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What [STEM field other than physics] would you suggest?

  1. May 28, 2014 #1
    After lurking around for a bit it seems that going into physics seems like a sort of hell. There seems to be little jobs outside of academia, witch is a long shot in itself.

    So what STEM major/field would you recommend. Something that's interesting, makes decent money, is in good demand, isn't too crazy on the training/school/competition(I.E med school). I don't having extra schooling or a challenge, In fact I kind want a career that's challenging, but I don't want it to totally destroy my outside life.

    Also for me personally, I have a year of engineering finished, so I'm still pretty flexible in the STEM department. So what science fields should people in highschool/college look into?
    Last edited: May 28, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. May 28, 2014 #2
    Computer science, programming and IT style jobs seem to be the STEM areas with demand behind them. Of course its still competitive though.
  4. May 28, 2014 #3


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    I concur with the computer science/programming/IT jobs. In addition, there is also demand for those with statistics/data mining (this would typically require studying for at least a MS in statistics). From what I understand, many of the engineering positions are also in demand, at least in the US and Canada (in particular electrical, mechanical or chemical engineering specialties).
  5. May 28, 2014 #4
    Computer Science isn't my thing. Took classes in it and did poorly. I'm in engineering right and so far I'm not that interested in it honestly, there are some very interesting things you can do with it for sure but doesn't mean you actually get to do anything you want with it. I'm personally more interested in the more "hard science" areas, but that seems pretty unlikely to get a job.

    If I'm with engineering I'll probably go mechanical, as it seems like there is quite a lot of things you can do with this degree, anyone have experience with this degree/field?
    Last edited: May 28, 2014
  6. May 28, 2014 #5
    That's the case with most every job opening, unfortunately. Interesting, exciting jobs attract the most people and so they are the most competitive. Jobs that are mostly boring are a lot easier to get into.
  7. May 28, 2014 #6
    I'm going to flip the topic for a second, is a career and physics, and specifically academia really as bad as I heard? This probably would be my ideal career, but I've heard many discouraging things lurking around this forum.I would love to go into pure physics, and do something more on the research or theoretical side of things, maybe even teach a little, but getting a stable job that can pay the bills is a higher priority.
  8. May 28, 2014 #7
    It really shouldnt be STEM but rather sTEm
  9. May 28, 2014 #8
    I don't know what you have heard, but probably. Its takes a very long time, is very competitive and the majority of people who try for it fail. You have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way and many who dont make it regret making all those sacrifices. If you are up to the challenge and dont think you will regret the sacrifices much then maybe you should try it.
  10. May 28, 2014 #9


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    I'd give engineering another year. It's a vast subject so you may yet find some facet of it that interests you.
  11. May 28, 2014 #10


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    Join (or start) an engineering club. It will give you a more realistic engineering experience.

    Mechanical Engineering is a good bet.
  12. May 28, 2014 #11
    I suggest you look up Mike Rowe's (of "Dirty Jobs" fame) TED talk.

    If you have some time, watch this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIB2qqcEOFU
    (Especially the middle of the discussion)

    If you aren't sure what you want to do with your life, listen to someone else who wasn't sure either.

    I will also tell you that I couldn't think of doing anything cooler than working in the Aerospace industry. Then I found out how bureaucratic, arbitrary, and dull it could be. And then the cold war ended, and a significant number my classmates at Johns Hopkins had to leave with only a semester or two left toward getting their engineering degrees. Their jobs had vanished.

    That's when I discovered that even though mine was also a dirty job, I had some really cool things to play with, generous budgets to get things done right and on time, and steady work that I was good at.

    OK, so it is a sewage treatment plant and I'm writing software to backwash filters. It's not rocket science. But it pays reasonably well; and the hours are usually good too, provided we don't screw up.

    And yes, I do use STEM skills and techniques. I can tell you all about the nuances of ultrasonic level measurement, capacitance probes, flume geometries, radar level sensors, and the like. I can tell you about Time Domain Reflectometry of waveguides, twinaxial cable, or optical fiber. I can tell you about vibration analysis, cavitation, variable frequency drives, and many more things.

    Sometimes it's more than just about the theory, it's all about the applications.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. May 28, 2014 #12

    jim hardy

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    Quite a post there, Jake.


