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Physics What are the good careers related to physics?

  1. Jun 22, 2011 #1
    I want a career that is appreciated and wanted in the US that is concerning physics, any type of physics (Astrophysics, Nuclear physics, Quantum physics etc...)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2011 #2


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    Define "appreciated".
  4. Jun 23, 2011 #3
    i mean a specialization that a boss would be really in need of and might pick you immediately, like i want to specialize in a field that would make it easy to find a job with a good salary later
  5. Jun 30, 2011 #4
    If you want to know what specializations get you hired, go over to indeed.com or simplyhired.com and start reading job descriptions.
  6. Jun 30, 2011 #5
    Have you thought about going into engineering? It seems like a good option for someone who likes physics but wants to do practical work with it. You can pick a branch of physics you are really interested in, and study an engineering discipline that's closely related to it.
  7. Jul 12, 2011 #6
    It's not easy to get a job with a Physics degree. If you want to apply the principles of physics, what you want to do is engineer, and you will be much better off with an engineering degree. To become registered as a Professional Engineer in the U.S. the laws differ from state to state but in all cases it is harder to do with a physics degree (you need more experience than you would with an engineering degree), and in some states it is impossible. That mentality permeates throughout the industry. I have a math degree and 4 years of struggling with this problem under my belt, so a year ago I decided my best option was to go back to school and get an engineering degree. An undergraduate degree in Physics or Math really isn't worth much. There are some good academic positions if you continue with school to get your PhD, but if you want to start working after getting your Bachelor's, I think you'll find there are a lot more options with an engineering degree.
  8. Jul 12, 2011 #7
    Amplifying on what timsea81 wrote, yes it is harder to get a PE without an engineering degree. But that's not always a bad thing.

    As a professional engineer myself, I strongly advise new career engineers to avoid getting the PE until you are really certain that you need one.

    I have seen too many idiots go straight for the PE as if it were some form of Merit Badge from Boy Scouts. I have seen similar behavior among people who collect aviation endorsements for their pilot licenses.

    I am utterly opposed to those who collect degrees and licenses to build hero-walls of certificates. These are people who fail to realize the liability that licensing brings and what could happen when they sign off on a set of plans. If you see such people, stay away from them. Life is not about the degree, the license, or the certificate. It is about actually DOING something.

    Many of you see the PE as "just another certificate." Well, if that's what you're collecting, like you're collecting degrees, allow me to point out that once you're on staff in the real world, we don't care what degrees you have or what licenses you may have. The question is can you do the work? Will you take responsibility for your designs?

    We can demand certificates but in the end, performance matters and licenses are merely the handles we use to keep you ethical and reasonable.

    Pursue the things you love. Get an introduction to them in school. Then go out in the real world and don't stop learning. I have known too many who expect us to worship the certification or the degree. I am not impressed with either. I am impressed with initiative, with intelligence, and inventiveness. A degree or license only shows initiative. The other two are things I'll only find out by working with you.
  9. Jul 13, 2011 #8
    This is simply not true.

    I've seen you around the forum 2-3 times writing this and it annoys me when you give out false information.

    A Physics degree is versatile and opens many doors. Not everyone in Physics thinks of getting a faculty position, so don't limit your career prospects to that - there are other areas too (private sector, government institutions, etc).
  10. Jul 13, 2011 #9
    My experience watching undergrads I taught during grad school has consistently been that students with engineering degrees step much more quickly into jobs than physics students. It might be a quirk of the career services at the universities that I have worked at, but anecdotally I've seen the thing as the post you are quoting.

    That isn't to say that a physics degree is a dead end, but you are going to have to work harder to get a job, AND its much more likely you'll be forced away from traditional technical work and into finance or business. Great, if you like finance or business, not so great if you hoped for engineering type work. If your goal is to attain traditional technical work after college, it has been my experience (and hence its my advice) that you should do engineering, not physics.
  11. Jul 13, 2011 #10
    Simply not true, as in it is easy to get a job with a physics degree? In this economy it isn't easy for anyone to get a job. There are a lot more applicants than there are open positions right now, so frankly telling someone that looking for a job will be easy is irresponsible.

