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Physics Outlook for Physics PhDs

  1. Jul 13, 2012 #1
    Hi I'm about to get my BSc in physics this December, and I'm in the process of applying to Grad school for my PhD.

    I want to know what area of physics have a good job market right now and are projected to grow 5 or so years from now. For example, I hear it's very hard to find a job in both High Energy Experiment and Atomic Experiment, two fields that I' interested in.

    I'm not sure how to find out the employment opportunities for each subdiscipline.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2012 #2
    Ask the people who are actively looking for employment, or are recently employed. Ask postdocs. Don't rely on professors because they are very far away from looking for jobs, and also they likely had a pure academic experience.

    The other thing is, be prepared for any projection to break down. 5 years later it'll be 10 years from the financial crisis, which means there may be some other crisis waiting to happen. Just imagine the mba students who optimistically enrolled in 2006 and got out in 2008 into a mess of job market. But trying to plan is good. "Plans are nothing, but planning is everything."
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2012
  4. Jul 15, 2012 #3
    I don't think that anyone has any clue what the world economy is going to be like in five years.

    Also predictions are inherently self-defeating because of "reflexvity." If people believe that there are going to be a ton of jobs in bottle washing, everyone will become bottle washers and there will be a glut of bottle washers. Conversely, if people think that X is a bad field, then no one will do it and you'll have a ton of jobs.

    At one point I wrote out some differential equations to try to understand "reflexvity", and I figured out that the Ph.D. market has some aspects that make predictions difficult to impossible, these include

    1) long time lag
    2) small number of jobs which isn't sensitive to demand
    3) a large amount of reserve capacity that is demand sensitive (i.e. if you wanted to increase the number of Ph.D.'s by 50%, it wouldn't be hard)

    If you put in those factors into an ODE, you end up with an unstable positive feedback loop.

    If I tell you that there are jobs in high energy experiment everyone is going into high energy experiment. If I tell you that there are jobs in atomic experiment, then everyone is going into atomic experiment. You could try doing the opposite of what people are doing, but then everyone else does that.

    Once you look at the equation, you'll figure out that it's hard to win so you have to change the rules. Two strategies that seem to work is:

    1) be flexible and expect to change fields. If you can change fields, then that changes condition 2

    2) Do things at random. If you think about what you going to do, then you will likely end up doing what everyone else decides to do which will be bad. If you just flip a coin, then you aren't going to be influenced by your environment which means that you may end up not getting mobbed. This works pretty well for the stock market. Picking stocks at random can give you much better returns than if you think about what's going on.

    If you want the employment situation now, look at the "rumor mills"

    If you want the employment situation in five years, then this involves understanding and thinking about the dynamics of the job market. One thing that's cool is that it involves a lot of "physics thinking." For example, reflexivity is something that you find in solid state physics or particle physics (i.e. charge screening and polarization). One of the first things that you do when analyzing a physics situation is to figure out the time scales.
  5. Jul 16, 2012 #4
    If you can name a product that directly uses the physics you are interested in researching, then there are probably good employment opportunities in that field somewhere in the world. Think about lasers, semiconductors, optoelectronics (LCD, sensors, etc) and things like that.

    If you cannot name a product, then you should think twice, because there might be very few industrial positions.
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