    Civilization runs on machinery.
    If you're the type who changes his own sparkplugs,
    you'll hardly go wrong with mechanical, electrical , chemical or mining.

    Civils will be in demand as we face up to our aging infrastructure.
    I knew a highway bridge corrosion engineer in the Florida Keys - which is a fun place to live if you're far enough down them..
  14. May 29, 2014 #13


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    I'm in the camp that pursuing a physics degree isn't nearly as bad as a lot of people may make it out to be. The key in my opinion is that you have to be aware of the realities.

    In pursuing physics, you're pursuing an education. But it's not vocational training. I think a lot of people apply a vocational training model to post-secondary education without really thinking about it. By that, I mean they work hard for four years and assume that there will be a great job waiting for them at the end that their education will qualify them for. This works for a community college model of education, where you get very vocation-specific training, but not quite so well for the sciences.

    The fault for this does not lie entirely with students, mind you. Many people complain that schools present undergraduate degrees as a path to a dream job that doesn't exist, and this is a fair critique.

    To the specifics of the original post, it sounds like you're looking for the "perfect" solution to an imperfect problem. If a particular field presents you with a guarantee of a comfortable career, it's going to be competitive to get in - think of it as supply and demand in an efficient economy.

    As to your question about how bad it is in physics - generally speaking we're graduating about an order of magnitude more PhDs than there are tenured positions. So the nine out of ten who don't get in, have to figure out something else to do. If you look at the data from the AIP surveys, in most cases it seems that those nine end up doing okay in the long run. But some of them feel as if they may have wasted some time.
  15. May 29, 2014 #14
    In my opinion the greatest waste and problem is that we use the same people for research and teaching, and we end up with a bunch of professors who do not time to do either of these jobs efficiently.

    From the statistics I could keep during my presence, I've observed that classes under the few lecturers that have nothing else to do than to teach generally obtain a grade average higher than those who teach only because they have to. If we employed people separately for teaching and researching we'd have more jobs and those jobs would be at a higher efficiency as well. For me this is the single biggest turn off in pursuing a physics career, and I think it seems to put off a lot of people from physics too.

    As for the OP, I recommend to stay in Engineering, there's plenty of jobs around the world, if you are willing to travel. I've heard that there is a huge shortage of Engineers in South America.
  16. May 29, 2014 #15

    jim hardy

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    I just returned from visiting an old college roommate. We're both retired now, 'secondhand lions' .
    He majored in Mechanical Engineering and went to work for an oil exploration outfit.
    His world map is like a pincushion with the myriad places he's been. He literally saw the world.

    I majored in electrical engineering and went to work for the utility company in my hometown. I travelled little but had an immensely stable and intellectually satisfying career, raised my family in one locale.

    I'd say choose a niche that isn't overly popular.
    Power side of electrical will boom as "smart grid" evolves.
    Automatic control systems is a math intensive side of both electrical and mechanical that's expanding as academia learns how to teach it. It grew out of the German textbooks brought home as war prizes at end of WW2.
    An electrical or mechanical who knows a little reactor Physics is a genuine asset to a nuke plant, and several AP1000's are under construction already.
    Opportunity abounds in companies that operate machinery.

    It's a good time to be graduating, IMHO.
  17. May 29, 2014 #16


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    You know, if you have the option, you shouldn't completely rule out medical school either. It might require a lot of training but it's definitely worth it.

    I don't really have a lot of knowledge but consider this. My grandfather is a university professor and a PhD in education. Even after more than 40 years of service and getting promoted to the top of his department, his yearly income is less than what my dad, a surgeon, earns in about 3 months or so. Plus my dad's never been unemployed.

    I myself am not going to medical school because I'm more interested in physics and electrical engineering but if you're looking for a high pay and a stable job, medical school is definitely an excellent option.
  18. May 29, 2014 #17


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    Great post. I'd go one step further and say it's all about learning.

    My first job out of school was at a large commercial brewery (the company's mascot is a team of large horses, who I got to meet at one point). The main part of my job was to design and implement a network to connect the brewhouse equipment to the central servers because there was no data connection yet. It was like drinking from a firehose and I loved every minute of it, from learning ladder logic, to writing database scripts, to putting together servers by hand in a 40F brewhouse. I also wrote software to control carbon filters...

