Post-Bachelor's Struggles: Navigating the Job Market as a Physics Graduate

In summary, the OP is a recent college graduate with a B.S. in Physics and a minor in Mathematics. They have applied to multiple jobs in various fields, but have only had a few interviews and have not been successful in securing a job. They have a strong interest in teaching, particularly at the college level, but are unsure of how to pursue this career path without a PhD. Other potential options include joining the Air Force, getting a teaching certification, pursuing a Masters in a STEM-related field, or continuing to apply to jobs and internships. They also have experience in programming and are considering pursuing a Masters in computer science, but are hesitant to give up on their passion for teaching.
  • #1
Destroxia
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I've graduated from college about 4 months ago with a B.S. in Physics, and a minor in Mathematics. I've applied to so many jobs I lost count, Physics Jobs, MechE jobs, EE Jobs, SystemsE, SoftwareE, etc. I've interviewed at maybe 3 places only so far, and from those interviews they informed my references for the position that I did a fantastic job interviewing, then I get turned down. I don't have any internship experience, but I do have a very long research position in college in which I did a lot of programming in Python. I've also applied to post-college internships with no luck.

Now keep in mind, I'm just trying to find an engineering job/regular job instead of grad school because I realized I'm not interested in research/academia in the least. My biggest interest is teaching by far. I would be open to teaching high school if I hadn't heard so many horror stories about it and the terrible pay. My real dream is to teach college level physics, you know, not just Mechanics and Electro intro courses, but statistical mechanics types of courses. I know I need a PhD to teach courses like this, but I know teaching at college and research go hand-in-hand and I don't think I could handle that, let alone getting the PhD in the first place.

At this point, I feel broken (not to be dramatic). Every time I fill another application out it feels like I'm just wasting my time. All my confidence has been replaced with insecurity. I tried to message a past physics adviser, and he dodged my emails. I have no direction, or path. My only interest at this point is teaching.

Any suggestions for what I can do? At this point I've figured my only real options without hating myself are to:
1. Join the Air Force as an Officer
2. Get a certification to teach in High School
3. Get a Masters and potentially teach at a community college.
4. Get my PhD in something like STEM education, or education. (Is this a viable path for what I want, I don't know)
5. Sit through physics PhD to get Uni teaching rights.
6. Continue to apply to jobs/internships en masse (even though it hasn't been working at all)
 
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  • #2
To the OP:

I'm sorry to hear about the difficulties you are having finding employment. I'm afraid that your situation is not unusual for those with only a Bachelor's. Unlike engineering, a physics degree is not a vocational degree, and is generally not seen as such by employers in the private sector unless such a holder has a PhD, in which case how employable you will be will depend on what field of research your PhD is in, and what skills you have acquired. In addition, your lack of internship experience (and thus experience in the private sector) puts you in further disadvantage in terms of employment.

What to do? You did state that you have experience programming in Python as part of your research position. Do you have any personal projects demonstrating your programming background, that you can post on repositories like GitHub? Can you program in any other languages (e.g. C++, Java)? These could open up opportunities in software development, especially if you consider pursuing a Masters in computer science (preferably a 2 year Masters program, so that you could take a break between years to pursue that software internship position).

If your interest is in teaching science, then getting that certification to teach high school may be worthwhile. As for teaching college level physics (or college level anything), it is indeed the case that you will need at minimum a PhD and a Masters in physics is simply not sufficient. Even a PhD alone may not be enough, as teaching positions in colleges/universities are highly competitive.

As far as applying for jobs en masse, there is nothing particularly wrong with this (and 4 months is not that long a time to be searching employment -- I've gone through a 6 month stretch of unemployment in the past before landing a position years ago). But keep in mind that you need to apply for positions where your particular skills will stand out and be useful to the employers. I would also suggest that you use any type of career counselling service available at your former school for interviewing tips and resume critiques, and to talk to people and network (either through attending industry fairs or through social media like LinkedIn).

Another advice I would add is to try and be as flexible and mobile as possible in terms of where you will work. I saw in your profile that you are from Pennsylvania. How easily can you relocate within the US, or even outside the US? If you're the adventurous type, perhaps consider applying to companies in, say, Singapore or Australia. Just some things to think about.
 
