Opportunities for an Aspiring Physicist

In summary, opportunities for an aspiring physicist are vast and diverse. From pursuing a career in research and academia to working in industries such as engineering, healthcare, and technology, there are numerous pathways for those interested in the field of physics. Additionally, with the growing demand for sustainable energy solutions and advancements in fields such as quantum computing, there are constantly emerging opportunities for physicists to make a significant impact in the world. Furthermore, many universities and organizations offer internships, scholarships, and other programs to support and encourage aspiring physicists in their education and career development. Overall, the field of physics offers a wide range of opportunities for those passionate about understanding the fundamental laws of the universe and applying that knowledge to solve real-world problems.
  • #1
Gazing at the Stars
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Hello, everybody!

I've been interested in physics for quite a while. I have a passion for learning and have discovered that I truly love this area of study. I am particularly interested in research, perhaps dealing with astrophysics or quantum mechanics. However, I have been warned by many people close to me that there are very few job opportunities for people who choose to study physics. To what extent is this true? Is it sensible to shoot for a career as a researcher in physics, or is this unrealistic?

Thank you so much!
 
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  • #2
Gazing at the Stars said:
Hello, everybody!

I've been interested in physics for quite a while. I have a passion for learning and have discovered that I truly love this area of study. I am particularly interested in research, perhaps dealing with astrophysics or quantum mechanics. However, I have been warned by many people close to me that there are very few job opportunities for people who choose to study physics. To what extent is this true? Is it sensible to shoot for a career as a researcher in physics, or is this unrealistic?

Thank you so much!
You are thinking to limit yourself to Physics, and that is the mistake. Do not limit yourself. You must include other related areas which work well for or with Physics. Consider major field of study in Engineering, or Computer Science, or some other natural science instead; or at least include some of those courses with your study of Physics. Also, Astronomy and Quantum Mechanics is not everything. There are other topics in Physics than just those.
 
  • #3
I think you must also separate the questions into two questions: Are there jobs for physics graduates? And are there physics jobs?

Most people who study physics get jobs, but not necessarily in academic research. Of course it never hurts to have additional skills as outlined in #2.
 
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  • #4
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  • #5
To OP: You should clarify your personal circumstances. We've had similar questions from posters ranging from inquisitive elementary school kids to older adults undergoing mid-life crises. The proper guidance will vary significantly with individual circumstances.
 
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  • #6
Thank you for all of the answers!

To clarify, I would not like to disclose my age, but I will be attending college soon.

I do know someone who loves physics, but studied chemistry instead for the job opportunities. I may do that as well, I suppose. I am interested in other things (I'm thinking about studying pure mathematics or maybe chemistry), but so far I've found that physics is my top interest (however, I know that I may have to study something else if I would like more job security).

Your answers have been very helpful :) thank you again!
 
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  • #7
Gazing at the Stars said:
Hello, everybody!

I've been interested in physics for quite a while. I have a passion for learning and have discovered that I truly love this area of study. I am particularly interested in research, perhaps dealing with astrophysics or quantum mechanics. However, I have been warned by many people close to me that there are very few job opportunities for people who choose to study physics. To what extent is this true? Is it sensible to shoot for a career as a researcher in physics, or is this unrealistic?

Thank you so much!
Goal of Physics is Understanding. Goal of some other subjects emphasizes doing a job, designing, making decisions, for trade or income. You could choose or include some study of Physics, but as a career for employment, you may want to choose some form of Engineering, or Computer Science, or Geology, Microbiology, or maybe Chemistry.
 
  • #8
Gazing at the Stars said:
I've been interested in physics for quite a while. I have a passion for learning and have discovered that I truly love this area of study. I am particularly interested in research, perhaps dealing with astrophysics or quantum mechanics. However, I have been warned by many people close to me that there are very few job opportunities for people who choose to study physics. To what extent is this true? Is it sensible to shoot for a career as a researcher in physics, or is this unrealistic?
What you've given is still a little vague, so some general advice:

The most important part of any decision is making sure you have all the necessary information to make an informed decision. So:

Do you know what the educational path looks like? Length? Cost? Your level of skill/odds of a good outcome?
Do you know what the industry and academia career tracks look like? Odds of success? Pay?

Too many people choose a major or even PhD path based on "I like physics" and little else, then on graduation day look up and have no idea where they are, where they are going or how(if) to get there.
 
