What to do After Graduating with a Physics BS?

  • #1
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I got one year left in my physics undergraduate education. However, after doing some research on what to do for the future, I began to become increasingly lost on what to do after I graduate. Therefore, I hope the physics community here could provide some insight and advice on the matter.

To begin, below are the potential paths I could take after graduation.

1. Get a master's degree (presumably in some subset of physics)
2. Get a job

Number 1 is pretty straightforward. Number 2 is what's causing me a lot of mental grief. For starters, I understand that most physics graduates do not pursue a physics-related career. Knowing this, I feel sorely underqualified for all facets of jobs as the probability of pursuing a career that corresponds to my major is incredibly slim.

Therefore, for a student who just graduated with a Physics BS, what jobs would you recommend a student like me to try out in the future?
From my research, software engineering seems like an appealing option that some physics graduates do for a living. However, having only a year of programming under my belt, I feel incredibly underqualified for the job. Of course, I am willing to learn. That said, I do not quite see why companies would hire a physics-majored student as opposed to a software engineering majored student for a job like software engineering.

In short, for all (technical) careers that are not physics-related, how would I be able to gain a career edge over people who have the technical education in said career? I understand the question may come off quite counterintuitive, but I've read other physics-majored students somehow getting these "unrelated" technical jobs (e.g. software engineering) and I have a hard time understanding how they pulled the stunt off (beyond double-majoring).

As of present, getting kickstarted in a career sounds more appealing than pursuing a master's degree. However, I would also like to understand under what circumstances would enrolling in a master's program be a wiser decision before getting a job.

Hopefully, I am able to properly articulate my thoughts to the community here. Any advice on the matter would be great!
Thank you for reading through the post.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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There are many software jobs where the focus is on application programming and where employers will look for subject matter experts as well as programmers.

As an example, a company might do some physics based application and would love to have a physicist or BS physics major work with other programmers in developing the application.

Software jobs focused on pure software favor experienced programmers and CS majors in general and wouldn’t be a good fit for your skills. Having said that, your desire to learn might give you a chance even here since you arguably have better math skills than a CS major.

When I started out having gotten a BS in physics, I was hired to work at a computer center doing manual batch job processing work. I carried tapes and card decks to the computer console operator and retrieved printer output to return to the customer.

A short time later, an opening occurred in the programming unit and I was quickly promoted to do contract scientific programming in Fortran. The mainframe clients would contract with our team to write specialized applications for their engineering teams Since most engineers at the time barely knew how to write a complex program of more than 100 lines.

Nowadays, most programming jobs are CS pure software type jobs but even there they may hire a physics person to round out the team with better math skills.

Some engineering companies also will hire physics majors but you will have to make the case that you can do the job. Experience and passion ie hobbyist programming projects will give you an edge.
 
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  • #3
Ranger Mike
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my opinion, software majors are saturating the job market. go mechanical..
Look at the big bucks..doctors and lawyers are highest paid followed by..sales!
besides and engineering degree, sales managers look at physics as a great indicator of a salesman prospect they wish to hire. This proves you can master the technical specs a machine tool or technical piece of capital equipment that is to be sold. could be machine tool, caterpillar road grader, generator, air conditioner unit used to cool factory, sewage pumps etc.. it is technical sales. Imagine a car, expense account and commission. Independent salesmen make 15 to 20% commission (they cover all their expenses) for selling $ 200,000 machine tool...ca-ching..but this is after many years selling, you would start out at $ 40,000 (base, add $10,000 up for your commission 1st year)with medical and car, expenses etc....question - how much student debt do you owe now?

and you want to go deeper in debt for masters and no strategy to pay it off??

you may want to see my you tube at
The Captain industrial sales
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrpTYC0us69pI0wXi5QhQ1w
 
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  • #5
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Thank you all for sharing a good deal of valuable information here. I do really appreciate it!

