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Jobs immediately post-PhD

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What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?
I'd like to hear DH's response to this, but in my mind, if said potential employer feels like you might bail for a low paying postdoc before you've ever met him, you might have a hard time convincing him. If on the other hand, he is open minded about you and your background, it will be a lot easier.

I'd say tell him the truth. I don't want to teach or live in the desert making bombs, so academia/research as a career is essentially dead to me. I can explain that in an interview. If the interviewer doesn't believe my answers, then there is really nothing I can do about that. If they do believe and understand, you should be fine.

I've found that when dealing with people who also have PhDs and who have also left academia/research for their own reasons, they are more understanding of wanting to leave research. The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.
 

analogdesign

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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?
Actually it is high on the list of things hiring managers worry about for anyone, not just Ph.Ds. Hiring someone is very expensive, and having to do it again in six months or a year is painful. Maybe hiring managers are more careful with Ph.Ds because there is a real question that is not always asked "why did you get the Ph.D. to do this job?".

Depending on the job, it is quite possible to come up with satisfactory answers. Even something as simple as "I did it for personal fulfillment.. I wanted to be the world's expert in one small thing and really dig into it down to bedrock" or something like that would be a good start.

I don't think you're being judged to a different standard. For example, imagine a registered nurse applied for a job as a health aide, or a lawyer applied for a job as a paralegal... the hiring manager would worry.
 

analogdesign

Science Advisor
1,132
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I've found that when dealing with people who also have PhDs and who have also left academia/research for their own reasons, they are more understanding of wanting to leave research. The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.
There are certainly companies like that and you should try to avoid them if at all possible. I'm an engineer and there are companies in my field that respect a Ph.D. and companies that don't. You can hear through the grapevine which are which. I focused my efforts on companies that would respect a Ph.D. even though I didn't end up getting a job that required one.

I dealt with the questions about "why a Ph.D. if you want this job" by saying something to the effect of "A Ph.D. isn't for everyone, but I think I am a far better designer at this stage of my career that I would have been without the degree because of the concentrated experience I got while earning it. I believe having gone through the Ph.D. process will enable me to contribute more to this group than if I had left with a Master's".

The real key is you want to show them that your Ph.D. can be an asset for THEM. They really don't care one bit about you, so you have to show them how you're an asset, not a cost.
 
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Actually it is high on the list of things hiring managers worry about for anyone, not just Ph.Ds. Hiring someone is very expensive, and having to do it again in six months or a year is painful. Maybe hiring managers are more careful with Ph.Ds because there is a real question that is not always asked "why did you get the Ph.D. to do this job?".
Like I said, I think interviewers should do a better job with their interviews. I have great answers for that question, but it's never asked. Answers like, 'Because I was 22 when I went to grad school and I didn't know any better.' If that's the question, then ask it. The decisions many people make at 22 are pretty unrelated to where they are in their mid 30's or 40's career wise. Why should I be any different?

I don't think you're being judged to a different standard. For example, imagine a registered nurse applied for a job as a health aide, or a lawyer applied for a job as a paralegal... the hiring manager would worry.
While some situations might be like a lawyer applying for a job as a paralegal, many are not. Academics/researchers in my field work long hours, have uncertain funding, and make decent, but not outrageous pay. Postdocs are the same, yet with much worse pay. Moving to industry in many ways is big step up because you gain some geographic stability and probably higher pay, amongst other things. So how is it like a lawyer taking a paralegal job?
 
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The real key is you want to show them that your Ph.D. can be an asset for THEM. They really don't care one bit about you, so you have to show them how you're an asset, not a cost.
Totally agree. Unfortunately, in my situation (and others), you don't really get a chance to prove that to them. You don't get an interview to begin with. They see PhD and trash your application, if anyone ever actually looks at it.

In my geographic area, it seems the companies who are willing to hire or want PhDs are large enough to have an incredible amount of HR and associated bureaucracy, which makes it impossible to apply directly and even difficult to network with internal employees. The smaller companies are much more accessible, but much more close minded about their employees.
 

analogdesign

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Like I said, I think interviewers should do a better job with their interviews. I have great answers for that question, but it's never asked. Answers like, 'Because I was 22 when I went to grad school and I didn't know any better.' If that's the question, then ask it. The decisions many people make at 22 are pretty unrelated to where they are in their mid 30's or 40's career wise. Why should I be any different?
I'm on your side here, kinkmode. I am trying to give you the perspective of a hiring manager (I am one) and help you see it from the other side. The insight might be helpful.