  • #9
symbolipoint said:
Goal of Physics is Understanding. Goal of some other subjects emphasizes doing a job, designing, making decisions, for trade or income. You could choose or include some study of Physics, but as a career for employment, you may want to choose some form of Engineering, or Computer Science, or Geology, Microbiology, or maybe Chemistry.

While I agree that the OP should look to expand their skills beyond just Physics, I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that Engineering is some kind of substitute. Most Engineering degrees (at least as offered in universities in Canada) are limited-enrollment programs which teach very different sets of skills and knowledge and the Physics courses in Engineering programs are specially geared for Engineering students, with not much in the way of overlap with those intending to pursue Physics as part of future graduate studies.

As far as Microbiology or Chemistry is concerned, I'm not convinced that these degree programs are somehow more employable than straight Physics. I have never known anyone with a BS in Microbiology alone who was able to find a job in that specific field -- they either went on to pursue further graduate studies (typically a Masters or PhD) or used the Microbiology degree as preparation to enter medical school. Ditto for Chemistry, with the additional career path of preparation for pharmacy school.
 
  • #10
StatGuy2000 said:
As far as Microbiology or Chemistry is concerned, I'm not convinced that these degree programs are somehow more employable than straight Physics. I have never known anyone with a BS in Microbiology alone who was able to find a job in that specific field -- they either went on to pursue further graduate studies (typically a Masters or PhD) or used the Microbiology degree as preparation to enter medical school. Ditto for Chemistry, with the additional career path of preparation for pharmacy school.
People who earn undergraduate degrees in Microbiology find jobs in public health, in Hospitals, in food companies, in companies which product cleaning products & germicidal & janitorial products. They really do, and I have seen and met some of them. Still, these jobs are mostly NON-Physics and NON-Engineering.
 
  • #11
symbolipoint said:
People who earn undergraduate degrees in Microbiology find jobs in public health, in Hospitals, in food companies, in companies which product cleaning products & germicidal & janitorial products. They really do, and I have seen and met some of them. Still, these jobs are mostly NON-Physics and NON-Engineering.

Interesting, because that has not been my experience among those I know with Bachelor's degrees in Microbiology (I have known of people with said degree working in public health and in hospitals, but they also had additional graduate degrees in epidemiology or public health).

Perhaps this is a difference in the job market for Biology graduates between Canada and the US?
 
  • #12
StatGuy2000 said:
Interesting, because that has not been my experience among those I know with Bachelor's degrees in Microbiology (I have known of people with said degree working in public health and in hospitals, but they also had additional graduate degrees in epidemiology or public health).

Perhaps this is a difference in the job market for Biology graduates between Canada and the US?
The difference might be between "Canada and the US", or it just might be between your and my experience and possibly somewhat limited insights. A student will often be encouraged to try various elective upper division and graduate level courses for earning Bachelor Degree (certainly in U.S.).
 
  • #13
MACHILIYATSIA said:
I do know someone who loves physics, but studied chemistry instead for the job opportunities. I may do that as well, I suppose. I am interested in other things (I'm thinking about studying pure mathematics or maybe chemistry), but so far I've found that physics is my top interest (however, I know that I may have to study something else if I would like more job security).
MACHILIYATSIA said:
I'm thinking about studying pure mathematics or maybe chemistry), but so far I've found that physics is my top interest (however, I know that I may have to study something else if I would like more job security).
They seem repetitive. Very broadly, if you have read this topic, you would understand. You may be headed that way. Just make some practical decisions according to your interests, and adjust each term.
 
  • #14
Gazing at the Stars said:
Thank you for all of the answers!

To clarify, I would not like to disclose my age, but I will be attending college soon.

I do know someone who loves physics, but studied chemistry instead for the job opportunities. I may do that as well, I suppose. I am interested in other things (I'm thinking about studying pure mathematics or maybe chemistry), but so far I've found that physics is my top interest (however, I know that I may have to study something else if I would like more job security).

