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Non-academic physics jobs

  1. Feb 22, 2007 #1
    I've heard the rumors that they exists: making financial models, certain engineering jobs etc. But I don't know where to find them, and I especially don't know where to find a non-academic physics job that fits my resume.

    Is there anyone out there with a physics degree (BS, MA, or PhD) who is out of academia and can give me some advice?

    I'm not sure that I'm done with academics, I just don't want to feel trapped on the academic path. I'd like to have an idea what my options are, so that I can keep them open.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2007 #2

    ZapperZ

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  4. Feb 22, 2007 #3

    D H

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    Count me in that pool. A short bio: I have a 1978 BS in Engineering Physics. I have taken numerous graduate classes in math, statistics, computer science, engineering but I still have "only a Bachelor's Degree". I have worked in the aerospace industry since 1978. So one obvious answer to your question is aerospace. You can apply the physics and math skills you learned in college directly in this industry. Most of my classmates who are not working physicists do not get the opportunity to apply their physics skills ever.


    http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/bachplus5/bachplus5.htm
    The Early Careers of Physics Bachelors

    by Rachel Ivie and Katie Stowe

    Highlights
    30% of these physics bachelors are still working in their first career-path job five to eight years after graduation.
    Your first choice will affect you for a long time. I suspect the number would have been much higher that 30% had the AIP had looked at the broad category of career fields as opposed to career-path job.
    About 70% of those employed in engineering, math, and science rate their physics preparation highly. However, they did not rate their preparation in terms of scientific research experience, lab skills, and scientific software as highly. ... most say that they spend a lot of time working with co-workers. However, they did not rate their undergraduate preparation in this area very highly.
    I agree. We receive very good training in problem-solving and abstract physical thinking. Engineers, on the other hand, tend to receive much better training regarding working in teams, presenting results, and working with software.
    60% of these physics bachelors say they would major in physics again.
    I value my degree quite highly. If I had to do it all over again, I would still major in physics.
     
  5. Feb 22, 2007 #4
    Government jobs have a lot of options for physics people. I prefer www.usajobs.com for most of my job searching. Type in 'physics' as the keyword and you'll be good to go :) If you aren't familiar with the government pay scales, typically I've found that bachelors start at GS-5, Masters at GS-9, and PhD at GS-11.

    Other possibilites are some of the national labs like Fermilab and Argonne, and university run labs like Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and MIT's Lincoln Lab.

    Good luck
     
  6. Feb 22, 2007 #5

    Dr Transport

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    There are plenty of jobs for a physicst at all levels in industry. It gets harder as you get a PhD, usually a Bachelors or a Masters is all they will hire in many cases.
     
  7. Feb 22, 2007 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Er... unfortunately, there aren't a lot of research level jobs for a B.Sc in physics at Argonne and Fermilab (and most Nat'l Labs). I'm not saying there aren't any, but they are very few in number. Even floor coordinator position at the Advanced Photon Source requires at least a Masters degree. At these places, the higher your education, the higher your chances of getting an employment.

    Zz.
     
  8. Feb 22, 2007 #7

    D H

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    A PhD in physics is a bit constraining. For example, we have hired people with PhDs, but only when their research was very applicable to our domain. While we just brought in a soon-to-be Masters in physics graduate for an interview, I don't think we would consider even a phone interview with a physics PhD candidate. Then again, a person fresh with a PhD in aerospace engineering would have a very hard time getting a job at Argonne.
     
  9. Feb 22, 2007 #8
    Yeah, I should've said that any positions there will be more ehhh, non-research oriented. Accelerator Operator for example.

    D H, any more openings? I am also a soon to be Masters graduate. PM if so! ;) o:)
     
  10. Feb 22, 2007 #9

    ZapperZ

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    I'm not even sure of that.

