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Near the End of A PhD and Have No Job

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jk

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Throughout my undergrad and phd, I was bombarded with the attitude the physics is a versatile degree, especially compared to alternatives. But it really isn't (see twofish's statements about how jobs for physicists are only located a few cities around the world).
Not to sound too harsh but if you are getting ready to spend 5-8 years of your life doing something (PhD), it is incumbent upon you to find out what lies at the end of it.

I think twofish may have been referring to finance jobs for physicists. The reason those jobs are concentrated in a few cities is because finance jobs in general are concentrated in those cities (NY, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo...maybe Zurich, possibly Dubai)
If you look at those jobs, most of the non-academic ones require a "PhD in physics, engineering, geoscience, etc. or related field," so they don't care what your PhD is in. I've applied to several of those types of jobs and gotten nowhere. (and yes I've done the resume-tailoring stuff, etc.) The jobs that you actually see for physicists are ones that require very specific skills that don't seem to be very common in academia, at least not as far as I am aware of. I see medical physics and optics come up a lot, and I've never even met anyone in those fields. I see a handful of experimental condensed matter techniques are listed that I don't think get done by physicists nearly as much as engineers.
So you just made the point that physics is versatile enough to get you jobs that engineers and geophysicists do.

If you're looking for "physics only" jobs, I would agree with you.
Also, the numbers change quite a bit if you restrict the location you search in. If I search for "physics" in sacramento, ca (where I live) I get 51 jobs, if I search for "engineering" I get 1800 jobs. I never could have predicted it when I was younger, but now I find the main thing I really care about with whatever job I get is where I live, much more so than what I actually end up doing. In that respect, a physics degree turned out to be an extremely bad choice for me.
Nothing to say to that. If the jobs are where you are, then you either have to go where the jobs are or change the kind of jobs you are going after.
I've interviewed for a couple of industry jobs that were actually fairly closely related to my PhD research (condensed matter theory). What I found was that I was mostly speaking with people with engineering backgrounds and they were less than impressed with the rather academic and non-practical nature of my research. I got the feeling that they really preferred engineers.

I interviewed with one large company for three different jobs, and the one I got an offer for was a software position. I didn't get an offer for the other two jobs that were closely related to what I learned in my PhD research.
Maybe you are looking in a too narrow area centered on your PhD research. If what you did was just research, and what the employers are looking for is practical experience in specific areas, you may not be a good fit. But if you expand your search, you may have a better chance. As ParticleGrl said in an earlier post, you may not know as much electrical engineering as an EE, but you probably know more mechanical engineering than an EE and more electrical engineering than an ME.
I worked as a contractor for about a year, mostly doing web development but with a small variety of other projects mixed in. My real problem with software (aside from just not liking it very much) is I've developed back problems that are exacerbated by sitting at the computer all day, especially if I'm programming.
Web development is the absolute most basic programming you can do in industry. There are far, far more interesting and challenging programming jobs out there. I wouldn't use that as a representative sample. As for the sitting down, most white collar jobs involve you sitting down all day in front of a computer, and that includes engineering.
Well I'm not really, not any more. For a while I was because I desperately wanted to hold onto the notion that getting my PhD wasn't a complete waste. And I believed, or at least rationalized, that that sort of thing would be a good stepping stone out of academia. I could get into a big company, work doing physics for a while, if I still decided I hated it I would have a much easier time moving around within the company or finding another job.

Anyway, I don't get the feeling that those skills are highly valued. Or that they are, but employers would prefer they come from people with degrees in more applied fields, because perhaps they have a prejudice against me that I'm too academic. The idea that physicists have these strong analytical skills that engineers or applied mathematicians or statisticians don't is an idea that employers don't seem to have.
Your feeling is wrong but I can't convince you of that since you are having a hard time finding something now. But everyone is having a hard time now. I have a friend, a damn good engineer with about 12 years' experience, who lost his job when his company went under. It took him almost a year to find another job. Everyone is suffering now because the economy is so lousy.

I never said that physicists have skills that mathematicians, statisticians or engineers don't. The point I am trying to make is that a physics degree is competitive with those fields.
 
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WHERE? WHAT INDUSTRIES? I keep asking, and other than finance jobs in NYC and programming (which is a stretch, I have only a smattering of c++ and fortran 77, fortran is not in high demand) there are literally no suggestions.
The two other industries I know of in which people I know have gotten jobs are oil/gas jobs in Houston, and building H-bombs at Los Alamos.

One of the points gets lost is that things don't happen by magic. Just because there is demand and supply someone has to build a road to connect the two. This is why I'm interested in finding out more about biotech since it doesn't seem to me that the road is there.
 
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Anecdotal? Absolutely. But that's pretty much what this thread is, and anecdotes from those in the industry should weigh a little heavier than anecdotes from jobseekers.
I don't think that's true. I found it trivially easy to get a job after I got my Ph.D., but I graduated in 1998 during the middle of the dot-com boom. I put out my resume and in two days, I had five people calling me. That was 1998.

Part of the problem is that there is a lag in which statements that were true in 1998 aren't true in 2011. In 1998, it *wasn't* hard to convince an employer to take a risk on a Ph.D. because the ideal employee was busy working at something else.
 
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But even with those questions, I don't think it's fair to dismiss the AIP numbers entirely. Other surveys have found similar results and the fluctuations have not been all that huge over time. To report a result of 96% when the real value is more like 20% you'd have to have a seriously flawed study.
Also for Ph.D. hiring and outcomes, I've found that statistics aren't very useful because the numbers are so small. For MBA's, you can talk about the typical MBA, but there is no typical physics Ph.D. The job situation for someone with semiconductor experience is radically different with someone that has CFD experience.
 
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Throughout my undergrad and phd, I was bombarded with the attitude the physics is a versatile degree, especially compared to alternatives. But it really isn't (see twofish's statements about how jobs for physicists are only located a few cities around the world).
I think that part of the problem is information time lag. You were likely getting information based on the economic situation of the late 1990's when unemployment was 4% which turns out not to be useful when the headline unemployment rate is 9% and the real unemployment rate is likely to be 15%.

When you have low unemployment, you can't find the ideal person. Yes, we'd like to hire a EE for this position, but they have been taken up by that dot-com across the street, so you'll have to do.

Also one thing that people really believed in 1998 is that "we had won." The cold war was over, free market capitalism wins, with things like the internet and technology, the boom in 1998 was going to be permanent, and now the only thing left was to "enlighten" the bits of the world that hadn't caught on. Read Fukuyama's the End of History or Dow 36000. The idea that unemployment in 2011 would be 9% was unthinkable.

This is also works forward. The economy in 2020 is going to be very, very different than the economy in 2011, so it's really hard (maybe impossible) to use information in 2011 to figure out what to do in 2020.
 
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I think twofish may have been referring to finance jobs for physicists. The reason those jobs are concentrated in a few cities is because finance jobs in general are concentrated in those cities (NY, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo...maybe Zurich, possibly Dubai)
Not true. Finance jobs in general are more distributed than physics finance jobs. The reason for that is that most jobs in finance are essentially sales, so if you have a customer in Palm Springs, Arizona, you need a sales person in Palm Springs, Arizona. The types of jobs that geeks are good at tend not to be customer focused, so those are concentrated in a few places.

Tokyo is in a world of it's own. Japan is a huge market, but Japan financially speaking is something of an island, and so they generally hire locally. Also, in Shanghai not speaking Chinese is going to be a major handicap, but not being able to speak Japanese in Tokyo is pretty close to fatal, career-wise.

Zurich and Dubai have lots of sales positions, but essentially no physics-type jobs.

Nothing to say to that. If the jobs are where you are, then you either have to go where the jobs are or change the kind of jobs you are going after.
One reason I have a lot of sympathy is that I did that, and it's *PAINFUL*. The reason I put off moving to NYC for as long as I did is that moving across the country is incredibly painful and stressful. Also, you are willing to jump off a cliff if you think that there might be some water at the bottom of the valley.

The other thing that worries me a lot is brain drain. Chinese Ph.D.'s are packing up and moving to Asia, where they are getting decent jobs and a lot of respect. This is bad because I worry that the US is getting into a bad cycle. No Ph.D's -> Ph.d.'s leave -> they end up helping the Chinese economy and not the US -> No Ph.D.'s. Ph.D.'s with options other than the US are leaving in droves, and this is going to be long term, very, very bad.

I have a friend, a damn good engineer with about 12 years' experience, who lost his job when his company went under. It took him almost a year to find another job. Everyone is suffering now because the economy is so lousy.
The one bright spot is that Ph.D.'s typically have little debt. One thing about what ParticleGrrl and DaveyRocket are doing (i.e. getting a random job and waiting until things get better) isn't viable for law-school and med-school graduates. If you leave law school and you don't get a job immediately, you are left with enough *non-dischargeable* debt so that you are doomed even if things get better later.
 
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I've interviewed for a couple of industry jobs that were actually fairly closely related to my PhD research (condensed matter theory). What I found was that I was mostly speaking with people with engineering backgrounds and they were less than impressed with the rather academic and non-practical nature of my research. I got the feeling that they really preferred engineers.
Yeah, I was mostly thinking of experiment, where I've known lots of people go on to lab-related jobs in semiconductor, pharmaceutical, etc. industries. I'm sure it's harder for theory.

twofish-quant said:
I don't think that's true. I found it trivially easy to get a job after I got my Ph.D., but I graduated in 1998 during the middle of the dot-com boom. I put out my resume and in two days, I had five people calling me. That was 1998.
This why I was careful to say that I know for a fact that those two places are presently hiring (it's a pretty close-knit sub-industry, and I deal with those people all the time). I also know that my current company is bringing in at least one new PhD this month, and is advertising for more.

On the other hand, the chemistry PhD with the crummy resume and generic cover letter that we rejected without comment a couple of weeks ago is probably complaining to his friends about how the companies that are posting jobs aren't actually hiring.
 
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Yeah, I was mostly thinking of experiment, where I've known lots of people go on to lab-related jobs in semiconductor, pharmaceutical, etc. industries. I'm sure it's harder for theory.
I've known people in theory get jobs.

This why I was careful to say that I know for a fact that those two places are presently hiring (it's a pretty close-knit sub-industry, and I deal with those people all the time). I also know that my current company is bringing in at least one new PhD this month, and is advertising for more.
In my case, we were hiring pretty briskly until the budget crisis and the uncertainty in Europe when things sort of fell apart. I don't see much hiring before the end of the year, although it's always a good idea to put in your resume in since you don't lose anything.

How things will go next year I have no clue.

On the other hand, the chemistry PhD with the crummy resume and generic cover letter that we rejected without comment a couple of weeks ago is probably complaining to his friends about how the companies that are posting jobs aren't actually hiring.
Head hunters are extremely useful for things like this. A HH looks good if they put in good candidates, and so most non-scummy HH's will help you with your resume. Also HH's are really useful for giving you back information. Most of the time someone else gets hired, and you can get useful information from a non-scummy HH about *why* someone else got hired.

The other thing is that the state of the economy makes a big difference. In 1998, companies were hiring anyone with a pulse, and so even bad applicants got jobs. It was really interesting to read resumes around 2003, because you had a lot of experienced and good programmers that were doing something really different before the boom (i.e. yoga instructor, physical therapist, real estate agent).

Most people aren't perfect, so if you are in a situation in which only the perfect resume gets a job then that's a bad situation to be in.
 
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Not to sound too harsh but if you are getting ready to spend 5-8 years of your life doing something (PhD), it is incumbent upon you to find out what lies at the end of it.
I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. I didn't go into this blind -- I really thought I wanted to be a professor of physics, and teach and do research. I talked to people, I had several people encouraging me to go to graduate school, and it seemed right. How was I to know I would develop a distaste for physics research? A lot of things changed about me that I never would have predicted (mushrooms and avocados are now two of my favorite foods) and things that other people have predicted for me ("you'll want kids someday!") still haven't come true, and the outlook on those is bleak.

So you just made the point that physics is versatile enough to get you jobs that engineers and geophysicists do.
The point of that was to tie into my experience applying for and interviewing for those kinds of jobs and how skeptical they seem to be of an academic physicist trying to get into industry.

Maybe you are looking in a too narrow area centered on your PhD research. If what you did was just research, and what the employers are looking for is practical experience in specific areas, you may not be a good fit. But if you expand your search, you may have a better chance.
This doesn't make sense... if I was looking in a narrow area centered on my PhD research, then I'd be a good fit for those types of jobs. Actually I interviewed for both of the jobs that were related to my research, and I didn't get them. I don't know why, but I'm guessing that probably since most of the people I talked to were engineers, they ended up hiring an engineer.

I appreciate that you're trying to solve my problem, but you're not saying anything I haven't heard a hundred times already. Trust me, my search has been broadened several times.
 

jk

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Not true. Finance jobs in general are more distributed than physics finance jobs. The reason for that is that most jobs in finance are essentially sales, so if you have a customer in Palm Springs, Arizona, you need a sales person in Palm Springs, Arizona. The types of jobs that geeks are good at tend not to be customer focused, so those are concentrated in a few places.
I was referring to trader type jobs and their associated quant/support positions. Of course, sales is everywhere.

An interesting trend that has been going on for a while now is that the big finance houses are trying to reduce cost and move a lot of their development and back office work either to India or to Southern states in the US where costs are cheaper. Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan have significant development centers in Houston, Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City etc. Charlotte also has a lot of banks. I knew a colleague who went to work for Wachovia in Charlotte building a trading platform.
 
