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Physics Majors

  1. Dec 7, 2003 #1
    I assume this is a good place to ask this... being a physics forum and all

    I'm an undergrad right now (first year) and my major is physics, and i'm thinking of taking on math as a double major (sounds like fun right? :DWow). I'm also planning on going to grad school to a doctorate.

    Anyways, I have a feeling a lot of people feel that it's a dead end major and that i'm going to end up without a job. Everyone I talk to tells me the infamous story of the person they knew with a physics and math PhD that teaches HS or something. Hell, even my mom told me of someone they knew that this happened to.

    Now I know money isn't everything (and I wouldn't change my major for the world, I love physics), but does anyone have any information about employment for physics graduates and basically what the deal is about the whole situation? I've poked around on tons of sites (like the Occupational Handbook by the government) and everything i've found contradicts what people say/think.. but still, it'd be nice to get information from the horses mouth so to speak. (Oh btw, first post :D)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2003 #2
    Well, it depends on what subfield you go into... there's more demand for condensed-matter experimentalists than there is for quantum gravity theorists, for example. Good academic positions can be hard to come by, particularly in some fields, but there is also industry, federally-funded research labs, etc...

    It also depends on what you mean by "employment for physics graduates". Many physics graduates, like many graduates in most other fields, go on to be employed in fields other than what they obtained their degree in, such as computer programming, engineering, economics, teaching, etc. (And personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with teaching high school. I've known very talented Ph.D.'s --- including the best teacher I've ever had at any level --- who left the university system by choice to teach HS.)

    The bottom line is, I haven't known any physics graduates who had trouble finding work.
  4. Dec 7, 2003 #3
    Re: Re: Physics Majors

    I understand what you mean, I know most physics grads don't even go on to work in research positions. I know there's nothing wrong with teaching HS, it's a very honorable position and I respect all the teachers I had, but i'd just rather not be forced to pigeon-hole into a specific profession, if you know what I mean.

    This is sort of a secondary question, but is there a place I can find out what the different fields are? I keep seeing things like condensed-matter, plasma, particle, etc. fields of physics but I can't really distinguish what they actually ARE :smile:
  5. Dec 7, 2003 #4
    Re: Re: Re: Physics Majors

    If you're worried about having no choice but to teach high school, I wouldn't worry about that.

    I don't know a list of definitions, but you could look at the AIP's Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS),


    and see what kinds of specific topics fall under the various categories.
  6. Dec 7, 2003 #5
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Physics Majors

    Just to give you a taste of how many subfields of physics there are, here's a list of the topical areas covered at the APS March meeting (which is largely focused on condensed matter and atomic, molecular, & optical physics):

    1. Metals
    1.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth & Processing (Bulk and Films)
    1.2 Thermodynamic and Transport Properties
    1.3 Atomic Structure and Lattice Properties
    1.4 Electronic Structure and Optical Properties
    1.5 Mechanical and Dynamical Properties
    1.6 Spectroscopic Properties
    1.7 Defects: Point, Line, Interface (Doping and Microstructure)
    2. Semiconductors
    2.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth, & Processing (Bulk and Films)
    2.2 Thermodynamic and Transport Properties (Incl. QHE, FQHE)
    2.3 Atomic Structure, Lattice Properties, and Phase Transitions
    2.4 Electronic Structure & Optical Properties
    2.5 Mechanical & Dynamical Properties
    2.6 Spectroscopic Properties
    2.7 Defects: Point, Line, Interface (Doping and Microstructure)
    2.9.1 Wide Band Gap Semiconductors (DMP)
    2.9.2 Semiconductor IR, THz, Devices, and Applications (FIAP)
    3. Insulators and Dielectrics
    3.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth & Processing (Bulk and Films)
    3.2 Thermodynamic and Transport Properties
    3.3 Atomic Structure, Lattice Properties & Phase Transitions
    3.4 Electronic Structure and Optical Properties
    3.5 Mechanical & Dynamical Properties
    3.6 Spectroscopic Properties
    3.7 Defects: Point, Line, Interface (Doping and Microstructure)
    3.9.1 Dynamics in Ice (DMP)
    3.9.2 (Same as 14.9.5) Mechanical Properties of Glasses, Foams, Gels, and Granular Media (DMP)
    3.9.3 (Same as 9.9.3)Lattice Dielectric Properties of Complex Oxides and Interfaces (DMP/FIAP)
    3.9.4 Multifunctional Oxides [Thin Films] (FIAP)
    3.9.5 (Same as 14.9.4) Hydrogen and Physisorbed Materials (DMP)
    4. Polymeric & Organic Materials
    4.1 Semi-Crystalline Polymers
    4.2 Liquid Crystalline Polymers
    4.3 Solid Amorphous Polymers
    4.4 Melts, Solutions and Gels
    4.5 Rubbers and Networks
    4.6 Charged and Ion-Containing Polymers
    4.7 Block and Graft Copolymers
    4.8 Blends and Composites
    4.9 Electrically and Optically Active Materials
    4.10 Surfaces
    4.11 Thin Films
    4.12 Experimental Techniques
    4.13 Theory and Simulation
    4.14.1 Defects in Polymers and Liquid Crystals (DPOLY)
    4.14.2 Multiscale Modeling of Polymer Systems (DPOLY/DCOMP)
    4.14.3 Electrostatics in Complex and Biological Systems (DPOLY/DBP)
    4.14.4 Organic Nano- and Mesostructures for Electronic & Photonic Applications (
    5. Superconductivity
    5.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth & Processing (Bulk and Films)
    5.2 Thermodynamic and Transport Properties
    5.3 Mechanical and Structural Properties
    5.4 Electronic Structure and Spectroscopic Properties
    5.5 Flux Pinning and Flux Dynamics
    5.6 Spin Properties (NMR,NQR, ...)
    5.7 Tunnel Junctions, Devices, and Josephson Arrays
    6. Magnetism (Experiment, Theory, Applications)
    6.1 Cooperative Phenomena (incl. spin structures, spin waves, phase transitions)
    6.2 Magnetic Domains & Magnetic Field Phenomena: Dynamic & Static
    6.3 Correlated Electrons (incl. heavy fermions, oxides)
    6.4 Spin Dependent Transport: GMR, CMR, tunneling, spin injection, semiconductors
    6.5 Magnetic Recording Materials and Phenomena
    6.6 Magnetic Anisotropy: hard & soft materials
    6.7 Artificially Structured or Self-Assembled Magnetic Materials (incl. multilayers & dots)
    6.8 Low Dimensional Magnetism (incl, molecules, chains, surfaces)
    6.9 Frustrated or Disordered Magnetic Materials
    6.10 New Techniques and Applications
    6.11.1 Theory and Simulation of Magnetism and Spin Dependent Properties (DCOMP/DMP/GMAG)
    6.11.2 Magnetic Nanostructures and Heterostructures (DMP/GMAG)
    6.11.3 Magnetoresistance and Phase Complexity in Oxides (DMP/GMAG)
    6.11.4 Spin Transport and Spin Dynamics in Metal-Based Systems (GMAG/DMP)
    6.11.5 Spin-Dependent Phenomena in Semiconductors (DMP/GMAG)
    7. Complex Structured Materials
    7.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth, & Processing (Bulk and Films)
    7.2 Noncrystalline Materials (Glasses/Amorphous)
    7.3 Fullerenes (not nanotubes)
    7.4 Nanotubes and nanowires
    7.5 Composites/Porous Media
    7.6 Quasicrystals
    7.9.1 Simulations of Complex Materials (DCOMP/DMP)
    7.9.2 Nanotubes and Nanowires: Devices and Applications should have DCOMP added as a sponsor.
    7.9.3 Light Emission from Silicon (FIAP/DMP)
    7.9.4 Novel and Complex Oxides (DMP/FIAP)
    7.9.5 Carbon Nanotubes and Related Nanomaterials (DMP)
    7.9.6 (same as 17.13.1) Computational Nanoscience (DAMOP/DCOMP/DMP)
    7.9.7 Theory of Nanotubes (DCOMP/DMP)
    8. Fluids
    8.1 Classical Fluids
    8.2 Complex Fluids (microemulsions, lyotropic fluids, surfactants)
    8.3 Liquid Crystals
    8.4 Colloids, Emulsions, and Foams
    8.5 Turbulence
    8.6 Fluid Dynamics
    9. Phase Transitions and Strongly Correlated Systems
    9.1 Metal-Insulator Phase Transitions
    9.2 Ferroelectric Phase Transitions
    9.3 Structural Phase Transitions
    9.4 Phase Transitions at Surfaces and Interfaces
    9.5 Magnetic Phase Transitions
    9.6 Heavy Fermions
    9.7 Non Fermi Liquids
    9.9.1 Intrinsic Inhomogeneity in Multiferroic Materials (DMP)
    9.9.2 Meta-Materials (DMP)
    9.9.3 (Same as 3.9.3) Lattice Dielectric Properties of Complex Oxides and Interfaces (DMP/FIAP)
    9.9.4 (same as 21.11.1) Quantum Phase Transitions of Ultracold Atoms (DAMOP)
    10. Biological Physics
    10.1 Proteins
    10.2 Nucleic Acids
    10.3 Function of Biomolecules
    10.4 Lipids and Membranes
    10.5 Imaging and Microscopy
    10.6 Neurobiological Physics
    10.7 Nonlinear Phenomena and Pattern Formation
    10.8 Biomedical Physics
    10.9.1 Interacting Biological Systems: From Single Particles to Waves and Swarms (DBP)
    10.9.2 Cellular Biomechanics (DBP)