I understand the question isn't often asked. Most interviewers are not competent at it because actual training in interviewing is extremely rare. One very important skill for an interviewee is to take control of the interview. Remember you're interviewing them as much as vice versa. If the question isn't ask, then address it yourself! Get those great answers out there and take the initiative away from the interviewer. Probably answering "I was young and stupid" isn't the most effective approach. There are always ways you can spin it in such a way to be an asset.

While some situations might be like a lawyer applying for a job as a paralegal, many are not. Academics/researchers in my field work long hours, have uncertain funding, and make decent, but not outrageous pay. Postdocs are the same, yet with much worse pay. Moving to industry in many ways is big step up because you gain some geographic stability and probably higher pay, amongst other things. So how is it like a lawyer taking a paralegal job?
It's not. But I'm not taking about reality, I am talking about the perceptions of hiring managers in various companies. That is how *they* will see it so it behooves you to address this.

In their minds, they see a candidate with degree X, going after a job that needs X-1. It doesn't make sense to them. So your job as the candidate is to explain it in a way that makes sense. Something as simple as addressing the fact that this isn't a step down but a "lateral move" (hiring managers love buzzwords) for the reasons you gave. Making the argument about it being a "big step up" could be helpful too. I would leave out the part about "probably higher pay."
 

analogdesign

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1,132
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Totally agree. Unfortunately, in my situation (and others), you don't really get a chance to prove that to them. You don't get an interview to begin with. They see PhD and trash your application, if anyone ever actually looks at it.

In my geographic area, it seems the companies who are willing to hire or want PhDs are large enough to have an incredible amount of HR and associated bureaucracy, which makes it impossible to apply directly and even difficult to network with internal employees. The smaller companies are much more accessible, but much more close minded about their employees.
Linkedin is actually a good resource for this. Try really hard to bypass HR... you're right that they are a barrier to you. You have to have a story and make it short, sweet, and powerful. I know it is extremely difficult to do this, I am not making light of it.

Unfortunately, sending in applications to job postings is not an extremely effective way to get a position.
 
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I know you are trying to help analogdesign, I appreciate it. Also note that most of what I write here is to vent/get the word out to younger people. It is NOT how I conduct myself in an interview. That would be silly. 'Young and stupid,' while partially true, was more of a facetious answer. The reality is that I had different priorities as a 22 year old than I do in my mid 30's, and my career goals have changed. Not only that, but the market has changed too. In 1997 when I started majoring in physics, a degree like that could get you a lot of jobs. Nowadays, not so much.

For the record, from my limited experience, most people conduct horrible interviews. Also in my limited experience, that's almost a moot point. Interviews don't happen. You never get a chance to present your case to the hiring manager because you don't get called in. Their perceived reality as you addressed is sometimes so strong you can't overcome it. Which is why I made my two off hand comments earlier ('industry thinks you are only capable of flipping burgers' and 'being judged by a different standard'). They either:

1. Downplay/don't understand your expertise and capabilities and how there might be the potential for you to be useful. They do this so much that you don't even really get a chance to pitch your story.
2. Think you are taking such a massive pay cut or step down in prestige that this job is beneath you that they don't consider you as a serious applicant. Never mind that you need to pay the bills too, and no, that postdoc didn't pay 6 figures.

Directly applying is a complete waste of time, and networking has been less than productive for me. I average about 1 informational interview a week, but they mostly end the same way:

1. 'Have you thought about teaching?'
2. 'Have you thought about moving somewhere else?' (I can't)
3. 'Have you thought about going back to school?'
4. 'Networking is the key. Get on LinkedIn.' - Yes I agree. Why do you think I initiated contact with you in the first place? (flippant response, not actually verbalized)
5. 'We might actually have some opportunities for you here!' At this point, I never hear from them again, or they get let go literally the next day.
6. List of new references to contact. Wash, rinse, repeat.
 

analogdesign

Science Advisor
1,132
347
I know you are trying to help analogdesign, I appreciate it. Also note that most of what I write here is to vent/get the word out to younger people. It is NOT how I conduct myself in an interview. That would be silly. 'Young and stupid,' while partially true, was more of a facetious answer. The reality is that I had different priorities as a 22 year old than I do in my mid 30's, and my career goals have changed. Not only that, but the market has changed too. In 1997 when I started majoring in physics, a degree like that could get you a lot of jobs. Nowadays, not so much.

