1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
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 sorts of theoretical physics careers are there?

  1. May 18, 2012 #1
    Evening forum,

    I'd like to pursue a doctoral degree in theoretical physics. What sorts of jobs can one get in this field? Where would I work — strictly at a University, or at a lab, private company, etc?

    Any information about theoretical physics careers is appreciated.

    Thanks for your help!

  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2012 #2
    Most theoretical physics phds work in finance, insurance,management consulting,etc. Its not a good degree if you want to do scientific research for a living.
  4. May 18, 2012 #3
    Hmm...really? What stats do you have to back that up? I'm not doubting your word, but those jobs - for the degree - seem incredibly bizarre...
  5. May 19, 2012 #4
    That's because with the exception of a few professorships and consulting positions in large experimental research groups there do not exist any jobs for theoretical physicists. The jobs listed by ParticleGirl are merely less bizarre than nurse and circus director. Programming (-management) is another sector left out in ParticleGirl's list. I think you should be able to Google for stats about physicists' employment yourself.

    Our last PhD students and post-docs that I remember went into financial consulting (4x), software development (3x), civil engineering (1x), mechanical engineering (1x), 1+ year of unemployment (2x), optical engineering (1x), another university degree (1x), post-doc (4x), math professorship (1x), and bioinformatics lecturer (1x). And everyone claims to open a bar in Havana, but no one has actually done that, yet.
  6. May 19, 2012 #5
    More or less you use the same math for both finance and theoretical physics.

    In academia you do math and calculate physics stuff. In finance you do the same math and calculate finance stuff. It's the same job but in different field.

    The point is your theoretical physics skills are only useful in academia and finance. You won't get a job in academia anyway because no one is getting one nowadays. It's sad but you are doomed to work in finance unless you want to make career switch.

    If you really want to work as research scientist go into applied/solid-state physics or engineering.
  7. May 19, 2012 #6
    One interesting aspect that I only realized now:
    Why do you want a doctorate degree in theoretical physics if you don't even know what to do with it? Working on a PhD may seem like a long time for you, but there is a lot of life after it.
    Do you merely want to have a cool-sounding title (no offense meant, I can fully accept that reason)? I think most people would agree that it is not worth it. Do you like to work in theoretical physics research (which is assuming you at least have some insight into it)? That would be a better reason, presumably also the most common one, but I recommend going into it with at least some perspective of what to do after it (and possibly even work towards this during the PhD). I believe the main reason why many people go into consulting and programming is because they did not think about post-grad options before or during their PhD, and merely do what everyone else did (and lack that one course in genetics and experience with that one standard data analysis program to compete with a biologist for a research position in bioinformatics).
  8. May 21, 2012 #7


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I am curious as to what the demand is currently for those with a PhD in applied or solid-state physics.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook