What are the most in-demand/employable physics subfields?

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I am trying to figure out which direction I should head towards in terms of employment/gradschool. I am aware jobs doing "actual physics" are few and far between, but as an undergrad, I am naively opportunistic. I have a few extra slots in my university course schedule, so I want to slide in some advanced physics or EE courses. I want to make the most out of these extra classes; I'd be even more motivated knowing the course is relevant to the current demand. I am asking you guys & gals about the industry so I can best choose these courses, and in turn, making myself as employable as possible. I'd greatly appreciate ANY replies to ANY of the three questions I have.

I read this post on Reddit from a couple years ago saying how the nuclear side of things has great job prospects. (1) Is/Was this accurate? If not, which subfields/disciplines are the most in demand as of right now?

(2) Are physics-focused government jobs (maybe National Labs? NASA?) more common than physics-focused private sector jobs? If you're anti-government-jobs or anti-private-sector-jobs, feel free to share thoughts/experiences you have.

(3) As someone who is unfit a PhD, would I notice a large increase in opportunities if I continued on to receive a terminal Masters degree?

I, of course, have researched these concerns on my own, but I cannot seem to find detailed & up-to-date info. Even aip.org's most recent document discussing employment uses data from 2014 graduates. Trying to gain insight from the people actually employed or knowledgable about employment (you all) seems like the most logical next move for me to make.

TL;DR: Which physics subfields/concentrations/disciplines are the most in-demand right now?
 

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  • #2
ZapperZ
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The subfield of physics that is in great demand is whatever is being heavily funded that year.

Zz.
 
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The subfield of physics that is in great demand is whatever is being heavily funded that year.

Zz.
Hi, Zapper, I have seen your name around on this forum quite often actually, you're very active. Thanks for replying! Do you mind sharing with me which subfield is being heavily funded this year? Or point in the direction of where I can find this information out for myself?
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
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The problem is that you don't need to know what's hot now. You need to know what's going to be hot in the future.
 
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The problem is that you don't need to know what's hot now. You need to know what's going to be hot in the future.
That makes sense, thanks for the reply. What fields do you foresee being hot in the future? In my original post, I reference a Reddit post whose author seems to be a big advocate for Nuclear. What do you think?
 
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Vanadium 50
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What fields do you foresee being hot in the future?
No idea. In the first half of 1986 I would have thought superconductivity was dead. By the second half it was the hottest field. As Niels Bohr said, "It is difficult to predict, especially the future."
 
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  • #7
Dr Transport
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(2) Are physics-focused government jobs (maybe National Labs? NASA?) more common than physics-focused private sector jobs? If you're anti-government-jobs or anti-private-sector-jobs, feel free to share thoughts/experiences you have.

(3) As someone who is unfit a PhD, would I notice a large increase in opportunities if I continued on to receive a terminal Masters degree?
Hard to get a job at a national lab without a PhD and I worked in industry for 15+ years, pure physics research jobs don't really exist.
 
  • #8
Choppy
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A slightly different way of thinking about these questions as opposed to trying to predict which fields will be hot, would be to try to think about the skills that you want to pick up and develop through your education. To a certain degree, one can switch between different fields in physics as well as different industrial areas, but a lot depends on your individual skill set.

When you get involved with a project as a student, it's important to think not just about the project itself, but how the skills that you're learning in working on that project might be applied to other problems. Sometimes people won't know that you can solve a big problem for them, until you show them.
 
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1 current hot topic is RF and efficient use of Spectrum. Usable spectrum is currently limited by technology and our need for wireless data transfer is growing at an alarming rate. We've gone wireless and we are not going back.
 
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CrysPhys
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1 current hot topic is RF and efficient use of Spectrum. Usable spectrum is currently limited by technology and our need for wireless data transfer is growing at an alarming rate. We've gone wireless and we are not going back.
The underlying problem however is that fields can go from hot to cold or cold to hot in a relatively short time span. I worked in wireless telcom R&D for ~15 yrs. I joined one company in mid 2000 when they were still paying hefty sign-on and referral bonuses. Just a little over a year later, the first of a string of massive layoffs started. This is not an isolated example; besides the InterNet Bubble Burst of the early 2000's, I also experienced the semiconductor meltdown of the early 1990's, the financial meltdown of 2008, and several less severe downturns. Even if the technological need is there, job opportunities depend on many factors, such as governmental policies, industry consolidation, and the latest fads taught in business schools.

