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Physics in the next 10 year?

  1. Mar 8, 2008 #1
    after troll through the forums for a hour or so, i noticed an overwhelming feeling concerning the job accessibility of a physicist, mainly in the USA. so i decided to make a post and try to gather everyones opinions about the direction physics is heading in the next 10 or so years. i think this'll be helpful for those considering a major in physics.

    mainly i think most people want to know, "after i graduate will there be a job market for me?" this is a big one for me. as much as i love physics, i have to think realistically. i cant spend 7+ years in college and pay it back on a walmart salary, while i wait for a job opening.

    I think most of us aren't really concerned about money in general, otherwise we wouldn't be studying physics. although I think we'd all like to know, after we poured all that time and money into it, there would be some type of job awaiting us.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 8, 2008 #2
    Being an engineer myself, I strongly do not recommend pursuing a career in science/engineering (whatever the specialty is).

    These days, almost everything related to science, technology, research, and development is being moved to China and India. This is becoming the norm, not the exception. And I'm not talking about day-to-day routine manufacturing and assembly operations; I am talking about innovative advanced R&D.

    All of us (in this forum) are physics lovers. It is indeed a very intellectually stimulating field. Nothing rivals those thrilling moments of "Ah-ha!" in physics. However, and I really hate to say this, science won't bring food on the table.

    For those considering a science/engineering major, I know that you are ambitious and genuinely interested in these fields. I know you probably don't care much about money. However, you would eventually realize the significance of these issues when you graduate. By then, it would be too late and expensive (time-, money-, and effort-wise) for you to make career adjustments. A bit of reality, however harsh it may be, would hopefully help you in making better career decisions.

    But by all means, if you like these topics, don't give up on them. Consider it as a hobby. Read some books on these topics every now and then. Studying as a hobby is way more interesting than studying as a career necessity, any hobbyist and (do-it-yourself)er would tell you that.

    I would also suggest being open minded on the various opportunities available. Your mathematical aptitude (as someone interested in science and engineering) would be very useful in a very wide range of careers, such as management, law, finance, accounting, etc. You would be amazed by how much you can contribute to those fields.
  4. Mar 8, 2008 #3


  5. Mar 8, 2008 #4
    when it comes to a Carrier in physics or engineering ive always thought the most amazing Carrier would be one in R&D on military applications. there will always be a market for that. it would require a thorough background check, but if your clean then you should be good!
  6. Mar 8, 2008 #5
    i agree, but seriously, calm down stop yelling :smile:
  7. Mar 8, 2008 #6
    Calm down pal :). My mistake; by this sentence I mean already graduated engineers/scientists.

    Totally agree. Military engineering would definitely remain. However, what percentage does it demand from the overall engineering workforce? I would say 10-15% at max.

    Another thing guys. My opinions are based on various published data and changes in the global engineering workforce. To clarify some of the points discussed here, and in some other threads as well, I will come back soon with a list of documents. In the mean time, I hope we will have a fruitful positive discussion.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2008
  8. Mar 8, 2008 #7
    In my opinion, the problem isn't just the physics jobs available. The problem is that the typical physics education doesn't prepare you for them. Physics BS programs typically fail to prepare the students for anything except graduate programs, and graduate programs almost all have only University work in mind.

    The difficulty different people with a physics degree have getting a job can vary wildly depending on their area of research, which school they attended, and what their goals are. I do believe that with a lot of dedication, very specific career goals and a bit of luck one can get a physics Masters or PhD and do very well. If you just wander into the field and graduate 12 years after you start with a thesis in non-commutative geometry then you will pay harshly.

    I'm looking forward to your further posts nebuqalia.
  9. Mar 8, 2008 #8
    that would be awesome, id love to see some statistics on this.

    I like your mentality =).
  10. Mar 8, 2008 #9


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    I have to disagree. I think the situation is the reverse of what you are describing. Jobs are being outsourced to foreign scientists and engineers mainly because there are not enough people going into science and engineering in the U.S.

    I know a good deal (10-20) of people in engineering who have all gotten good jobs with defense contractors, government jobs, etc. and who get paid very well. A couple had starting salaries near $70,000. Remember these 10-20 are just people who I know personally and have gone to school with. All went to a small engineering school and have succeeded in the field.

    While pure science fields may not pay as much as these engineering jobs, there are still jobs out there for all people in science and engineering. I don't think the situation is nearly as bad as you have described it.
  11. Mar 8, 2008 #10
    Hate to say it, but Nebuqalia is right. I've seen many highly trained engineers who've lost their jobs to offshore outsourcing. My dad, for example, was one of hundreds of IBM engineers who were laid off when their jobs were shipped overseas (which is ironic, since he emigrated from India to be an engineer here in the U.S.). Mind you, my dad and most of these other engineers are people with 25+ years experience. Like G01, I have many friends who graduated with engineering degrees and found employment very quickly. But one must wonder: what will be the status of their employment in 20 years? In five years? Yes, there's all the rhetoric about how we need to prove that we Americans can do science and engineering better than anyone else in the world. But to my knowledge, IBM is now performing yearly layoffs of its older workers. If the older and more experienced engineers are being laid off, it's pretty obvious that you can't count on a stable career in this field. But hey, maybe I don't have all the facts, and maybe I'm wrong about this. I hope so. But for the next three years after the layoff, my dad kept finding new jobs and being laid off (not because he isn't a good worker, but because entire departments were laid off), and he eventually went for a nursing degree. I've heard similar stories from other engineers.

    To answer Hemotep's question: as a first year grad student in astrophysics the issue of employment is quite important to me. I didn't go into physics for the money (there isn't any, never was), but I do need to make a living somehow. I've asked a lot of professors in my department about what happens to their recently graduated grad students. All of them have found employment very quickly. Many become postdocs and professors, but many more go into finance, technology, and other industry jobs. I guess the short answer is that you'll definitely get a job with a physics PhD, but not necessarily doing what you want. I would respectfully disagree with Nebuqalia's suggestion that you not pursue a career in science, because there are indeed many academic jobs to be had here in America. However, you can't simply quit with a BS degree. I don't know where you're at in your career (if you're a grad student then you know as much as or more than me, and should ignore me from this point on). But if you're still in college, then you should really start thinking about graduate school now. With a PhD you've got an excellent shot at employment, but physics BS degrees aren't all that employable.

    One more thing about your comment on paying off 7 years worth of school. You get paid to go to grad school in physics, so you won't have to pay off your graduate education.

    Well...can't comment on engineering, but in science I'm not sure that's true. In my current department I'm part of a first year class of 14 students. Half of them are foreigners. Heck, sometimes I'm the only American in the classroom (professor included). Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that having foreign students around is a bad thing. I'm friends with many of them; my dad was a foreign student when he came here for grad school. But one must question the wisdom of using an American school to educate as many foreigners as Americans. Alas, that's what's happening. Out of the ~150 applicants who applied to my department, 8 Americans and 6 internationals ended up coming. I'm assuming they admitted somewhere on the order of 15 Americans and 10 internationals. I find it hard to believe that American number 16 had a significantly worse academic record than international number 10. What I mean to say is that physics departments could do a far better job of showing preference to Americans over internationals (as they should, it being an American school) than they currently do.

    Again, I admit that don't know enough about the sociology of science to speak with too much authority here. But from what I observe, American systems do nothing to give Americans any edge in our own country. Maybe it's just that we suck at science. Either way, it's not as easy as one would think to get a science job.
  12. Mar 9, 2008 #11
    Totally agree. In my opinion, it boils down to two options: 1) pursue physics/science for 10+ years and become a professor. 2) let physics/science be a hobby, study for 4 years B.Sc. in a field with better prospects, and get a career with wider opportunities.

    Let's not forget another issue. The research budget is increasingly tight. In addition, NIH (National Institute of Health) lobbyists are securing more grants for medical research, which is typically steered away from physical sciences. I totally don't blame them; it's our health that is being invested in.

    My pleasure :)

    Unfortunately, G01, the work of many existing and experienced engineers and scientists is being indeed outsourced. Therefore, we can not say that there are not enough people in science/engineering. I'll quote the real life example provided by arunma ...
    Now, if IBM engineers with 25+ years of experience are being laid off, how can we expect a recent engineer to have job security? The fact that entire departments are being outsourced shows you that this is an industry trend; it's not just individual cases here or there.

    As arunma have put it,
    So the question is not about finding some temporary employment; neither it is about a temporary shortage of engineers in a certain field. The main point is the absence of job security in engineering.

    Once again, I emphasize the importance of the not-so-typical opportunities available. Your skills and aptitude would be very useful in a very wide range of careers, such as management, law, finance, accounting, etc. And, once again, arunma shows a good point here:

    I'm really interested in hearing more opinions and insights from you guys.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2008
  13. Mar 9, 2008 #12
    I just had a look on seek.com.au and there are a lot of advertisements for electrical engineers, well, any engineers really, with a minimum of 15 years experience paying $170,000 plus.

    Another advertisement for electronics engineers with the defense departments, $67,000 per annum starting salary plus super (effectively increase salary by 10%).

    Compared to say.. a biology or chemistry graduate, you'll get a 30k lab position if you're lucky. Ten years experience get a PHD you might get 65k on a 1-2 year contract. There is an example of an industry with an over supply problem. People aren't paid close to 200,000 per year in industries that are experiencing an over supply of candidates.

