Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics What can be expected from the non-academic career of a physics phd?

  1. Jul 6, 2010 #1
    I am a 3rd year phd student, and I am wondering what I can expect if I leave academia after I graduate. I know I still have a while, but it still makes me nervous. I know that there are many threads on here that approach this topic, but I have found them a little limited for me (e.g., vague, speculative, salary-centered or only dealing with quant, engineering, or academic sub-fields). I search for information on this topic quite a lot, and I understand that there are so many variables involved that no person can answer this for me. However, I am looking for detailed accounts from people who left academia after earning their phd in the hope that I (and hopefully others) can extrapolate their experiences and help formulate expectations for my own future.
    Some motivation for the question for which I would welcome feedback also:
    1) It's a pretty common idea (although debated) that there are many implicit promises that are made to STEM students that just do not pan out. For example, http://www.scienceprogress.org/2008/08/its-the-money-stupid/. Twofish-quant also talks about being "lied to." His account and references are very interesting https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=376191&page=2
    Me and some other grad students who are worried about our futures talk about this issue regularly, and it seems like everyone always says dogmatically, “at least we could always be quants” which twofish-quant points out may not always be an exploitable niche for physics students. That is why I love the quant threads but don't think that they help me build expectations for the future. Also, I would love to hear from people who studied physics and got into industries other than finance. 2) I go to an R1 state school, but all the faculty went to MIT, Harvard, Cal-tech, etc. which makes me scared that after I finish grad-school and do a post-doc, I'll be sent to a farm where all the other unemployed, burned-out, cheap STEM grad students go... maybe there's not a real farm, but I wonder where people like me end up. 3) Also, it seems like good stats (from AIP, etc.) do not exist because many people with physics backgrounds do not have the job title “physicist.” BLS even says this in their OO handbook.

    I understand that many people who studied physics and left may not be reading this forum, but I imagine some of you are out there. I would love to hear about what you did in grad school (e.g., experimental solid state, quantum information) and what you do now (e.g., software, management). I know this is pretty personal but I think it would be helpful in conveying the story of how you made the transition. I'm also kind of curious about the marketability of experimental/computational/theoretical experiences and skills. It would also be great to hear your take on the transition, like, did your experience uniquely qualify you for your current path or are you embittered and detest your decade studying physics.

    I would really love to get some feedback. Twofish-quant has been great in talking about life after academia (as have some others), but that's only one account... I would love to hear more.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2010 #2

    I have read your sketch for your internal questions about your future in physics. First, Wow!!! You´re in 3rd year of Phd and is really amazing. I finished my bachelor in physics the last year and I dont have idea about my future, I mean, I like physics and I enjoy playing (sometimes) with the nature. I stopped because Some of my teachers have problems and I thought in my life. I worked in High energy (Now, I dislike it), and I remember my teacher told us that he wanted change his researchy, but time ran and he stayed. he is a impolite person, he has a lot of problems with his partners but he is a really good physicist,

    Some friends have changed. One of them is in France, he is working in geology(oil) and things like that. Other is working in neural networks and I can´t understand how he works in that.. A girl has worked in Biophysics, but before she is working (with a partner) in finance and she had money always....

    A lot of students have question, for me the things is, if you enjoy and you love physics you should stay there. Don´t worry and just do the best in your field.

    I´m Sorry for me English (from Latin America)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook