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Physics PhD at 50, seeks non-traditional career options

  1. Mar 24, 2015 #1
    I finished a Physics PhD in middle age, mostly just for the love of learning about Physics. The wisdom of that choice is questionable, but it's done now so no going back. I'd hoped to return to my previous career in software development, but at nearly age 50 I find that line of work is hard to get hired back into as an older person. What little I find is usually contract/temporary, so I don't feel it's a reliable option between now and retirement. My impression is also that the usual physics-to-industry routes like data scientist or finance quantitative analyst are also less likely to be filled by an age 50+ applicant, and my applications haven't gotten much traction there either.

    Therefore, I want to explore non-traditional careers, and am looking for ideas. I'm willing to accept lower wages than in my previous life as a developer; 40k-50k/yr is enough to live on with a couple of lifestyle adjustments. Here are some I've already considered, though they have drawbacks:

    - Public School Physics Teacher (need education degree first)
    - Project Manager (would PhD/age be a barrier to hiring just as in IT?)
    - Mechanical or Electrical Engineer (need engineering degree first)
    - Truck Driver (long trips away from home)
    - Taxi Driver (worried about safety from crime)

    I didn't add adjunct college teaching to the list, because it also falls in the temporary/contract category. Any other non-traditional career ideas are welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2015 #2
    What is your field of research. Theoretical or Experimental. Did you develop any special skills or expertise in the use of equipment or software?
  4. Mar 24, 2015 #3
    My research was in statistical analysis of large scientific data sets, collected with an experimental apparatus, though I was not directly involved in operating the apparatus. I used the skills I already had developed previously in software development to write the codes for my research, primarily in the C++ language.
  5. Mar 24, 2015 #4
    Have you checked out the AIP web site? they carry a listing of physics jobs. Don't discount contract positions you may gain some relevant experience and get your foot in a door. It will also allow you to beef up your resume and accumulate references, You know a contract position is a good way for a company to take a look at your work before committing to you. Programming and Stat Anal are still in demand in the private sector. How are your communication skills? Do you get along with people. A survey of CEO's found that the most desired traits of an employee were communication skills, ability to work well in a team and problem solving skills. But it should be noted the HR personnel concentrated on job skills in hiring people.
  6. Mar 24, 2015 #5

    Quantum Defect

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    You might look at the world of "independent schools." They are not beholden to state requirements for credentialing. They also tend to pay quite well, comparatively speaking. Look at the job listings at NAIS.org
    If you look at faculty lists at these schools, you will see quite a few PhDs.

    You might also consider talking to people at Carney-Sandoe -- they are an agency that helps independent schools find candidates for positions. Right now is the busy hiring time. Carney-Sandoe has many job fairs throughout the year across the country, where you have a kind of speed-dating type of interview with administrators.

    The good thing is that there are lots of positions open in STEM areas, and these people do like to hire people with PhDs; it tells prospective students and parents that the school takes academics seriously. You need to want to teach and you need to enjoy working with young people.
  7. Mar 24, 2015 #6
    Your background suggest that data mining might be an area to look into.
  8. Mar 25, 2015 #7
    Consider "Business Consultant" jobs at financial and insurance companies. Ones that require SQL, SAS and excel skills may be easy to pick up.

    I worry that you'll find "data science" and "data mining" jobs tend to be interested in cutting edge (which often isn't) techinques you don't know, and it may be hard to convince them you can or have learned them.

    Getting some basic SQL/SAS down a programmer such as yourself would be trivial, and these analyst level jobs can pay reasonably well.

    Just a thought.
  9. Mar 25, 2015 #8
    There are ways to do this besides getting an education degree first. Many of my fellow grads ended up teaching and they did it through "Teach for America". Teach for America has a way for graduates to get into the classroom before getting the required certifications. They then work on certifications and/or an education degree while working. I was quite surprised at how well paid these gigs are, but you usually have to relocate to a needy school.
  10. Mar 28, 2015 #9

    Dr Transport

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    look at medical schools or large pharmacological places, they gotta be looking at large data sets for drug trials.
  11. Mar 30, 2015 #10
    Thanks for the ideas. Here is another: an Electrician. A Physics degree provides some of the background needed, in understanding the theory behind electricity. Does anyone know how the job prospects are nowadays in this field?
  12. Mar 30, 2015 #11
    When I looked into becoming an electrician (years ago), it had its strong points. However, my understanding is that you'd spend a few years doing low-paid manual labor. That's not a great starting point for someone in your situation. Work also sounded very cyclical; maybe we're headed towards an upswing?