    Accounting or business grad outside of the big four will count him or herself lucky if they start on $35,000. This is in Australia btw.

    For a reference point our minimum wage is $13.42 per hour, and a job at kmart will earn you roughly $17 per hour as an adult, average wage is $55,000, a modest home in a major city will cost around 2-300,000 in a modest outer sub. area.

    Engineering looks to be pretty decent compared to the other sciences.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2008
  14. Mar 9, 2008 #13
    I'd imagine that in almost any professional field that after 25 years experience you have better be in management or they're going to get rid of you for someone less experience and cheaper.

    Plus 25 years brings you close to retirement age, technically, assuming you graduate at age 22, you'd be 47 years old so I can understand them cleaning house in that regard.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2008
  15. Mar 9, 2008 #14


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    As aruma said, I may be looking at things more from a research science point of view rather than an engineering point of view. In research fields, I still think that foreigners are holding more and more jobs mainly because there are just not enough Americans going into those fields. I have less experience with the state of jobs in engineering fields, since I am not planning on a career in engineering, so I'll leave that to those of you that do.

    Either way, if what you say is true, I think that encouraging Americans not to go into engineering will just make the problem worse. The problem doesn't seem to be a problem with engineering and science fields in particular, but with the state of our economy as a whole. All different types of jobs are being outsourced to overseas workers, not just engineering jobs. Fixing this issue is what we should be concentrating on, not discouraging our young engineers and scientists.
  16. Mar 9, 2008 #15
    Rufus, that's good news. I just hope Australia won't be on-board the outsourcing train anytime soon. The US is leading the world in terms of outsourcing. Many other European states are catching on too. So I guess it won't take that long before the phenomena becomes popular in Australia.

    That actually illustrates my point! Americans are not going into those fields, because the fields themselves do not provide stable jobs for Americans. On the other hand, there is a large number of foreign students because there are vast opportunities for them in their home countries.

    Is it merely a coincident that most foreign engineering and science students are Indians and Chinese? They come to our universities because there are many stable job opportunities for them in their home countries. Americans don't come because there are no stable job opportunities in the US.

    I would've certainly appreciated some realistic career advice in my college days. I'm just giving my opinion and advice as an engineer who already graduated and facing these issues. I am trying to suggest ways on how to land a better career. How to widen your opportunities. How to choose a career field that has better security. How you could be flexible and open minded enough to apply your skills to other industries.
  17. Mar 9, 2008 #16
    I have to agree that engineering or science looks like a good field to me and is one I've done well in. I think that some of the negativity towards it may grow from people who had been in old-economy jobs where you expected to work for one company for decades straight doing the same thing.

    These days, whatever field you're in but science or engineering especially, I think you have to expect to be learning and innovating and updating your skills constantly. And expect to switch jobs every few years - including dipping into another profession when you want to. I've known many engineers who have taken both temporary and permanent detours into entrepreneurship or marketing or even sales (and if you've got the skills the $ you can make in sales can be hard to pass up - especially in a sales field where only an experienced tech-savvy person can sell the product.) Neither of those are bad things, from my point of view - it will add variety to your life and actually make you much more valuable than someone fresh out of college as the entire workforce ages.

    P.S. One more thing, to Rufus - I don't know if you already did this but you would have to adjust the salary figures coming from an .au site for being in Australian dollars.
  18. Mar 9, 2008 #17
    Exchange rate are a little bit misleading, particularily considering the way US markets are at the moment.

    The accurate way would be a PPP conversion, but I don't know how to do that : (
  19. Mar 9, 2008 #18
    so people have brought up the idea of physics phds going into finance. so im curious how does that work? do u need to go back to school to take a bunch of finance courses and then look for a company? are there companies that directly hire physicists who have no experience in finance?
  20. Mar 10, 2008 #19
    I don't know of physicists specifically, but I met one mathematician who went into finance. He had a deep specialty in statistics and statistical modeling and spends most of his time constructing custom stock market metrics and I think working on software that tries to do short-term modeling predictions. I didn't get the impression he had taken a whole lot of finance coursework but I do think he decided on that career and began preparing for it while he was still in school.

    From the little experience I've had working with clients in finance I would think you couldn't expect them to be out looking to hire physics PhDs straight off the street. I would think you'd probably need to directly woo prospective employers and find out what they may need - maybe do some hard-core business-oriented math coursework like operations research or actuarial science, perhaps an academic project or paper targeted at the field on the business side you'd want to work in.
  21. Mar 10, 2008 #20


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    This news article may be of interest to some people and again, supports what I've been saying all along, that your "employability" depends very much on what you specialize in and what skills you acquire by the time you graduate.


    I know of similar desirability for someone graduating with a law degree, but having also either an undergraduate or graduate physics degree.

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