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jk

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This doesn't make sense... if I was looking in a narrow area centered on my PhD research, then I'd be a good fit for those types of jobs. Actually I interviewed for both of the jobs that were related to my research, and I didn't get them. I don't know why, but I'm guessing that probably since most of the people I talked to were engineers, they ended up hiring an engineer.
You would be a good fit for those areas but so would an engineer who worked in those areas. You don't have any advantage over him/her. Your comparative advantage comes to play when the job requires a broad range of skills that an engineer would not typically have.
I appreciate that you're trying to solve my problem, but you're not saying anything I haven't heard a hundred times already. Trust me, my search has been broadened several times.
I am just trying to give you my perspective from the trenches. I wish I had someone do this for me when I left school. I kinda had to blunder my way around for a while until I figured things out.

One more point I would like to make is that in searching for jobs, mass mailing resumes is rarely effective. I recommend a book called "What Color is your parachute" that discusses this at great length. It made a huge difference for me.
 
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An interesting trend that has been going on for a while now is that the big finance houses are trying to reduce cost and move a lot of their development and back office work either to India or to Southern states in the US where costs are cheaper. Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan have significant development centers in Houston, Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City etc. Charlotte also has a lot of banks. I knew a colleague who went to work for Wachovia in Charlotte building a trading platform.
Yes, but the problem with those jobs is that you won't be doing hardcore mathematical modelling.

Also career prospects are limited, and if you aren't careful, you'll end up with the bad parts of finance (i.e. bad project management, long hours) without the good parts ($$$). The other thing to remember is that you are a cost. It's the banks duty to cut costs, but this conflicts with your interests.

A lot of it is a lifestyle issue. If you want to live in a nice, quiet town with a nice, quiet salary, it can work. But that's not what I want out of my life. Also, I do know of a few physics Ph.D.'s that have gotten financial programming jobs outside of NYC, but they've been uniformly unhappy about their job in no small part because the "interesting bits" get done in NYC.
 
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Faking interest is impossible, because if you can fake interest that means that you are interested.
I don't think so. I can do it.

It means I am interested in getting something, it doesn't mean I have a *direct* interest in whatever it is I'm faking. It's something that comes very handing when dealing with people. I'm not a very nice person but when I absolutely have to come across as somebody who is not a total jerk, I can.
 
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Just because there is demand and supply someone has to build a road to connect the two. This is why I'm interested in finding out more about biotech since it doesn't seem to me that the road is there.
Are specifically wondering about transitioning from computational astrophysics to the biotech industry? Or any field of physics?

Because there is obviously biophysics. Going from a non-biology related phd like astrophysics to biotech would probably require some type of biology experience. That's why I was wondering (not sure if it was this thread or the other one) if anyone has tried going from astrophysics or high energy physics to a postdoc in a biological science. I would think they'd scoop people with this training up for a computational biology or systems biology position, but I'm not sure. All I know is a bunch of higher-up bio-science people I've talked to routinely talk about how important physics-y people are for the future of biology, so I assumed it wouldn't be impossible to transition over.

Going straight from computational astrophysics phd to finance to a senior systems biologist at a major biotech firm probably isn't going to happen though.
 
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Wow, my thread blew up while I was away!

There is no magic in job searches. Networking is work and it is not guaranteed to produce results all the time. But it is the best method that I know of.
What was the feedback you got from the jobs you were rejected for? Did you get any? Also, can you post your resume (after removing the personal info) here so we can give you feedback?
Generally I get some lip service about how I had impressive qualifications and such, but "just don't fit any of their openings right now". Generally these people will point out that I do have qualifications that do fit with them, just not with anything at the moment.

Try this next time you run into those "college-age kids"...instead of deciding that they are too low level to do anything for you, try to chat them up about the company in general. Don't tell them that you would like to work for the company. Tell them that you are looking around and trying to find one that you like. You don't want to give the impression of desperation, even if you are desperate. It's a funny thing about people that if they think you want to join their group badly (whatever their group is), they will be standoffish. But if you act as if you have options and are just being choosy, they will consider you more seriously.
This is what I do. You get the general sales pitch, and then you get asked, "so what do you do?" and no matter how you try to sell "physics", they laugh and say "sorry, I don't know how to help you. Apply online." It never, ever, ever works. Ever.

Are you on LinkedIn?
Yes, but my network is poor, as I have said. Most of the time when I send emails to random people, I get ignored.

The system is not designed to screw anyone. I think you need to step back for a minute and view this whole job search in a more dispassionate light. No one is out to get you. But no one is going to bend over backwards for you either. What you have to do is view this as a puzzle without getting emotional about it.
Actually, that's *exactly* how it is designed. It's designed in a way that if you went into grad school, you're completely and totally screwed. This is because you are now too qualified for entry jobs, and have not enough specific experience for the higher levels.