For the record, from my limited experience, most people conduct horrible interviews. Also in my limited experience, that's almost a moot point. Interviews don't happen. You never get a chance to present your case to the hiring manager because you don't get called in. Their perceived reality as you addressed is sometimes so strong you can't overcome it. Which is why I made my two off hand comments earlier ('industry thinks you are only capable of flipping burgers' and 'being judged by a different standard'). They either:

1. Downplay/don't understand your expertise and capabilities and how there might be the potential for you to be useful. They do this so much that you don't even really get a chance to pitch your story.
2. Think you are taking such a massive pay cut or step down in prestige that this job is beneath you that they don't consider you as a serious applicant. Never mind that you need to pay the bills too, and no, that postdoc didn't pay 6 figures.

Directly applying is a complete waste of time, and networking has been less than productive for me. I average about 1 informational interview a week, but they mostly end the same way:

1. 'Have you thought about teaching?'
2. 'Have you thought about moving somewhere else?' (I can't)
3. 'Have you thought about going back to school?'
4. 'Networking is the key. Get on LinkedIn.' - Yes I agree. Why do you think I initiated contact with you in the first place? (flippant response, not actually verbalized)
5. 'We might actually have some opportunities for you here!' At this point, I never hear from them again, or they get let go literally the next day.
6. List of new references to contact. Wash, rinse, repeat.
You are in a tough situation, that's for sure. I don't understand why hiring systems and perceptions like these persist, since we're leaving a lot of talent on the table.

I can imagine your informational interviews... it is pretty big that you're out there doing it. I know it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere but plugging away at it bit by bit is probably the best way to go.

I'm sure you've summarized your background elsewhere (I've only been using physicsforum for a couple of months or so) so could you give me a link? I might have some ideas if I know your specialty, skills, location, etc. Maybe not but it's worth a try. If you could give me a link to that info I'll have a look.

I had a career crisis of my own a few years ago. I was getting completely beat down by the pace of industry and was able to get back into an academic-related job. I was very lucky (and it helps I'm an engineer) but I had to keep pushing until something came up. It turned out all my applications to things were a waste of time, like you said. I ended up back at a place I interned at as a undergrad and new grad student.

Best of luck to you!
 

D H

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Insights Author
15,329
681
What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?
One trick that almost always works: Talk about your newborn baby.

Sans that baby, be honest. Let the employer know that you don't want to go down the lowly paid postdoc, postdoc, ... postdoc route, only to be denied tenure in another decade or so. Show them that you know what they do, that you are truly interested in that work, and that you have something special to offer.


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?
Bayesian inference. Burnt once, shame on you. Burnt twice, shame on me. Burnt a bunch of times and its not surprising that employers develop a Bayesian prior against certain types of PhDs -- even with companies that hires lots of PhDs. PhDs are not a protected class. Employers can discriminate against them with no repercussions.


The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.
You mentioned flipping burgers a whole ago. These are the technical equivalent of a burger flippin' job. Why do you want those jobs? Yech.

There are lots of companies that are "PhD-happy" employers. They like their PhDs. They like their pie charts that show the levels of education of their employees, with PhDs occupying a nice, hefty slice of that pie. Those PhD-happy employers are the only ones I have worked for, even though I "only" have a bachelors degree (you can read my sordid bio in the "meet a mentor" discussions at this site). I wouldn't want one of those technical burger flippin' jobs, and neither should you.
 

analogdesign

Science Advisor
1,132
347
Bayesian inference. Burnt once, shame on you. Burnt twice, shame on me. Burnt a bunch of times and its not surprising that employers develop a Bayesian prior against certain types of PhDs -- even with companies that hires lots of PhDs. PhDs are not a protected class. Employers can discriminate against them with no repercussions.
Ha! This is the best description of anti-Ph.D. employer bias I've read! May I steal it?

I've been known to clear a room with my applications of ANOVA to everyday situations.
 
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I know you are trying to help analogdesign, I appreciate it. Also note that most of what I write here is to vent/get the word out to younger people. It is NOT how I conduct myself in an interview. That would be silly. 'Young and stupid,' while partially true, was more of a facetious answer. The reality is that I had different priorities as a 22 year old than I do in my mid 30's, and my career goals have changed. Not only that, but the market has changed too. In 1997 when I started majoring in physics, a degree like that could get you a lot of jobs. Nowadays, not so much.

For the record, from my limited experience, most people conduct horrible interviews. Also in my limited experience, that's almost a moot point. Interviews don't happen. You never get a chance to present your case to the hiring manager because you don't get called in. Their perceived reality as you addressed is sometimes so strong you can't overcome it. Which is why I made my two off hand comments earlier ('industry thinks you are only capable of flipping burgers' and 'being judged by a different standard'). They either:

1. Downplay/don't understand your expertise and capabilities and how there might be the potential for you to be useful. They do this so much that you don't even really get a chance to pitch your story.
2. Think you are taking such a massive pay cut or step down in prestige that this job is beneath you that they don't consider you as a serious applicant. Never mind that you need to pay the bills too, and no, that postdoc didn't pay 6 figures.

