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Problems with entering the academia

  • Thread starter dsanz
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello everyone,
I'm currently on my last year as an undergraduate, and I've been thinking a lot about going into graduate school lately. I have some big doubts regarding the big question of weather I should or should not enter grad school and try to pursuit an academic career.
1. First off... I have a girlfriend and our relationship is quite serious and strong. I am really thinking about marrying her in the future (hopefully not so distant future). I will be 23 years old this August. Getting a physics Ph.D will take between 4 and 7 years I believe. So supposing I get my Ph.D just before I'm 30, I would then search for post-doc positions and probably, if everything goes well, land a decent job when I am around 33 or something. So that's 10 years (and I think I'm being very optimistic) before getting a decent, stable income and in order to be thinking about having a family. I don't know if I'd be willing to wait that long before getting a nice house for my future wife (and possibly children). How do physics Ph.D's handle this situation? Do they just put a stop on those other plans for 10 or more years and wait to land a good job? Or do they go along with their personal plans and see how they survive and handle everything while they're still students??
2. Second, and I know this has probably been answered before... What other kinds of jobs do physics Ph.D's normally land? I put normally in bold because I know there are a lot of people who get jobs totally outside their field (this happens in every discipline), and those are probably not good references. But, what other job could you reasonably aim at with a physics Ph.D at hand?
And another question, related to the last one: if instead of getting a Ph.D I get a Masters in physics, do I get these same other jobs? What would be the advantages/disadvantages with each degree?

And just some info. about myself: I live in Mexico, speak english fluently, and I'm majoring in physics and engineering. I really have a passion for physics. The two main fields that have caught my eye are general relativity and elemantary particles. I actually took a GR course while studying as an exchange student in Toronto, Canada. I understand that taking the Ph.D path is very, very, tough, and demans some great deal of discipline and hard work. I want to make sure if the tough road is worth the wait so that I can live a happy and satisfying life. I suppose some or most of you won't be able to answer all of my questions, but I'll be very glad with any input anyone can give me. I hope that your responses will help me in deciding what to do in this critical point of my life.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
2. Second, and I know this has probably been answered before... What other kinds of jobs do physics Ph.D's normally land?
Other than academia, it would be the same kind of jobs you'd get with a Bsc or Msc in industry. Working in just about any kind of manufacturing/research industry. Things like defence, aeronautics, electronics (TVs etc, and even then, the big electronics companies mostly have interests in medical devices too - so you can work for Siemens on MRI, ultrasound etc for instance), medical devices, power companies (not just nuclear, there are calculations to be done for all types of power :smile:). I guess it depends if you consider these jobs as physics, each of these types of industry will have their own R&D divisions that will look for physicists. Obviously, if you have a PhD in the specific interest of one of these industries then you'll have a better chance and probably a little bump up the ladder.

And another question, related to the last one: if instead of getting a Ph.D I get a Masters in physics, do I get these same other jobs? What would be the advantages/disadvantages with each degree?
Don't go for a PhD to improve career prospects. Go for a PhD only if you really want to. I know many people that have obtained their PhDs and went into industry jobs that they could have achieved with their Bsc, (to use a specific example, the resultant advantage was that they started on £500pa more than the successful applicants that only had a Bsc).
 
  • #3
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I don't know fasterthanjoao atleast in the US getting those sort of jobs with a physics B.Sc. isn't incredibly likely. More like an engineering degree to work in those fields. Depends exactly what you want to do.
 
  • #4
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dsanz;2656162 I don't know if I'd be willing to wait that long before getting a nice house for my future wife (and possibly children). How do physics Ph.D's handle this situation?[/QUOTE said:
Some of us give up looking for jobs in academia and then go into industry.

Second, and I know this has probably been answered before... What other kinds of jobs do physics Ph.D's normally land?
Computer programming, investment banking, science journalism, etc. etc. One important thing to remember is that having a physics Ph.D. doesn't mean that you can or should search for jobs that *require* a physics Ph.D. I don't think I've ever had a job that absolutely required a Ph.d.