As an example, I applied to many, many entry level jobs that merely required bachelor's degrees in various technical fields. I usually got rejected immediately and when I asked why, the few responses I got back were "PhDs aren't entry level". When you look at the higher levels, they typically demand you know something that either requires Yankee White security clearance or 5 years doing something very specific to that company or industry. You have no chance.

The system is absolutely designed to screw PhDs.

If you realize that HR is not going to help you, then the corollary is that you have to look elsewhere for help. If your professors are of no help, then you need to plug into a new network. Have you done any of the things I suggested earlier (like talk to people at industry conferences, go to chamber of commerce events, etc)?
Not to be rude, because I know you're trying to help, but I don't know how many times I can say I go to conferences all the time. It doesn't help. You always just hear "go to the website" or the contacts will offer to pass ur resume around if they like u, and you don't hear back. I'm not taking this personally, but it's just not helpful.

And ugh.. software. I went to graduate school to get away from that field. The fact that you're recommending that someone with a PhD needs to take more classes goes to show how worthless a PhD in physics is.
This attitude is devastating, especially as it's coming from someone who used to do interviews. It's absolutely maddening that something that is even recognized as "learn able in a month" is considered beyond our grasp.

I run into this with C++. I know Python very well, as I coded in it my entire grad school career. I've been dabbling a little with C++ as per two-fish's recommendation, but not quite enough to really put C++ on a resume. I absolutely have talked with people that say "heh, you haven't done OOP? we'll get back to you." It's just stupid to me that they absolutely recognize that i have the required skills they want, but just because I don' have one LITTLE thing (such as coding paradigms, OOP isn't difficult), they literally laugh.

So if the company is looking for someone with all the sills you mentioned above plus who knows some C++, if you don't know C++ you lost that opportunity. I am not saying learn everything under the sun but if that is a common skill set in the jobs you are looking for and if you don't have that skill, what is wrong with learning it?
But this is horse manure. It would take all of a month to catch up to speed, especially if you having coding experience with another language.

When I used to interview people for positions within my company, I always looked for that type of dynamism. A willingness to learn new things, to push yourself to do whatever it takes to get the job done, to be flexible in dealing with unexpected situations, a sense of optimism and confidence (not arrogance) that you can get the job done and are willing to work hard for it, to not be afraid to admit when you don't know something...these mean more than a list of specific skills.
Well, it's good to know some of you exist, but most of interviewers just seem to go down a checklist.
 
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JDGates said:
Look, when I finished my PhD my job decision came down to two offers. For both companies, the entire formal requirement was a PhD in a technical field.
When was this? Part of the problem I'm having is that I show up to an interview for something like this, and one of the other candidates has more relevant experience. I'll interview for an analytics job and one of the other candidates is a stats phd with years of experience in the analysis packages they use. I'm a physics phd who played with the packages for a short time leading up to the interview.

The problem I'm trying to get at is that there is no job for which the theoretical physicist has a comparative advantage over other technical phds. Yes, physicists can apply for jobs that require "any technical phd" but any technical phd can. There are jobs that WANT electrical engineering phds, there are jobs that WANT mechanical engineering phds, etc. Our only advantage as physicists is breadth, and I can't find a company that cares about it.

We also sell phds to people (or at least mine was sold to me) as a chance to work doing science. If a physics phd doesn't give you good odds of landing a science/engineering job where some of your subject specific knowledge comes in handy, its time to stop encouraging people to get physics phds. If someone had told me the companies that value physics phds are management consulting or finance, I would never have bothered. I would have gotten an intro level engineering job straight out of undergrad.

JDGates said:
And I know that both of those companies are hiring fresh PhDs right now.
Which companies? In a thread with job seekers, specifics are appreciated. If you don't want to post them, at least message me the names.

JDGates said:
Huh. In the AIP statistics I'm looking at, 79% of new PhDs in "potentially permanent" jobs say their position involves "basic physics principles", and 53% say it involves "advanced physics principles". 96% say that "a physics PhD is an appropriate background for this position".
The survey I was referring to was linked in whatever post I was responding to. If I misread the number, I apologize. Your numbers certainly make one feel better about a physics phd. They seem improbably high, from my own anecdotal experiences watching friend's graduate and struggle to find positions.

jk said:
Your comparative advantage comes to play when the job requires a broad range of skills that an engineer would not typically have.
So thats what I'm trying to find- what jobs require this broad range of skills? It is the advantage of physics that was sold to me for my entire career, but who actually wants someone with a broad range, instead of a narrow focus on a specific skill?
 