Directly applying is a complete waste of time, and networking has been less than productive for me. I average about 1 informational interview a week, but they mostly end the same way:

1. 'Have you thought about teaching?'
2. 'Have you thought about moving somewhere else?' (I can't)
3. 'Have you thought about going back to school?'
4. 'Networking is the key. Get on LinkedIn.' - Yes I agree. Why do you think I initiated contact with you in the first place? (flippant response, not actually verbalized)
5. 'We might actually have some opportunities for you here!' At this point, I never hear from them again, or they get let go literally the next day.
6. List of new references to contact. Wash, rinse, repeat.
What are you doing to even get informational meetings? Are you just asking through linked-in? How you push for it, and under what context?
 

D H

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Insights Author
15,329
681
Ha! This is the best description of anti-Ph.D. employer bias I've read! May I steal it?
Feel free! Once you fix the embarrassing grammatical errors, of course.

I've been known to clear a room with my applications of ANOVA to everyday situations.
Hmmm. I've been known to get a room in stitches with one of my applications of Bayesian reasoning. It all depends on the telling.
 
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Bayesian inference. Burnt once, shame on you. Burnt twice, shame on me. Burnt a bunch of times and its not surprising that employers develop a Bayesian prior against certain types of PhDs

...

You mentioned flipping burgers a whole ago. These are the technical equivalent of a burger flippin' job. Why do you want those jobs? Yech.

...

I wouldn't want one of those technical burger flippin' jobs, and neither should you.
Haha, yes exactly. Like I said prior, being held to different standards because I don't want a 7 year gap on my resume. And yes, you are right, I don't want those jobs. Unfortunately from the outside, it can be hard to tell which jobs those are. Particularly when you've been out of work for a while.

AccAcc - RE information interviews. Mostly cold emails/linkedin messages. A number have come from friends of the family, but they have been less useful. Mostly because the advice from said interviews is way too vague and rehashes already covered ground (go back to school, be a teacher, get on linked in, etc.).

Pick a company that you think might be a good fit. Research the hell out of it online and try to find people who are doing the job you want (or supervising the people doing the job you want) and send them a message. As I'm targeting companies that have PhDs doing some kind of work already, I usually phrase the message as someone asking for advice on how to make the research -> industry transition. Most of these people have been happy to meet with me. One led to an actual interview even though I just wanted some info. The few times I actually found someone from my field (plasma physics), I also used appropriate wording to highlight that connection, i.e. 'advice for a fellow plasma physicist.'

Reaching out through my alumni network has not been particularly useful. Maybe if I was in a different area of the country. Also, my previous professional network from research has been virtually useless; there are very few ties to industry there. If you come from a field that has industry contacts, that would be my first place to try.
 
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Well, a (legitimate, non-scam) recruiter that I applied to just got back to me, but my defense four months from now is "too early" for the positions they are in contact with. So... I guess that is a sign that I'm more on top of things than I thought. Still, having a non-postdoc job lined up for Day 0 after graduating seems logistically difficult.
 
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One trick that almost always works: Talk about your newborn baby.

Sans that baby, be honest. Let the employer know that you don't want to go down the lowly paid postdoc, postdoc, ... postdoc route, only to be denied tenure in another decade or so. Show them that you know what they do, that you are truly interested in that work, and that you have something special to offer.
This might work with a company familiar with the physics job market, this would be a really bad idea in an insurance/data-mining/programming type position. The default belief (unfortunately) is that there are STEM jobs all over the place and that you can (and will) step into a professorship as soon as one opens up nearby. Trying to explain the reality in a short time will just leave you sounding very negative.

Your best bet is to talk about why you want to branch into new opportunities, and that job X is a natural extension of thing Y you did while you were in physics,etc. The goal here is to convince them you are moving on, and wouldn't take that position even if it fell in your lap.

There are lots of companies that are "PhD-happy" employers. They like their PhDs. They like their pie charts that show the levels of education of their employees, with PhDs occupying a nice, hefty slice of that pie.
Unfortunately, in my experience even phd-heavy engineering firms won't hire a physics phd unless they have directly relevant skills from their phd. This is great (for instance) if you are a condensed matter phd applying at intel. If you did particle physics, they probably won't even interview you.
 
