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Physics UK Physics PhD to California?

  1. Jan 18, 2017 #1
    I am a physics PhD at a globally top 10 UK institution. I'm interested in moving to California for two reasons:

    - The weather.
    - I believe the US economy is higher growth than the rest of the modernised world.

    My subject area is not 'hot' so I doubt I'd be able to get a good postdoc. Are the skills in a UK PhD in demand in California? Bear in mind a UK PhD is very different to a US one. By 'in demand' I mean sufficient demand to pay well relative to cost of living and incentivise businesses to hire non-US citizens.

    I'm aware this is a general question but it is difficult to get a feel for the situation. Other related questions are:
    Would entry-level employment be the expected path?
    How competitive is the job search over there?
    Apart from silicon valley are there other major tech industries?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2017 #2


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  4. Jan 18, 2017 #3


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    This is not very clear. Are you looking for a postdoc or are you skipping that and going straight to seek employment?

    For now, let's forget about your goal to narrow your chances considerably by limiting yourself to California. Without knowing what you majored in and what your expertise are in, there is no way to give any rational feedback on what you want to do. Secondly, unless you see employment openings in which the employers will either work to get you an H1 visa for temporary employment, or work to get you a permanent resident status (not very likely), you will not have permission to work in the US. So that narrows down your "phase space" even more.

    Your reason for seeking employment in California is a bit naive. You left out a lot of major cons for working in California, especially in the Bay area, one of which being COST OF LIVING, such as housing.

  5. Jan 18, 2017 #4


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    Here is a post from the OP describing the work he did back a few years ago, which should give you some idea of his/her expertise.


    To the OP: Would you like to add anything further regarding your area of research, or your recent work or research experience?
  6. Jan 18, 2017 #5
    To respond to the questions so far:
    - I'd rather not narrow down my area of expertise. I believe more details would make it relatively trivial to identify who I was, given the motivation. One detail I can add is that it does not include extensive computational work (so I can probably rule out silicon valley).
    - I don't think postdocs are an option as if there was an active group in my PhD area I would know.
    - There is no 'major' in the UK system.
    - I did not leave out cost of living, I asked about pay relative to cost of living.

    I am aware this seems a 'naive' question. Rest assured I do have an employment plan but it involves leaving physics/technical work. I didn't want to discount without research the option to stay technical and move to one of the nicest parts of the world I've been to. If you can suggest a modern, thriving city with good weather that wants PhD skills I'd be interested to hear!
  7. Jan 18, 2017 #6


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    The problem here is that without knowing more about your experiences and the skills you've actually developed (whether through your field of research or any work experience you've had in the UK), it is very difficult if not impossible to determine whether your skills will be in demand in the US (whether that be in California or elsewhere in the country).

    You did state that your area of research did not include extensive computational work. Did it involve experimental work, or are you a pen-and-paper theorist? Did it involve large scale data analysis (as would be found if you were, say, involved in experimental particle physics research)? Do you have a background in areas like condensed matter physics or optics (which are currently in demand in industry)? What level of computational work do you have? These are the kinds of questions you would need to provide.
  8. Jan 18, 2017 #7
    Trying to keep it anonymous; I'm primarily involved in experiments using condensed matter and optics (although not ultrafast). I would say that having looked at the job market in the UK the most transferable industrial skill I've got is optical modelling. The PhD is in quite a specialised niche so it is unlikely that there will be jobs related to the PhD topic.

    To be honest the most marketable skills are the general 'PhD skills' such as synthesise a large amount of data (papers) to apply to problems, dedication to creating solutions to aforementioned problems and communcation of those solutions in presentation and report format. I guess the best proxy for what I'm trying to understand is post-Physics PhD employment in CA/US - are Physics PhDs being headhunted out of Uni or is it a bit of a slog?
  9. Jan 25, 2017 #8
    I was unable to find that much data on Physics PhD destinations. As a baseline Oxford has some information - 100% of their Condensed Matter graduates stayed in academia (i.e. no jobs in that area). Data at: http://public.tableau.com/views/DLHE_stu/SectorsandRoles?:showVizHome=no#1
    I couldn't find any data from Caltech. Standford did have some data at: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/pres-provost/irds/phdjobs
    Of a data set of 250 Natural Sciences students, about 50% went into industry the top 5 employers were Amgen, Genentech, Google, KLA-Tencor and Bristol-Myers Squib. 3 of those are pharma companies - I would imagine that's Chemistry PhDs not Physics.

    My conclusion from this thread and the data is that there is minimal demand for Physics PhDs in California, unless you have specific marketable skills. Anyone doing a PhD is advised to identify marketable skills that could fall within their thesis and ensure they learn them. Not an unsurprising conclusion.
  10. Jan 25, 2017 #9


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    From my understanding from what has been posted here on PF, many of the condensed matter PhD graduates (in particular, the experimental condensed matter PhD graduates) who are working outside of academia or the national labs (e.g. Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, etc.) ended up working for companies like Intel or similar companies involved in the development of semiconductors.

    I know that some of the pharma companies you mentioned above (Amgen and Genentech in particular) have large scientific computing labs, where I presume a physics PhD could have an opening (although since you stated up front that you did not engage in computational work in your research, this may not be especially feasible).

    One common path for physics PhDs (as was suggested in post #2) was to move on into data science type roles, typically after doing some retraining in programming, which I would strongly encourage you pursue, whether you decide to move to the US or stay in the UK. I know one former participant on this forum (ParticleGrl) who had finished her PhD in particle physics and who worked for a year as a bartender after being unable to find a research position, retrained herself, and then subsequently worked in the data science role for an insurance company and later a consulting firm.

    If you do seriously want to consider that route, one path would be to enroll in a data science fellowship/bootcamp. There are a number of those around; I have a link below to one that an acquaintance of mine who finished his PhD in probability theory in Canada had applied to.

  11. Jan 27, 2017 #10
    Thanks for the constructive comments. I had previously not looked much into data science as it seemed a bit 'bubbly'; I shall revisit it as an option.
    I will also continue to persue the other non-technical options I have identified.
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