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  • #3
StatGuy2000 said:
To the OP:
What to do? You did state that you have experience programming in Python as part of your research position. Do you have any personal projects demonstrating your programming background, that you can post on repositories like GitHub? Can you program in any other languages (e.g. C++, Java)? These could open up opportunities in software development, especially if you consider pursuing a Masters in computer science (preferably a 2 year Masters program, so that you could take a break between years to pursue that software internship position).

I don't have any projects up on github, besides my research, but that's locked anyway. I don't have much to actually show besides a few personal projects like a web scraper, and some stuff I used to help me conjugate verbs in other languages, but it's all very not-spectacular. I've been considering pursuing more higher education for software development, but at the same time I'm still very inclined to want to teach, and I'm afraid to lose sight of that. Or end up like my friend who tells me often how much he hates coding for 8+ hours a day. (Obviously, beggars can't be choosers though)
StatGuy2000 said:
If your interest is in teaching science, then getting that certification to teach high school may be worthwhile. As for teaching college level physics (or college level anything), it is indeed the case that you will need at minimum a PhD and a Masters in physics is simply not sufficient. Even a PhD alone may not be enough, as teaching positions in colleges/universities are highly competitive.

Do you know anything about graduate school in terms of paths you can take? I would really like to get a degree in something like Education or Science Education, but I feel like that definitely wouldn't be competitive enough to get me into a teaching position, let alone even into the STEM faculty. I feel like high school might be one of my better options until I decide I might be passionate enough to pursue a PhD. Money has never really been a huge factor for me besides paying off my loans, and being able to meet my needs. I also don't have too many restrictions on relocation, although if given a preference I would RATHER not move to the other side of the country, especially while my rent is currently free (generous parents), while I pay my loans off.

Thank you for all the advice, I'll definitely have to think more about this. I feel like I'm in a situation where I really need to just pick something and dive into it, but I think too much about what "may" happen if I do.
 
  • #4
Destroxia said:
Any suggestions for what I can do? At this point I've figured my only real options without hating myself are to:
There's no reason to hate yourself just because you haven't figured out a vocational direction yet. I think a lot of people tie their happiness and self-worth to what they do, or at least the path that they're on, but you don't have to. It's important to give yourself permission to be happy, even if you're not actively involved in your 'ideal' job. A lot of people ultimately find something that's just "a job" and figure out how to fulfill themselves outside of that.

There are a lot of avenues to teaching.

While you're searching for something more permanent, you could consider tutoring. This will give you the opportunity to teach, earn money doing it, and build up an experience base and skill set for working with people that are struggling with certain subjects. Sure, it's probably not a career, but it's something.

While you're at it you could consider volunteer work that involves teaching or mentoring. Coach a sport. Become a boyscout leader. Volunteer for conversational classes with those who are learning to speak English as a second language. If you look there are likely a lot of opportunities for this kind of thing.

Or what about teaching English abroad?

On a more professional level you could look for trainer or corporate educator type jobs. In my field (medical physics) there are many large companies that are constantly rolling out new and improved products and software, and they have professional trainers who deploy as needed to the various sites that purchase their equipment so that transitions from old systems to new systems are as smooth as possible. Most of the people who work as trainers have a clinical experience base to draw on though, but I'm sure there are other fields where this is not as common. There are also corporate trainers who lead classes in management and soft skill development (communication, time management, etc.)

And at the high-school level, not all teaching jobs are poorly paid. You could consider private schools, for example.

I would be a little wary of graduate degrees in "physics education." It's not that they're inherently bad or anything, but I'd be concerned that anyone with a MSc or PhD in any other branch of physics would be just as qualified to teach as someone with the equivalent MSc or PhD in physics education, but have far fewer technical options available to them.

Also on the grad school topic, I'd avoid going into a PhD just because you can't find anything else. A PhD is an immense commitment and takes a lot of hard work and passion to complete. If you're heart is not in it from the start you could end up wasting a lot of time.

