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Physics Recent, Anxious College Graduate looking for Assistance

  1. May 19, 2017 #1

    I recently graduated from a large state school with a bachelor's in physics and a minor in nuclear engineering. I ended up with a solid GPA. I didn't really have a plan for myself all throughout college, which I regret now. I started off with the intention of going to grad school, but I didn't apply my senior year because I felt I needed some time off before starting that arduous endeavor. My plan was to get a job for a year or two before applying to grad school.

    The problem is that I'm still without a job at the moment. I've been rigorously applying to many post-bac jobs at national labs and similar. Frankly, I've been somewhat demoralized by rejection/lack of responses as I thought I worked very hard, learned a lot and performed well enough in my courses to be able to get atleast some kind of job that I would be interested in. I haven't given up on a getting a job yet. Another problem I identified is that my research experience and letters of recommendation will be weak in my graduate school applications. I did some research, which was definitely worthwhile for me as I gained valuable coding and lab skills, but it wasn't very meaningful. I doubt the advisers would be able to remember me, let alone write good letters of recommendation. Same with my professors; I did well in the classes, but I wasn't very interactive with them. I was hoping maybe my employer would be able to write those letters. I clearly did not plan out or give enough thought to my future as I should have and now it's shows.

    I just don't know what to do at the moment, but I know truly love physics, especially cosmology. I love that feeling of awe when I think about the history of the universe. I read some physics articles/papers every day to keep up to date with current research and learn new things. I have been brushing up my skills from the various branches while studying for the pGRE and it is really cool to think about how much we, as a species, have come to understand about how the world works and how much there is left to understand! I know I want to continue studying physics/cosmology in my future.

    My questions are:
    1. What should I do if I don't get a job in the upcoming months or where are some places that hire physics bachelor's that I might not have applied to yet?

    2. What should I do about my lack of meaningful research/letters of recommendation in future graduate school applications? Is there anything I can do now to improve these weaknesses?

    Thanks all! I really appreciate the help.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2017 #2


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    If you haven't done so already, you could start by checking here for some relatively recent information about where physics grads are getting hired.

    You can also try to use your university's network. Where have other graduates been hired over the past several years? You could try contacting some of them and speaking more directly about their experiences.

    If you've got some background in nuclear engineering you might want to look into radiation safety or health physics positions.

    Beyond that kind of thing you might want to expand your scope. What you have right now is an education in physics. That doesn't mean that you NEED to do something physics-related for a job, particularly not in the short term. I know, it's disappointing if you end up doing something unrelated to your degree, but sometimes you just have to solve life's problems as weighted by Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Put food on the table first. Then worry about solving the mysteries of the universe. And even if you never quite get back, it's important to keep in mind that your education isn't wasted. It can be surprising how the skills you've developed can help you excel at other things.

    HOW your expand your scope is up to you. You could try to put some other skills to good use. Did you pick up any programming skills? Electronics? Machining? Are you good and number crunching or book-keeping? What part-time or summer jobs did you have as an undergraduate? Did you learn anything doing these that might help - sales skills for example?

    One thing you can do is start early. Contact professors NOW who still remember you and tell them what your plans are - that you're hoping to apply to graduate school after taking a year off and that you would like to approach them in about nine months for a reference letter. This will keep you reasonably fresh in their minds, rather than forcing them to recall who you are a year from now.

    If you're not working, you can always ask if they know of anyone who is looking for help in their labs. Even if it's just a summer stint, you might be able to help them out and that will give you more experience to build on.
  4. May 19, 2017 #3

    jim hardy

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    If you like machinery and are willing to start at the bottom (which we all have to do)

    I'd suggest you shotgun a brief resume to every electric utility in the country that has a nuke plant..

    Here's just one list of jobs to peruse

    you'll see most are specialized. But utilities like to get degreed engineers "in the pipeline" for advancement.

    If you could land an operator trainee spot it'd be as intense as grad school learning the plant systems . But it's way different than academia.

    Another site is Roadtechs dot com, they specialize in temporary assignments for guys who like to travel. I see some jobs there in field of medical isotopes.

    Good Luck !
  5. May 20, 2017 #4
    I can tell you what worked for me but this was almost 40 years ago. Especially keep in touch with any professors who can write letters of recommendation that you already established a relationship with. I would not worry too much about what they might say in the letters. You have no control over it. Most LOR's are OK. I'm not sure any are outstanding. The schools (and possibly) employers read thousands of these. After a while they all sound the same.

    I know one case where the school told the applicant, we want to accept you but we have received only 2 LOR's. Please get another letter. The applicant interpreted (correctly as it turned out), from anywhere. The applicant talked to a prof he hardly knew who agreed to write a letter. We do not know what the prof wrote but it worked.

    Two. If you have some money, you may be able to enroll in a course as a "special student". I took a grad course while working (at a non-professional job), spending my own money. ) I told the grad prof before hand that if I did well in the course, would he write a letter. He agreed. The course demonstrated to the grad school that I eventually applied at that I was motivated.

    (By the way, do not be afraid to accept a non-professional job. The job will tell later employers and graduate committees that you are the type that keeps moving. A prof in grad school who reviewed my application told me, that I understand your life experiences (even for one-year) has increased your motivation to succeed in physics above some newer applicants. You worked for XYZ, and you clearly found this was not for you.)

    I did ask employers for a recommendation when going back to grad school a second time, from a professional job. The recommenders had advanced degrees one a MS in math and one a doctorate in physics. I believe the grad school accepted these on par with the faculty

    The first time I job hunted, I had 13 job interviews, and 12 rejections. The process took 6 months. It can take a very long time. The upside is if you learn the process (mostly through hard knocks, and sometimes hurt feelings), it is a life lesson, and if you are ever unemployed again, (it can happen), you can use these tools.

    You may find employment is a lot harder than getting admitted to graduate school. The employer knows (s)he is looking at a career commitment for the organization (20-30) years, versus (5-8) years.

    Keep in mind all this was adequate 30-40 years ago, but I hope the rules have not changed that much. Best of Luck
  6. May 22, 2017 #5
    Degrees are necessary but not sufficient for getting jobs at national labs and the like; if all you did was the standard physics major classwork, I'm not surprised you're having your resumes being ignored. Apart from your classwork, what did you do? Did you do any research? Did you pickup practical skills like programming, electronics, laboratory equipment, mechanical fabrication, data analysis, technical writing and the like? You might ask professors in your alma matter if they have any research jobs they could use a post-bacc's help on and see if they could hire you on a part time basis. Your school's career center ought to help along with going to job fairs, if you have a solid GPA than you should have more luck in front of a real person instead of a nameless/faceless online HR resume gatekeeper, good luck.
  7. May 22, 2017 #6

    jim hardy

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    Add to your resume a line or two about your hobby interests.
    My son landed a job as Mechanical Engineer by mentioning "Shade Tree Mechanic" . An HR guy called to inquire about the meaning of that line in his resume.
    When son replied "Most recently i rebuilt the manual transmission in my Ford truck. It'd got low on oil and burned out the cluster gear " , the recruiter said "Why don't you come in and talk to us. "

    Skills like Autocad or finite element analysis have immediate value to an employer.

    Psychologically, in a face to face interview a subject with which you are familiar, like a hobby, will let you speak with confidence (which a good HR guy will sense) and will "break the ice" .

    old jim
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