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What to do during physics degree to improve job prospects

  1. May 29, 2015 #1
    I've just completed the first year of my physics degree. After probing several threads on the subject of job prospects, the outlook from many on here is very bleak.

    During the summer I've already started learning more mathematics and intend to improve my ( admittedly very basic) programming skills.

    I know I'm going to need some sort of experience at the very least. What kinds of placements should I pursue and what would you advise me to do to increase my employability?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2015 #2
    If you are in the USA it would be a good idea to add a major in one of the engineering disciplines if you plan to work for someone else. Also: look into internships with engineering firms.

    Despite what your professors may tell you, many see a physics degree as not very practical / not preparing you well for a career in engineering.

    If you want to be a programmer, then learn to code.
  4. May 29, 2015 #3
    Since you are a physics major, I assume your goal is to continue on after graduation for a PhD. If that is your goal I suggest you get involved in undergraduate research and make sure to ace most of your classes.

    If you don't plan on doing a physics PhD then I would suggest majoring in something else or at least double majoring with something more marketable. An internship at a place that might hire you would be more useful then research in this case.

    If you are not sure what path you want then another possibility is to devote yourself to the PhD route and if that doesn't work out go to grad school for a Masters in something marketable and try to get an internship then as a Master's student.

    What do you hope to get out of your physics experience and degree?
  5. May 29, 2015 #4
    Two things which I've done in my undergrad career which I really don't understand why not everyone does:

    1) DO RESEARCH. Ask professors if they know anyone who is looking for a student to work for them. I started in research my first year, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. You'll probably also kill two birds with one stone, and learn some programming/math/physics as well. If it is unpaid, what have they got to lose? Assuming you're planning on going to graduate school (or even if not), research experience shows that you are more than a mindless robot who can pop out good grades.

    2) INTERNSHIPS. Again, applications are free, why wouldn't you at least apply? Try applying for an REU or an internship through the DOE at some national lab somewhere. You'll also be getting lots of experience and some great recommendation letters under your belt with this.
  6. May 30, 2015 #5
    I should add I'm in the UK. I did ask professors if they were interested but they all said that first years aren't very useful to them due to lack knowledge and experience, so I will try again this year.

    Edit: I will also ask if they know anyone else who might be interested.
  7. May 30, 2015 #6


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    1. Are you intending to get a phd or just an undergrad degree in physics?
    2. What kind of jobs are you hoping to use your degree to get?
  8. May 30, 2015 #7
    I chose physics because I found it interesting and because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I naively assumed that a physics degree would make many paths possible. Would a PhD only be useful if I intended to continue in physics? This is something I wouldn't do due to the very low probability of finding a stable position. Of course a PhD wouldn't have to be in a filed in physics.

    After looking around on these forums and elsewhere it doesn't look like I could get many technical jobs with the degree. Generally speaking I'd like a job challenges you and that is mentally stimulating. There is nothing worse than being bored when working. Perhaps something that is meaningful as well. I know a large proportion of physics students go into the finance sector; I'd rather not.

    I know this sounds pretty vague but I still feel undecided. The environment is important to me, so working in the energy industry or a related field is something I'd seriously consider.

    Unfortunately switching degrees isn't as easy in Britain as it appears to be in the US.
  9. May 31, 2015 #8


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    Education Advisor

    Here some questions for you. I know from what I've heard about students in the UK is that students there tend to focus their studies almost exclusively on their intended area of concentration (i.e. so math students take only math classes, physics students only take physics classes or classes intended for physicists). Is that true? If not, what ability do you have to take courses in areas outside of your expertise that would be more "marketable" (e.g. classes in computer science)?

    I've also noticed that it was not unusual for physics graduates in the UK to pursue further graduate studies in economics and pursue a career in finance and work for the City (i.e. the financial sector of London). Is that something you are willing to pursue?

    Is there any form of career counselling available to you at your university, to help you on these matters?
  10. May 31, 2015 #9
    I would say that in my case that is definitely true. There is much less option to choose what you study, and the subjects consist solely of physics, maths, and a few courses on programming and education. Of course there is lab work and there are a few communication courses.

    As I said I'd rather not work in finance. The university does have careers' advisers which I plan on benefiting from much more than last year.

    I've found that I don't really glean much from lectures, though, so they seem like a waste of time, especially considering now it looks like I must spend even more time on other things. How much do universities care about attendance? I suppose it depends on the university, but our undergraduate tutor physics stressed that attendance is very important.
  11. Jun 1, 2015 #10


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    Education Advisor

    As a follow-up question, you said that you don't want to work in finance. Let me ask you this -- aside from pursuing physics research, where do you actually want to work? What do you want to do? (For example, do you want to work as an engineer? A software developer?) You need to think carefully about this before making any other decision.

    Then I would suggest you speak to your academic counselor and determine what options are available, including possibly pursuing a second degree after finishing your undergraduate degree (although that may not be the best option given that in the UK, students will often have to pay double their current tuition to complete second degrees, unlike the US or Canada), or continuing to pursue graduate studies (either in physics or in related or cognate programs like engineering, applied math, computer science, etc.)
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2015
  12. Jun 2, 2015 #11
    The genuine answer is I don't know. It's feasible that engineering or software development is something I'd like to do ( I did like the programming course we did, although as I said it was very basic ), but to know for sure I'd have to have some experience. With internships, they seem to require previous experience that I don't have; this makes me timid about trying to apply.

    I think it makes more sense to pursue a post graduate degree than a second degree, though.
  13. Jun 2, 2015 #12
    As an example I asked a traffic engineer if his company had internships a few months ago, and now I've received an email requesting a CV and cover letter and more detail about what I'd like to do. Again it seems I don't have the necessary skills.
  14. Jun 2, 2015 #13
    Build a case that you can learn them.

    Edit: Even better, identify what they are, and see how much you can learn before the on site interview.
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