Your answers have been very helpful :) thank you again!
(a) Yes, there are job opportunities in physics. If you want to be a principal investigator in research, you will need a PhD (with the usual caveat about exceptions and outliers). That means (in the US) typically 4 yrs for a BS followed by ~6 yrs or so for a PhD (plus additional years as a postdoc if you wish to pursue a career in academia). The vast majority of physics PhDs will not end up in physics research, which is primarily conducted at universities or government labs; the heyday of physics research at great industrial labs such as Bell Labs and IBM Watson has sadly passed. Whether you will achieve a successful career in physics research, no one here knows. And you won’t know, unless you try. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

(b) Here’s the perspective I offer students that I’ve mentored. Unlike a degree such as a MBA, MD, or JD, a PhD in physics is not necessarily a means to an end: it can be an end in itself. Typically (in the US), you can earn your PhD debt-free: any university that really wants you will offer you a full tuition waiver plus financial support (e.g., fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships) sufficient to cover your living expenses (if you are single). You are free to pursue your research passion as a grad student (and as a postdoc if you wish). Once that phase of your life is over, you move on.

(c) If you land a research career in a university or government lab, that’s great. If you don’t, you will likely get a job in industry or some other field; see these recent related threads:
https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...ial-jobs-do-physics-phds-tend-to-land.967505/https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/article-from-physics-world-on-a-pathway-to-industry.966270/
Also, see this recent report from the American Physical Society (APS):
https://www.aps.org/programs/indust...il&utm_term=0_825303224b-d83e8bdca6-106552245[The full report is slow to download.]

Even if you major in physics, either as an undergrad or grad student, and intend to pursue a career in physics research, however, you should have a Plan B in case things don’t work out. Take electives in courses such as engineering, computer science, statistics, data analysis, business, and finance.

(d) The hi-tech job market is fickle. The job market can invert (hot to cold, or cold to hot) within a period of only a year or two. That’s why it’s precarious to pick a major based on what’s hot when you enter college: you don’t know what the market will be when you graduate. I’ll give you several real-life examples.

* The most egregious example is the InterNet Bubble of the latter half of the 1990’s, followed by the InterNet Bubble Burst of 2000 – 2001. At the end of 1999, there was such a shortage of R&D staff in optoelectronics that some US companies were actively recruiting overseas. BUT, by mid-2001, there were massive layoffs across the industry.

* In the aftermath of the oil crisis starting in 1973, there was a high demand for chemical engineers for the petroleum industry. A relative of mine entered college (one of the top engineering schools in the world) in the early 1980’s, and majored in ChemEng with the expectation that a job would be waiting for him. Surprise, surprise: 4 years later the economy had changed substantially, the demand for chemical engineers had cooled, the supply of chemical engineers had grown ... and he couldn’t find a job. He headed off to med school and ultimately had a successful career as a medical doctor.

* I’ve read a couple of posts that a major in chemistry is a safer bet than physics. I both smile and wince. In 2013, I was mentoring a student who was completing her PhD in materials science and engineering (MS&E). I was helping her with her job hunt; she was interested in a career biased towards straight chemistry. The demand for PhD chemists turned out to be low at the time; entry salaries had actually been dropping for several years. She ultimately did land a job with a chemical company, but her salary was substantially lower than MS&E classmates who landed jobs with, e.g., semiconductor or aerospace companies [and this was not due to her PhD being in MS&E rather than chemistry; she got the going rate for PhD chemists].

Here are three snapshots of times when the demand for chemists were not so rosy:

http://cenblog.org/just-another-ele...t-of-chemists-with-bachelors-degrees-as-well/https://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i4/New-Bachelor-Level-Chemists-Face.htmlhttps://www.chemistryworld.com/news...ed-by-american-chemical-society-/9565.article
 
  • #15
CrysPhys said:
(a) Yes, there are job opportunities in physics. If you want to be a principal investigator in research, you will need a PhD (with the usual caveat about exceptions and outliers). That means (in the US) typically 4 yrs for a BS followed by ~6 yrs or so for a PhD (plus additional years as a postdoc if you wish to pursue a career in academia). The vast majority of physics PhDs will not end up in physics research, which is primarily conducted at universities or government labs; the heyday of physics research at great industrial labs such as Bell Labs and IBM Watson has sadly passed. Whether you will achieve a successful career in physics research, no one here knows. And you won’t know, unless you try. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

(b) Here’s the perspective I offer students that I’ve mentored. Unlike a degree such as a MBA, MD, or JD, a PhD in physics is not necessarily a means to an end: it can be an end in itself. Typically (in the US), you can earn your PhD debt-free: any university that really wants you will offer you a full tuition waiver plus financial support (e.g., fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships) sufficient to cover your living expenses (if you are single). You are free to pursue your research passion as a grad student (and as a postdoc if you wish). Once that phase of your life is over, you move on.

