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Physics Stuck at a crossroads. Where to go after B.S in Physics?

  1. Oct 28, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I will soon be graduating with a bachelors in physics with a math minor. But lately I've been feeling very apathetic about school, grad school, and even possible work. I just don't want to do anything at all!

    I don't even know if I like Physics anymore. The idea of going to grad school and hating it scares me. I don't want to do that. On the other hand, I know there are almost no jobs for a Physics Bachelor. I'm just stuck.

    Will I be resigned to working at a grocery store for the rest of my life? How do I get out of this funk?


  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2012 #2


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    Sounds like you're burned out. I was like that too, towards the end of my degree.

    My $0.02: take some time out, consider doing something really outside of your comfort zone. I mean like the Peace Corps or Teach For America. (I'm assuming you're in the US, sorry if I'm wrong :redface:)

    Or maybe not a full two-year commitment, as those programs require. But you need some time out from what you've been doing for the last several years. In your current state of mind, I would not recommend grad school.
  4. Oct 28, 2012 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Go back and think what was it about physics and math that you liked. For me it was Relativity and the Unified Field theory. Take a year or two off, do something different like walk the Way of St james. Now after 40 years I'm thinking of relearning my physics and math but a poor memory, work and life keep getting in the way. Hmm maybe when I retire...
  5. Oct 29, 2012 #4
    Same situation myself, unfortunately I'm not in the financial position to do volunteer work and need to start earning as soon as I graduate. What kind of jobs can a physics bachelor with little/no experimental skills do? Besides the minimum wage jobs that don't require university education at all.

    I'm having trouble finding a middle ground. Every remotely technical job I've found requires a lot of specific skills I don't have and/or phd education(and I am too burned out and depressed to even try the pGRE in a week and a half), high school education requires additional certification in most states which means no income for a while (not an option).

    What kind of desk jobs would a physicist be accepted at without specific skills? I'd like to hear concrete examples of jobs I could apply for other than the abstract, generic "physicists are highly sought after, they can do anything" comments that pervade internet forums. The only job that comes to mind is a bank clerk, is there anything else?

    I CAN hack it at some scientific programming, but I've never had a dedicated computer science course, only numerical methods and a senior project using a Monte Carlo. I've got a decent CV if anyone's interested in seeing it/can advise me based on it.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  6. Oct 29, 2012 #5
    " The only job that comes to mind is a bank clerk, is there anything else?"

    Ha, thats funny because I just used that exact same example the other day while complaining about physics opportunities.

    Unfortunately I dont think you have much at all with just a B.S. Nobody starts out as a physics major planning on stopping at the B.S. level. At that level the degree is as marketable as english or communications. You should at least go to some kind of grad school for something. Even if you dont want to do the physics PhD route, there are other programs that actually teach marketable skills.

    (In my case I have a failed PhD masters degree and have not been able to get a job as a bank teller, or anything really.)
  7. Oct 29, 2012 #6
    Well, I wasn't exactly planning on being completely burned out by my fourth year nor being in the gutter not long before the GRE's.

    Surely a physics Bsc. can do something that isn't flipping burgers, I just never hear about concrete examples on how to transition into any specific non-entry level jobs without generally getting additional (often costly) certification or a masters. Is it impossible to have any shot at a technology company (ie: optics, telecomm) if one doesn't have the specific lab abilities under one's belt?

    Unfortunately (or fortunately in some cases) my university's educational philosophy is to gear students into a purely academic path, so I can and have done graduate level (by US standards) pen and paper QM, CM, SM, and Optics. Despite having 3 compulsory lab courses under my belt and taking a compulsory electronics course, I really feel like I have next to no practical experience, at least not of the kind mentioned in zapperz's "So you want to be a physicist" guide. No contact with any "serious" instruments or making thin films, my uni labs had really outdated equipment.

    I can make killer plots in Origin and GNUPlot, hack it with some Latex and solve a number of textbook numerical analysis problems in Fortran and Matlab, but my experience with lab equipment and electronics is very poor/limited at this point in time. Is there any kind of employer that thinks these skills are good for something?

    Could a physics bsc. pitch their degree to a job in the chemical industry (I have actual experience here, and a 2-year diploma in the field, btw), for example?
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  8. Oct 29, 2012 #7
    Disclaimer: I haven't done this, and I don't know anyone that has either , so this is just pure speculation.

    What about getting a position as a management trainee or consultant? That way, you're not competing against people with specific technical skills and qualifications that you don't have, but they would still want someone who's smart and creative. Also, I think it could be a good way to sell the "jack of all trades, master of none" angle that physics students usually have. You could argue that, even though you don't have experience to do what any of the technical specialists do, you'd have enough general background knowledge to understand all of them.
  9. Oct 29, 2012 #8
    Absolutely. But then that is the case for most of the burger flippers whether they have a degree or not. The more important questions is not what you can do but what somebody would hire you to do.
  10. Oct 29, 2012 #9
    I was quite burned out when I graduated with my Bachelors in Physics with a Math minor. I too had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. lisab's recommendation is a good one. Finding something like the Peace Corps can be a good way to decompress and gain some perspective. This is also valuable experience that you can put on your resume. I would view the Peace Corps or Teach for America favorably on an applicant's resume.

    As for myself, I did actually start grad school, but I ended up skipping out a year later when I found an engineering position. I've never been sorry about that.

    Now that I am in industry, I can give you some perspective. There are many technical jobs that no degree in the world prepares you for. The most common job for graduates with a BSE in Mechanical Engineering is Process or Manufacturing Engineer. This is definitely not what the ME curriculum prepares you for, but it is good enough. This happens to be what I do, so I know what the Physics curriculum didn't prepare me for it either. However, employers know this, and recruit accordingly.

    Here is a sample job search in a major city near me. The important part is "entry level" or "engineer 1". You can substitute another word for engineer. Not everything that shows up here is actually appropriate for someone with a BS in Physics, but it is a good start.

    Here are a couple of postings that do not require a specific degree, and have a pretty broad skills requirement:

    I picked a job market I know. Many of my former classmates work in jobs like these. I hire physics graduates into jobs like mine. If you want to go this route, there ought to be some alumni who can help you out. If you want to go the grad school route, that is good too. You can definitely increase your marketability with a grad degree, but take some time and figure out what you want to do. There are lots of cool programs out there, but you need to find something you like, and you should probably take into consideration what you want to do with that advanced degree. Elsewise you may find yourself in the same place later.
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