    My point is if you told me "You're going to work on data networking in a large brewery" when I was in high school or starting college I would have thought I should major in something besides electrical engineering. But that job was an incredible experience and until I went back to graduate school, I was learning day-in and day-out.
  19. May 30, 2014 #18
    If you can handle working in a (somewhat) stressful environment: Chemical Engineering or Petroleum Engineering. ChemEs are more versatile, PetroEs make more $ off the bat.

    Oil and Gas is BOOMING and jobs are everywhere.
  20. Jun 1, 2014 #19


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    Oil and Gas is booming for now, but the energy sector is often subject to severe boom and bust cycles, so for the OP to specialize in petroleum engineering now may be risky (given that I'm not certain how easily someone with that background can transition into another field).

    As I suggested earlier, the best engineering fields to study are those which are more versatile or have employment opportunities in many different sectors (e.g. electrical, mechanical, chemical, industrial/systems).
  21. Jun 1, 2014 #20


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    To the OP:

    If you took programming classes and did poorly in them, my suggestion would be to find out what you did poorly in and work at improving your programming skills, since pretty much all STEM fields (certainly all engineering fields, and even many of the "hard" sciences) will involve at least some programming at one point or another.

    You don't have to be an expert hacker/coder, just comfortable with doing some basic programming. There are plenty of online courses and resources that you could take (e.g. Coursera) that could get you up to speed on this.
  22. Jun 2, 2014 #21
    I doubt my kids will see the end of the oil "boom" sir. The demand for petroleum will be there for at least 50 years. ChemE (which is what I am), MechE, EE even PE (petro is the chemE's obnoxiously rich step brother) are all good. As long as you focus on a job at oil/gas/chemical plants or refineries

    Transitioning fields mid-career is extremely difficult no matter what major.
  23. Jun 3, 2014 #22


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    Much of the oil "boom" is largely fed by industrial demand from emerging markets such as China or India. If those countries experience a sudden economic slowdown, then so could the demand for oil & gas. This has happened before in the past, and could very well happen again.
  24. Jun 3, 2014 #23


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    Indeed the oil "boom" may persist (or may not) but it does not logically follow that there will necessarily follow good employment prospects for your kids.

    The electronics "boom" in the USA is still alive and well, although there are about 20% fewer EEs in the US than 15 years ago. With the exception of certain niches (primarily in energy and software) the engineering world is not entirely rosy.

    The following news story has some details regarding EE employment. There is no reason similar trends could not affect oil and gas engineering.

  25. Jun 4, 2014 #24


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    analogdesign, this leads me to a question I thought I would pose: as far as you know, which field is currently in demand at this very moment in the US promising full-time and relatively stable employment, outside of statistics/data mining (my particular field), chemical/petroleum engineering, and IT (although based on the article pointed out above, IT hiring does look wobbly with increasing emphasis on contract work)? And I'm talking about any field, not just STEM fields.

    Basically, in your opinion, what is the field that promises the best employment prospects?
  26. Jun 4, 2014 #25
    At the moment, the smart grid effort is still pretty hot, though the momentum is slowing.

    In general, I'm seeing a lot of interest in better embedded code design. People used to outsource that sort of thing until many vendors realized that if you give this job to any old crapweasel programmer, you'll get any old crapweasel results. The standards for embedded code design and functionality need to improve dramatically.

    I'm seeing a lot of development in drilling, transporting, and processing natural gas. Like it or not, fracking is a reality and it is generally regarded as having a lower impact on the environment than mining and burning coal.

    Another development area is water and waste-water processing. There is a growing consensus that we are running out of the easily accessed fresh water supplies. Every few months it seems I read about yet another reverse osmosis membrane technology that offers lower and lower energy to work. The ultimate I read recently used graphene membranes.

    My point is that we have the technology, but we'll soon need a lot of people to build water recycling plants.

    It is worth noting that the infrastructure that supports transportation, telecommunications, water, and various forms of energy is in very poor shape. Much of it is running at or even above the capacity it was designed for. It will need to be repaired, or replaced in the coming decades, or some alternative will need to be built.
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