(c) If you land a research career in a university or government lab, that’s great. If you don’t, you will likely get a job in industry or some other field; see these recent related threads:
https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...ial-jobs-do-physics-phds-tend-to-land.967505/https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/article-from-physics-world-on-a-pathway-to-industry.966270/
Also, see this recent report from the American Physical Society (APS):
https://www.aps.org/programs/indust...il&utm_term=0_825303224b-d83e8bdca6-106552245[The full report is slow to download.]

Even if you major in physics, either as an undergrad or grad student, and intend to pursue a career in physics research, however, you should have a Plan B in case things don’t work out. Take electives in courses such as engineering, computer science, statistics, data analysis, business, and finance.

(d) The hi-tech job market is fickle. The job market can invert (hot to cold, or cold to hot) within a period of only a year or two. That’s why it’s precarious to pick a major based on what’s hot when you enter college: you don’t know what the market will be when you graduate. I’ll give you several real-life examples.

* The most egregious example is the InterNet Bubble of the latter half of the 1990’s, followed by the InterNet Bubble Burst of 2000 – 2001. At the end of 1999, there was such a shortage of R&D staff in optoelectronics that some US companies were actively recruiting overseas. BUT, by mid-2001, there were massive layoffs across the industry.

* In the aftermath of the oil crisis starting in 1973, there was a high demand for chemical engineers for the petroleum industry. A relative of mine entered college (one of the top engineering schools in the world) in the early 1980’s, and majored in ChemEng with the expectation that a job would be waiting for him. Surprise, surprise: 4 years later the economy had changed substantially, the demand for chemical engineers had cooled, the supply of chemical engineers had grown ... and he couldn’t find a job. He headed off to med school and ultimately had a successful career as a medical doctor.

* I’ve read a couple of posts that a major in chemistry is a safer bet than physics. I both smile and wince. In 2013, I was mentoring a student who was completing her PhD in materials science and engineering (MS&E). I was helping her with her job hunt; she was interested in a career biased towards straight chemistry. The demand for PhD chemists turned out to be low at the time; entry salaries had actually been dropping for several years. She ultimately did land a job with a chemical company, but her salary was substantially lower than MS&E classmates who landed jobs with, e.g., semiconductor or aerospace companies [and this was not due to her PhD being in MS&E rather than chemistry; she got the going rate for PhD chemists].

Here are three snapshots of times when the demand for chemists were not so rosy:

http://cenblog.org/just-another-ele...t-of-chemists-with-bachelors-degrees-as-well/https://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i4/New-Bachelor-Level-Chemists-Face.htmlhttps://www.chemistryworld.com/news...ed-by-american-chemical-society-/9565.article

@CrysPhys , you've given some examples above about students choosing a supposedly "hot" area while in university, only for the demand to dry up by the time they graduate. Can you give examples you know of personally of the opposite -- students who chose, for whatever reason, to pursue studies in a "cold" area (i.e. in low demand at the time said students entered school) who found upon graduation was suddenly in very high demand?
 
  • #16
I resisted in entering this discussion because we have had this many times already. But once again, there is an issue here that should be brought up again.

Simply saying that you majored or had a degree in physics, especially at the PhD level (which I think is relevant here) is utterly vague and doesn't say much. It is as if Physics PhD is just ONE universal and uniform ability and skill. IT ISN'T!. So let's get that idea out of one's head immediately.

I have witnessed with my own eyes where a student hadn't even defended his dissertation yet and he already had a job offer, while another could not find even a postdoc after a year of searching. Both had PhD's in physics and both graduated at almost the same time from the same institution. So what do you think is the difference? And let's be very clear about this, the difference is NOT MINUSCULE here. It is significant enough that one person got a job very easily, while the other could not even get a foot into the door!

Not all Physics PhD's are created equally! The graduate that had the job offer did experimental work in detector physics, and he had the skills in growing thin films using PLD and ALD. The one that couldn't find a postdoc did theoretical elementary particle physics, with very little computational expertise.

Moral of the story: what you specialize in, and what SKILLS you acquire by the time you graduate, matter significantly in your "employability". Just saying that you wish to study physics, etc.. etc.. doesn't say much in your ability and chances to land a job in this field.

Zz.
 
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  • #17
Studying chemistry for the job opportunities? I've never heard that before. Please do not study chemistry for the job opportunities. If you love physics so much but are afraid of becoming an unemployed loser, you should study physics engineering, or something like that. Chemistry does not have great job prospects, either. In my opinion, it is worse than a physics degree, because it does not have as broad of an application as physics does. Not limiting yourself to pen and paper physics was good advice. Or, you could double major in chemistry and physics, just to make your life less enjoyable.
 
