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Other MS in Physics: Unemployed for months/years -- This is My Story

  1. Dec 13, 2016 #1
    Hello Everyone,

    I would like to share with you my 'story' of having degrees in Physics and the relentless and sad unemployment/under-employment saga that ensued. I will leave out any specific names of universities and companies, I don't want to get sued....

    I am currently 29 years old. I have a Masters of Science in Physics (thesis: computational astrophysics) and a Bachelor of Science in Space Physics. Both of these degrees were acquired from properly accredited (ABET) and well-known universities...costly ones too: total cost ~ $125,000. My BS degree was obtained in 2010 and my MS was obtained in 2012. Before my BS degree was coming to finality, I had a 3-month internship dealing with programming.

    I can speak fluently 3 languages. I have a hobby of rebuilding old cars (full restoration), building computers + circuits (soldering), renovating (carpentry, plumbing, electrical)...most of these were self-taught through 10+ years of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and following national code standards. I even worked on and drove agricultural farm tractors.

    My programming knowledge is between basic and intermediate and involves: C++, F95, Matlab, Simulink (basic) , and LabView (basic).

    Ever since 2012 till now I have submitted, e-mailed, begged, and completed several thousands of applications for employment. After 4 years, I still have not been able to obtain a regular - full time employment that is anywhere close to being associated with physics/science. I applied at least 30 times to all major companies that are associated with science/physics/research (you know them), especially the private spaceflight sector. I searched for companies using American Institute of Physics and list of employers published by my University(ies) and others. I searched from the East Coast to the West Coast...North to South. I searched Recent Grad to Entry-Level to Experienced...I even used LinkedIn to Network with Recruiters/Hiring Managers/Old Classmates.

    I wasn't just targeting these physics/science companies...I was targeting ALL companies (retail, construction, academia, finance - banking, etc...)

    Retail/construction/banking wouldn't even look at me due to being "over-qualified", so I was told...

    ... in late 2013 I did get a part-time teaching gig... no benefits, nothing.....that they wouldn't hire me full-time, so I left that job in 2015/2016 and actually moved out-of-state. During that 3 year period of teaching, I was constantly applying, begging, communicating, networking nation-wide...to no avail. Did get one phone interview though....

    People told me: "Well, its got to be your Resume...something is definitely wrong here!" I had my Resume looked over/modified professionally by staffing firms...by friends...by family. I made and used more than 5 different Resumes...all to no avail.

    After thousands of application and 4 years, I only ever got two face-to-face interviews...and even then they told me that I have no real-world experience, but the Resume and I were both amazing...bla bla bla... I cannot get experience without getting a job first...and I cannot get a job without getting experience first....

    Having such costly Diplomas/Degrees, with an astronomical monthly student loan payment, and a 4 year period of job hunting without success....cannot be described with words. The tolls on your mind, body, emotion, and soul is absolutely devastating.

    I strongly believe that I have fallen into a "Bad Luck" hole...a really deep one. Maybe Physics wasn't for me. Unfortunately after spending so much money, I cannot go back and start fresh. One would think that after 4 years since earning a Masters in Physics one would secure a 'proper' full time employment.

    Anyone else in similar position ? Advice ? How do you cope with this ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2016 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    Just some random thoughts:

    Much of aerospace work is related to the military and people with military backgrounds probably have a easier time getting jobs in that field. You are a little old to enlist in the regular military, but you could investigate the national guard. (It might lead to some useful contacts - there is the saying "Pull beats push", meaning that its easier to get ahead with social contacts than with personal initiative.)

    If you apply for government jobs, read the fine print about the qualifications. You will qualify for more jobs than your academic degrees suggest. For example, you might qualify as a statistician just from having taken several semester hours that can be classified as statistics, even though you academic program never intended to turn you into a statistician.
  4. Dec 13, 2016 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me make some comments from the point of view of an employer.

    I don't care how much you spent on college. I care what you can do for me. Your message doesn't get into that - why should I hire you? What skills do you have that I need? Ideally, ones that are unique to you.

    If you sent thousands of resumes, I question how much customization you have done on each one. I am more interested in candidates who are interested in working with me than candidates who just want a job.

    Your discussion of a 'proper' job makes you sound entitled, and that you think certain work is beneath you. I try very, very hard not to hire such people. I want people who will do whatever it takes. If you have been unemployed for a large fraction of these four years, it reinforces this - very strongly. It shows someone who would rather not work at all than take a job beneath them.

    So, why should I hire you? What can you do for me?
  5. Dec 13, 2016 #4
    Quite a lot of customization actually, since sending several thousands of Resumes over 4 years is equivalent to a handful per day... I wasn't sending thousands of Resumes per day.

