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Math MS and Physics BS Careers

  1. Jul 17, 2015 #1
    Hello. With an M.S. in Pure Mathematics and a B.S. in physics, what careers are available to me if I am not accepted into a PhD program in math? I have no experience in finance or statistics, and I loathe programming.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2015 #2
    Did you complete your MS recently? Or will you be completing it soon? If so, you might consider seeing what other recent graduates of your program have done. What one person has done, another can imitate. You might also look and see if any of your professors have relationships with potential employers.
  4. Jul 17, 2015 #3


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    To the OP:

    If you are still in the process of finishing your MS program, then I would suggest taking further courses in statistics if at all possible, as that would open possible employment possibilities. One other possibility would be to work on writing your actuarial exams, and consider pursuing an internship with consulting or insurance firms.

    You said you loathe programming -- do you hate all programming, or only in working in software development? Because without at least being able to program, you've just about excluded yourself from a lot of jobs that those with a mathematical background can pursue. If you do decide to go into statistics, you will still need to do some programming.
  5. Jul 17, 2015 #4
    Seems you have the wrong degree. No idea how you can be taught a math program all the way up to MSc without it becoming clear to the student every real problem you are going to solve involves computers/programming.

    Also, your school should have helped you in giving you an idea what jobs you can apply for. In fact, it should be part of the mandatory curriculum.

    You only learned you hated programming during your 6 month internship?

    It is already hard to convince a company that they will be making more money when they hire an applied mathematician. But as a pure mathematician that refuses to program, you may be even more oblivious to how math makes money than the average company that is losing cash because they don't have one.

    No programming and a pure degree, seems all that is left is teaching.
  6. Jul 17, 2015 #5
    Ha, I can't help but read that sarcastically but I think you are being serious. I agree, it "should" be part of the curriculum. At both of my schools the department shunned the idea of marketable skills and career placement for physics graduates. I think that is why so many simply defaulted to high school teaching or ended up in mundane positions.
  7. Jul 17, 2015 #6
    Well, you got to wonder how much it makes grad students and postdocs cheaper and more expendable by not connecting their graduates with private industry.
  8. Jul 17, 2015 #7


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    But the thing is, both you and Almeisan miss the point -- it is NOT the job of the physics department to make their graduates marketable, because physics is NOT a vocational degree of the sort like engineering, nursing, accounting, etc. After all, no one talks about whether, say, an anthropology, English, political science, or economics degree is employable, but then when it comes to physics -- oh my God, physics departments aren't doing anything to make sure their graduates can find work. But that's NOT what physics is all about.

    It is up to the individual student to develop the skills that could marketable to potential employers. A physics major is a flexible enough degree that any student can take, say, CS courses, statistics courses, writing courses, accounting courses, etc., that would make him/her that much more marketable, the same as a math major. You and the OP had the opportunity to do this when you were pursuing your degrees -- the fact that neither of you took advantage of this are YOUR problems, rather than the departments.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2015
  9. Jul 17, 2015 #8
    Choosing to avoid stats, finance, and programming doesn't leave much more than teaching.

    Is Walmart hiring?
  10. Jul 17, 2015 #9


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    But can they continue to get grad students and postdocs in the long run? Perhaps it was lack of foresight rather than deliberate planning to ignore such things.

    I think at least some physics professors do think about these things, eg. Mildred Dresslhaus mentions in an interview "We enjoyed the freedom of discovery. At that time, so many things were open but not understood. As long as we made new discoveries and produced good students who got jobs when they graduated, everybody was happy with the outcomes." http://www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/kavli-prize-2012-dresselhaus#.VanOc_nF9zo

    I think she is referring to a period of time before 2000, so it would seem that it is not just a modern proposal that mentors should be interested in the employability of their students.

    A more recent example of a physics department acknowledging that the health of the department depends on the ability of their graduates to get jobs, and the perception of their emplyability is found in an article by Sacha Kopp: "Only half of our 60-70 freshmen graduate with a physics BA or BS. Much of that 50% attrition is migration to other majors, especially engineering. Finally, students carry a negative perception about the utility of physics in seeking jobs and about the quality of instruction and mentoring within the department. Acknowledging such dark clouds, we began a program at UT to reinvigorate the physics major, thereby attracting and retaining a broader cadre of students." http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201008/backpage.cfm
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2015
  11. Jul 17, 2015 #10
    They should. And I bet they do to some extent.
  12. Jul 18, 2015 #11
    Nobody said it was. A degree can prepare students for a job market without being vocational. Vocational implies preparation for a specific field, not preparation for a range of employable work.