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Hi ParticleGrl,

When was this? Part of the problem I'm having is that I show up to an interview for something like this, and one of the other candidates has more relevant experience.
Have you encountered any jobs labelled "trainee"? As I wrote in a previous post in this thread a physics PhD colleague of mine was hired as a trainee in a pharmaceutical company, the requirement was "any degree in sciences or engineering"; he did not have experience in this sector.

Also in management consulting trainee positions or "internal academies" or whatever they call it are quite common.
 
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Also in management consulting trainee positions or "internal academies" or whatever they call it are quite common.
But aren't those jobs for people with bachelor's degrees? I've read people with bachelor's degrees doing similar roles. In a UK-based forum I was on, I heard of grads with science degrees going on to IB jobs.

http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~physics/?q=node/14

If these guys can do it, everybody else with a physics degree can.
 
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But aren't those jobs for people with bachelor's degrees? I've read people with bachelor's degrees doing similar roles. In a UK-based forum I was on, I heard of grads with science degrees going on to IB jobs.
You are right - bachelors can do it. My anecdotal experience re PhD trainees might be influenced by the fact that the bachelor's degree has been introduced recently in my country (Austria) and many companies are still not sure how to evaluate the skills of a bachelor versus the degrees they "know".

I would still be interested in ParticleGrl's experiences with such job openings.
 
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Have you encountered any jobs labelled "trainee"? As I wrote in a previous post in this thread a physics PhD colleague of mine was hired as a trainee in a pharmaceutical company, the requirement was "any degree in sciences or engineering"; he did not have experience in this sector.
At first that was all I was applying to, and I was rarely getting interviews. Several head hunters and my university's career services suggested I was wasting my time, because I'm "overqualified."
 
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When was this?
A time when the job market was certainly better than now, but well off its peak. These jobs still exist, as I said.

ParticleGrl said:
The problem I'm trying to get at is that there is no job for which the theoretical physicist has a comparative advantage over other technical phds.
I was referring simply to any science/math/engineering PhD. I recently went to a job candidate seminar where not only did the candidate have a theoretical physics background, but so did my three colleagues who were attending. I got seriously lost when the four of them really got going.

(That seminar, for anyone who cares, did not work in the candidate's favor. Not because of his topic, which was really quite interesting, but because the presentation itself was terrible. Practice, people, practice!)

ParticleGrl said:
Which companies? In a thread with job seekers, specifics are appreciated. If you don't want to post them, at least message me the names.
If you've seriously followed through on my posts in this thread, you've found them. Although I no longer work in that initial job, I prefer to maintain some shred of anonymity.

ParticleGrl said:
The survey I was referring to was linked in whatever post I was responding to. If I misread the number, I apologize. Your numbers certainly make one feel better about a physics phd. They seem improbably high, from my own anecdotal experiences watching friend's graduate and struggle to find positions.
First, my apologies for any harshness in my response to that. I stayed out of this thread once it strayed from "getting a job with a physics degree" to "the system is designed to screw us", but I got nudged over the edge when I started seeing blatantly untrue statements about the employability of physics PhDs (not necessarily from you specifically). Anyway, regarding the surveys, I do suspect there is some self-selection going on. The most obvious hint is that postdocs report lower utilization of their physics knowledge than those in industry...
 
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Are specifically wondering about transitioning from computational astrophysics to the biotech industry?
Astrophysics -> biotech

The reason that I'm interested is that I think that monocultures are a bad thing. Finance is one of the few industries (oil and gas/ defense are the other two) that I know that specifically hire astrophysicists, and I'd like to set things up so that some other industries have the infrastructure necessary to get people from Ph.D. to job.

The reason I think it's important to do this is that if finance blows up, I'd like for there to be alternatives. Also, I personally think that society would be better off if we produced 100,000/year physics Ph.d.'s rather than 1000/year, but that involves figuring out what to do with them.

Because there is obviously biophysics. Going from a non-biology related phd like astrophysics to biotech would probably require some type of biology experience.
Which is a problem because people will hire astrophysics Ph.d.'s in finance, oil/gas, and defense without any other training. Requiring more training is risky, because you get yourself deeper in debt. One other issue is that the longer you stay in school the *less* attractive you are to people in the industries I'm familiar with.

Also, finance firms will hire people doing their Ph.D.'s as summer interns. If there really is a demand for physicists in biotech and people are willing to put their money where their mouth is, then the important thing would be to start summer internships, because at the post-doc level it's too late.

All I know is a bunch of higher-up bio-science people I've talked to routinely talk about how important physics-y people are for the future of biology, so I assumed it wouldn't be impossible to transition over.
Is the demand enough so that they are willing to change policy/spend money to make that happen? If it's *really* important, then I can give some constructive suggestions for what they can do, and what the barriers are. For example, if you advertise a post-doc and require three letters of recommendation, you aren't going to get any physicist resumes.