    As mentioned in my original post, I was applying *everywhere*. When none of the relevant companies wanted to even talk to me, I tried to focus on companies that might use my Mathematics background, i.e. Banks, Insurance Companies, Consulting Firms....to no avail. I ended up doing snow shoveling and leaf raking to maintain some income.

    But, if refusing to work for Target - selling fake hats - qualifies me as Entitled, then sure...you can call me that. I do not believe that shoveling snow or selling cookies will help me start/further my Science career...which is what I worked hard for. I am sure I am not the only one who feels like this.
  6. Dec 13, 2016 #5
    When graduates make claims about difficulties finding employment, but fail to mention their undergrad and grad GPAs, there is usually a good reason.

    If you spent $125k but didn't work hard enough to earn the GPA needed to be employable in a STEM field, I'd think most potential employers would pause and want to see some concrete evidence of what you can do for them and that somewhere along the way you stopped whining and developed a work ethic.

    Write some good code that solves some neat problems and post it on guthub (or similar) for potential employers to see. Or find an interesting problem in science to research and publish a decent paper on it to show employers what you can do. Thinking of teaching? Make a series of instructional videos showing yourself to be a competent purveyor of math, programming, or physics knowledge.
  7. Dec 13, 2016 #6
    I apologize, I didn't realize I should mention my CGPA in my original post. Cum Laude CGPA of 3.53 for my MS and Cum Laude CGPA of 3.59 for my BS.

    I don't know what most Physics graduates' GPA are nowadays......is 3.5 bad ? Good ?
  8. Dec 13, 2016 #7

    Stephen Tashi

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    Another random thought:

    Investigate how you appear to someone doing a background check. If you have a friend or relative who is an employer, but not an employer of physicists, ask them to run a background check on you and tell you what shows up. Make sure that some clerical error hasn't put you on a list of terrorists or something wierd like that.
  9. Dec 13, 2016 #8
    I've done that in 2014. I found a NAPBS-certified screener to do a background check on me to verify accuracy / inaccuracies. All was well. Also pulled up medical and credit checks/records annually to verify that I am not a victim of inaccurate records or a victim of identity theft.
  10. Dec 13, 2016 #9


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    Are you still in touch with your BS- and MS-institutions?
    Are there opportunities there? Is there something that can be published based on your MS thesis or on related work?
    Why did you get that MS? Were you planning to go on the PhD?

    Are you in a big city? small city? small town? (what's nearby?)

    Is there a particular type of job you are interested in?
    If there are several, can you rank them and maybe list a few items that would support each of them?
  11. Dec 13, 2016 #10
    Based upon my investigation, pure science/math departments couldn't really give a **** where their graduates end up at a departmental level(though individual professors may), they don't care. Engineering on the other hand at the graduate level, often has jobs set up at graduation

    IMO science at this point is dead unless you're going to an elite university.
  12. Dec 13, 2016 #11
    With my BS university - no.
    With my MS university - kind'a (for reference purposes)

    My MS thesis in computational astrophysics was part of a set of research being done by my Mentor/Advisor with his colleagues and other students throughout the years. He published his work regularly on arXiv and we went to conferences to show our research....and elsewhere...But I don't know if my work was among those officially published. I know that the University has a copy of my research in the Library and available to the locale...

    This may sound cheesy, but I wanted to contribute to human and robotic space exploration. I will never forget the JPL live-stream back in January 2004 that was showing the rover(s) landing on Mars. I was hooked on space/physics/technology at that moment. From that point on I worked on cars, tractor, construction, and got acquainted with a vast array of tools and computers (operating systems, circuits, etc...) so that I can ready myself in building technologies. Due to my huge student loans in 2012, I really wanted to secure employment after Masters so I can start paying them down... so no PhD was planned. I know that private loans are deferred while in school, but with my 11.4% interest rate, it would make no sense to not-pay the loans and wait for the interest to get out of control. Interest still accumulates even while you are in school....

    Location is a non-issue for me: I will travel to anyplace in North America for employment...that's why I have been searching across North America relentlessly for 4 years. I am currently in a small town in the cornfields in Mid-Central Americana.

    Building something that moves...not on Earth
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
  13. Dec 13, 2016 #12
    That depends a lot on the reputation of the institution. One student I mentored on a science project a few years back went against our advice and against her parents' better judgement and is attending a midwestern school that averages something like 100+ students each semester with 4.0 GPAs. A 3.5 GPA ain't worth squat on the open market from that school. But that school is ranked below 150 in most STEM disciplines.

