# What is your degree, and what do you do?

Obviously, employment is a big concern for college students trying to figure out their majors and what they want to do with them.

I'm thinking about going into either physics, computer science, or Electrical engineering, but frankly, I just don't know what I want to do.

It would really help if I could get a good view of what people with different degrees actually end up doing.
I'm assuming that not all physics majors end up as professors or particle accelerator operators, and I always hear about the endless opportunities that physicists have, but I don't actually know anyone with a physics degree, do I'd like to hear about some of your personal experiences.

If you guys don't mind, could you tell me a little bit about your education, your degree(s), and what you do for a living?
And more importantly, what the job actually involves doing everyday, and what sort of environment you work in?

Physics

Project management for a defense contractor. It's essentially a paper-pusher desk job, but an important one to keep research and development efforts funded and on the correct path.

I like Serena
Homework Helper
I finished Computer Science and Mathematics, and I also studied Physics.

Now I am a software engineer.
Basically I sit all day behind a computer screen and I have meetings.

I write documents specifying what should be done.
And I write programs in C++ to make it happen.

I've been on various jobs.
One of those is automating a I-131 radioactive production line.
TBH, in my job I'm not really doing any math or physics anymore.
I just do what the job requires from me.
The knowledge and experience to do so, I have built during my job.
The systematic and logical thinking I've started in my education.

Integral
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Degrees in Physics and Math.
I have been working as a tech or engineer at a variety of jobs. Lab tech for the OSU Physics Department, Production engineer running a Al Foundry, R&D Engineer developing a Rapid Prototyping system, Tech maintaining clean room wafer processing equipment, currently fabricating oceanographic research instrumentation.

I have never had a job which directly required a Physics or Math degree, but the knowleged base gained with my degrees have always been an asset.

Also, could you guys also include the level of your degree(s)?

I know that someone with something like a PhD in any discipline would have a much easier time than someone with just a bachelors, even if that PhD had little to do with the job being applied for.

B.S. in Physics, M.S. in Physics

Now I am doing my PhD in physics, and it includes reading a lot of papers, writing a lot of papers, writing code, building stuff in the lab (that always has a tendency to break or never work properly), screaming obscenities at lab equipment or my computer, sleeping when my advisor is not looking (even though I drink like 5 coffees a day, 2-3 o'clock is always tough, especially after a big lunch), going to too many meetings to get anything useful done, TAing lab classes, grading lab reports (most are sooooooo awful, why should I put so much time grading this stuff when the students obviously didn't put in any time writing it), traveling to conferences to give talks on how nothing we do works (just kidding, we get good results sometimes), pretend to do work between 5 and 7pm before going home(everyone notices if you are the first to go home, or the last!) and then drinking as much beer as possible on Fridays (because, hey, c'mon, its Friday!).

After I am done with this, I hope to get a postdoc, then another postdoc, and keep doing this until I get a professorship and then I never have to leave the bubble of academia and get a real job....

Man, I seem kinda lazy after putting this all in writing.

MathematicalPhysicist
Gold Member
cbetanco, don't forget to make also plan B. ;-)

cbetanco, don't forget to make also plan B. ;-)

But I am too lazy to formulate a plan B! Ok, I get more done than I made it sound, I am not that lazy. Also, I just don't have an interest for doing anything else except study physics forever, so I would rather just wither away and die than have to choose another life path.

I graduated a 4 year physics degree w/ integrated masters in June, and have started a particle physics-based PhD in September. It's fully funded and I've just been treating it like a 9 to 5 job really. I don't know where you are but here in the UK there seem to be loads of options for further study if you're interested in that.

What I do all day? Well at the moment it's a lot of code writing for some detector simulations, I also so some physical mucking around in the lab, as well as taking some taught modules. It's been good so far.

MathematicalPhysicist
Gold Member
But I am too lazy to formulate a plan B! Ok, I get more done than I made it sound, I am not that lazy. Also, I just don't have an interest for doing anything else except study physics forever, so I would rather just wither away and die than have to choose another life path.

Same here, same here.

Don't know how I will I be able to concentrate on something that isn't maths or physics related, but I am not that keen on being a lecturer either, unless the students you teach are really interested in the subject, and the students that really interested in the subject are mainly those who have some idea to proceed to more advanced degrees in academia.

Have a B.S. physics and math, M.S. physics, now getting a Phd in physics within the next year or so. Have no interest in postdocs so am planning to apply to "alternative" careers for physics phds.

B.S. physics
Currently working as a contract developer and trying to resist getting pushed/pulled/shoved into a project management role. I have done developer, architect, project manager, manager roles for energy, banking, investment and government contractor. Found that I don't enjoy the project management aspects so just doing contract development for now while taking coursework to prepare for Masters in Math.
Day to day work consists of meetings, trying to understand requirements written by people who don't know how to write, writing java and SQL code, fighting with testers. Fun stuff

BSEE, MS Systems Engineering. Unemployed.

MS comp sci. I'm a programmer.