    10.9.3 Organismal Biomechanics (DBP)
    10.9.4 Biochemical Networks (DBP)
    10.9.5 Modeling and Simulation of Biological Molecules (DBP/DCOMP)
    10.9.6 (Same as 12.9.2) Electrostatics in Complex and Biological Fluids (GSNP/DBP/DPOLY)
    10.9.7 Pattern Formation in Biology (DBP/GSNP)
    10.9.8 (same as 12.9.2 & 4.14.3) Electrostatics in Complex and Biological Systems (DBP/GSNP/DPOLY)
    10.9.9 Physics in Physiology
    10.9.10 Structure and Dynamics of four-way DNA junctions (Holliday junctions)
    10.9.11 Materials Physics Problems in Structural Genomics (Joint with DMP)
    10.9.12 Synchronization and phase resetting in the nervous system
    10.9.13 The use of Neutron and X-ray reflectivity studies of thin films of biophysical ysical interest
    10.9.14 Molecular biology and computation
    10.9.15 Physics of ion interaction with proteins
    10.9.16 Cochlear Physics
    10.9.17 Stretching of Proteins
    10.9.18 Acoustic methods for studying bio-organic thin films
    10.9.19 Ab initio approaches to electronic structure and dynamics of proteins
    11. Chemical Physics
    11.1 Theoretical Methods and Algorithms
    11.2 Gas Phase Dynamics and Structure
    11.3 Condensed Phase Dynamics, Structure and Thermodynamics
    11.4 Surfaces and Interfaces
    11.5 Materials
    11.6 Spectroscopy and Dynamics of Single Molecules and Nanoparticles
    11.7 Polymers, Biopolymers and Complex Systems
    11.9.1 Structure and Dynamics of Supercooled Liquids and Glasses (DCP)
    11.9.2 Multiscale Phenomena for Fluids and Solids (DCP)
    11.9.3 Nanoparticle-Enhanced Spectroscopy (DCP)
    11.9.4 Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere (DCP)
    11.9.5 Dynamics at Gas-Solid and Gas-Liquid Interfaces (DCP)
    12. Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
    12.1 Low-Dimensional and Quantum Chaos
    12.2 Noise and Stochastic Resonance
    12.3 Pattern Formation & Spatio-Temporal Chaos
    12.4 Coherent Spatial Structures: solitons, intrinsic localized modes, discrete breathers
    12.5 Granular Media
    12.6 Equilibrium Statistical Mechanics: fundamentals, exactly solvable models
    12.7 Systems Far from Equilibrium
    12.8 Networks and Complex Systems
    12.9 Disordered nonlinear systems and glassy dynamics
    12.9.1 Deformation, Friction and Fracture (DMP/GSNP)
    12.9.2 (Same as 10.9.6) Electrostatics in Complex and Biological Fluids (GSNP/DBP/DPOLY)
    12.9.3 Jamming (GSNP)
    12.9.4 Granular phenomena: gases, pattern formation, and flows
    12.9.5 Slow Dynamics in Non-Randomly Frustrated Systems (GSNP)
    12.9.6 The Nature of Networks: Structure and Dynamics (GSNP)
    12.9.7 Coherent Structures and Pattern Formation in Fluid Flow (GSNP,DFD)
    12.9.8 Interface Driven Flows at the Micro- and Nanoscales (GSNP, DFD)
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2003
  7. Dec 7, 2003 #6
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Physics Majors

