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Let's make a list of jobs for physics degrees

  1. Mar 27, 2013 #1
    I think it might be a good idea to create a list of various jobs that have an open door for someone with a physics degree, BS, MS, or PhD. I would like to add slightly unrelated fields as well, since job hunting can be a nightmare.

    I would start this list off, but honestly, I have no idea what specific jobs are out there. I'm still just an undergrad.

    Any thoughts? If you know of a job in detail, please provide a job description!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2013 #2
    Physics very much opens the door for teaching jobs. The only organization I know that specifically seeks out physics BS holders is "Teach for America". About a third of my graduating class went this route. Of course what the BS naturally prepares you for is graduate school which also includes teaching/T.A.ing for a couple years. With an advanced degree you can apply for college teaching jobs. These are, IME, very hard to get.
  4. Mar 27, 2013 #3
    So, if gears aren't turning smoothly for me when I finish my BA (or I simply choose not to go to graduate school), I can sign up for Teach for America and then apply their $11,000 award toward a MS degree after two years? Salary ranging between $25,500 to $51,000, it says? I assume I'd be making the lower end of that, or are physics majors in demand?

    Thank you very much for your reply! Honestly I am considering everything at this point. I would be happy to work for the Americorps if I'm not able to smoothly transition into graduate studies. Heck maybe I might want a break anyway.

    What else is out there, physicsforums fellows?
  5. Mar 27, 2013 #4
    In teaching, salary is pretty much purely a function of location. I hesitate to say *all* school districts in the US are unionized, but enough are so that regardless of major, you will make the salary of a first-year teacher, whatever that may be in the collective bargaining agreement.

    EDIT: After a quick search, there are apparently many non-union districts. But even most of these seem to have a salary chart that indicates how much a teacher is paid according to education and experience.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2013
  6. Mar 27, 2013 #5


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    I think you're asking kind of a broad question and there are different ways to interpret it.
    - Should I list jobs that require a physics background?
    - Those that someone with a physics background can do?
    - Those someone who enjoys physics is likely to be happy in?
    - What about jobs that someone with a physics background could do with a little more professional training?

    That said, here are some ideas:
    1. Medical physics - this requires substantial training beyond a BSc. It's just listed first because I happen to know about it.

    2. Health physics - some additional training may be necessary, but may also happen on the job. These would be radiation safety officers in hospitals (radiation oncology, nuclear medicine, imaging), nuclear plants, laboratories, regulatory agencies, etc.

    3. Teaching community college - generally requires a PhD.

    4. Geophysics - can be entered with an undergraduate degree, but graduate degrees translate into more opportunity.

    5. Professional (medicine, law, engineering, etc.) - required substantial training beyond BSc.

    6. Teaching at secondary, primary or private schools - often required teaching certificate

    7. Technical sales (with companies like GE, Phillips, Siemens, Varian, Mitsubishi, etc.) - I tend to know more about the larger medical-related ones, but I imagine other fields operate under similar business models where they need sales reps who are intelligent enough to answer questions beyond the level of what's printed on the company web-page.

    8. Project management - I understand there are certifications in this field, but I'm not sure how standardized that is, or if anyone can walk into it.

    9. Technical positions (radiation therapist, MRI technologist, x-ray technician, again I'm more familiar with the medical ones) - Some technical training beyond a BSc is required for certification, but I've seen people with physics backgrounds advance quickly once they enter these fields).

    10. Entrepreneurial ventures - one factor to think about when choosing a PhD project is whether or not it has the potential to lead to something patentable.

    11. Technical consulting - This is something else to potentially get out of PhD work. What if you're developing a new way of measuring some quantity that has value to the industrial world - anything related to occupational health and safety comes to mind. If a consulting company exists that performs this service, look into it.

    12. Law enforcement - I wasn't sure whether to throw this in or not, and I don't mean to limit it to just this field either. You don't need a physics degree, or even a degree at all to do it. But once you're in, the physics degree, particularly an advanced one may act like an accelerant allowing you to advance to more senior positions faster. Along these lines you could also think military service, where if nothing else the degree could get you a commission. You could also think intelligence - either technical such as cryptograpy, or just getting into field work.

    13. National (or international) laboratory work. This likely requires a graduate degree, although some people can find with a BSc as a laboratory assistant. What about something like working in a ballistics lab? (Okay, maybe I've got CSI on the mind tonight or something).

    14. Scientific journalism or being a writer. I think this is something just about anyone can do, but very few people can do well or earn a living at. A physics background would certainly lend credibility.

    15. Programming and or application development. You probably need to know more than just the five lectures in FORTRAN you took for your computational methods course, but this is also a skill that be largely developed on your own.

    16. Data analysis. This is kind of a catch all. I'm thinking you can put data mining in here (hoping that I'm not inadvertently insulting anyone). Here you'd largely be capitalising on your mathematical skills.

    17. Engineering. From what I've seen, it can be difficult to actually get into an engineering position without the P.Eng., but not impossible, since lots of physicists apparently do it. A lot can depend on the actual company doing the hiring and what the position actually entails.

    18. Financial or economic analysis. This one comes up for discussion a fair amount around here.

    Anyway, that's probably enough from me for now. I'm really only talking from personal experience on examples 1 and 2, a semester on 3, and maybe a little bit 12.
  7. Mar 27, 2013 #6
    Actuarial work can be hard to break into (at this time, at least), but you're about as likely to do so with a physics degree as anything else. The credentialing process involves exams administered by the actuarial societies.