Work involves: figuring out what to build next. Documenting it. Then building it. Then debugging it. Finally shipping. Then repeat the cycle.

All aspects of the cycle are frequently interesting for different reasons. In figuring out what to build, you have to peer into the crystal ball to try to figure out what will be useful/valuable. Documentation helps find gaps in your designs. You wouldn't be in comp sci if you didn't like programming, so building it is interesting.

Debugging is usually the most interesting of all in that now you have to deal with all the unforseen stuff that you didn't get right in all the previous steps.

BSEE, PE in control systems. I design SCADA and control systems for a large water and sewer utility. This can be a desk job at times, but I also get out in to the field a lot.

Job sites can range from ordinary to occasionally hazardous and downright disgusting at times. But it is interesting, important work and actually a lot of fun. I've been doing it for 25 years and I still enjoy it, so I guess that either says I'm dull, or that the work is really cool. I prefer to think the latter.

robphy
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Check out http://www.spsnational.org/cup/profiles/hidden.html [Broken]

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Physics

Project management for a defense contractor. It's essentially a paper-pusher desk job, but an important one to keep research and development efforts funded and on the correct path.

BS and MS, Physics

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
BS Physics. Started as a chemistry major, so I've had lots of chemistry too.

I've worked in R&D labs for many years - currently working as a chemist in a dying industry. Taking classes to get into a master's engineering program.

Dual BS in physics and applied math, MS in nuclear engineering, working as a radiation safety officer, previously as a health physicist.

If you guys don't mind, could you tell me a little bit about your education, your degree(s), and what you do for a living?
And more importantly, what the job actually involves doing everyday, and what sort of environment you work in?

I got a BS in physics, worked in the private sector for a few years before going back for my MS. I now work as an actuarial analyst at an insurance company, where I have been for over three years. I am sometimes asked why I changed careers, and I do not have a good answer. I think, faced with a few more years in a lab, I just wanted to try something different. It has worked out very well. That fact, by itself, does not mean it was a wise choice.

I work in an office environment with people I think highly of. Most of my day is spent at a computer doing analysis of one kind or another, though I’m seeing more time in meetings as my responsibilities increase. While my mathematical background is routinely useful, ultimately my job is a business job and whether I succeed in the long run will largely be determined by how well I can master softer skills that aren't my strong point. I look forward to that challenge and hope my stay in this career can be a long one.

Ph.D. astrophysics

Quantitative developer at a large financial firm. Spend most of the day staring at a computer either programming or writing e-mail. It's very much like what I was doing in graduate school with computational models. What I like about the job is that it's a "do whatever you have to do make the firm money" type of job so there is a mix of technical and people skills, which is curiously like graduate school. There's also a good mix of the tactical (i.e. how do I get this @$###$@ perl regexp to parse the #$@$\$#% XML) and strategic (so what is the impact of the problems in the Euro on what I'm likely to do next year.) I also spend a huge amount of time, reading both CS, finance, and math papers to see if there is anything new. Also, there is a structural problem with our code that *might* be fixable with the clever use of this C++ feature, and I've been playing with trying to get that feature to work.

Right now it's a bit nerve-wracking because the senior managers just went through the end of year evaluations for us junior folk. Typically about a third to one half of your total compensation is given as a discretionary lump sum. One thing I do like about finance is that until you get up to the really, really high levels (i.e. CEO level), the senior managers are geeks (i.e. they are programmers with technical masters and Ph.D.'s) so you don't get Dilbert like technical/management conflicts.

Ended working as a programmer after I got my degree in a big oil/gas company and a tiny logistics startup.

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mathwonk
Homework Helper
my degree is 3, and I am therefore cubic.

BS and MS in Electrical Engineering

I do design work in the defense field. On smaller projects I will do hardware design, either designing circuit cards or complete boxes. For larger projects, I usually end up doing embedded programming, using either FPGAs/VHDL or real-time operating systems/generally C++.

Most projects last somewhere between 8 - 18 months. During that period I end up dividing my time about 25% paperwork (between presentations and documentation), 50% design/development, and 25% formal testing.

When not doing design work I do things like system modeling in Matlab/Simulink, more traditional programming, helping with proposals, etc.

BA mathematics, MS computer science.

I am an ERP analyst at an SAP channel partner company (i.e. software resellers). I provide technical help on the various implementations my company has. A lot of installation, reporting, and a little database programming.

Before that, I worked as a network specialist, which is a fancy title for desktop support/helpdesk. This one required a degree in name only, as it was something that HR demanded before I could interview. It also required some basic computer networking certs from Microsoft, which were easy as pie to finish.

BA mathematics, MS computer science.

I am an ERP analyst at an SAP channel partner company (i.e. software resellers). I provide technical help on the various implementations my company has. A lot of installation, reporting, and a little database programming.

Before that, I worked as a network specialist, which is a fancy title for desktop support/helpdesk. This one required a degree in name only, as it was something that HR demanded before I could interview. It also required some basic computer networking certs from Microsoft, which were easy as pie to finish.

Did they specifically demand a CS degree, or was this a situation where they just wanted any arbitrary degree?