    13. Artificially Structured Materials
    13.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth, & Processing (Bulk, Films & Coatings)
    13.2 Superlattices & Nanostructures: structures
    13.3 Superlattices & Nanostructures:electronic properties
    13.4 Superlattices & Nanostructures: optical properties
    13.5 Quantum computing: superconductors
    13.6 Quantum computing: semiconductors
    13.7 Photonic crystals
    13.9.1 Asymmetrical Nanoparticles: Rods, Disks and Complex Shapes (DMP)
    13.9.2 Optical Properties of Nanostructures (DMP)
    13.9.3 Materials for Molecular Electronics (DMP)
    13.9.4 Materials for Quantum Computing (DMP)
    14. Surface, Interfaces & Thin Films
    14.1 Materials: Synthesis, Growth, and Processing
    14.2 Structure and Morphology
    14.3 Reactions: Kinetics and Dynamics
    14.4 Excitations, Energetics, Nonequilibrium Effects
    14.5 Electronic and Lattice Properties
    14.6 Magnetic and Superconducting Properties
    14.7 Phase Transitions (Structural, Electronic, and Magnetic)
    14.8 Novel Instrumentation & Techniques
    14.9.1 Mechanical Properties of Nanostructured Thin Films and Coatings (FIAP/DMP)
    14.9.2 Growth, Stability and Dynamics of Nanostructures and Films (DMP)
    14.9.3 Fundamental Challenges in Transport Properties of Nanostructures (DMP)
    14.9.4 (Same as 3.9.5) Hydrogen and Physisorbed Materials (DMP)
    14.9.5 (same as 3.9.2) Mechanical Properties of Glasses, Foams, Gels, and Granular Media (DMP)
    14.9.6 Interfacial Segregation on Atomic Scale: Experiment and Simulation (FIAP)
    15. Instrumentation and Measurements
    15.1 Detectors, Sensors, Transducers
    15.2 Spectroscopic Techniques
    15.3 Scattering and Diffraction
    15.4 Microscopic Techniques (Including Scanning)
    15.5 Signal Processing and Analysis
    15.9.1 Recent Advances in Scientific Instrumentation
    15.9.2 Advances in Scanning Probe Microscopy
    15.9.3 MEMS/NEMS Science, Technology, Applications, and Measurements (FIAP/GIMS)
    16. Applications
    16.1 Optoelectronic Devices & Applications
    16.2 Superconducting Devices & Applications
    16.3 Semiconducting Devices & Applications
    16.4 Magnetic Devices & Applications
    16.5 Polymeric & Biological Materials Devices & Applications
    16.6 Optical/Laser & High Frequency Devices & Applications
    16.7 Thermoelectrics
    16.8 General Systems Applications
    16.9.1 Front-End Materials and Processes for Scaled Silicon CMOS (FIAP/DMP)
    16.9.2 Hydrogen Storage: Media, Measurement, and Modeling (FIAP)
    16.9.3 Micro-scale Plasma Discharges - Applications for Industry (FIAP)
    16.9.4 Physics of Landmine Detection and Remediation (FIAP)
    16.9.5 MEMS/NEMS Science, Technology, Applications, and Measurements (FIAP)
    16.9.6 Opto-Electronics in Nanoscale Devices (FIAP)
    16.9.7 Ceramics (FIAP)
    16.9.8 Energy Harvesting: Materials and Phenomena for Solid-State Power Conversion (FIAP)
    16.9.9 Spectroscopy of Nanostructures: Experiment, Theory, and Applications (FIAP)
    17.General Theory (Theoretical Methods)
    17.1 Many Body
    17.2 Electronic Structure
    17.3 Density Functional Theory
    17.4 Relativity
    17.5 Computational Methods: Classical and Quantum Monte Carlo
    17.6 Computational Methods: Classical and Quantum Molecular Dynamics
    17.7 Computational Methods: Numerical Methods for Strongly Correlated Systems
    17.8 Computational Methods: Multiscale Modeling
    17.9 Computational Plasma Physics
    17.10 Computational Fluid Dynamics
    17.11 Numerical Methods for Partial Differential Equations
    17.12 Computers in Physics Education
    17.13.1 (same as 7.9.6) Computational Nanoscience (DAMOP/DCOMP/DMP)
    17.13.2 Computers in Education (DCOMP/FED)
    17.13.3 Novel Computational Algorithms: From Quarks to Materials to the Universe (DCOMP)
    17.13.4 Computers in Physics Education (DCOMP/FED)
    19. High Pressure Physics
    19.1 Equations of state & phase transitions
    19.2 Electronic & magnetic properties
    19.3 Mechanical properties
    19.4 Spectroscopy
    19.5 Structure
    19.6 Dynamical response
    19.7 Theory & modeling
    19.8 Instrumentation & techniques
    19.9.1 Earth and Planetary Materials (DMP)
    19.9.2 Simulations of Matter at Extreme Conditions (DCOMP/DMP/GSCCM)
    20. Quantum Fluids and Solids
    20.1 Bose Einstein Condensation
    20.2 Normal Superfluid Liquid Helium
    20.3 Vortices and Turbulence in Helium
    20.4 Helium Films
    20.5 Helium in Restricted Geometries
    20.6 Helium Bubbles, Ions, Clusters & Droplets
    20.7 Phase Transitions in Helium
    20.8 Solid Helium
    20.9 Spin-Polarized Systems
    20.10 Techniques and Applications
    21. Atomic, Molecular & Optical (AMO) Physics
    21.1 Quantum Gases: Bose-Einstein Condensation & Fermi-Dirac Degeneracy
    21.2 Quantum Computing and Communications
    21.3 AMO processes on Surfaces and in Condensed Matter
    21.4 Strong-Field Physics
    21.5 Atomic/Molecular Structure & Properties
    21.6 Photon Interactions with Atoms & Molecules
    21.7 Atomic/Molecular Collisions & Interactions
    21.8 Charged Particle Collisions
    21.9 Highly Excited Species, Clusters
    21.10 Quantum Optics/Ultrafast Phenomena
    21.11.1 (same as 9.9.4) Quantum Phase Transitions of Ultracold Atoms (DAMOP)
    21.11.2 (same as 7.9.6) Computational Nanoscience (DAMOP/DCOMP/DMP)
  8. Dec 7, 2003 #7
    one of my dad's notable quotes: "What are you going to do with a PhD in physics?"

    i defended my thesis about ten years ago and have worked in finance ever since.
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