MS/PhD - Interested in industry

  • Thread starter Lovemaker
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  • #1
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Greetings,

I'm at a very interesting/strange position in my life right now, and I need advice from current-/former-physicists who are working in the private-sector.

Some Background
I'm currently mid-way through my particle/nuclear physics Ph.D., and I have come to terms with the fact that I have no interest in pursuing a career in particle/nuclear physics, neither in academia nor research. Hell, I'd be happy if I didn't have a physics-related job at all!

I like studying physics, but I don't enjoy doing research in it (this applies to all forms of physics). My research experience is in 4 different fields over the last 5 years, where I've always been doing nuclear physics, and taking paid internships in 3 other fields of physics in my spare time. I also have 4 computer engineering classes under my belt, and I can, and love to program.

I was wondering what type of private sector job I could get as an M.Sc physicist vs. a Ph.D. physicist, and how much each would pay (on average), starting out, and a few years into the job.

I currently have a job offer in a field I am more interested in (iOS/Android/WinMo) development, and I am seriously considering taking a leave of absence from my PhD, or grabbing the M.Sc/M.Phil. and quitting my PhD all-together to pursue this career, and other career options.

Thanks ahead of time for any guidance you can provide.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I know many physicists who work in the IT industry (including me) - you can do anything from software development to project management.

For me it worked out really well - and I started with zero additional formal qualification in computer science. I am working as a self-employed consultant specialized on IT security, digital certificates and cryptography in particular. Though I do not have enough data to provide statistical evidence I feel that I have met many physicists especially in IT security.

I am planning and implementing secure IT infrastructures based on Public Key Cryptography and I feel that this is a field where I can really utilize all my 'physics skills', even if it is not 'physics'. It is not so much about mathematics and programming (though this is of course important), but it is rather about translating requirements into a sort of formal language and structure (network topology, certificate chains). I also enjoy 'hacking' and reverse engineering stuff. I am an experimental physicist and sometimes I treat IT systems as black boxes that propose puzzles to solve - in a similar way as I did when I was investigating the microstructure of materials using the electron microscope.

If you go into IT I would recommend to specialize on some sought-after niche. Re salaries I am not really qualified as a European not familiar with US taxes, so I better not tell you any numbers. However I can say that I am a rather expensive consultant in terms of hourly rates, also compared to other experts in the field who have studied computer science.

Actually I think it does not matter to my customers at all that my PhD is in physics - typically IT security / networking guys are rather self-learning hackers doing low-level-debugging since an age of 10 or so ;-) that do not care about any degrees at all. So I even tend not to emphasize the degree too much. But probably it sometimes provides me with a small competitve advantage as it makes my qualification a bit unusual - my clients e.g. appreciate some anecdotes on quantum physics and quantum cryptography thrown into a workshop on classical cryptography.
 
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  • #3
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If you have a job offer in a field that you're interested in, and you aren't interested in physics research, dump the PhD and take the job. The PhD won't help you in the job market except in rather specific cases involving research in physics or that is physics-like. The perception that you are too academic or too intellectual that you get with a PhD will be an obstacle you have to navigate around, and in cases will probably prevent you from even being interviewed. As a PhD "dropout" I think you could avoid that entirely.
 
  • #4
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Thank you both for your input. I've decided to take the job, but I have yet to make a decision on if I want to drop the PhD or work on it part-time for a while. Is there any use for a particle physicist phd outside of academia/national-labs?

Thanks!
 
  • #5
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If you have a job offer in a field that you're interested in, and you aren't interested in physics research, dump the PhD and take the job.
I think that's good advice. The problem with getting a job with a Ph.D. is that people that hire you will assume that you like doing research, so you'll be in graduate school for the rest of your life. Great if you like grad school. Stinks if you don't.

The perception that you are too academic or too intellectual that you get with a PhD will be an obstacle you have to navigate around, and in cases will probably prevent you from even being interviewed.
Except for jobs in which they are looking for someone academic and intellectual. :-) :-)
 
  • #6
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Is there any use for a particle physicist phd outside of academia/national-labs?
Lots of jobs in investment banking. Caveat about being in graduate school for the rest of your life applies.
 
  • #7
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Lots of jobs in investment banking. Caveat about being in graduate school for the rest of your life applies.
If I read this correctly, there is use for me yet, but involves another 3-7 years in grad school learning finance and quantitative analysis, correct?
 
  • #8
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Lots of jobs in investment banking. Caveat about being in graduate school for the rest of your life applies.
Not really. I am a credit/IR quant, I've worked in this field for a while, published a few papers on SSRN, and I am under no illusions that working in an IB is equivalent to doing scientific research. It's much more focused on practical issues, even if they do not lead to any particular insights in finance. It *is* interesting and intellectually stimulating, but in a different way.
 
  • #9
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If I read this correctly, there is use for me yet, but involves another 3-7 years in grad school learning finance and quantitative analysis, correct?
No. Banks will hire fresh physics Ph.D.'s, and in fact I'd advise *against* getting any extra formal schooling. It's assumed (and usually assumed correctly) that you'll be able to learn everything you want on the job.
 
  • #10
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No. Banks will hire fresh physics Ph.D.'s, and in fact I'd advise *against* getting any extra formal schooling. It's assumed (and usually assumed correctly) that you'll be able to learn everything you want on the job.

Understood. Thanks for the guidance.

I have signed the contract for the previously mentioned job, so I will definitely be pursuing that career for the time being. As for my PhD, I'll decide later if I shall continue part-time or not.

Thank you all for your help!
 

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