But, what other job could you reasonably aim at with a physics Ph.D at hand?
And another question, related to the last one: if instead of getting a Ph.D I get a Masters in physics, do I get these same other jobs?
Not necessary a masters in physics, but a CS masters or an MBA. One consequence of this is that you shouldn't get your Ph.D. primarily for career reasons. If you are interested mainly in making money, the extra few years of the Ph.D. isn't worth it. On the other hand, don't *not* do the Ph.D. for career reasons.

I understand that taking the Ph.D path is very, very, tough, and demands some great deal of discipline and hard work. I want to make sure if the tough road is worth the wait so that I can live a happy and satisfying life.
Hard work and discipline is part of a happy and satisfying life for some people.

This is an important point because it's a bad idea to think of getting a Ph.D. as a sacrifice for the future. I'm working almost as hard and doing more or less the same things that I was doing in graduate school. It doesn't get any easier.
 
  • #5
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Define what you consider is a good and satisfying life.

If it is a well-paying job that is more than enough to support a family, then I'll drop the PhD. and go for a M.S. in engineering or MBA.

If it is doing what you would do even if you didn't get paid for, then a Ph.D is worth going.
 
  • #6
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Thanks for your responses.

My only concern right now is that the time between entering a Ph.D program and having a decent job can be very long. That really is my only concern. I'm not willing to wait until I'm like 35 to get a good job. I want a family much earlier than that. Any advice?
 
  • #7
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If you want to support your family with a job, then skip the PhD and just go to work. That is what I did, and I have never regretted it. There are lots of engineering type jobs you can get with a bachelors in physics. It is indeed usual for PhD students to either delay marriage or children or both. If you are truly interested in a family, then going into industry will make your goals easier.
 
  • #8
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If it is a well-paying job that is more than enough to support a family, then I'll drop the PhD. and go for a M.S. in engineering or MBA.
I'd very strongly disagree. With university housing and daycare, you'll be able to support a family while you are doing the Ph.D. It won't be luxurious, but it's doable. After you get the Ph.D., there are tons of well-paying jobs out there as long as you don't confine yourself to academia.

One thing that makes a big difference is that even though you will be pinching pennies while getting the Ph.D., you'll leave the program without much if any debt.
 
  • #9
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My only concern right now is that the time between entering a Ph.D program and having a decent job can be very long. That really is my only concern. I'm not willing to wait until I'm like 35 to get a good job. I want a family much earlier than that. Any advice?
Go to a university with good childcare services, health insurance, and subsidized housing for Ph.D. students in a place with good elementary schools, and you'll survive graduate school with kids. You'll have to watch every single penny, but it's doable.
 
  • #10
6,814
12
My only concern right now is that the time between entering a Ph.D program and having a decent job can be very long. That really is my only concern. I'm not willing to wait until I'm like 35 to get a good job. I want a family much earlier than that. Any advice?
Go to a university with good childcare services, health insurance, and subsidized housing for Ph.D. students in a place with good elementary schools, and you'll survive graduate school with kids. You'll have to watch every single penny, but it's doable. At some point it might get old, and one reason I didn't try very hard to get a post-doc was that after seven years of graduate school, my wife and I got tired of pinching pennies.

The other thing that I've seen are either two Ph.D. households in which either both people are doing graduate school at the same time, or one does graduate school while the other one works, and they switch.

One other weird thing about academia is that most universities when offering a faculty position to one person will also offer a job to their spouse.
 
  • #11
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I'd very strongly disagree. With university housing and daycare, you'll be able to support a family while you are doing the Ph.D. It won't be luxurious, but it's doable. After you get the Ph.D., there are tons of well-paying jobs out there as long as you don't confine yourself to academia.

One thing that makes a big difference is that even though you will be pinching pennies while getting the Ph.D., you'll leave the program without much if any debt.
I meant after his Ph.D. But I misunderstood his question that he was referring to during graduate school.
 

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