The cheap thing to do is to go to AAS and advertise for summer internships. You will get some resumes, and then you'll have more senior astrophysics people know that there is a demand so that when someone asks them to write a letter of recommendation, they know what to do and say.
 

TheCool

American universities train roughly twice as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs for them. When something, or someone, is a glut on the market, the price drops. In the case of Ph.D. scientists, the reduction in price takes the form of many years spent in ``holding pattern'' postdoctoral jobs. Permanent jobs don't pay much less than they used to, but instead of obtaining a real job two years after the Ph.D. (as was typical 25 years ago) most young scientists spend five, ten, or more years as postdocs. They have no prospect of permanent employment and often must obtain a new postdoctoral position and move every two years. For many more details consult the Young Scientists' Network or read the account in the May, 2001 issue of the Washington Monthly.

A funny but possibly true quote:

"I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs. "

http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]


At the postdoctoral stage, fledgling scientists are well into their thirties, some in their early forties. With good luck, the next step will be a tenure-track academic appointment, which, after seven years, may or may not result in a secure job. No wonder fewer and fewer Americans opt for a career in science. Even so, jobs remain scarce.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38006-2004May18.html
 
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Generally I get some lip service about how I had impressive qualifications and such, but "just don't fit any of their openings right now". Generally these people will point out that I do have qualifications that do fit with them, just not with anything at the moment.
And part of the trick is to figure out if they are politely saying "go away" or if they really are telling the truth. For me it's about 50-50. It turns out that one person that told me that I didn't "fit" in their company was telling the god's honest truth. I kept in touch, and two years later, I was able to get them some very good sales leads in my new job.

Also, the advice I got from pretty much everyone in Texas is "go to NYC." A few literally told me that they wouldn't hire me because if they did, I'd probably end up in NYC in a year anyway. What happened in more than one case was that they were hiring to replace a physics Ph.D. that had left for Wall Street. So what ended up happening was "convince us that you won't leave us for Wall Street after a year." I didn't get the job, because I couldn't.

This is what I do. You get the general sales pitch, and then you get asked, "so what do you do?" and no matter how you try to sell "physics", they laugh and say "sorry, I don't know how to help you. Apply online." It never, ever, ever works. Ever.
If someone doesn't already realize your value, then 99% of the time it's a waste of your time to convince them. Fortunately, I've never had to sell my Ph.D. because the interviewer invariably had a Ph.D. in something. One reason oil/gas is very physics Ph.D. friendly is that most of the people there have Ph.D.'s in geophysics, petrophysics, geology, or petroleum engineering.

Actually, that's *exactly* how it is designed. It's designed in a way that if you went into grad school, you're completely and totally screwed. This is because you are now too qualified for entry jobs, and have not enough specific experience for the higher levels.
I think it's a matter of "non-design." One reason I've been making a lot of noise is that there is this idea that jobs "magically" appear. In fact there is nothing magic, and unless someone makes some positive effort to "non-screw" people then you'll end up with a system that screws you. If you are at the interview and you are trying to convince the interviewer that Ph.D.'s are cool, you can't do it. Now if their boss has given them a direct order saying "hire a physics Ph.d. or you are fired" then things are different.

I'm not taking this personally, but it's just not helpful.
It can be. Sometimes you are screwed, and it helps to know when you really are screwed. It's like the Kobayashi Maru.

I run into this with C++. I know Python very well, as I coded in it my entire grad school career. I've been dabbling a little with C++ as per two-fish's recommendation, but not quite enough to really put C++ on a resume.
You absolutely, positively should put "basic C++" on the resume. It gets you past the HR drones.

It's just stupid to me that they absolutely recognize that i have the required skills they want, but just because I don' have one LITTLE thing (such as coding paradigms, OOP isn't difficult), they literally laugh.
You need to realize that you are talking to a drone. The people that are doing real programming are too expensive to do the first resume screening. So what happens is that you hire someone that knows *NOTHING* about programming and give them a list of keywords. Someone is told to look for object-oriented programming, and if you don't have that keyword in the resume, it gets tossed.

The reason it works this way is that it screws you, but frankly the employer doesn't care if you get screwed. What happens is that the HR drones goes through the stack of 500 resumes, and returns with 50 with the magic keywords. The fact that you got filtered out because you didn't have the magic keyword is of absolutely no concern to anyone involved in the system.

So put in the keyword. If you can do "hello world" and know what a virtual function is, that's "basic C++".

t would take all of a month to catch up to speed, especially if you having coding experience with another language.
Sure. So spend the month before you apply, and then you can put C++ in the resume.