One more thought, just to throw it out there, is rather than applying for positions 'en masse,' why not consider a more detailed approach. Use a sniper rifle as opposed to a shotgun. Gather intelligence on any position of interest, do every thing you can to find out who you would actually be working with or hired by and speak with that person directly if you can.

Keep exploring. Keep applying. It's definitely not easy to keep your chin up when you're getting lots of rejections.
 
  • #5
I would find out if schools are looking for teachers for just physics or chemistry/physics combined. That could be a problem. Or not, I don't know.
 
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  • #6
verty said:
I would find out if schools are looking for teachers for just physics or chemistry/physics combined. That could be a problem. Or not, I don't know.
Yes, it might or might not be a problem. Something to watch for. If someone thinks he will just teach Physics in high school, often enough that is not the only subject the administrators want him to teach. His license is almost certain to authorize something more than just "Physics" on the listing. Be ready to teach Earth Science, Chemistry, Biology, Health, possibly other subject areas, too; at least there is the risk of this in being used as a substitute teacher. As for a regular teacher job, might be asked to teach any physical science and mathematics.
 
  • #7
verty said:
I would find out if schools are looking for teachers for just physics or chemistry/physics combined. That could be a problem. Or not, I don't know.

symbolipoint said:
Yes, it might or might not be a problem. Something to watch for. If someone thinks he will just teach Physics in high school, often enough that is not the only subject the administrators want him to teach. His license is almost certain to authorize something more than just "Physics" on the listing. Be ready to teach Earth Science, Chemistry, Biology, Health, possibly other subject areas, too; at least there is the risk of this in being used as a substitute teacher. As for a regular teacher job, might be asked to teach any physical science and mathematics.

I definitely wouldn't mind teaching other subjects, I was a Chemical Engineering major before I was a physics major, and did significant amounts of biology, so I'm quite passionate about all of it!
 
  • #8
Choppy said:
There's no reason to hate yourself just because you haven't figured out a vocational direction yet. I think a lot of people tie their happiness and self-worth to what they do, or at least the path that they're on, but you don't have to. It's important to give yourself permission to be happy, even if you're not actively involved in your 'ideal' job. A lot of people ultimately find something that's just "a job" and figure out how to fulfill themselves outside of that.

There are a lot of avenues to teaching.

While you're searching for something more permanent, you could consider tutoring. This will give you the opportunity to teach, earn money doing it, and build up an experience base and skill set for working with people that are struggling with certain subjects. Sure, it's probably not a career, but it's something.

While you're at it you could consider volunteer work that involves teaching or mentoring. Coach a sport. Become a boyscout leader. Volunteer for conversational classes with those who are learning to speak English as a second language. If you look there are likely a lot of opportunities for this kind of thing.

Or what about teaching English abroad?

On a more professional level you could look for trainer or corporate educator type jobs. In my field (medical physics) there are many large companies that are constantly rolling out new and improved products and software, and they have professional trainers who deploy as needed to the various sites that purchase their equipment so that transitions from old systems to new systems are as smooth as possible. Most of the people who work as trainers have a clinical experience base to draw on though, but I'm sure there are other fields where this is not as common. There are also corporate trainers who lead classes in management and soft skill development (communication, time management, etc.)

And at the high-school level, not all teaching jobs are poorly paid. You could consider private schools, for example.

I would be a little wary of graduate degrees in "physics education." It's not that they're inherently bad or anything, but I'd be concerned that anyone with a MSc or PhD in any other branch of physics would be just as qualified to teach as someone with the equivalent MSc or PhD in physics education, but have far fewer technical options available to them.

Also on the grad school topic, I'd avoid going into a PhD just because you can't find anything else. A PhD is an immense commitment and takes a lot of hard work and passion to complete. If you're heart is not in it from the start you could end up wasting a lot of time.

One more thought, just to throw it out there, is rather than applying for positions 'en masse,' why not consider a more detailed approach. Use a sniper rifle as opposed to a shotgun. Gather intelligence on any position of interest, do every thing you can to find out who you would actually be working with or hired by and speak with that person directly if you can.

Keep exploring. Keep applying. It's definitely not easy to keep your chin up when you're getting lots of rejections.