    Here are a list of midwestern schools from which a 3.5+ GPA in Physics would have my interest as an employer: Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, U of M, U Chicago, UIUC, Wisconsin, and maybe Michigan State.

    But I also tend to be skeptical about the absence of publications and tangible skills (meaty programming projects, etc.) I'm looking for something that speaks to the applicant's work ethic. I'm looking for a spark of interest that translates to the tasks my company is getting paid to do.

    Interest in space, as a love of its own, also arouses skepticism in terms of skills that translate into the earthly realities people pay me to do. We're kinda in a down cycle in the space business. If Space X turns you down (and a 3.5 GPA won't get you entry level love at Space X), your options will be limited if your head stays in the clouds.

    Since the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting a different result, you either need to repackage your accomplishments in a manner more appealing to potential employers, or you need some new accomplishments. Get to work.
  14. Dec 13, 2016 #13
    In a similar boat...

    It's about skills, like people have said. Your resume is awesome. But I think that no matter what your background (math for me, physics for you) our bread and butter is going to involve programming/data manipulation. Your list of programming languages for example looks a lot like mine - kind of academic. The most in demand languages outside academia are SQL (not technically a programming language, I know) Java, C#, C++, and python. Of course it depends on the industry. The ones I'm looking for want python but also R and SAS (the old fuddy duddy companies).

    Right now the purpose of getting a job for you is to keep learning stuff. You have to go sideways a bit and compromise perhaps a bit more than you'd like. By that I mean either
    a) getting a job that has ONE skill you want to learn (i.e. programming, some kind of data manipulation/scripting/whatever) even though the rest may be something you don't care about).
    b) getting a job that has NO skills you care about but which gets you into a company that does stuff you find interesting.

    Examples: I am applying for a help desk job at a company I really like because they have the biostats job I want. In the meantime I am working a QA job at a company that MIGHT hire me for a job that involves a bit of programming.

    Getting those skills might also involve some volunteer work or side projects. Soon as I pass my damn qualifier (it is official known as "the damn qualifier") I am going to be hitting the programming stuff pretty hard, hooking up with people from meetup.com groups and trying to get some projects going. The point is that rather than job-seeking you should be skill-seeking. I know you think you just got an education, but really what you got was a great classical background in how to think about stuff. Now you need to learn some stuff.

    BTW, I have also heard that most jobs happen directly through networking, rather than sending out resumes, although I have actually gotten all my jobs from the latter.

    -Dave K
  15. Dec 13, 2016 #14
    So you're essentially saying that a physics degree is worthless unless you go to a top university and perform better then everyone else.
  16. Dec 13, 2016 #15
    Did you skip over the last three paragraphs of that post?
  17. Dec 13, 2016 #16
    Here's what I don't understand:

    When I was a kid and decided to pursue a space-related career, everybody told me that I need to be good in math, good in physics, know computers, etc... So that's what I pursued: I went to a good university (ranked well) studied a bunch of math, a bunch of physics, a bunch of astronomy, learned programming. Then, In an effort to make my career foundation stronger/broader, I immediately jumped into Masters at another good University where I studied more math, more physics, more astronomy, and computer programming. Even learned how to take apart and rebuild machinery, obtain strong mechanical/electrical aptitudes....

    ...but apparently all of this is not enough. You need more skills....more programming knowledge....more hobbies...more projects.

    "Oh, you know C++ ? Sorry, we need SAS, SQL, Java"
    "Oh, you have a Physics background...and want to work for NASA ? Sorry, we need Engineers"
    "Oh, spent 6 years in school ? Sorry, we need somebody with 6 years of experience building Space Stations"
    "Oh, we don't have time to train you...we need a young 25 year old with 40 years of experience"
    "Oh, you want an entry-level job ? Sorry, you need experience first"
    "Oh, you need experience to get that entry-level job ? Sorry, you need a job first"

    It's never enough...there is always more that is needed....




    more of everything...

    I will never understand this. You need to stand out from the rest of the group by performing feats of miracles to be noticed. If I ever have a child or become an uncle, and they will ask me what they should do to become a physicist, engineer, builder...I think I should tell them to get 5 PhDs, memorize all Encyclopedias, go back in time and get Einstein's autograph, and then *maybe* you will qualify for an Entry-Level, $9/hr job at Peter's Favorite Pizzeria.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
  18. Dec 13, 2016 #17
    Not at all. 2012 is just a bad time to be graduating in space physics with a mediocre GPA from what might be a mediocre school.

    A combined downturn in federal space and defense funding at that time (and continuing to the present) made the job market much more competitive.

    It's a bigger risk for companies to hire a Space Physics graduate. They worry he'll bolt for a space physics job when the demand returns after they've spent all the money hiring and training him.