Some engineering companies also will hire physics majors but you will have to make the case that you can do the job. Experience and passion ie hobbyist programming projects will give you an edge.
Great! I will definitely keep this in mind. Thanks for the tip!

question - how much student debt do you owe now?
I admit, a salesman position is a potential career option I did not consider. Thank you for putting this on my radar! In addition, thanks for sending the link to your YouTube channel.

To answer your question, I got 0 student debt. If anything, I am profiting (a bit) by attending university. Therefore, in terms of "debt", that is all taken care of.
 
  • #6
StatGuy2000
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To the OP:

I have a few questions for you which directly relates to your thread:

1. Where are you located?

2. During your undergraduate studies, did you pursue any type of internship opportunities (whether in industry or in research)?

3. What kinds of job experiences have you had while you were pursuing your degree?

4. What kinds of work are you actually interested in pursuing? You state you are confused about how to go about pursuing a job, but is there anything you are particularly interested in?

Answers to questions 1-4 above can help us provide more concrete advice.
 
  • #7
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@StatGuy2000, thank you for the great questions! I'll try my best and answer them below.

1. Where are you located?
This is a complicated one to answer. Due to COVID-19 and my ability to learn remotely, I have lived in both Japan (study abroad) and Taiwan for the past two years. That said, I am an in-person student at an American university. Therefore, I will be moving back to the U.S. very soon (i.e. ~1-2 months).

In relation to your question 1 and my above post, I am hoping to pursue a career in Japan (or Taiwan). This is primarily due to my unfamiliarity with the U.S. as I have only lived there for a year thus far.

2. During your undergraduate studies, did you pursue any type of internship opportunities (whether in industry or in research)?
This may be obvious, but the answer would be "no". Unfortunately, my constant moves to different countries would be a major contributor to why I never picked up a major-related internship. That said, I plan on pursuing an internship during my senior year (if available).

3. What kinds of job experiences have you had while you were pursuing your degree?
I lived in Taiwan for nearly all of my life. As such, I was able to have A LOT of English teaching opportunities. Not limited to "teaching", I have also coordinated English camps (for kids) and temporarily managed an English school myself. I've been doing this for about five years. Three of those years would be during the time I've spent pursuing my Physics BS.

4. What kinds of work are you actually interested in pursuing? You state you are confused about how to go about pursuing a job, but is there anything you are particularly interested in?
Anything STEM-related would be great. While I do not have a lot of programming skills under my belt, I do enjoy learning different programming languages (e.g. C++ and C#) during my free time. This is one primary reason why I even brought up "software engineering" as a potential career option (despite not knowing much about the subject).

Hope all this information would prove helpful! If there are additional questions, please let me know. Thank you!
 
  • #8
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One area that is really hot is Data Science. It requires a fair knowledge of statistics and a level of analysis found in upper level undergrad physics. It also requires familiarity with Python, R, Julia or some language with machine learning/ data science software support. Python is the most popular of the bunch.

The sales reference reminded me of a recent article where a guy lost a high paying Job opportunity when he said “I don’t do sales.” He didn’t realize that could be a deal breaker. Basically never say no to any interviewer questions of this type like working extra hours, limiting vacation, sales, travel...
 
  • #9
Office_Shredder
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Some people don't realize you can apply to a PhD program right out of undergrad, I just wanted to make sure that's not the only reason you didn't list it as an option.


I'm not sure how much value a masters degree in physics has, in math a masters degree is relatively worthless compared to e.g an engineering masters.
 
  • #10
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The PhD option is a good one if you have the drive and can play the long game.

Going for a job and then a masters before phd is much tougher and seems to torpedo any chance of getting a Phd without redoing your MS coursework.

Family concerns also begin to tie you down as well.
 
  • #11
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Some people don't realize you can apply to a PhD program right out of undergrad, I just wanted to make sure that's not the only reason you didn't list it as an option.
The PhD option is a good one if you have the drive and can play the long game.
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I did accidentally forget that the U.S. allows bachelor-degree holders to immediately pursue a Ph.D.