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  • #18
This is a big misjudgement:
(* EDIT: Actually some of the quoted is not a misjudgement.)

Zap said:
Studying chemistry for the job opportunities? I've never heard that before. Please do not study chemistry for the job opportunities. If you love physics so much but are afraid of becoming an unemployed loser, you should study physics engineering, or something like that. Chemistry does not have great job prospects, either. In my opinion, it is worse than a physics degree, because it does not have as broad of an application as physics does. Not limiting yourself to pen and paper physics was good advice. Employers like people who are good at math but also have hands on experience.

Chemistry to study can be a pathway to job opportunities. You need or really SHOULD get a degree in SOMETHING, related to Chemistry or including a minor in Chemistry. "Related" can mean, Chemical Engineering, or Microbiology; or possibly other areas. Also as already stated, opportunities can depend on what skills you get in your particular education. One should study some or much Chemistry only if one finds it to be interesting - otherwise make other educational decisions.

*What you say about good math and some hands on experience IS correct.
 
  • #19
symbolipoint said:
This is a big misjudgement:
(* EDIT: Actually some of the quoted is not a misjudgement.)
Chemistry to study can be a pathway to job opportunities. You need or really SHOULD get a degree in SOMETHING, related to Chemistry or including a minor in Chemistry. "Related" can mean, Chemical Engineering, or Microbiology; or possibly other areas. Also as already stated, opportunities can depend on what skills you get in your particular education. One should study some or much Chemistry only if one finds it to be interesting - otherwise make other educational decisions.

*What you say about good math and some hands on experience IS correct.

I disagree with the statement that one should study chemistry for the job opportunities. In my experience, there aren't anymore job opportunities in chemistry than there are in physics. I actually switched my major from chemistry to physics senior year, because I thought there were more job opportunities with a physics degree, and I still think there are. Obviously, I made the poor choice of not studying engineering twice, but O well.

A degree in chemistry is totally different from a degree in chemical engineering. I think you are the one making a misjudgment. You will have to study general chemistry if you want a physics or engineering degree, anyway. There's no point in minoring in it.
 
  • #20
Zap said:
I disagree with the statement that one should study chemistry for the job opportunities. In my experience, there aren't anymore job opportunities in chemistry than there are in physics.
That depends on your interest and in which job opportunities. What Experience?
 
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  • #21
In my experience, with a physics degree, you can potentially be a chemical technician, data analyst, engineer ( if your lucky ), etc. With a chemistry degree, your kind of stuck with chemical technician or quality control. You might be able to become a materials engineer, but of course they prefer to hire chemical engineers for that, but you could potentially do the same with a physics degree. My experience is from two years of job searching.

Some things you’d have a harder time getting into with a chem degree than a physics degree is any other type of engineering, data science, data analyst, financial analyst, business analyst and programming, since chem majors typically lack high level math skills. Not saying that a degree in physics will get you into any of those jobs, but it is at least a greater possibility than a chem major. Generally, employers have shown a greater interest in my physics background than my chemistry background, despite the fact that I am still looking for a job.

There were times when I thought I was actually going to be hired as an associate engineer/scientist, and I could have said it was all thanks to my physics degree. The DOD companies seem to like physics, at least when you talk to the employees personally. I don’t know what happenes to internet applications, but I honestly don’t think online jobs are real half the time.

You should minor in computer science no matter what your major is.
 
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  • #22
Zap said:
In my experience, with a physics degree, you can potentially be a chemical technician, data analyst, engineer ( if your lucky ), etc. With a chemistry degree, your kind of stuck with chemical technician or quality control. You might be able to become a materials engineer, but of course they prefer to hire chemical engineers for that, but you could potentially do the same with a physics degree. My experience is from two years of job searching. Some things you’d have a harder time getting into with a chem degree than a physics degree is any other type of engineering, data science, data analyst, financial analyst, business analyst and programming, since chem majors typically lack high level math skills. Not saying that a degree in physics will get you into any of those jobs, but it is at least a greater possibility than a chem major. Generally, employers have shown a greater interest in my physics background than my chemistry background, despite the fact that I am still looking for a job.

You should minor in computer science no matter what your major is.
At least now we have some idea of your perspective.

