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Prospects for a Physics PhD in two years

  1. Sep 27, 2013 #1
    So I have been reading this forum for a while and I have heard more than a few people say things like the employment rate for physics PhDs is worse than it is in the humanities and way, WAY worse than for med school, so that doing a physics PhD as opposed to a med school degree is a huge mistake.

    If so, i am done for and should just crawl in a hole and die now, since I am a year and a half from finishing a physics PhD.

    So I was wondering what are realistic and accurate predictions of job prospects for a physics PhD who is not at all picky about employment. I.e. for a physics PhD who is willing to work as a Post Doc in any group that wants them, an industry physics job or work in a bank or as an analyst or in any other sort of physics or non-physics job that is available, in any location in the US, as well as any post docs iN Europe they can get, what are the prospects for a Physics PHD in that situation?

    And also, is there any way to find accurate data on the unemployment rate of Physics PhDs? Most sources I have seen list it as less than 10 % but I have heard other sources say it is more than 20 %. What is a truly accurate estimate of the unemployment rate for those who have a PhD in physics and what is a reliable source for this info?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2013 #2
    2 years down the line everything may seem good enough: http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/phdinitial.pdf

    In my opinion, the problems begin piling up when most of those 60% of PhD graduates who became postdocs reach a 5-year limit and become unemployed and potentially unemployable. Add to that 7% of near-minimal-wage adjuncts and 4% of unemployed, and you can get a very different picture. So you really need stats for Physics PhD graduates in six or seven years after getting a PhD. Unfortunately I cannot find it anywhere.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2013
  4. Sep 27, 2013 #3
    That aip report looks good, but I hear all these reports about how the data is seriously *fudged* and that the unemployment for physics PhDs is between 20 and 30 %, a huge, catastrophic number. Apparently because the aip biases its samples because they are trying to hide negative facts. That is what I read anyway. Do you think this claim has any validity?

    In any event, at the moment I am liking the idea of getting post docs after my PhD, but you are correct that it is very hard to predict after that what the next available jobs will be. I would be happy with any type of teaching, research or lecturer job I get after a post doc, in physics and elsewhere. I hear about the dismal prospects for a faculty job, but I am not dead set on getting one. If I do a post doc, I will gladly take ANYTHING I can get after that. Maybe that means my prospects are at least somewhat better than the average post doc once he or she finishes?
  5. Sep 27, 2013 #4


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    ema9u, do you have any links to any of those reports saying that aip is lying?
  6. Sep 27, 2013 #5
    Well the "reports" actually by and large come from people on this forum. One poster said that the respondents to the aip are those who elect to respond and therefore is too heavily skewed towards those with good jobs; those who are employed or underemployed are not giving aip data because they don't feel comfortable giving it out. And therefore the aip report is worthess; and the unemployment rate for physics PhDs is actually around 20 to even 30 %. And if federal funding drops even further and more industry jobs get taken for foreign workers or get outsourced, then the physics PhD unemployment will be around 40 to even 50 %.

    Incidentally, I two of the professors I know with graduated students who are unemployed and underemployed. Granted, their cases were different than many others; one had a chance to work at JLab after getting his PhD, but decided he did not want to do physics at all and limited his job search to work in specifically in computer science, and thus far has not had any success. The other is underemployed at least in part because he was looking for work only in his hometown, not in any other cities/states/countries (he needed to live where is wife was working).
  7. Sep 27, 2013 #6


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    What field are you in?
  8. Sep 27, 2013 #7
    Experimental nuclear physics, non - High Energy. Is that bad?
  9. Sep 27, 2013 #8
    I also note that in another thread you said that the job prospects for Phsyics PhDs without corporate experience at all before getting the PHD were abysmal, that they were all in postdocs or in Asia or unemployed or in unskilled labor. I don't understand why having a Physics PhD would have hindered these students you knew that badly. What percentage of Physics PhDs do you know, without previous corporate experience, who have no job at all right now, not even unskilled jobs?
  10. Sep 28, 2013 #9
    I know exactly 1 person with a Physics PhD degree who has been continuously unemployed for more than 2 years. I however think that it has been his own fault. Finding a casual job is not that hard if you are determined enough. Just don't tell potential employers that you have a PhD =)

    Several Physics PhDs who I personally know are currently unemployed, but that's a temporary state for them. They had casual jobs while doing a PhD and will definitely find at least casual jobs soon. These people however don't seem to be actively searching for postdoctoral positions worldwide.

    Most PhD graduates who I know are able to find postdocs. In my experience getting a postdoc actually seems fairly easy if you have good academic connections. However if you follow this path, a BIG question is what to do in five-six years.

    Many Indian, Chinese and Korean PhDs return to their home countries and get great jobs there. They have also mentioned that some really good jobs in Asia are open to English-speaking foreigners.

    This all does not count PhD graduates with a couple of years of corporate/industrial experience. They seem to be able to find fair non-academic jobs.

    p.s. I am sure there are Physics PhD graduates without corporate experience who managed to recently find good potentially permanent jobs in Western countries. I have not met such people personally, but this forum has a few examples.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
  11. Sep 28, 2013 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    It's true that the survey methodology is imperfect. That doesn't mean that numbers from surveys should be replaced by numbers that are guessed. Guessing is an even less perfect methodology.

    I would also expect anyone who is accusing the AIP of scientific misconduct - and that's what this is - to be able to provide some evidence of that.
  12. Sep 28, 2013 #11
    That sounds like the statistic from their BS employment survey. In that survey they ignore the 30%+ that are unemployed, part time employed or doing what they did before school. I see no such claim on the PhD employment survey.
  13. Sep 28, 2013 #12
    I'm with Vanadium on this one. No survey methodology is perfect, and the AIP likely makes it appear a bit rosier than it early is, but that is no reason to replace reported statistics with guesses or anecdotes.
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