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Physics Job Opportunities

  1. May 12, 2013 #1
    I would like to know what physics related jobs are there in industry that a physics graduate has a good chance of getting? Also what kind of things can you do to maximise your chances of working in something physics related after your degree as opposed to doing something in programming or finance?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2013 #2
    Definitely nothing physics related. Without a masters degree in the field you want to work in, demonstrated ability to operate TEM or similar device, or without good usable contacts that will get you hired, you don't stand a very good chance of getting hired for any kind of technical job. Look for optics companies, small startup tech companies, and if you're a US citizen: defense contractors + national labs + military.

    Programming: depends on what your skill level is. If all you've taken is a numerical methods/computational physics course or two, you probably aren't going to impress anyone in an interview and will have a hard time competing with CS or most engineering graduates. If you've taken more computer science oriented programming courses, you might stand a better chance. All of this is irrelevant if you know someone that can get you hired.

    I am speaking as someone that has been looking for industry jobs in the US for the past 2.5 months. The situation as of today is not pretty.
  4. May 12, 2013 #3
    Do you have your Ph.D.? If so, I can't imagine that you can't find *anything*, not even post docs.
  5. May 12, 2013 #4
    No, unfortunately I didn't get into a phd program.

    My situation is very common among recent physics graduates who weren't fortunate enough to get hired via a contact. There are many threads on this forum and others like physics stackexchange and indeed with people in the same boat.
  6. May 12, 2013 #5
    Ah, I see. Keep trying though! You'll get something eventually! Best of luck to you :)
  7. May 12, 2013 #6
    Ok so say one gets a masters degree, are industry jobs mainly just optics and electronics? Are there many jobs like this or would you need a fair bit of luck to get one.
    Last edited: May 12, 2013
  8. May 12, 2013 #7
    Yes, if your masters is in either of those fields. There are other STEM fields that are friendly for physics graduates, like CS, several engineering disciplines, medical physics, to name some.
  9. May 12, 2013 #8
    A PhD doesn't necessarily improve the situation. You can postdoc for a few years but eventually you have to face the job market, and the PhD + postdocs means that you have spent a decade or more becoming hyperspecialized- great if some industry needs your hyperspecialization (which COULD happen if you studied something that turns out to be industry relevant), but if no one does (which is the more likely scenario), then all that you've done is made it harder to get an intro level job. You'll have to spend a lot of time reinventing yourself to be competitive somewhere else.

    The science job market is crowded at all levels.
  10. May 12, 2013 #9
    I think it does in most cases. A phd holder has a far, far greater chance at getting any kind of STEM job than someone with a physics bachelors. Most of the STEM jobs I've found are at the MSc+ level, with a phd in any STEM field much preferred. It also appears to be true for non-academic jobs of the high profile finance and consultancy types, but I haven't spent a great deal of time looking for these types of jobs. Who cares about entry level jobs? No phd should be applying to them anyway.
    Last edited: May 12, 2013
  11. May 12, 2013 #10
    One more question. Because you mentioned engineering and thats in most cases physics related, would it be straightforward enough for a physics graduate to get an engineering job?
  12. May 12, 2013 #11
    Probably not as straightforward as a dyed in the wool engineer, but I really have no idea. I'm guessing a physics graduate with an engineering masters might be on a level playing field with a fresh engineering bachelors for a number of jobs.

    If you were to go this route, I would definitely look for a reputable masters program that has some form of placement/coop/internship program. For medical physics this means a program that is CAMPEP certified, I'm not sure how it works for engineering but I presume you would want to stick with most of the big state schools. Someone here has said good things about job placement for OSU's nuclear engineering program, for example.
  13. May 12, 2013 #12
    It's also possible, even at the B.S. level, to get involved with engineering. Ultimately, there are jobs out there, but many of them might require that you be willing to relocate.
  14. May 12, 2013 #13
    Possible, yes, if you have the right contacts. Getting hired through online job postings is hard. I have not been constraining myself to any part of the country (or even the country per se).
  15. May 12, 2013 #14
    Entry level jobs exist for people who don't have much in the way of relevant skills within a particular industry. If you've never worked in insurance or big-data,finance,business,etc but have a solid quantitative base then entry level jobs are perfect for you. There are thousands of those entry level jobs for every phd-relevant job. Employers expect to train people who they hire at entry level much more than those they hire for more senior positions, and when you have a phd in physics you are sort of banking on the idea that your broad base makes you "trainable."

    If you have a phd but no relevant skills for a given job (which is likely, in many theoretical/computational groups there aren't equivalent industry efforts,and unless your phd is job relevant you'll have trouble i.e. If someone is hiring for thermodynamics work, but your phd was in fluid dynamics you probably won't get an interview,etc) then you are going to have to develop a lot of those relevant skills completely on your own before you have a strong enough resume to compete for a job (one route to develop those skills is to get a job with a consulting firm).

    As an anecdote- I recently interviewed a bioinformatics phd for an entry position in our group, who completely bombed a number of extremely basic questions about how the insurance industry works. He'll still probably get the job because it was an intro position and the required knowledge level is pretty low, but if he had applied for anything other than an intro position he would have been disqualified.

