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Physics What types of industrial jobs do physics PhDs tend to land?

StatGuy2000

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Hi everyone! As have been discussed in many posts here on PF, positions for physics PhDs in academia or similar type of work in government labs are highly competitive and hard to come by. For example, see this post below.

https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-hard-is-it-to-get-a-job-in-astrophysics.949583/

So the natural conclusion is that the majority of physics PhDs work in "industry" (i.e. outside of academia or government labs). I'm curious as to what industries tend to hire physics PhDs.

The APS does have some documentation about this, but what they post lacks the finer detail that I'm asking for.

https://www.aps.org/careers/statistics/upload/phdinitemp-0316.pdf

[Please note: For the purposes of this thread, I do not wish to consider the employment prospects of medical physics PhD graduates.]
 
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Vanadium 50

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"Industry" is a big place. Students and postdocs I have worked with who went to industry have done data science (for a wide variety of companies), aerospace, telecommunications, utilities, medical instrumentation, sales, journalism, finance, and technical writing. And that's just off the top of my head.
 

ZapperZ

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I also want to know if one considers SBIR companies as "industry". Many graduates out of Accelerator Science programs are hired by these SBIR companies.

Zz.
 

Vanadium 50

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Would you consider Radiabeam SBIR? Euclid? Presumably not Siemens - but where is the line?
 

ZapperZ

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Would you consider Radiabeam SBIR? Euclid? Presumably not Siemens - but where is the line?
Both Radiabeam and Euclid continue to get SBIR funding, so yeah. But that's why I ask if we consider them to be on par with what we consider to be an "industry" company such as Siemens or Phillips or Varian, etc.

Zz.
 

Päällikkö

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I don't think it is necessarily beneficial to try and put down general fields of work - it all depends on what you studied, and rightly so for a PhD is almost by definition a highly specialized degree and no one's is the same.

That said, many of my friends who did experimental physics ended up getting employed at a related firm. To mention a few; ones that did optics went on to laser manufacturers or similar, ones that did things related to combustion went to work on car engine or instrumentation design, and one friend of mine who did solid state now builds some kind of extreme low temperature apparatuses.

Some of those friends of mine who come from a theoretical or computational background have been employed in their niche fields, but sure enough, there's not that much demand for e.g. computational astrophysicists, so it becomes more of a generalist degree, and doesn't employable skills-wise leave you much better off than a BSc in computer science or similar, though the degree alone should get you past CV screens and into interviews. So, people I know have gone to work as software engineers, management consultants, and finance professionals. That's all very vague and nonspecific, but if your skillset is that of a "generalist", whatever that may mean, then that's indeed what you get.
 

CrysPhys

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I don't think it is necessarily beneficial to try and put down general fields of work - it all depends on what you studied, and rightly so for a PhD is almost by definition a highly specialized degree and no one's is the same.
<<Emphasis added>> I've found none of the posts so far disparaging any field of work. The OP was simply asking about the sectors of industry that employ physics PhDs ... without any judgment calls. [I just realized, by "put down", do you mean "disparage" or merely "list"?]
 

Dr. Courtney

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Some companies that either interviewed me or offered me (a traditional Physics PhD) jobs were:

Iotech (later acquired by National Instruments), Keithley Instruments - these are data acquisition companies that make scientific instruments
Aironet Wireless Communications (later acquired by Cisco Systems) - computer networking companies
Introtech Crash Reconstruction - they reconstruct automobile crashes
Goodyear - tire company
A consulting company that did computer programming
My wife and I also started a consulting company that does mostly ballistics and blast physics research for Dept of Defense interests and also some legal work. Some clients include government research labs, companies that make weapons systems, companies that make armor, companies that make armored vehicles. (Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from naming them specifically.)

My wife's PhD is in "Medical Engineering/Medical Physics." Some companies that either interviewed my wife or offered her a job are:

Reebok - the shoe company - they have a lab where their shoes are tested
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation - hospital and research facility
Force Protection - armored vehicles
Exponent - scientific consulting
 

Dr Transport

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I would consider anything that is not a govt position or academia (community college, university etc...) to be an industry job.
 

StatGuy2000

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I would consider anything that is not a govt position or academia (community college, university etc...) to be an industry job.
That is self-evident. My question (as stated in my original post) is what industries or industrial sectors tend to hire physics PhDs.
 

berkeman

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I don't think it is necessarily beneficial to try and put down general fields of work - it all depends on what you studied
<<Emphasis added>> I've found none of the posts so far disparaging any field of work.
I think the poster was using the term "put down" as in "write down" or "write out", not in a disparaging sense. The term can have multiple meanings... :smile:
 

Dr Transport

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Aerospace companies, semiconductor companies, financial companies, I'm sure you'll find a PhD in pretty much any company you can think of. The question is, are they actually doing physics? I'd tend to think that unless you are in the semiconductor industry, more than likely you're doing engineering of some type.
 