The key is not to predict what will be hot, but how to stay adaptable in a dynamic and chaotic job environment.
 
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  • #11
CrysPhys
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(3) As someone who is unfit a PhD, would I notice a large increase in opportunities if I continued on to receive a terminal Masters degree?
With perhaps the exception of a terminal masters in medical physics [one of the regulars here is a medical physicist and can address that specialty in detail if you're interested], I would not recommend a terminal masters in physics. There are always outliers, of course; but, if you pursue a physics degree and want a lead position in industry, you want a PhD. A BS will land you a technical support role; an MS doesn't give you much extra. If you want a terminal masters, you should get it in a field such as EE, ME, or CS. That will give you a good boost over a BS in obtaining a lead role.

Note: Some schools have developed terminal masters degrees in physics geared towards industry. I don't know how well regarded they are by hiring managers.
 
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  • #12
CrysPhys
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That makes sense, thanks for the reply. What fields do you foresee being hot in the future? In my original post, I reference a Reddit post whose author seems to be a big advocate for Nuclear. What do you think?
I wouldn't go by the Reddit post. It appears to confound opportunities in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering with opportunities in medical, health, and radiation physics.
 
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With perhaps the exception of a terminal masters in medical physics [one of the regulars here is a medical physicist and can address that specialty in detail if you're interested], I would not recommend a terminal masters in physics. There are always outliers, of course; but, if you pursue a physics degree and want a lead position in industry, you want a PhD. A BS will land you a technical support role; an MS doesn't give you much extra. If you want a terminal masters, you should get it in a field such as EE, ME, or CS. That will give you a good boost over a BS in obtaining a lead role.

Note: Some schools have developed terminal masters degrees in physics geared towards industry. I don't know how well regarded they are by hiring managers.
Who is the regular here that can address the medical physics specialty? It sounds interesting.
 
  • #14
CrysPhys
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Who is the regular here that can address the medical physics specialty? It sounds interesting.
That would be Choppy, who responded in post #8. There have been past threads in this forum on careers in medical physics, so you could look them up (search in career guidance and academic guidance).
 
  • #16
CrysPhys
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If you're interested in medical physics at all, this Insights post is a good place to start.
Hi Choppy, informative Insights. With respect to the OP, there is this key passage:

"Graduate programs in Medical Physics combine (in different ways) roughly one year of didactic courses that you need to cover to be competent in the field, and a research project, and differing degrees of hands-on experience. At minimum you require a master’s degree for certification, however due to the competition for residencies a PhD is often the status quo. It’s not uncommon for students to get the MSc first, attempt to get a residency and return for the PhD if unsuccessful."

Is it correct to conclude that, although in principle one can pursue a career in medical physics with a terminal masters degree, in practice, competition from candidates with a PhD is so overwhelming that a terminal masters is not viable? If so, does this conclusion hold for both the US and Canada? Thanks.
 
  • #17
Choppy
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Is it correct to conclude that, although in principle one can pursue a career in medical physics with a terminal masters degree, in practice, competition from candidates with a PhD is so overwhelming that a terminal masters is not viable? If so, does this conclusion hold for both the US and Canada? Thanks.
Fortunately there's some data on this:
CAMPEP Graduate Report

As you can see, between 2014 - 2016, there was about a 28% - 34% chance of landing an accredited residency if you graduated from an accredited MSc program and about a 50% chance of getting a residency or a junior medical physics position. Another big chunk went into the "other degree," which in most cases is a PhD, but it's not like everyone tries for a residency right out of the MSc gate either. Lots of people want the PhD because that tends to offer more academic opportunities. Also over that period only 2-5% fell into the "still looking" category. Those that didn't get into a residency or a junior MP position also had options in other areas like radiation safety, standards labs or the healthcare industry in general.

So in general a terminal master's degree in medical physics is quite viable still. It's just not a guaranteed ticket to career as a medical physicist.

In Canada, anecdotally speaking now, the PhD tends to be more of an advantage in the residency and job hunt. That's because our cancer centres tend to be more academically oriented. In the US, there are more small, non-academic centres that have a higher clinical workload.
 

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