    Having a PhD would present unique challenges, but they can be addressed.
  8. Mar 28, 2013 #7
    Please go into more detail on the things your familiar with! "Medical Physics" sounds so vague. There's a hospital in just about every city in this country, so I'd imagine it's a very good thing to be thinking about for someone who's worried about getting a job after school.

    edit: Oh, and to address your first questions, yes, to everything. Company names, related, unrelated, anything. Ya' can't know what you want until you know what's out there.
  9. Mar 28, 2013 #8
    Hi Locrian: If you have a moment, could you expand on the bold point for me? I am just a little curious about what you mean by this. Thanks :smile:
  10. Mar 28, 2013 #9
    In online discussions I’ve seen where hiring managers have commented on hiring PhDs, I typically note two things.

    First, hiring managers often feel that someone with a PhD looking for actuarial work is just looking for a job to fill in the time until they get a university position. This is probably not true, but after someone has put in four to seven years of their life studying something, some find it hard to understand why the PhD would switch. In short, they’re questioning the applicant’s dedication to the career change.

    Secondly, hiring managers often have wildly incorrect assumptions about PhD salary potential – they assume that any entry level offer they would make would be far below what that PhD could expect elsewhere. We know that postdocs make squat and that it is a long, difficult road to a good tenured position; hiring managers often don’t.

    These are pretty straightforward to address. However, if you don’t know they exist, and don’t address them, they could pose problems.

    I feel pretty confident that these apply outside the actuarial setting as well, but I have less experience there.
  11. Mar 28, 2013 #10
    I made a short and somewhat poorly-edited list in this thread. Here it is again in no particular order:
    1. systems engineer or similar (often aerospace or automotive)
    2. biophysics or computational chemistry (often medical/drug companies)
    3. cryptographer or signal analyst (NSA,CIA,DoD,DIA, other government acronyms)
    4. actuary or quantitative analyst (usually insurance or finance)
    5. statistician or data scientist (variety of industries, e.g. medical, advertising)
    6. numerical programmer (engineering, finance, various software companies)
    7. patent examiner or patent attorney (USPTO, law firms, may also require a JD)
    8. medical physicist (requires special program, often leading to a residency)
    9. go to med school or law school (both of which cost $lots)
    I personally know people who did {1,6} with physics undergrad degrees and {4,6} with graduate degrees. Most, but not all, of those people have additional programming abilities which were probably essential to convince someone to hire them.

    EDIT: There's a nonempty intersection with Choppy's list, which appears to be larger, more detailed, and generally more useful than this one. Damn, I've been scooped!
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2013
  12. Mar 29, 2013 #11
    Things may differ between companies and continents. But several of our project managers are straight-out-of-university physicists; to my knowledge, none of them has any certification or degree except for their diploma and their PhD in physics.

    A "career option" not mentioned so far (put in inverted commas because everyone I know took the job to get some "industry experience", not to stick with it) is strategic and financial consulting. Roughly half of my former non-postdocing colleagues went there after their PhD.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013
  13. Mar 29, 2013 #12
    Did you mean certifications instead of degree?
  14. Mar 29, 2013 #13
    Both, of course. Would be a pointless post if they had "project management" certifications that I didn't mention. I've edited it in, since I did indeed not formulate my post very well in this respect.
  15. Mar 29, 2013 #14
    I just talked to a professor about where his grad students wound up, and ALL of them got jobs in finance right out of postdoc/grad school.
  16. Mar 29, 2013 #15
    Do you know what specific topic(s) his students were studying? Some thesis topics (including mine) overlap quite a bit with quant math. The computational astronomers and particle physicists at my department also overlap a lot with data mining and applied statistics. I know at least one of our astro people had interviews with financial companies.
  17. Mar 29, 2013 #16
    Actually it's a diffraction physics lab; the lab has transitioned to include computational geometry work on crystal structures alongside the experimental bit. Both guys were very IT savy, one is an IT guy for a big bank and the other is a quant. The school is Arizona State University which has a strong focus on industry so that may have something to do with their success.
  18. Mar 29, 2013 #17
    Don't forget criminal mastermind!!! MWhahahahahaha!
  19. Mar 30, 2013 #18
    Like most jobs mentioned in this thread, there are better ways to go about that than studying physics. :tongue2:
  20. Mar 30, 2013 #19
  21. Mar 30, 2013 #20
    I mean, if you want to be a criminal mastermind, get a degree in criminal masterminding (??), but the point is if you really love physics and that's what you'd like to be doing, there are plenty of options to get employment. They aren't always easy, though.
  22. Mar 31, 2013 #21
    Economics maybe? How about political science.

    Is that the point? Most of the jobs listed here have little or nothing to do with physics. It looks to me like the point is that even though you love physics there are other other employment options if that doesnt work out.
  23. Mar 31, 2013 #22
    Ah, my meaning, Mr. Modus, was that if you enjoy physics, you may as well (if it is worth it to you) study for your Phd doing a project you find interesting, since you will likely find a job afterwards, not that you will find a job doing physics.

    Also neither political science nor economics majors really learn anything, so I doubt they would be any better at criminal masterminding than anybody else.
  24. Mar 31, 2013 #23
    This attitude adds to the arrogant physics stereotype
  25. Mar 31, 2013 #24
    Eh, I redact it then. They learn something, it's just not quite yet science, at least not until our computational/mathematical faculties of the human race catch up. Economic models are crude approximations, and they have at best a phenomenological understanding of what's going on; they have hardly any useful theoretical understanding. The same is true of political scientists.

    This is not because they are incompetent, but rather because the problems they are attempting to solve are so outrageously complicated it could take centuries before they ever have a reasonable quantitative understanding... if ever.

    But I could be talking out my arse. I think there's an xkcd just for people like me.
  26. Apr 7, 2013 #25
    Isn't anyone curious about my criminal mastermind ideas?
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