Thanks for all the advice! I definitely had similar concerns when considering a physics education PhD, it would probably be my ideal subject to do a PhD, but I suspect it wouldn't have many fruits. I also don't mean to sound so self-deprecating in my post, I just over-exaggerated my frustration a bit. I definitely am not opposed to working other places while I try to find a place to settle down in, so far I've been working at a grocery store deli, and a medical company's warehouse. I work a lot of hours though, and need to in order to pay off my large loan payments. Sometimes it's just so hard to find time to look for "career" jobs, that I get incredibly frustrated when I might spend all my free time, which isn't much already, filling out applications for places that won't even give me a rejection email.

Things like teaching abroad, and tutoring do sound great in terms of my passion for teaching, but I just don't think they'll be able to finance my students loan payments from the income looking at those jobs or hourly rates. I may have to struggle maybe 3 years for when they are paid off to continue pursuing other interests of careers if I don't snag a job sometime soon. Money has never been a huge thing for me, I'm not very materialistic. Once my loans are finally gone, I think I'll be able to breathe a bit, and care less about having a high paying STEM job.

I think I might definitely look into high school teaching, and see if I can get a certificate for it taking night classes, or something after my job.
 
  • #9
Choppy said:
You could consider private schools

This might be a good idea.
 
  • #10
Hi, I know this is a few months old, but I found this thread when searching for "Air Force". I am an Air Force physicist (undergrad major in math and physics, PhD in physics paid for by the Air Force) and plan on teaching when I get out. I would probably advise against joining the Air Force unless you are open to doing something totally unrelated to physics/science. There are just no guarantees when it comes to Air Force jobs, especially through OTS.

That being said, have you considered areas other than physics for teaching at the college level? Engineering disciplines often only require an MS as it is seen as a respected stopping place and valued for its narrow focus. With a physics undergrad you might actually have some success getting into some engineering masters programs.

All that being said, I still think your best bet is to do a PhD in physics. Are there any topics that really interest you? What about research/academia don't you like? I certainly don't want to be a part of the publish or perish community and even though I have a PhD, plan on teaching lower level physics, possibly at a community college because to teach higher level college physics YOU ALSO HAVE TO PUBLISH. There are really very few, if any, exceptions to this. I almost enjoyed (it was very fascinating, but also the hardest thing I have every done and pushed me to my breaking point many times) my PhD experience, primarily because at AFIT (the Air Force Institute of Technology), the problems are very real and so is the impact of my research. Happy to answer any questions if you are still struggling
 
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  • #12
Welcome to hell
 
  • #13
I am considering teaching abroad and then perhaps making an effort to find additional work overseas. Is working two menial jobs just to pay off your loans worth sticking around for?
 

Related to Post-Bachelor's Struggles: Navigating the Job Market as a Physics Graduate

1. What types of jobs can I pursue with a physics degree?

With a physics degree, you can pursue a variety of career paths such as research and development, engineering, data analysis, education, finance, and many others. Physics graduates have a versatile skill set that is highly valued in various industries.

2. Is it difficult to find a job in the physics field?

The job market for physics graduates can be competitive, but there are many opportunities available. It is important to have a strong academic background, relevant experience, and networking skills to increase your chances of finding a job in the physics field.

3. What can I do to make myself more marketable to employers?

To make yourself more marketable, it is important to gain relevant experience through internships, research projects, and extracurricular activities. Additionally, developing strong communication and problem-solving skills, as well as staying updated on industry developments, can make you a more attractive candidate to employers.

4. How important is networking in finding a job in the physics field?

Networking is crucial in finding a job in the physics field. Building relationships with professionals in the industry can help you learn about job opportunities and make connections that can lead to potential job offers. Attending career fairs, joining professional organizations, and connecting with alumni can all help expand your network.

5. What resources are available to help me navigate the job market as a physics graduate?

There are many resources available to help physics graduates navigate the job market. Your university's career center may offer job search assistance, resume and cover letter reviews, and mock interviews. Professional organizations such as the American Physical Society also offer career resources and networking opportunities. Additionally, online job search engines and networking platforms can also be valuable resources in your job search.

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