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M.S in (Theoretical) Physics to Aerospace or industry?

  1. Mar 10, 2014 #1

    Some basic info on me -- I graduated with a bachelors in physics and am about to receive a masters, both from very highly regarded institutions and with good performances. All my research and coursework focus has been in theoretical astrophysics & high energy. I have had experience coding, both with things like python & C and also matlab like packages.

    After a few years in graduate school, I have lost interest in research and wish to move into the 'real world' as it were. My difficulty is that I have few experiences outside of theory, so I do not necessarily know which sector I would both best fit into and also enjoy the most. I have the conception into moving into an analytical field like aerospace engineering, but obviously I have no academic background in this. I have every confidence in my ability to quickly pick up all concepts necessary for work such as this, and have been trying to sell myself in this regard on job applications.

    To summarize, I want to experience new things and get a taste of some of these other paths. I am weary of spending additional time and money on more years of schooling, unless I am certain that it is directly a means to a career I would be happy pursuing. Therefore, it seems to me internship opportunities might be best, although most seem specifically geared for students studying a particular discipline.

    Does anyone have experience in a similar situation? Or advice on making such a transition, or on selling myself in the best way to potential employers? Any advice would be appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2014 #2
    I don't have experience, but an MS in physics is applicable to many fields. My advice is simply to first figure out what market you are interested in and then research companies. Your first job likely won't be exciting or even in the exact market you want. What is important is to make sure your first jobs are connected in a visible way to the career track you want. Find job listings and make a note of what interests you about them.

    Selling yourself is all about confidence. And confidence is easy when you really feel excited about the job and you know you can do it.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2014
  4. Mar 14, 2014 #3
    Find an internship before you graduate in Aerospace. They are more likely to give you an opportunity for an internship than a full time position. If you dont get that experience before graduating you are going to have a hard time being given the opportunity for a full time position.
  5. Mar 14, 2014 #4


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    I think that identifies your problem correctly, which is a good starting point. Even with a BS or MS in engineering, you will probably still have a lot of learning to "quickly pick up" for the first year or two in industry, and high tech engineering companies know that is the case. But without any engineering background, you aren't at the "normal" starting line.

    If you don't want to take the time out for a "full" engineering degree, maybe you could take one of two courses in an "analytical" engineering subject like CFD or control theory, and then try to talk your way into a job using that particular specialism.

    Another job option might be a company developing analysis software for engineering, if you have the skills in programming and numerical methods.
  6. Mar 14, 2014 #5

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    Being able to do what is becoming to be called computational science (wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_science) is a marketable skill. Most programmers can't do complicated mathematics, let alone model physical systems in software. Many engineers and scientists can program computers, but most use cargo cult programming techniques to do so. There's a niche for people who can traverse the numerical world of modeling physical systems, the logical world of computer science, and the complex world of software engineering.

    The typical aerospace engineer with only a bachelor's degree has a better understanding of classical mechanics than does the typical PhD physicist. That's a good part of what you're missing. That knowledge is not hard for someone trained as a physicist to pick up.

    Another part of what you are missing is working in a team. Engineers learn this by teamwork-based assignments in college and through coops / internships. This teaches soft skills. Those big team soft skills aren't taught in the sciences, particularly the theoretical sides of the sciences. (Experimental physicists oftentimes do work in at least somewhat big teams.) You can learn these skills, too. Get out of your shell. Join Toastmasters or something like that so you can feel comfortable talking in front of a group.

    I can't imagine hiring someone not in college as an intern.

    You know somebody who knows somebody … who knows Kevin Bacon. If there are only seven degrees of separation between you and Kevin Bacon, think how much narrower the separation must be between you and someone who works in the technical field in which you want to work. It's at most two or three degrees of separation. Find that hidden contact. You are much more likely to get a job through a recommendation than you are to get it by going through the human resources department.
  7. Mar 17, 2014 #6
    Yes I've considered this, especially given that I have a bit of extra time at university it seems. It is appropriate on a resume to put "Coursework in XXX" somewhere, since my degree is obviously not in engineering? I'm more worried about getting the interview than how I'll perform in it.
  8. Mar 17, 2014 #7
    Do you really think it is so different? While I obviously haven't been a part of a team to design a product or construct a circuit, I have done research with fellow graduate students, postdocs, and scientists. I'm a rather good public speaker in this regard, so I don't think the social side of things is lacking (except perhaps for some of the nuance of working within the structure of a company, but I assume nobody knows this before they do it).

    I suppose the situation is analogous to a college senior look for an internship the summer after he's graduated. I'm not sure what the protocol on that kind of thing is (also, I am not above stating I'm staying in the PhD program to get an internship if need be, even though I fully intend to leave it).

    The networking is difficult since most of my contacts are obviously in areas of theory or education. Trying to spread the feelers out though.
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