Well, it's good to know some of you exist, but most of interviewers just seem to go down a checklist.
That's because a lot of them are drones that are going down a checklist. They are given a list of questions to ask with the right answers, you memorize the right answers, and that get's you past level one.

The reason that it works this way is that if you post a job, you are going to get hundreds of resumes, so the first thing that has to happen is to quickly and efficiently get rid of those people that have zero chance of getting the job. The company is trying to reduce the number of candidates and if they get rid of qualified people, it doesn't matter.

The way I got through the process was to realize that it is a game, and to out-game the system. Once I thought of it as a game, it got interesting, since I have this weird fondness for mental games and puzzles.
 
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The problem I'm trying to get at is that there is no job for which the theoretical physicist has a comparative advantage over other technical phds.
Investment banking quantitative analyst.

Our only advantage as physicists is breadth, and I can't find a company that cares about it.
Goldman-Sachs, Morgan-Stanley, JP Morgan, Merrill-Lynch/BOA, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, Credit Suisse, UBS, and a hundred or so hedge funds (Rentec, DBShaw, HBK, Citadel).

Also in oil-gas you have Schlumberger, Halliburton, BP Amoco, Exxon-Mobil and about a hundred or so other companies. Here is a list http://www.spwla.org/technical/software [Broken]

As far as building H-bombs. That's tricky since the government wants to employ bomb builders directly, and they don't have explicit want-ads. I know some people that I think would know how to get those jobs, but it's weird since none of them will talk a lot about what they do. But I think your best bet would go look at the unclassified research that happens at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, and they'll introduce you to the people that do the secret stuff.

We also sell phds to people (or at least mine was sold to me) as a chance to work doing science.
Economics and finance are classified as social sciences. Also I should have enough money by age 55 so that I can spend the rest of my life doing astrophysics. That will give me maybe 25 years before to figure out stuff before I may find myself asking someone that knows directly.

If a physics phd doesn't give you good odds of landing a science/engineering job where some of your subject specific knowledge comes in handy, its time to stop encouraging people to get physics phds.
I think it's a matter of just being honest about the outcomes and let people make up their own minds. Personally, if someone had told me as an undergraduate or a high school student what I'm saying now, it would have made physics Ph.D.'s *more* attractive.

There's a funny but accurate Youtube video "so you want to be a theoretical astrophysicist." It's funny and accurate because it lists the holy trinity of jobs finance, oil-gas, defense (i.e. building H-bombs). I've done two of the three, it's largely because of Wen Ho-Lee that I decided to avoid the third.

The other thing is that things aren't written in stone.

If someone had told me the companies that value physics phds are management consulting or finance, I would never have bothered. I would have gotten an intro level engineering job straight out of undergrad.
And I would have acted differently. My plan is to make as much money as I can, and then retire to study supernova for the rest of my life.

Which companies? In a thread with job seekers, specifics are appreciated. If you don't want to post them, at least message me the names.
Listed the above. The major job sites are www.dice.com[/url], [url]www.efinancialcareers.com[/url], [url]www.phds.org[/url], [url]www.wilmott.org[/url], [url]www.nuclearphynance.com[/URL]. Sent an e-mail to Dommic Connor at Wilmott and he'll send you a guide to getting jobs in finance.

In most cases, you won't be talking directly to the company but rather to an HH. HH's are used car salesmen. All of them are after money. If they place you, they make $$$$$. Some of them are less scummy at making their paycheck then others, but you know that old cartoon in which someone take a look at you and then they see $$$$ in their eyes?

However for me even dealing with the scummy HH's was something of an ego boost. After getting the cold shoulder, it's perversely refreshing to meet someone that thinks enough of you to be willing to lie and cheat you.

[QUOTE]So that's what I'm trying to find- what jobs require this broad range of skills? It is the advantage of physics that was sold to me for my entire career, but who actually wants someone with a broad range, instead of a narrow focus on a specific skill?[/QUOTE]

*grin*

Although one thing that worries me a lot about this thread is that there seems to be a lot of generalities going on. I get worried when someone says that "some unnamed companies may be hiring Ph.D.'s" rather than saying "go to this website, talk to these people, here is where you might get hired." I think this is the first post in which someone has mentioned the name of a specific company that hires relatively large numbers of Ph.D.'s.

Also you can get around the anonymity issue. I can say that I'm employed by some financial firm, and list a number of firms that are similar to mine. If it is the case that only one company in an industry is hiring, then you have problems.

I think it is true that theoretical Ph.D.'s tend to get hired in a relatively few set of industries, and I don't think this is a good thing.
 
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