    I'm personally glad I didn't go that route, and it's hard for me to imagine it working out that well for you. Just my impression though, I definitely am not an expert.

    Edit: Btw, I think almost nothing in your background would be useful in the business of being an electrician; it's light on theory and heavy on regulations.
  13. Mar 30, 2015 #12
    Try the military, they are always looking for instructors and don't require the education degree. I'm amused though at less than 50 you consider yourself too old to be hired, I'm 60 so where does that leave me? Perhaps I should just build my coffin now to save on the money.
  14. Mar 31, 2015 #13
    If you can support yourself for a while find a minority need, look to hardware and software to be adapted to that need you could just be elpful to people.
  15. Mar 31, 2015 #14

    Have you considered applying to smaller companies / SME's (not start ups) in your field of interest? If you can write a convincing cover letter, then recruitment at these places tends to be done by the boss rather than by a checklist driven HR team. Smaller firms especially need people who are self starters and reliable and might actually value your maturity if the skills you have already fit the job.

    If you see a firm where you feel the fit is good, don't be knocked back by an initial non response. Get the boss's email address and follow up (maybe more than once) with a short and courteous email. Don't forget to spell out your $ salary expectations explicitly else it may be assumed that you'd be wanting more than you actually do. There is appeal in someone who really wants to do the job being offered and can show it.

    As someone with years of experience, the self motivation to do a PhD as a mature student, and modest salary expectations you should be a great value hire.

    A question for you for my interest if I may. Perhaps you were not interested in pursuing this direction but did you get any sense as to how feasible it would have been for you to get a postdoc position and try the academic route had you wanted to? Would your age have counted for / against you / made no difference?
  16. Apr 3, 2015 #15
    Small companies are a good idea, I might try approaching some that don't even have advertised job openings. What do you mean by SME? I've only seen that term used to describe an individual subject matter expert.

    I might be able to get a postdoc position, but it would likely require relocation, which would be a serious problem for my spouse's career. Also, postdocs are usually a dead end; I'd end up in the same dilemma after a few years of doing that, but even older and further removed from non-academic work experience.
  17. May 1, 2015 #16
    In finance we don't give a flying !!!! how old you are. If you can create alpha, your in, if not, well your out. Super simple.
  18. May 2, 2015 #17
    How do you make this judgement for a candidate who has never worked in finance before?
  19. May 3, 2015 #18
    Perhaps driving for Uber/similar service? I believe it allows you some discretion in choosing clients.
  20. May 6, 2015 #19
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  21. May 6, 2015 #20
    Look into the BASIS charter schools if you want to teach. They are a chain of high performing charter schools that seek individuals with PhDs or MSs in the sciences and do not require teacher certification. Google them to see if there is one in your area.
    Also, depending on what state you live in, there are alternate routes yo teacher certification intended for career changers such as yourself. You teach during the day and work on certification at night.
  22. May 15, 2015 #21
    Does anyone see the absurdity of this? Someone with a PhD in physics is seriously considering being a taxi driver or electrician?
  23. May 15, 2015 #22


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    No! Not absurd at all. PhD looks over-qualified for some jobs, but if a person needs a job, he cannot expect to always rely on finding only some wonderful fancy job requiring having PhD. Does earning a PhD for someone who had been a taxi driver in the past mean that now he is not able to drive a taxi? Other examples maybe...
  24. May 15, 2015 #23
    The point is, if the OP is serious about being a taxi driver after getting a PhD in Physics something is seriously wrong, either on his end or on the economic end of the country he is in.
  25. May 15, 2015 #24
    Maybe he is in the US?
  26. May 15, 2015 #25
    Been reading this forum for well over 10 years.

    Doesn't seem weird at all.
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