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What can I do to make my physics BS more appealing in industry?

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  • Thread starter chandrahas
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  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I am currently a international freshman studying in Stony Brook and majoring in Physics and, if appropriate and after official request, Mathematics. I feel very passionate about theoretical physics and intend to get a phd in it and get into academia soon after graduation. I believe double majoring in Mathematics would compliment my Physics major and better prepare me for formally understanding the math behind QFT, GR etc (and I am also quite interested in mathematics). However, what I am concerned about is what I will do if I don't immediately get into graduate school and get stipends. I am attending university on a student loan and thus would need a source of income to pay it back immediately after graduation. So, I looked up what jobs are available to physicists, and as it turns out, the only jobs are in finance or banking, in which I take little interest.

I understand that physics is not a vocational degree, but I would like to know what I can do to get a job that is closer to physics than finance. And what other opportunities there are. Perhaps I could do internships, independent studies related to certain industries, or take certain courses that would help me find a job. But I am not sure what I could do. If all other options are exhausted, should I drop mathematics to pursue a vocational major like mechanical engineering (also interested, but I prefer math because it supports physics)?

Thank you

Answers and Replies

  • #2
You could lookup analytical jobs for mechanical engineers using MatLab or something similar. Often these will require a healthy knowledge of practical physics.

One such example is acoustics analysis using modeling of sound scapes, ray tracing...

Another would jobs in fluid mechanics.

You may find you'll need more courses to cover these specific areas though in order to compete with MEs.
  • #3
Fluid Mechanics seems interesting but I don't know of any position that doesn't require a BE in aerospace or Mechanical Engineering. What skills and classes would I need to be competent and to what extent? Maybe I can, in addition to a few fluid mec courses, do a few independent study in fluid mec or CFD?
  • #4
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Take heart. There are very few unemployed physicists. Not zero, certainly, but very few.

Generally what industry will be looking for is, can you do something? Can you write a computer program? Can you use lab equipment? Can you design and build something? Can you do calculations that will potentially be useful to a lab or design team? If an undergrad can hold up even one of these, and if it's relevant to the company, chances are good you at least get a second interview.

So they are going to be looking for you to have completed something. Or to have some skill beyond getting the answer on a test. Often these come in things like lab courses. Or senior projects. Or related hobbies.

For example, one thing that got me jobs was being able to code. I learned FORTRAN and assembly language in classes in undergrad. I learned C on my own. Now I learned C in order to be able to compile computer games that I downloaded from the net. But I didn't tell my potential employers that. 🤪

Find some angle that you can hold up and say "see my collateral skills." It's great if you can find some angle of your existing study that branches out into some such.

For hints, look around the web for companies that do things that have some kind of overlap in the classes you have already flagged as "I would like to take that." You like physical chemistry? Look for physical chemistry related industries. Maybe you need to study something about lab techniques in physical chemistry. You like the physics of crystals? That's electronics as one possible. Maybe you need to study how computer chips are made. And so on. You get the idea. Then try to find an angle where you can add skills along the way that would be useful to an industry that would align with your interests.

Work experience is also very good. Send your resume along to companies that seem like they might be a good fit. If you get an interview and they turn you down, you can ask what you were missing. And working for a summer for "Big Name Company Building Stuff" is really shiny on your resume when you apply to "Big Name Company Building Similar Stuff."
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  • #5
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I'm not a physics major (I studied electrical engineering) so excuse me if I'm being silly, but I've seen a lot of companies interested in electromagnetics using simulation tools like CST, HFSS, Microwave Office or FEKO... type of signal integrity or antenna design role. The roles I've seen typically calls for electrical engineers, but there's hardly any circuit analysis involved and really involves strong fundamentals... I almost always go back to my physics textbooks instead of my circuit books. A few key words on your resume from job descriptions might catch the HR/recruiters attention.
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  • #6
Hiring the wrong person can be a huge mistake for any company. That's a reason why internships can be so important -- the company gets to know you. If they know, like, and trust you, they will probably hire you.

But this can work outside internships, too. Talk to your friends. Where do their parents, siblings, other friends work? Any of those sound interesting? Get to know the parent, sibling, other friend... Having an employee "vouch" for you can go a long way.
  • #7
Science Advisor
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The American Institute of Physics publishes a list of companies that hire BS physicists in the various states of the US.

In NY state alone there were about 130 companies that hired BS physicists in 2019. I believe most are non financial. The list also gives links to the companies website.

EDIT: I just checked out INDEED an online placement company . They have over 5000 listing for physicists and over 700 for entry level physicists according to their classification.
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  • #8
I would like to suggest taking a few engineering courses, especially if they have a lab component. Pick an area of study that you find interesting. It is possible, if you have the time, to essentially minor in a field of engineering.
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  • #9
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I would like to suggest taking a few engineering courses, especially if they have a lab component. Pick an area of study that you find interesting. It is possible, if you have the time, to essentially minor in a field of engineering.
That is much in agreement with other responses to similar questions.

Some subjects of earned degrees by themselves are not always enough to be attractive to employers. One should build some skill and knowledge in things which are practical, like computer science, computer programming, other laboratory sciences both life/bio and physical, and certainly as Joseph M. Zias said, in Engineering. Also, any vocation training or skills could be helpful. ALSO, any hands-on experiences in which you form and position things WITH YOUR HANDS OR FINGERS, or operate instruments or equipment, or repaired instruments or equipment.

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