People with Chemistry degrees (even those with just bachelors degree) can, and very often do, get jobs as chemists. Some of them find work as chemical or laboratory technicians. Some such graduates will find jobs doing chemical synthesis; or work for environmental testing/analysis companies/services; they may find work in applied "research" or chemical development. Often, too, many of the decision-making bosses are engineers, or sometimes, other chemists.
 
  • #23
symbolipoint said:
At least now we have some idea of your perspective.

People with Chemistry degrees (even those with just bachelors degree) can, and very often do, get jobs as chemists. Some of them find work as chemical or laboratory technicians. Some such graduates will find jobs doing chemical synthesis; or work for environmental testing/analysis companies/services; they may find work in applied "research" or chemical development. Often, too, many of the decision-making bosses are engineers, or sometimes, other chemists.
From my search, those jobs tend to be low paying. An entry level physicist can make the same as an engineer, but at the time I was studying physics, I had not realized that those positions are very selective and that the probability of getting one was low.
 
  • #24
Zap said:
I had not realized that those positions are very selective and that the probability of getting one was low.
Because the companies really want engineers but not necessarily physicists.
 
  • #25
There are more jobs in chemistry than physics, but a physics degree has broader application than a chemistry degree and the jobs available in chemistry with a BS are not known to be highly fruitful.
 
  • #26
Zap said:
There are more jobs in chemistry than physics, but a physics degree has broader application than a chemistry degree and the jobs available in chemistry with a BS are not known to be highly fruitful.
Physics majors often get hired for non-physics jobs, and often enjoy low unemployment and high salaries. Chemistry majors don't fare quite as well, but don't do badly either. Chemistry majors were impacted pretty strongly by the crash, and their jobs have been slow to recover, so new grads probably still have elevated unemployment, but the overall unemployment rate is around 3% (source). These values are far lower than is typical for Bachelor's recipients, so Chemistry definitely is not bad at all with regard to job prospects (source).

There are lots of jobs for chemistry majors across a wide variety of private industries. This is honestly probably part of why they were hit pretty hard when the crash hit: investment dropped way down, and new graduates faced the brunt of the pain. I think physics gets a bit more of a boost from many physics majors getting hired into non-R&D positions which recovered more quickly (e.g. finance, software engineering), and many physics majors being government-subsidized rather than subsidized by industry.
 
  • #27
I agree with that assessment, except that a lot of entry level chem jobs I’ve come across were in the 12 to 15 dollars an hour range, which is cool if there is a good amount of promotion potential but pretty bad otherwise.
 
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  • #28
Zap said:
I agree with that assessment, except that a lot of entry level chem jobs I’ve come across were in the 12 to 15 dollars an hour range, which is cool if there is a good amount of promotion potential but pretty bad otherwise.
Doing what? Working at a fast food restaurant?
 
  • #29
berkeman said:
Doing what? Working at a fast food restaurant?

Chemical technician. It's typically about 30k a year. I had an offer for 12 an hour. I declined, because I was thinking, what's the point? Minimum wage is 10 dollars where I am, and how would I be able to relocate? I also interviewed for a job as a fuel chemist for 15 dollars an hour, but I guess I was not good enough, because they chose someone else. This is exactly why I do not support studying chemistry for the career opportunities. Obviously, if you like math and science, engineering is the only sensible thing to do.
 
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  • #30
Zap said:
I agree with that assessment, except that a lot of entry level chem jobs I’ve come across were in the 12 to 15 dollars an hour range, which is cool if there is a good amount of promotion potential but pretty bad otherwise.
That's fair. A lot of BS grads after the crash in particular got forced into jobs that they were vastly overqualified for. I did a quick search for lab tech jobs near where I live, and most only require a high school education.

Regardless, physics majors do enjoy higher salaries and lower rates of unemployment than most any other major. And this fact has remained true for quite a long time.
 
  • #31
kimbyd said:
That's fair. A lot of BS grads after the crash in particular got forced into jobs that they were vastly overqualified for. I did a quick search for lab tech jobs near where I live, and most only require a high school education.

Regardless, physics majors do enjoy higher salaries and lower rates of unemployment than most any other major. And this fact has remained true for quite a long time.

Yes. I think physics is a better degree than chemistry, despite there being less jobs in physics. That was my whole argument.
 
