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On leave from academia and in preparation for the job market

  1. Apr 18, 2013 #1

    I am a student in physics who completed his masters (5 years degree) in physics (fundamental and theoretical physics) and didn't have any success in finding a PhD position since then. I am still waiting for an answer from my last opportunity in entering a PhD by next fall, but my history of failure forces me to be pessimistic. I'm considering now really seriously in giving up this hunt for a PhD, accept once and for all that my life in academia is over, and looking for a job outside of it.
    Still, the job market is really obscure to me and I'd like to ask you advice about how to attack it with my background.
    Synthetically, it looks like:
    - my degree was inclined towards fundamental and even theoretical physics (EM, QM, statistical physics, numerical physics, non linear physics, mathematical tools for physicists, general relativity, lots of QFT: QCD, Electro-weak theory, Susy, CFT)
    -4 research internships in experimental high energy physics and semi-conductor physics where I used a lot of C++, Qt (on my own I coded a full program of roughly 10,000 lines of code using both and directly useful to the experimenters), also Mathematica, MATLAB and COMSOL (model building and simulation). I'm also familiar with Python and PHP.

    I was (am) interested in physics as much by a genuine curiosity in learning how things work as for the challenge of solving problems, and it's this component that I'd like to find in my future job. Yet, I am not sure if I should look more into the fields of finance or software development (working for Google would be some kind of dream job, is it realistic?), or even industry. I would like to find this job in the UK but I'm flexible on that. Is it realistic to look directly for a job or should I aim first for an internship (paid or unpaid?)? I'd also take any advice on how to "sell my profile". I guess it is much more important to put emphasize on the tools I learned to use than on the topics of my research. Is it vital to create a profile on the websites for job seeking (linkedin, ...)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2013 #2
    Can you really not find a PhD place? Are you only looking for positions to do research in sexy areas of QFT or GR? There aren't many of them, and you need to be Stephen Hawking to get them.

    I just looked on http://www.jobs.ac.uk/, narrowed the seach to "Sub Category(s): Physics & Astronomy". There are 73 "more practical" PhD positions on offer, like:


    Why do you think you only have the one last opportunity in entering a PhD by next autumn? These 73 are on offer *now*, and I bet you would be sufficiently qualified for many of them...
  4. Apr 20, 2013 #3
    If the OP is not a UK citizen or a EU resident that has lived there for the past 3 years (which I'm deducing from the 5 years of length for the degree+msc instead of 4), he/she cannot get public funding for a phd.

    There are more students with good credentials than there are funded spots for phd's in general. Lots of people get locked out due to the high demand and later get in 1 or 2 years later down the line. There are countless examples of people in this situation over at physicsgreforums.

    How many universities (and almost as importantly, of what caliber) have you been applying to for phd's? Are you limiting yourself to just Europe or USA? I learned my lesson this year, applying to less than a dozen grad schools is not a safe bet even for top students from top universities in most fields.
  5. Apr 20, 2013 #4
    The other thing to watch out for is that this increased demand for grad school is going to make the rest of the career path even more uncertain. Getting into a top phd program is by far the easiest step in the "become an academic physicist" career route. After that, each step gets harder.
  6. Apr 20, 2013 #5
    The only difference is that past the bachelors/masters(for industry) or phd(for academia) level, you don't get judged by your grades or performance on a 3-hour exam anymore but things that are actually relevant to carrying out the job.

    An anecdote: Despite an interest I got from a supervisor, I got turned down by a phd position in Scandinavia solely because my degree doesn't have "MSc" in front of it, despite it being a 4-year bachelors, having done a MSc thesis at a top 5 UK uni, and being just as prepared than anyone in the UK that did the 3+1 year masters. Rigid bureaucratic reasons like this prevent me from getting into a phd almost anywhere in Europe for example (and there's no funding for MSc in my country anymore), and if the OP isn't getting into his choices in the UK it might not be through a fault of his own. Might want to keep an open mind about doing a phd elsewhere and/or in a field that isn't exactly particle theory, math programs with a physics inclination perhaps?
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  7. Apr 21, 2013 #6
    True. But, at least in the UK, from my experience & observation, "become an academic computer scientist" and "become a high-flying IT manager/programmer" became highly viable alternatives. Assuming the OP does a lot of programming in his PhD, then it can only help his career... in computing...

    On the "not a UK/EU citizen" problem... it might be worth contacting the people offering the PhD's to see if there are alternative sources of funding... or check out "Research Assistant" or "Computer Officer" jobs... they pay more... you might get a PhD by that route... and the UK is happy to take experts in short supply, from anywhere, to do much in demand work...
  8. Apr 21, 2013 #7
    That specific civil engineer program you posted offered a private 3rd party source of funding specifically for EU students. True, there are other options for foreigners in the UK, some of universities with big endowments take students in on their own dime (see Cambridge and I think Durham, unsure), but in general these funding sources are scarce and competition is fierce on an international level, moreso than even prestigious postdoc positions. The bar is set really high for foreigners wanting to do funded msc(unheard of)/phd's in the UK. He'd have a much, much better shot at many American universities with good GRE scores given his research track record and masters.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
  9. Apr 21, 2013 #8
    Well, first, thanks for the participations to this thread and the advices.
    I've been looking over these positions and applied for a few of them. Most gave me negative answers, the others are pending. My selection was not only on high energy theory and whole highly competitive and elitist fields, I looked at anything related to quantum mechanics and especially quantum computing.
    I haven't totally given up on doing a PhD, but I'm running out of motivation for waiting almost a year and contacting again a hundred people for hearing most of negative replies. I'd like to stabilize my situation before and I have the growing feeling that I need to look at the job market outside academia to get there.

    I am restricted to positions and fundings open to non UK citizenship. Good observation ;)
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
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