Also, how hard is it to do your graduate work in a different subject than your undergrad? Did you have to take additional classes to get that degree?

Went straight in to the military after high school. Went through the Navy nuke pipeline and spent 8 years in the Navy operating nuclear reactors(2 years teaching at the INEL also) Now work at an oil refinery as operator and stare at this all day to make sure things don't blow up.

BS Physics. Started as a chemistry major, so I've had lots of chemistry too.

I've worked in R&D labs for many years - currently working as a chemist in a dying industry.

What is it like to work as a chemist? Do you use math on the job? Just curious b/c I'm a chem major.

BA in physics and astronomy, MS and PhD in physics. I went from grad school into a postdoc at NASA, left that early for a visiting professorship at a small college, and just got a tenure-track offer from another private university. If you want a job as a professor, it's not impossible, but there is a lot of competition - you need to know what kind of job you want (in my case, teaching undergrads and doing some research) and then tailor your experiences in the field to apply to that market.

Did they specifically demand a CS degree, or was this a situation where they just wanted any arbitrary degree?

Also, how hard is it to do your graduate work in a different subject than your undergrad? Did you have to take additional classes to get that degree?
Specifically they were interested in comp sci, comp engineering, or "related fields." Really meaning any technical degree would've sufficed along with the microsoft certifications. I know this because I was hired full time while still in my grad program and had a colleague with a chem engineering degree. It was really a simple networking job with some light sys admin work. The pay was good though. And it's one that seemed less likely to be outsourced.

Switching subjects in graduate school is kind of a chore though. You do have to take undergraduate courses in that subject if you haven't had them. My program required 4-5 undergrad courses depending on your background including courses in data structures and architecture. These ones are pretty much non-negotiable if you're going to enter a CS masters.

But switching with a math degree to CS isn't so bad. It's a relatively easy transition with that kind of background. I imagine if you were a business major or something like that it would be pretty impossible.

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B.S. in physics. Work as a legal document specialist at a global document outsourcing company. Paper pushing--enjoyable but lackluster. Also, someone with a degree in poli sci is my immediate supervisor, doing work that's actually easier than what I do.

Studying to go for a M.S. or this or that.

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
What is it like to work as a chemist? Do you use math on the job? Just curious b/c I'm a chem major.

Truthfully, my job is monotonous. I work in a rather primitive lab because the organization I work for has no money to upgrade (or even repair) equipment.

But my rather dreary situation is largely due to the pressures of the economy. Previous jobs I've had in R&D labs were a lot more challenging and fun.

I'm looking to switch into engineering now.

B.S. Electrical Engineering, about to finish my M.S.E.E. My thesis is in High Power Microwave breakdown, which is interesting and all, but research is not my thing (neither is defense work) and as such I have a job lined up for after graduation. It will be at a large engine company doing high horsepower control systems.

I like to think that no matter where I go in the EE world, the knowledge I gained in E&M will always be useful.

Bsci (Hons) Physics and Planetary/Space Physics, and several other postgrad/profesisonal qualifications relating to Education.

I teach Physics. Mainly to 17 to 20 year olds looking to get into university to do Maths or Physics. On the side I carry out research, development and implementation of innovative and experimental science education methodologies.

I am completing my PhD in Aerospace Engineering with emphasis on plasma physics. I develop simulation codes for modeling plasmas and rarefied gases, see http://www.particleincell.com.

About your other comment, PhD vs Bachelors. Yes, it is true that a PhD will help you in some cases, but what really matters is being interested in your topic. I know some folks who only have a B.S. and they are some of the smartest people I know. They learned their stuff on their own simply because they were interested in the subject. On the other hand, I also know some PhDs who got the degree just for show and I wouldn't really trust them with any analysis.

BS Mechanical Engineering

First worked at Lockheed Martin doing material testing. Mostly it was paperwork and making pretty presentations. I could have done that job with the knowledge I gained in high school.

Then worked for a manufacturing plant that reverse engineered parts for ion implanters for the semiconductor industry. That was far more fun and required actual engineering knowledge.

I now work in a physics research lab doing experimental work on everything from gravity to anomalous energy production. My background in engineering lets me design and manufacture experimental equipment while my on-the-job-learned physics let me guide the experiment and even turn some of the theoretical work here into an actual testable hypothesis.

About your other comment, PhD vs Bachelors. Yes, it is true that a PhD will help you in some cases, but what really matters is being interested in your topic. I know some folks who only have a B.S. and they are some of the smartest people I know. They learned their stuff on their own simply because they were interested in the subject. On the other hand, I also know some PhDs who got the degree just for show and I wouldn't really trust them with any analysis.

I've run into a few problems with having just a BS. At a conference I was to give a paper at, a person called the section organizer and tried to get me removed from the program because I didn't have a PhD. I've also been told that I'm simply "lab staff" and need to let the "scientists" (aka PhDs) rule the experiments - I'm just here to turn the screws. Fortunately, my boss disagrees and has fought this stereotype, but it still exists.