    The word "vocational" is funny in this forum. Pretty much anyone who's ever used it has been putting it in someone else's mouth. It's dishonest.
  13. Jul 18, 2015 #12
    Thanks for all the replies. I'll try to respond to each that was directed to me.
    1. I will complete my MS within a year.
    2. I've made it this far aspiring to research pure math which will not require massive programming.
    3. I can program, and do not mind it from time to time, but I feel like I would go crazy if I had to do it all the time.
    4. I've never done software development.
    5. No, I didn't realize this during a 6 month internship. I'm an RA, supporting myself this way. Since its my "job", I've lately had heavy exposure.
    6. I've had 0 finance/econ classes, and 1 (undergrad) stat class. I suspect this to be prohibiting to actuarial exams. Will the math/physics background even be helpful?
    7. Does my BS in physics add any employability, somewhere?
    8. Thank you for the advice to ask around my department.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
  14. Jul 18, 2015 #13
    Most of my industry jobs needed regular programming, about 20%-30% of my overall work effort. There are a lot of jobs out there that one is bypassing if one is not willing to do at least that much programming. Usually the programming is solving in-house engineering, modeling, or analysis needs rather than developping software to be used outside the company.
  15. Jul 18, 2015 #14
    Interesting. Where does your remaining 70-80% of effort go?
  16. Jul 18, 2015 #15
    Other engineering tasks. Usually the software is part of a system of test and measurement that evaluates how well a system is meeting it's design and performance specifications. Sometimes, I write custom software for data analysis or numerical modeling.

    But a lot more of an engineer's time will usually be spent running the software he has written and with other engineering tasks than writing the software 40 hours a week.
  17. Jul 18, 2015 #16


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    I think there is increasing awareness that physics departments have to do more, otherwise, who can afford to be a physics major? I'm not sure if you would agree with these, but perhaps these are steps in the right direction. I think the recommendations for joint engineering programmes are particularly interesting, in light of experiences like yours I have read, where IIRC a masters in engineering was important for getting a technical job.

    From https://www.aip.org/statistics/reports/equipping-physics-majors
    What faculty members can do:
    Assess the common paths of your physics alumni and the interests of your students (and the students who quit the program) and consider whether it makes sense to expand your offerings. The possibilities are broad and could include both informal and formal changes, but here are some examples:
    o Actively encourage physics students to complete minors or second majors in line with their interests and ambitions, including in fields like economics, business, biology, journalism, education, and computer science.
    o Informally or formally incorporate concentrations or areas of specialization within the majors, e.g., physics education or biophysics.
    o Develop multiple physics degree programs to address students interested in attending graduate school, going right into the workforce (e.g., a professional physics degree), or going into a related field (e.g., an engineering physics degree). These might include a common set of classes but diverge when it comes to upperlevel requirements.
    o Establish a dual-degree program, such as a physics–engineering 3-2 program where upon completion students earn a physics degree from one school and an engineering degree from a partner school.
    o Provide physics majors with access to certificate or other training programs in specialized software packages that are valued by employers (e.g., LabVIEW), or in specialized equipment.
    o Identify potential partner departments on your campus (e.g., medicine, business, education) and work with them to develop interdisciplinary courses of study that combine aspects of the disciplines.
    o Consider ways to address physics career options directly through seminar classes or other departmental activities.
  18. Jul 18, 2015 #17
    Yeah, my LabView and other instrumentation programming and control experience were useful in my first two job out of school.

    But the student and the program both bear responsibility for the student acquiring marketable skills that align with the student's desires and plans.

    A bunch of instrumentation and programming experience is not gonna do much for physics majors who want to be teachers.
  19. Jul 18, 2015 #18


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    But then this raises the question of whether it is the physics department's job to prepare its students for the job market (ditto for the math department). One could argue yes, they are, but my stance on this is that this is not their primary responsibility. I don't think that any degree programs outside of a specific subgroup (e.g. engineering, computer science, etc.) can really prepare their graduates to the job market independent of the university as a whole.

    One good example of universities taking on this role is the University of Waterloo in Canada, with its co-op programs offered in all departments -- in some programs, they are mandatory, whereas in others they are optional -- where students alternate between study terms and work terms (which are graded and listed in their transcripts, and count as work experience). No doubt there are similar such programs in other colleges/universities across Canada and the US. So my advocacy is for the college/university AS A WHOLE to prepare their graduates to face the job market.

    Of course, the student also bears a substantial responsibility (perhaps the main responsibility) in developing marketable skills as they are pursuing their studies. It just feels like in these threads, people just want to blame schools for the fact that students can't find employment, when students have to take it upon themselves at least in part to develop themselves to be the type of people that companies would want to hire.

    There is also the general question of what type of job would a physics graduate would want to work in. Just because you have a STEM degree doesn't necessarily mean that you would want to work in a technical capability or work in research -- perhaps you want to work in, say, science policy, pursue law or medicine, combine science expertise with business or marketing, etc. A single degree program can't do all of these on its own.
  20. Jul 19, 2015 #19
    Well, many of you seem to be from the US and it seems that not having an MSc in physics and a BSc not being a terminal degree, really causes a lot of problems and a lot of disrepect for a physics degree.