StatGuy2000

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Aerospace companies, semiconductor companies, financial companies, I'm sure you'll find a PhD in pretty much any company you can think of. The question is, are they actually doing physics? I'd tend to think that unless you are in the semiconductor industry, more than likely you're doing engineering of some type.
Of course, that question hinges on what it means to "actually do physics". For example, in the context of industry, is someone applying their knowledge and research experience in condensed matter physics to develop the latest generation of semiconductors (at, say, Intel) doing physics or engineering? One could make the argument that even in the semiconductor industry, the work that physicists work on could be thought of as engineering of some type.
 

Dr Transport

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That's the $64K question, if you leave academia, other than the national labs are you doing physics? If you are not publishing, some would say, no. I did IR materials for almost 15 years in industry, that was all basic physics I wrote code to do K-K analysis on material measurements, designed multi-layer stacks for thin films. So yeah, I did physics, but every page of it was for a company and considered proprietary, so it has never seen the light of day outside. I've seen doctoral dissertations that were a rehash of what I did years after the fact. They might have been first to publish, but no where near first to figure it out.
 
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Aerospace companies, semiconductor companies, financial companies, I'm sure you'll find a PhD in pretty much any company you can think of. The question is, are they actually doing physics? I'd tend to think that unless you are in the semiconductor industry, more than likely you're doing engineering of some type.
That depends on how you define 'doing physics'; doing engineering doesn't necessarily preclude one from doing physics.
 
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At work, most of our PhD folk are chemists, but a few are physics, including my boss. We do R&D of printed, flexible carbon electronics (mostly sensors).We also dabble with some nanoparticles and polymers.
My boss was hired due to his direct experience in carbon nanotubes that he worked on during his PhD.

He also told me not to get a PhD, and he wouldn't if he could go back. He would have only gotten a masters degree. He said it never helped him or anyone he knew not trying to get into academics.
 

CrysPhys

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At work, most of our PhD folk are chemists, but a few are physics, including my boss. We do R&D of printed, flexible carbon electronics (mostly sensors).We also dabble with some nanoparticles and polymers.
My boss was hired due to his direct experience in carbon nanotubes that he worked on during his PhD.

He also told me not to get a PhD, and he wouldn't if he could go back. He would have only gotten a masters degree. He said it never helped him or anyone he knew not trying to get into academics.
<<Emphasis added>> The first highlighted statement appears to contradict the second highlighted statement.
 

StatGuy2000

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<<Emphasis added>> The first highlighted statement appears to contradict the second highlighted statement.
Appears to, but not necessarily. After all, @PCJJSBS 's boss may well have concluded that the experience on carbon nanotubes that he worked on during his PhD didn't help him in his position at said company (even if it may well have "opened the door" to said position), and that he would have been better off with just a Masters degree and any additional work experience he would have gained instead.
 
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Appears to, but not necessarily. After all, @PCJJSBS 's boss may well have concluded that the experience on carbon nanotubes that he worked on during his PhD didn't help him in his position at said company (even if it may well have "opened the door" to said position), and that he would have been better off with just a Masters degree and any additional work experience he would have gained instead.
Yes, that is sort of how I took it. Also, this job is not his first. I'm not sure what previous jobs he has held, but those likely influence his opinion on the subject.
 

Dr. Courtney

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At work, most of our PhD folk are chemists, but a few are physics, including my boss. We do R&D of printed, flexible carbon electronics (mostly sensors).We also dabble with some nanoparticles and polymers.
My boss was hired due to his direct experience in carbon nanotubes that he worked on during his PhD.

He also told me not to get a PhD, and he wouldn't if he could go back. He would have only gotten a masters degree. He said it never helped him or anyone he knew not trying to get into academics.
PhDs are the coin of the realm in a lot of consulting work. Sure, some consultants only have MS degrees, but for equivalent experience, they tend to make a lot less, and are often taken less seriously. Lots of times consultants are not only hired to get the right answer, but to convince others. A PhD sure helps in that regard, especially when the other parties are attorneys, judges, and juries.

Nothing like a PhD in an appropriate field to help one withstand a Daubert motion to exclude one's expert testimony in a legal matter.
 
I also want to know if one considers SBIR companies as "industry". Many graduates out of Accelerator Science programs are hired by these SBIR companies.

Zz.
Hi Zapper,

I have just read a few threads regarding Accelerator Physics, most of which you were a main participant. The threads usually had the theme that there are a shortage of Accelerator Physicists (mainly in industry). However they are nearly 10 years old. I'm just wondering how the field is looking now?
I'll hopefully be starting a masters in Plasma Physics in Eindhoven (in Europe) next year and would like to potentially end up working in some area of Accelerator Physics, so am just curious.

Cheers!
 

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