    Being an accelerator operator myself (although this is for a research accelerator), I can easily see the requirement that they would prefer someone with a Masters degree. Again, I'm not saying that you can't possibly get such a position. But if there was someone with a Masters degree applying for the same position, that extra degree works in that person's favor. The position of Floor Coordinator at the APS, for example, is also not a research position. Yet, they want someone with a Masters degree.

    Zz.
     
  11. Feb 22, 2007 #10

    Dr Transport

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    We have not hired a PhD in about 4 years that I know of, not to mean that we don't but people usually go to graduate school and get an advanced degree or two using our benefits. My department has more PhD's per capita but we are not the norm.
     
  12. Feb 23, 2007 #11

    D H

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    Check your PM inbox.
     
  13. Feb 23, 2007 #12
    you should study computer science at the same time. that way you would be a perfect candidate for programming physics into video games.
     
  14. Feb 24, 2007 #13
    Have you any idea how hotly competitive games programming is? Given that it's most nerds' wet dream, there are vast numbers of bedroom programmers queueing up for a shot in the industry and most of them will fail.

    That's not to say it's impossible though. A good understanding of physics will put you above most of the competition, certainly.
     
  15. Feb 24, 2007 #14

    vanesch

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    That's a strange attitude (although I've heard it more). In what way did the PhD person "undo" his masters ? I mean, if instead of doing a PhD, he had been mopping the floor in his uncle's garage, would that make his chances to get a job better ?
     
  16. Feb 24, 2007 #15

    D H

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    Those graduating with a PhD will presumably want a salary commensurate with their degree. On the other hand, if their research was completely peripheral to the employer's needs, their applicable skills will be no better (and possibly worse) than someone with merely a bachelor's degree.

    For example, suppose an employer has an opening for a fresh-out with control theory skills. Two candidates apply for the job, one with a PhD and one with a bachelor's. Both had two upper-level undergraduate courses in control theory. The PhD candidate took those courses several years ago and hasn't done a thing with that knowledge since. The bachelor's knowledge in this subject matter is very fresh. Which would you hire (even ignoring the significant difference in salary between the two)?
     
  17. Feb 24, 2007 #16

    ZapperZ

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    But this is different than what you originally implied, that having a Ph.D in general is, in fact, a drawback, without any consideration at all to other factors.

    To turn things around, what if you have the same 2 candidates, but the Ph.D has, in fact, continued in that line of work that is very relevant to the area that the employer is looking for. Would the employer STILL hire the freshly-graduated B.Sc holder simply because the other person has a Ph.D? Based on what you wrote earlier, you implied the latter.

    When I went for an interview at Applied Materials, I was competing with not only other physics majors, but also electrical engineers who only had undergraduate degree. Most of us had experience in thin film deposition (which was a requirement they were looking for), yet, I think it was my extra knowledge and publications as part of my doctoral work that gave me the advantage over many of the other candidates.

    It really has nothing to do with having a certain degree that might be a disadvantage. It is what is relevant to what the employer is seeking for. With all things being equal, I cannot see why having a higher degree would cause a candidate to be less desirable.

    Zz.
     
  18. Feb 24, 2007 #17

    D H

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    That is not what I meant. What I said was
    I stand by that: a PhD is a bit constraining. PhD graduates have a stong advantage over those with lesser degrees in their field of interest. Outside that field of interest, the employer is paying a PhD-level salary for bachelor's level knowledge.

    It depends on the company, of course. Some companies truly do prefer those with bachelor's degrees over advanced degrees. Other companies (e.g., the one I work for) strongly prefer advanced degrees.

    There are several factors that militate against hiring PhD candidates in some companies:
    • The PhD is presumably smarter than the Joe B.Sc. I know of some companies that have an upper GPA limit :surprised on freshouts. These firms would not think of hiring a PhD.
    • The PhD will presumably want a higher salary than will Joe B.Sc. If the company only looks at the immediate job the person will be performing, that extra salary is a definite minus.
    • Some managers measure their worth not by how productiveness and capabilities of the teams they have assembled but by the number of people they are managing. That salary differential becomes an even bigger minus in the eyes of these managers.
    • The PhD might well be smarter and a more capable manager than the person hiring them. The PhD poses a much greater threat to the manager than does Joe B.Sc.

