was graduating, but when it came time, they weren't hiring. Changes to the SBIR system have hurt them and many physics-related companies. No more conferences for me, as I'm graduating in 4.5 months, but the jobs I could get through conferences are not really the type of jobs that I want. I am going to two job fairs over the next few weeks.

My school is near Chicago, so I hope to stay in the area and branch into data science or finance. One of the big things that is pushing me to leave Physics (other than my general dislike) is the lack of geographic mobility, i.e. that changing a job typically means moving cross country.

EDIT: I've taken a lot of advice and talked to people, but connections in industries I want to branch out into haven't panned out. Regardless, I'm spending my little free-time brushing up on Finance basics, C++, R, and SQL.

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analogdesign
Sounds like you have a good plan and are doing everything right. Lots of stuff going on in Chicago so I am confident you'll find some if you keep looking. Getting a job as a software engineer for a few years might be a good way to ease into industry as well. You would be looked at highly at Fermilab or Argonne for example if you apply for software-related jobs. Just an idea.

1 person
Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?
In my experience ranging from 0% (both after graduation and after a postdoc) in developed countries to about 10% or even 20% in some developing countries.

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?
Based on the statistics I've seen about 50%-60% are unemployed after getting a PhD or finishing a postdoc, but in a few months most of them find some job.

You can easily find this statistical data by googling it. There were a lot of surveys on this topic recently.

You can easily find this statistical data by googling it. There were a lot of surveys on this topic recently.

Just remember, as with all statistics, take them with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure a lot of the APS's statistics stop 5 years after the receipt of the Ph.D. - that's when they stop surveying graduates. For many people, this is still in the postdoc phase.

Just remember, as with all statistics, take them with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure a lot of the APS's statistics stop 5 years after the receipt of the Ph.D. - that's when they stop surveying graduates. For many people, this is still in the postdoc phase.

This would lead me to my next question -- what percentage of those who graduated with a PhD in physics would be unemployed or underemployed 5-7 years after receiving their PhD? (kinkmode, I'm specifically thinking of you when I'm asking this question)

D H
Staff Emeritus
There are plenty of people in industry who don't hire physicists even though they are quite suitable for the work.
That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive.

Here's how our interview process works. Suppose you're from the other side of the country and we've invited you in for a formal interview. We'll fly you here, with the round trip plane ticket on us. We'll get you a rental car, on us. We'll put you up in a *nice* hotel, once again on us. If the interview is on Friday (preferred), we'll offer to fly you home on Saturday or Sunday if you wish so you can take some time to see the town. The extension on the rental car and hotel stay: That's on us, too. The day of the interview, an all-day process, you'll be talking to people who cost the company a whole lot, and whose value to the company is even greater. We'll take you to a very nice restaurant for lunch. (BTW, watch what you say during lunch. Stupid things said during lunch have sunk more than one otherwise fantastic prospect.) The day after the interview, everyone who met with you / went to lunch with you will be dragged to a meeting to determine whether this person should be given an offer. One interview costs several thousand dollars. Why bother with that expense if you'll never accept the offer?

Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a $100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in. Last edited: This would lead me to my next question -- what percentage of those who graduated with a PhD in physics would be unemployed or underemployed 5-7 years after receiving their PhD? (kinkmode, I'm specifically thinking of you when I'm asking this question) Who knows. That's my point. I would think that most physics Ph.D.s usually end up in decent jobs, but there's not a lot of statistics out there on it. Though the unemployment rate of physicists is usually quite low, if you've left the field of physics (and are now in IT, big data, etc.), you aren't a physicist anymore so you don't end up in that number. That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive. Here's how our interview process works. Suppose you're from the other side of the country and we've invited you in for a formal interview. We'll fly you here, with the round trip plane ticket on us. We'll get you a rental car, on us. We'll put you up in a *nice* hotel, once again on us. If the interview is on Friday (preferred), we'll offer to fly you home on Saturday or Sunday if you wish so you can take some time to see the town. The extension on the rental car and hotel stay: That's on us, too. The day of the interview, an all-day process, you'll be talking to people who cost the company a whole lot, and whose value to the company is even greater. We'll take you to a very nice restaurant for lunch. (BTW, watch what you say during lunch. Stupid things said during lunch have sunk more than one otherwise fantastic prospect.) The day after the interview, everyone who met with you / went to lunch with you will be dragged to a meeting to determine whether this person should be given an offer. One interview costs several thousand dollars. Why bother with that expense if you'll never accept the offer? Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a$100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in.

What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?

That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive.

...

Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a \$100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in.

Of course hiring mistakes are expensive. The funny thing is though is that you'd think these same standards would be applied to non-PhDs as well. ANYONE can leave 6 months later for a better job. Or a lower paying job. I have a friend who was a lawyer who just one day quit because he'd rather teach at a private school and coach track. Huge pay cut.

In this job market, you'd be silly to stick around after 6 months in a job if a better opportunity materialized at that point. For a PhD, that might be moving to a low paying postdoc position (doesn't sound good to me though). For a freshly graduated engineer, that might be moving out of an entry level job into a better one at another company.

That last one is a true example that happened to me. This company had just finished putting in about a year into training this young engineer, at which point he got a better job in another state and left with no notice. Put the company in a bad position because they had a big project that started in 2 weeks that they had been prepping for where the engineer had some important duties. So they had to scramble and find a temporary contractor. I was the temporary contractor, which is why I'm aware of the situation.

I'll tell you what I get sick of. Being judged by a different standard while applying for jobs. How come PhDs are the ones who are subjected to the 'what if they leave in 6 months' question? Shouldn't the same question be asked about ANYONE who might have career goals?

I agree that the hiring process is tricky and very important. It's a whole different topic, but I really wish companies as a whole treated it as more important and put more effort into it. If you can't ascertain in an interview why someone with a PhD wants to leave academia, then there's something wrong with your interview process. Of course, said PhD can lie to you, but so can anyone else.

Who knows. That's my point. I would think that most physics Ph.D.s usually end up in decent jobs, but there's not a lot of statistics out there on it. Though the unemployment rate of physicists is usually quite low, if you've left the field of physics (and are now in IT, big data, etc.), you aren't a physicist anymore so you don't end up in that number.

One other thing about this: Anecdotally, 5 years is about the time when many of my friends who are gainfully employed as physicists/postdocs are thinking seriously of leaving the field.