    Now, there are fields where intro level jobs will still hire phds (IT/software development,etc), and not surprisingly lots of physicis phds end up in those fields.
    Last edited: May 12, 2013
  16. May 14, 2013 #15
    No. Physics grads are not trained in engineering and are not competitive with engineers. Also, I believe, most engineering programs are more rigorous than physics programs.
  17. May 14, 2013 #16
    I'm not sure I would agree with this stated so broadly. Physics undergrads or masters students can be competitive in some engineering fields. It can be very challenging to get an interview when physics is not in the list of degrees the job posting will accept. Trying to outwit the keyword resume parser or an HR person who isn't very technical is often a major hurdle. However, when it comes to an interview, the applicant with a physics background can do well.

    I base this on not only my own experience getting an engineering job with a physics bachelors, but 8 years of interviewing experience hiring (and not hiring) engineers both with standard engineering degrees and with physics degrees. If you look at the overall job search process, most job searches end in failure. I'd guess the entire process, including interns, job fairs, internet postings, and all, has probably only a 1% success rate in my experience. We look through a lot of applicants in a lot of different forums to find the right person for the job. I haven't found the physics applicants to have a worse track record than the engineer applicants in this fashion. Getting turned down so often is disheartening, but this is very common.

    I do not think physics programs are less rigorous than engineering programs. Physics is generally more abstract, and engineering more concrete. A physics curriculum is generally also broader than an engineering curriculum. You will notice that many job postings in any discipline are very specific. This is for a good reason. Why would you hire a smart person who needs to come up to speed over an equally smart person who already knows how? This is another hurdle to overcome. My recommendation is to look at jobs where the standard engineering curriculum is a poor fit. My own field of medical devices is one such. No degree exists for what I do. All incoming engineers who have not worked in the field receive training at my company. There are a large number of manufacturing or process engineering jobs that are typically filled with mechanical engineers who are trained to be mechanical design engineers. If you need to train someone regardless, the exact degree is less important. Professional registration is also something to avoid. If you want to enter a field that requires a professional registration, you need to get the appropriate background.
  18. May 14, 2013 #17

    I think one of my undergrad classmates was pursing one... Something like this http://sbhse.engineering.asu.edu/

    I certainly know nothing about medical device engineering, but if a early undergrad wanted to do it I would point them towards that program. I suppose its a new type of program born out of necessity which is why you have seen few people with such a specialty out of undergrad.

    edit - To the point, I think a physics grad would have a hard time out competing a grad from that program for a medical device engineering job. No, I wont claim its impossible. Particularly since its a new field and presumably there are not as many specialists out there to compete with as there are in other engineering fields.
    Last edited: May 14, 2013
  19. May 14, 2013 #18
    There's also Geophysics. Good money in it. Could always apply to law school or med school if your interested in that. I know many engineering grad schools which would accept physics bachelors. And medical physics like others have said.
  20. May 15, 2013 #19
    I am very familiar with that program. I have judged their poster presentations, and I have interviewed candidates from ASU with that degree, and I have colleagues who graduated from that program. Is is a bad program? Not at all. Does it prepare you any better than a standard MechE program for what I do? Not really. That program has a tendency to focus on things trendy in academia, like cellular engineering, that are ideas rather than technologies. There is at least an anatomy and physiology course in the program, which is somewhat useful, but nothing about working in a regulated industry, interacting with a quality system, or performing a process validation.

    This is precisely my point. This degree in particular offers no advantage over the physics degree or another engineering degree in my experience. I think the proportion of job offers is pretty similar, i.e. most of the applicants don't get hired. I can only speak to my own interviewing and hiring experience. Other companies may care more about the words on the paper. This degree is not a specialization in medical devices. It is rather an academic's idea of what the medical device engineering field is like. ASU, like all universities, has its own reasons for advertising degrees that may not match up with what employers want or need.
  21. May 29, 2013 #20
    It depends a lot on what courses you have taken during your physics curriculum. For eg. electronics is often a part of a physics curriculum so if you have taken a few courses in that then yes. Semiconductor and device physics is also something which is valued by the electronics companies but they would value a masters or Ph.D. in these areas more. There are people in engineering who do physics type of work like electromagnetism, fluid dynamics or mechanics. Or even acoustic engineering or illumination engineering. You've got to convince a potential employer that your physics knowledge would be useful in the job you are applying to. So whenever you study physics you have to keep in mind about how it is applied in the real world. Most people in industry probably use less than 5% of what they learnt in school so its more about how smart you are, your abilitity to learn things fast, ability to get things done, how well you deal with and get along with people, etc. A lot of it has also to do with how open minded a potential employer is with regard to hiring a physicist and deviating from his trodden path. I think there currently exists a gap in the education system where engineers end up knowing too little about the physics underlying the engineering devices and principles, and physicists end up learning too little about how physics is applied in the real world. So if you can bridge this gap you may be able to make it. Thats my opinion, don't just take my word for it get some expert opinions too. It may end up being more practical to go for an engineering degree directly if this is the route you plan to take.
    Good luck!
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