    I picked a pretty similar approach to what the OP by majoring in Math and thinking I could get a job in a related field. The field I picked after graduation was engineering and having the wrong kind of degree has really held me back, so much so that I decided to go back to school at night for an engineering degree. Yes, I posted this same story on a couple of other threads on here, because I wish someone had told me that when I was in college the first time. I don't know why you would find that annoying, but if I am really so wrong, please share with the OP some specifics about what you can do with it, as in job titles, descriptions, names of companies that hire physics grads right out of school, etc.

    No matter what major you go with you'll also need work experience, good references, and additional credentials (honors society, etc) to be competitive in the job market. Telling someone it's okay to think they can float by on a B.S. in Physics alone is pretty messed up.
  12. Jul 13, 2011 #11
    Bubble bursting time: When was the last time you actually spoke to or dealt with someone whose entire educational background and job experience was "Human Resources"? Note that I put it in quotes because I detest the term. This is a profession made up by MBA hacks to enable someone who knows nothing at all about a technical field to winnow through a pile of resumes.

    If the job is engineering, they're going to look for an engineering degree, or a PE at the very least. There is nothing that can be done for it. There is no use trying to explain to them that physics is the foundation of engineering. You might as well try to explain this to Catbert, for all the good it will do.

    It makes me sick to say this, but although I agree that a person with a physics degree can be a very good engineer, it is not easy to do in today's environment unless you start with a small firm where there are no HR specialists yet.
  13. Jul 13, 2011 #12
    That is exactly what I looked for at my school and found it in career services. They take an alumni survey (specified for each degree level) every couple years and have a huge list of every major offered with things like job titles, salary, and companies.

    I'll be honest, the physics majors do have a wide range of job titles. There's a whole bunch of IT titles along with a handful of engineers and teachers then some bizarre ones like sales, marketing, and even a coffee barista. The physics department is pretty big at my school too, ~30 undergrad degrees every year. It does sound like a crap shoot with a physics degree though, because that alumni survey doesn't specify if they wanted those positions or not. But from my friends in the physics department, I haven't met one that *wants* to go into IT.

    Engineering had a much more controlled job title sampling, almost all of them were something with "engineer."

    This is just what I found out at my school, but it does correlate to what timsea81 and ParticleGrl said. I can only recommend to search ones own school for information like this.
  14. Jul 13, 2011 #13
    With all due respect, and as much as I hope you're right, aren't you the one only seeking to go into Physics education? Despite timsea81's unfavourable comments pertaining to this topic, I think your post may be a lot more damaging than his. At least he's posting from experience, whereas your just post is fueled by mere wishful thinking.
  15. Jul 13, 2011 #14


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    Keep in mind that physics is an academic discipline. Engineering is a profession. It's very important to make a distinction between the two.

    A degree in physics is not job training. It's an education. When you complete it and if you decide to enter the working world, you will have a very strong skill set for solving a wide array of problems. What you do with that is up to you. There are many options and the statistics that I've seen indicate (a) a low unemployment rate and (b) a high mean starting salary, both in comparison to other majors.

    Rarely will companies search specifically for physics graduates, and that's because it's not a profession. Sometimes, as a physics graduate you may need to do some additional training to get into a good career, but in the long run this is often a minimal additional investment for a huge payoff because your education in physics makes you that much better at whatever profession you end up in.

    To answer the original poster's question here are some options:

    (1) Accelerator physics. I think ZapperZ started a thread about this not to long ago and there's a great article in the June 2011 issue of Physics Today on industrial particle accelerators.

    (2) Medical physics. I'm a medical physicist and this field has been very rewarding for me - both financially and in terms of challenges. There is a substantial time investment (graduate school and residency), but projections predict a shortfall of qualified medical physicists in the coming years - largely due to the increased incidence in cancer as the population ages. There is also the (2b) field of health physics - radiation protection.