    Where I live, as an MSc in physics you almost have a guarantee to a job at MSc level, even in an economic downturn.
    Here, there actually is focus on other stuff you can do with your physics background, in industry.

    Maybe it is just a cultural difference. When I turn on the news and the weather forecast is on, more likely or not the 'weather girl' (or guy) will have an MSc in physics or an MSc in metereology.

    If you know you won't be doing a PhD you can very easily pick a MSc flavor that prepares you for industry. You do a 6 month internship and you are ready to hit the job market prepared. If you want a job at some company that is heavy on pyhsics and engineering, but not even sure if you want a technical/scientific job, you just graduate with the management specialization. You will know all the fundamental stuff, but you won't be prepared to do independent research in a specialized field. Instead, you learn what you would learn in MSc management school and how to connect one field with the other. You learn how to sell yourself and to sell physics as an asset to a company.

    Maybe the lack of engineering as a protected profession also helps.
  21. Jul 19, 2015 #20
    One thing that hurts has been the lack of an accrediting agency for physics degrees like ACS accredits chemistry degrees and ABET accredits engineering degrees. As a result, each school decides for themselves what is required for their physics degree. The level of academic rigor required for some physics degrees in the US is fairly low. Whereas, I had over 100 credit hours in math and science when I earned a BS in physics, and the classes were very challenging, lots of schools are handing out degrees in physics with far fewer credit hours of math and science and push over math and physics courses. This has hurt the reputation of physics degrees unless one graduates from a school with a good reputation.

    At a lot of schools, a BS in physics is much less meaningful from an ABET accredited engineering degree or ACS accredited chemstry degree from the same or similar school.
  22. Jul 21, 2015 #21
    Okay. I have to speak up about this since it is slight pet peeve of mine. It is very possible for a Physics BS to find a bachelors/graduate program (brick&mortar or online) that is in an applied field. You do NOT have to resort to education as a job unless you either want to or if your situation is very desperate. I have BS Physics from a regular state school and am in an MS EE program , IT CAN HAPPEN!!

    OP, i know you have to make the ultimate decision, but statistics,programming, and finance are VERY good marketable skills that will increase your chance of employment. I hate seeing talent individuals resort to desperate measures when they have so many skills to offer. You can do so much more if you think out of the box and KEEP AN OPEN MIND about different opportunities your math/physics skills can take you.

    This is a long post, but I have been there with my Physics BS, so if I can encourage anybody to find there own way to success, then I will.
  23. Jul 24, 2015 #22
    I'm sorry, but I feeling attempting to include money and marketability in something that is about advancing human knowledge severely impurifies such a beautiful piece of academia. That stuff should be for the person himself/herself to understand.
  24. Jul 24, 2015 #23


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    One piece of advice I've heard is that you shouldn't wait until your final year to start thinking about employment. Talk to potential employers and to learn what kinds of skills they're looking for and possibly foster relationships that can eventually help get you employed. One of the best ways to land a job is to have connections.

    This is a bit naive. The school doesn't exist in a vacuum. The university or college has an interest in making sure its graduates can find employment, and the physics department knows that all of its students are not going to go to graduate school and into research. The department could help students find jobs by, for example, communicating with local employers and doing its part in helping promote the idea that its graduates are good candidates for some positions.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2015
  25. Jul 24, 2015 #24
    Impurifies? Physics isn't high art. Students are paying with time and money, sometimes blood and tears, for their degree, hoping it improves their lives.

    The moment physics is compared with philosophy and classical music degrees, you know something is very wrong. A degree is a hammer; so should be a physics degree. If you worry about not enough focus on fundamental research; limiting the bounds or usefulness of a degree isn't even a poor way to achieve that. Every time I see a person ask: "I have a BSc degree in Physics. What jobs can I get?" I cringe. Here, people know what jobs they are going to aim for before they even start their degree. When they are finished, they will have 6 months of job experience, minimum.

    Of course a physics degree needs to deliver people for pure research in fundamental topics. But if a person wants to do more than calculate the thermodynamics of the FTL drive from their favorite SF novel, they should also be offered a program that at least learns them how to sell a possible employer on the value of their degree. Instead, I see people here lament that their degree is useless. If they don't believe their degree has value, how is some employer going to believe it is a moneymaker for them?

    When a degree of the most fundamental of sciences is on par with a high art degree, in a sense a romantic's dream, something needs to be changed.

    Jobless people with lots of debt don't advance human knowledge. If you want to change the way society works, ruining young people's lives to try to make society accommodate them isn't' the way.

    And from the school's and teacher's point of view, if you know that too many of your graduates can't find meaningful jobs, you are failing.
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