  • #32
Zap said:
Yes. I think physics is a better degree than chemistry, despite there being less jobs in physics. That was my whole argument.
"Better" in the sense of higher pay and less unemployment for sure. But I think you overstated your case substantially. Chemistry isn't terrible. Physics is just exceptional when it comes to income potential.
 
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  • #33
StatGuy2000 said:
@CrysPhys , you've given some examples above about students choosing a supposedly "hot" area while in university, only for the demand to dry up by the time they graduate. Can you give examples you know of personally of the opposite -- students who chose, for whatever reason, to pursue studies in a "cold" area (i.e. in low demand at the time said students entered school) who found upon graduation was suddenly in very high demand?
The following is a considerably simplified account of one example.

~1989~1990 was a pivotal period in the computer and telecommunications sectors. Before then, major companies in those sectors thought it was necessary to have their own in-house R&D and manufacturing capabilities, including wafer fabrication, for microelectronic devices. Consequently, there were good opportunities for physicists, chemists, materials scientists and engineers, and electrical engineers in microelectronics.

Telcom companies had invested a lot of capital building out fiber-optic networks. Many thought the current generation of devices would provide ample bandwidth to meet customer demand, and further investment in microelectronics was not justified. Computer companies were becoming increasingly alarmed at the projected costs of developing the next generation of wafer fabrication: it would be more profitable to design chips and outsource fabrication to foundries.

Many major corporations came to the realization that the biggest profits were in systems, software, and services; they slashed the budgets (and workforce) for microelectronics. At the same time, government agencies also started shifting funds away from microelectronic devices and materials to software. So if you were entering college ~1990 or so, microelectronics was not looking so great as a sure bet for a job. But by ~1995 or so, InterNet and mobile telecommunications traffic was climbing; network and data processing capacities were stressed; and new generations of devices, including new generations of wafer fabrication and materials, were in great demand (including integrated circuits based on silicon and compound semiconductors, and optoelectronics devices based on compound semiconductors and more exotic materials). Students who had followed their passions for microelectronics years earlier were in great demand upon completion of school. [ETA: At least until ~2000~2001, when many were laid off. As I've discussed in several threads, getting a job upon completion of school is just the first step; maintaining a career over many decades is an entirely different story.]

[There are similar examples for antenna engineers and RF engineers. The future looked grim several years before the market for mobile telecommunications exploded.]
 
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  • #34
I think this highlights a significant issue with choosing one discipline over another:

Some disciplines are very specialized. If you have a lot of need for them, salaries can get quite high. If you don't, the opposite can occur. Thus specialized disciplines are always risky.

This is, I think, one of the big reasons why people with physics majors do so well. The fundamental work involved in studying for and doing physics is problem-solving. People who study physics become generalists who can very rapidly pick up and perform tasks in very different areas. We benefit greatly in our job prospects from being regarded as generalists, as well as the general aura of, "Oh, you studied physics! You must be so smart!"

I mean, look at me. I got my Ph.D. in physics a little over a decade ago. I was a post-doc for a few years, and then got hired by one of the major software companies. Now that I've been at the company a few years and have interviewed over a hundred candidates, I know why I succeeded: the interviews focused heavily on problem-solving, and I was superb at it. Most candidates, well, aren't.
 

Related to Opportunities for an Aspiring Physicist

1. What are the career options for an aspiring physicist?

As an aspiring physicist, you have a wide range of career options to choose from. Some common career paths include working in research and development, academia, industry, and government. You can also specialize in specific areas such as astrophysics, nuclear physics, or quantum physics.

2. What skills are necessary for a career in physics?

To be successful in a career in physics, you will need strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as a solid foundation in mathematics and computer science. Additionally, good communication and teamwork skills are important for collaborating with other scientists and presenting research findings.

3. What education is required to become a physicist?

Typically, a minimum of a bachelor's degree in physics is required to become a physicist. However, many positions may also require a master's or doctoral degree. It is important to have a strong academic background in physics, mathematics, and other related sciences.

4. What are some opportunities for research as a physicist?

As a physicist, you can conduct research in a variety of settings, such as universities, national laboratories, and private companies. Some research topics may include developing new technologies, studying the properties of matter, or exploring the fundamental laws of the universe.

5. How can I gain practical experience as an aspiring physicist?

To gain practical experience, you can participate in internships or research programs during your undergraduate or graduate studies. You can also seek out opportunities to work in a laboratory or assist a professor with their research. Additionally, attending conferences and presenting your own research can also provide valuable experience.

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