    (3) Geophysics. My alma matter had a strong geophysics program and the students that I knew in grad school all had excellent jobs waiting for them when they graduated. I suspect this field has a strong dependence on the relative health of the oil and gas industry, but it's worth looking into.

    (4) Entrepreneurial ventures. Some of the most successful physicists I know are ones who took work they did either during their PhD or shortly after and figured out how to bring it to market. Obviously most of the people I personally know (or at least have met) in this category are medical physicists, but not all. Wasn't Research In Motion started by a physicist? Wasn't Google started by a pair of computer scientists?

    (5) Military contractors. When I was a master's student, we had multiple military companies (or possibly the same one multiple times) come specifically into our department to recruit physics students - some were swept up before they even graduated. The big thing at the time (pre-9/11) was landmine detection.

    There are others. Do a search. I'm sure people with more experience in fields like condensed matter or optics can tell you where those physicists often end up.
  16. Jul 13, 2011 #15
    Believe it or not, there once was a time when scientist (or even physicist) was a profession. An unfortunate number of people in my phd program believed they were at the start of a scientific career, most of them were not- and the transition was (and has been) heartbreaking for most.

    The issue isn't that physics is an academic discipline and engineering is a profession. Its that scientist (as a profession) is tremendously overcrowded, and engineering less so.
  17. Jul 14, 2011 #16


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    What defines a profession is an accreditation process and legal restrictions of certain activities. Consider medicine, for example. After their education, medical doctors have to be credentialed by professional organisations before they can diagnose or prescribe treatments.

    Although science diciplines have large societies (the APS for example), these bodies do little to define who is a scientist or more specifically who can perform scientific investigations. Several years ago there was a movement within the Canadian Association of Physicists to define a "P.Phys" or professional physicist, but I don't think this ever really took off because it was just a designation and you didn't need it to work as a physicist.
  18. Jul 14, 2011 #17
    What Choppy said.

    I understand there's some grey area in how the word "profession" is used; it is sometimes used to mean something more general like "career". However in discussing education and job opportunities we should use the more specific version of "profession", which includes accreditation and possibly licensing; it is certainly appropriate to speak this way when comparing engineering and physics.

    The problem with being part of a profession is it does a great deal to define what an employer will see as your function. The remark another poster made about engineering grads having very consistent job titles is a perfect example. This can be limiting. You have to weigh the pros and cons before choosing a particular profession as a career.
  19. Jul 14, 2011 #18
    People tried to do that with software engineers, but the problem (and it's a good thing) is that in software engineering there are enough competent people with no formal qualifications so that there was a huge amount of push back so that idea was dropped. Also, with software engineering, you have the issue that it's pretty easy to export so that if you have high professional standards for programming, that will just mean that all of the programming will get done in India.
  20. Jul 14, 2011 #19
    I've never had a problem. Now it is hard to get a particular job needing a particular qualification, but that's something else.

    It depends on how good your career services is.

    Actually there aren't. If you get your Ph.D., you'll still find that you have to be creative in turning it into a job. Again, this doesn't bother me, but you might be different.
  21. Jul 15, 2011 #20
    Between the years 1950 to 1970. There was a very brief moment when all of the stars aligned and physicists were kings of the world, but the weird thing about "golden ages" is that people start thinking that that brief moment of 20 years was normal, and that the 40 years since they was some sort of fluke.

    One reason why physicists were in high demand was that not too many people got Ph.D.'s. I very seriously doubt that either you or I would have be able to get a physics Ph.d. in 1950 since neither of us are white males.

    One thing that makes me weird is that I seem to be one of the few people here that has ended up happy with how things turned out. I've ended up with a scientific career that it close enough to what I wanted.

    Part of what gets me going is that in my own might what I'm doing is science and physics. Now people do disagree, but I ignore them.

    But then you have to ask questions like "what is science?" and "what does a scientist do?" My answer is that a scientist is someone that tries to understand the principles of the world with an aim at making the world better. Look at the mirror, is that what I'm doing? Yup.

    OK, that's science. Now you can come up with a different definition of science that doesn't cover what I do for a living, but most of them basically boil down to "but people don't *say* that you are a scientist."
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