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ParticleGrl groks my situation.
 

analogdesign

Science Advisor
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347
Well, a (legitimate, non-scam) recruiter that I applied to just got back to me, but my defense four months from now is "too early" for the positions they are in contact with. So... I guess that is a sign that I'm more on top of things than I thought. Still, having a non-postdoc job lined up for Day 0 after graduating seems logistically difficult.
Have you indicated that you aren't interested in starting work until you do your defense? I was in a job for almost a year before I did my defense (I was finishing up a paper and my dissertation after hours). I took the day off of work and flew back to the city where my University was for the day to do my defense.
 

analogdesign

Science Advisor
1,132
347
T
Unfortunately, in my experience even phd-heavy engineering firms won't hire a physics phd unless they have directly relevant skills from their phd. This is great (for instance) if you are a condensed matter phd applying at intel. If you did particle physics, they probably won't even interview you.
Very true. All most physicists seemingly have to offer to engineering firms is advanced software skills. It's hard to get hiring managers to understand that a HEP Ph.D. is pretty much about learning to get things done and solve hard problems.
 
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Have you indicated that you aren't interested in starting work until you do your defense? I was in a job for almost a year before I did my defense (I was finishing up a paper and my dissertation after hours). I took the day off of work and flew back to the city where my University was for the day to do my defense.
I don't think that really applies to my situation as it stands. I have funding until the end of January, a 14 page draft of a paper that we are getting ready to submit, and around 160+ pages of dissertation that I'm in the process of editing. I don't really know what the grant issues are if my tuition for the semester has already been paid for but I end up leaving early. I could start in December. I'm still mired in too much experimental crap on the side from my main research topics that I don't think I could get around leaving any earlier than that.
 
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Very true. All most physicists seemingly have to offer to engineering firms is advanced software skills. It's hard to get hiring managers to understand that a HEP Ph.D. is pretty much about learning to get things done and solve hard problems.
And frustrating for the potential applicant. I never thought that doing a physics phd could close so many doors at engineering firms, but this is the crazy world we live in. I had to move away from science/engineering (despite that being where almost all of my skillset was) to find work- luckily insurance and big data companies are currently starving for people, so they are way more willing to let you learn on the job.

My general job hunting advice is to find an area that has an actual shortage, and figure out a way to sell yourself into it.
 

analogdesign

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And frustrating for the potential applicant. I never thought that doing a physics phd could close so many doors at engineering firms, but this is the crazy world we live in.
I'm sure it's amazingly frustrating. I hope engineering firms wake up to this pool of highly capable candidates.
 
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I'm sure it's amazingly frustrating. I hope engineering firms wake up to this pool of highly capable candidates.
The problem as I see it is that there are enought engineeres in most areas of engineering. It's not that they dislike physicists, they just don't want to hire a physicist (or a novice engeneer) and spend time and money on training when they have experienced engineers applying for entry-level positions. Sure, it's not the case in every engeneering subfield, but as a physicist you only have a chance in the areas where there is such labour shortage, that they will be willing to retrain you at their own expense.
 
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AccAcc: Are you looking at Chicago prop firms? Also, what goes on in 80% of the firms is actually pretty stupid. Assuming you're not going to start off at Rentec or Getco, if I was in your position, I'd try starting somewhere like Jump, IMC or Goldman, where the learning environment is conducive and not worry too much about compensation. (But the last part is just me.) I've also seen people move from advanced degrees to the CME or BBG and eventually one of the above. Alternatively, you were talking about data-related roles... There are some exciting startups that didn't raise some ridiculous venture round that will require some even more ridiculous round for your employee options to expire as anything valuable, e.g. Celoxica (not sure if they need PhDs, but I personally think I always rather have someone with a PhD even if it's for the job of cooking an egg).
 

jasonRF

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The problem as I see it is that there are enought engineeres in most areas of engineering. It's not that they dislike physicists, they just don't want to hire a physicist (or a novice engeneer) and spend time and money on training when they have experienced engineers applying for entry-level positions. Sure, it's not the case in every engeneering subfield, but as a physicist you only have a chance in the areas where there is such labour shortage, that they will be willing to retrain you at their own expense.
bingo. As an EE PhD, I know that the exact specialization of your grad work really matters for PhD level positions. I was once flown out to a company for an interview, and found that only their computational electromagnetics group was interviewing me. With minimal coursework and no research background in that exact specialization (I was in plasma physics) they were not interested at all - the manager all but told me that to my face after she perused my resume in front of me.

Areas where there are shortages are good, as are areas where almost no-one has the perfect specialization coming out of school. I think that is why defense contractors are often open to math/physics types - they need 400 people to work a program and no one did their PhD in missile defense.

jason
 

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