    Several approaches can be useful to reducing their concerns:

    1. Improve your skills to require less training.
    2. Save them the interview costs by offering to stop by soon when "you just happen to be in town on other business."
    3. Save them the relocation expenses by moving to a place with lots of jobs. Atlanta is a strong technical market.
    4. Sitting in the middle of a cornfield, you have a $1000 price tag just to interview you and a very expensive relocation price tag compared with local candidates. What strengths make you stronger than those local candidates?
    5. Applications are more likely to result in interviews if you have local ties. When possible, mention family, significant others, or other strong interests and connections in the city or state where you are applying.
    6. Give evidence of desiring a permanent transition from space physics to the field to which you are applying.
  19. Dec 13, 2016 #18


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    I can certainly understand your frustration. It's difficult finding a job in a slow economy - particularly when you've worked very hard up until this point.

    I agree that something seems off if after four years of searching and thousands of applications you've only had two face to face interviews. Typically if you're getting less than one interview for every ten applications you're making (or at least below that order of magnitude), you need to adjust something because you're either applying for something you're not qualified for, or there's some kind of flag that potential employers are seeing that's preventing you from making the short lists.

    Based on what you've written, it sounds like you've taken reasonable steps to check yourself for flags. I also assume that you've Googled yourself. Have you made sure that your online presence is as professional as you can make it?

    Personally I've always been more of a fan of the sniper approach to job hunting (as opposed to the shotgun approach). That means you need to learn as much as you can about a position before applying, determine whether you're competitive of not, and if so, tailor your application to the position, and follow up. Researching the position means more than just checking out the company website. As much as possible, it means talking to the hiring manager and other people in the company and finding out what they're looking for in a candidate and identifying what skills you can bring to the table. It means being in line as an interested applicant before the job gets posted. It means knowing about the industry by talking to others working in it who are not hiring. It also means cutting the cord yourself when you're not qualified.

    And I know all of that is much easier said than done. None of this is easy. But you don't have to perform miracles either.
  20. Dec 13, 2016 #19
    Well, the really cool and interesting (and high paying) jobs are more competitive. That's unfortunately the reality.

    But I don't think it's about miracles. I think it's about skilfully navigating the field, meeting people, sometimes compromising, and plain stupid dumb luck.

    You know what would be an interesting thread? I would be curious to see if people on this forum who had achieved their career goals might tell us what path it was to get there. I very much doubt it would be something like "Graduated top of my class and got an awesome job out of university," although perhaps this is the case I don't know.

    -Dave K
  21. Dec 13, 2016 #20

    Vanadium 50

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    How is that possible?
  22. Dec 13, 2016 #21
    Simple: I wasn't majoring in Computer Programming ! As a part of my thesis was about taking our astrophysics research/equations and putting them into a source code.and then click 'Run'. Basic Functions, Arrays, Subroutines. The Department and Graduate School classified this process as falling in the area of computation...and astrophysics...I never questioned it.

    Maybe you think that even a child can do this nowadays...and it's not even something I should mention on my Resume...

    I classify my programming skills just shy of intermediate level....Or maybe I am selling myself short... I don't know. Maybe my definition of basic <--> intermediate level is not the same as my Adviser's...or as Yours...
  23. Dec 13, 2016 #22
    That's a tough call. On the one hand you do not want to sell yourself short, and on the other you do not want to be hired under some pretense of knowing more than you do.

    Probably the remedy is, again, to do some project that demonstrates proficiency. More work, I know..
  24. Dec 13, 2016 #23
    That's exactly why I play it safe and just say that my programming knowledge is a little above basic. This way, I am being truthful / realistic about my programming skills to Employers.

    I could sugar coat it like other people probably do and say stuff like "Maximum Extreme Astrophysics Computation #amazing #thebestintheworld #TheChosenOne " ... but I don't do that sort of stuff...
  25. Dec 13, 2016 #24
    Of course, you could show some initiative now, work on some (unpaid) programming projects and grow those skills.

    My degree was in experimental physics (nothing about computation or programming), and my programming skills were intermediate to advanced. I'd released several packages into the public. My first job offer was in programming, and most of that job interview was a programming exam!

    Programming was a big part of my job description for my first 7 or so years out of grad school.
  26. Dec 13, 2016 #25
    From what I am gathering from this Forum....the common denominator seems to be this:

    If you want to work in the field of Physics, you better have very good and very strong computer programming skills in multiple program languages.

    Universities that I went to never explicitly stressed this... I wonder if other colleges/universities emphasize Computer Programming going hand-in-hand with anything Physics-related.
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