After some thought, though, I honestly do not see myself doing another 4-5 years of education. That said, thank you for providing your opinions regarding a master's degree. If a master's degree in physics (assuming it's like "math") is not going to help much (as opposed to engineering), I suppose I would go job hunting instead after graduation.

From what I gathered, the trending job options are IT-related, industrial sales, and data science.

Once again, thank you for all your contributions thus far!
 
  • #12
symbolipoint
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The sales reference reminded me of a recent article where a guy lost a high paying Job opportunity when he said “I don’t do sales.” He didn’t realize that could be a deal breaker. Basically never say no to any interviewer questions of this type like working extra hours, limiting vacation, sales, travel...
Doing that or not should really depend on what the person knows about himself. The lack of deal could happen from either or both people.
 
  • #13
symbolipoint
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I'm not sure how much value a masters degree in physics has, in math a masters degree is relatively worthless compared to e.g an engineering masters.
WHY ?

edit: I misunderstood part of that quote, but upon further thinking, I am still curious to know any "WHYs".
 
  • #14
Office_Shredder
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In fact here's some data to back up my main point

https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/Search?qu...&sortBy=date_desc&overlayDigestTableId=201452

Hopefully you see the table I searched for which shows for various fields and years the number of bachelor's, masters and phds that are conferred. 2017-2018 is the last year covered. For engineering/comp sci, the number of each is 220,000/105,000/13,000. So 48% of people who get a bachelor's get a masters, and only about 7% of people who get a bachelor's get a PhD. Actually that's not quite right, we should probably compares phds in the last year to bachelor's from 5 years ago but it's close enough.

For natural sciences/mathematics those numbers are 175,000/35,000/16,000. So 9% of people who get a bachelor's get a PhD, but only 20% of people get a masters degree.

The reasons why is a masters degree in engineering teaches you how to perform a commercial activity. If you learn how to do finite element modeling to perform stress analysis, there is someone who will pay you money to do that activity for the rest of your life. Math and science masters degrees don't teach you this for the most part. Nobody out there will pay you to compute random Fourier transforms for the rest of your life. They might pay you to research new things about Fourier transform (how to compute them faster, or new uses for them) but those jobs typically require a PhD, not a masters degree.
 
  • #16
symbolipoint
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The reasons why is a masters degree in engineering teaches you how to perform a commercial activity. If you learn how to do finite element modeling to perform stress analysis, there is someone who will pay you money to do that activity for the rest of your life. Math and science masters degrees don't teach you this for the most part. Nobody out there will pay you to compute random Fourier transforms for the rest of your life. They might pay you to research new things about Fourier transform (how to compute them faster, or new uses for them) but those jobs typically require a PhD, not a masters degree.
The quote above must be a very practical way to think and to understand.
 
  • #17
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Some people don't realize you can apply to a PhD program right out of undergrad, I just wanted to make sure that's not the only reason you didn't list it as an option.


I'm not sure how much value a masters degree in physics has, in math a masters degree is relatively worthless compared to e.g an engineering masters.
In Europe a master is really well appreciated. You are not going to get far with just an academical bachelor.
 
  • #18
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From what I gathered, the trending job options are IT-related, industrial sales, and data science.
True, most engineering graduates in my country end up in boring programming jobs as well. Unless you did civil, then you are pretty sure you are going to end up in construction.
 
  • #19
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The reasons why is a masters degree in engineering teaches you how to perform a commercial activity. If you learn how to do finite element modeling to perform stress analysis, there is someone who will pay you money to do that activity for the rest of your life. Math and science masters degrees don't teach you this for the most part. Nobody out there will pay you to compute random Fourier transforms for the rest of your life. They might pay you to research new things about Fourier transform (how to compute them faster, or new uses for them) but those jobs typically require a PhD, not a masters degree.
During my master I came into contact with CFD, SPH, electromagnetic solvers and all kinds of different numerical techniques but then again we did have a lot of choice at Ghent University. You also see all the nitty gritty details. Most of the time in engineering course, you just use commercial software and quickly glance over the details.
 

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