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Most Employable Physics Specialty

  1. Dec 13, 2015 #1
    Which physics specialties are the most employable to do work in their feild of physics?
    At a time when academic jobs are rare, and many in the industry work non-physics jobs, are there any specialties that have better chances of doing their line of work in industry?

    I started my B.A. in physics because I was interested in astronomy and math (and in lecturing/teaching, but this forum has made me give up on teaching at a college level). I did several semesters of research with a theoretical astrophysicist, and thought I wanted to do a PhD in a similar field. But after taking Stat. Mech., Chemistry, and several semesters of Quantum, I can see myself doing a PhD in almost any subject (astro, solid state, chemical, atomic, quantum - they all deeply interest me).
    I plan on stating I want to do experimental quantum or astro on my applications and perhaps diverging in grad school, or trying to find a good prof to work under and basing my decision off of that. But I thought I should briefly consider my post-grad career in the decision.
     
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  3. Dec 13, 2015 #2
    I think it would be reasonable to assume that an area of research involving great skill in computation and programming would be very marketable somewhere in industry, or how an experimental quantum mechanic may have some way of being involved with high-tech electronics and computer companies.
     
  4. Dec 13, 2015 #3

    bcrowell

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    Academic jobs are not rare. Jobs at the best research universities are rare. Do you specifically want to do research, or, e.g., would you consider community college teaching?
     
  5. Dec 13, 2015 #4
    I would love to teach at a US university, and though I would prefer to both teach and do research, I would certainly teach by itself.
    I am more curious though as to if any specialty was less or more employable than the others, as to maximize my future prospects.
     
  6. Dec 13, 2015 #5
    Certainly, but I was curious if there are some specialties with more industry jobs specific to their subject. For example, I like both solid state and astro, but looking a decade ahead I would prefer to be doing a specifically solid state physics industry job than programming or doing finance after getting an astro phd.
     
  7. Dec 13, 2015 #6

    bcrowell

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    I don't think you can decouple the two issues. For example, I would imagine that jobs doing research in theoretical astrophysics are pretty hard to get, whereas if that's what you did your thesis in, you would probably be extremely employable at a community college. At the community college where I teach, the astronomy course is the cash cow for the physics and astronomy department, and we have two tenured faculty who teach nothing but astronomy.
     
  8. Dec 13, 2015 #7
    Oh that is actually really cool! In fact, I didn't know cc's had tenured positions. And such positions aren't super competitive?

    Edit: I do not mean to insult by saying not competitive. I just know that some academic positions have 200+ applications.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2015
  9. Dec 13, 2015 #8

    bcrowell

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    I've been on probably four or five CC hiring committees for tenure-track jobs. Usually the pools for physics are small and extremely weak. A strong candidate, for my department, would be one who has a PhD from a good school and either has a little teaching experience or makes a plausible case in their application materials that they really want to teach (as opposed to someone who sends out a boilerplate job letter that talks about nothing but research). Also, we do pay attention to grades on undergraduate transcripts, and we do care where you went to grad school. Many of our applicants have C's (or even worse grades) in physics on their undergraduate transcripts, went to a no-name university (say a Cal State or an online school) for a master's degree, and if we interview them they flub basic subject-matter questions.

    Other community colleges may have somewhat different priorities. For example, some departments at some community colleges have a lot of faculty who are insecure about their own educations, and they don't want to hire someone with a better education than theirs.
     
  10. Dec 13, 2015 #9

    bcrowell

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    No need to apologize. The last time we hired a tenure-track faculty member in my department, we had about 25 applications. Of those, I would say about 5 were "good" by the criteria I stated above.
     
  11. Dec 13, 2015 #10
    Thank you so much, very informative!
    I have mostly As (a few non physics Bs) in my undergrad coursework, so I'm not worried about all that. But how can I show interest in teaching? My school has tons of grad students, so no oppurtunities to TA as an undergrad. And as I understand it, all grad students TA so that doesnt really set me apart.
     
  12. Dec 13, 2015 #11

    bcrowell

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    Usually if a grad student is seriously contemplating a career focused on teaching, they can convince their school to let them teach an entire course. For our most recent hire, the successful candidate had exactly that experience. Some people teach part-time at a community college to get some experience, and then they apply for full-time jobs. Even if we see stuff like volunteer tutoring of high school kids, that allows us to paint a mental picture of you as someone who actually does want a career in teaching. There is a large body of published, evidence-based knowledge about what works pedagogically in freshman physics, so if your application materials just show some knowledge of that, it helps a lot.

    It's also important, as with any job application, to have a record of demonstrated success in some area. Sometimes we get applications from people who just don't seem to have succeeded at anything they've done in the past.
     
  13. Dec 13, 2015 #12
    Though I am a few years off, I am definitely interested in teaching and will look into teaching a course eventually wherever I end up for grad school.
    Thank you again for being so helpful!
     
  14. Dec 14, 2015 #13
    The ones with the most engineering applications.
     
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