    The above list does not represent my views. It certainly does represent the views of some. Note that similar factors militate against hiring someone with a lot of experience.
     
  19. Feb 24, 2007 #18

    ZapperZ

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    I will still disagree with that. The FACT that one has a Ph.D means a number of things:

    1. That person has the ability for a higher degree of learning

    2. That person has shown the skills to complete a very demanding level of competency

    3. That person can, in fact, LEARN something new, which is what is required when one does a Ph.D.

    Many of us who have Ph.Ds do not, in fact, work in the SAME area that we graduated from. Many job requirements that we are qualified for REQUIRE that one has the ability to learn things on one's own, and know how to proceed from there. By the time one graduates with a Ph.D, one is expected to be able to learn and think for oneself. This is why many of us actually go on to do other new things that may have a remote connection to our background, but in a totally different area, or even field of study. Why do you think Wall Street are clamoring to get Physics Ph.D's?

    So your assertion that a Ph.D degree is too "constraining" goes completely contradictory to what I know and what I have seen.



    • Then the issue here is NOT the level of that person's degree, but the amount of salary that that person is seeking. It has nothing to do with his/her degree, but rather the inability of that person to judge the going rate of what is the salary level of that type of position.

      Note that many of us who start off in the academic/research area of physics have starting salary that could be LOWER than the starting salary of some engineering jobs that are taken by recent engineering graduates at the B.Sc level. This means that many of us have no illusion about our "command" for higher salary simply due to our Ph.D degrees. So I would use this as "evidence" that what you are describing may simply be a perception to what MAY happen, but not what actually happened.

      In many cases where physicists have to compete for the same job as engineers, the issue is no longer who has a B.Sc and who has a Ph.D, but rather who is more qualified with the necessary skills, and who knows more about the nature of the job, including the going salary rate. I know this from first hand experience. Nowhere in here is having a Ph.D a drawback. That is a myth!

      Then *I* wouldn't want to work in such a company in the first place. I would say that the problem here isn't the degree recipient, but rather the manager and the company itself. I can only wish the best of luck to whoever gets hired there, B.Sc or not. A company that would not want to hire someone who might be better than the people who managed them deserves the fate that it will have.

      Zz.
     
  20. Feb 24, 2007 #19
    My question remains: how do I find a company looking for my particular experience? I have a fairly broad research background, but no experience in fields that are more typically industrial: solid-state and semi-conductor physics, nano-tech, materials, and EE.
     
  21. Feb 24, 2007 #20

    vanesch

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    I have to say I'm 100% with Zz here ; although unfortunately, I heard similar stories about having a PhD being a handicap for finding a job. As Zz points out, *at equal salary*, someone with a PhD has in principle higher potential of adaptation, more experience in several domains (like, autonomy in work, long-term planning, presentation and write-up skills, general problem solving skills, ...) which a fresh-out-of-the-school applicant may not have.
    But the salary goes with the job, and not with the degree.

    For instance, in our place, we have a PhD in condensed matter physics who took on the job of a draftsman. The story was more or less the following: she did a post-doc in our institute, and didn't get (it's really hard) a permanent position as a scientist afterwards. Her husband got seriously ill, and it would have been a problem for her to find other small contracts elsewhere. A job opening for a draftsman came out, and she applied for it (not even having the slightest training as a draftsman!). She got it, and she's one of the better designers we have in the house now. She quickly learned how to use Solid Works, and moreover she understood much better than other people in the drawing office, what were the requirements for instruments and the like. It's way easier for the scientists to talk to her than to a "real" draftsman who spouts his jargon but doesn't know much about the workings of what he's drawing.
     
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