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Physics Where to look fo jobs w/ physics phD

  1. Jun 21, 2012 #1
    I should be getting my physics phD in a year. I wouldn't say I will have done a great job of it. The earlier years were spent more on writing software, and in the later years I find the research to be contrived. I have my name on two papers, and I'm trying to write my first first author paper. I definitely enjoy textbook problems and teaching and writing software, but research on simulating different dopants in transition metals in Fe-superconductors is unenlightening, unfocused, and boring.

    I think I would rather work on some sort of product design. I'm looking to move out of academia (i.e. not do post-doc .. i mean, I will if i HAVE to), and I don't want to work 80-hour weeks like a quant (i.e. have a life) What other options are there that would utilize the skills of a physics phD? (As a backup case, I could be a community college instructor.)

    P.S. Thanks for any advice on this, .. feel free to add your own apprehensions or experiences.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2012 #2


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    You neglected to mention ONE important piece of information - what AREA of physics are you getting your PhD in, and in particular, what are your skills? I can sort of guess based on "... research on simulating different dopants in transition metals in Fe-superconductors.. ", but you really should explicitly say what your area of study is.

    A PhD in theoretical particle physics has a different job outlook than a PhD in experimental condensed matter physics specializing in thin film fabrication and analysis. All physics PhD are not equal.

  4. Jun 22, 2012 #3
    Err, sorry. Generally, it's Solid State Theory. More specifically, I've spent time writing add-ons to a Density Functional Theory code based on Green's functions. (Lately I've been using that code to simulate the normal phases of Fe-based superconductors.) So I'm strongly geared toward scientific programming.
  5. Jun 22, 2012 #4
    If you are interested in working in investment banking, the place to start is DICE, phds.org, or efinancialcareers.com, www.wilmott.org and look for jobs in the NYC or London area. That will get you hooked up with a recruiter who will take things from there.
  6. Jun 22, 2012 #5
    In most firms, quants work 50-60 hour weeks, which is roughly how much one works in any high technology job. One odd thing is that I've worked substantially less in finance than working in a high tech startup or for that matter in graduate school.

    The stories that you hear of people going totally crazy working in finance are true, but by in large they aren't doing physics Ph.D. work. People in mergers and accquisitions and IPO's work insane hours, but traders and quants don't work long hours, because there's nothing to do once the market closes.
  7. Jun 22, 2012 #6
    I'm scared they work like hell and that it won't take advantage of my physics (in contrast to math) skills. My brother went into investment banking (as a Masters of Finance .. not quant), but I can barely get him on the phone. He says it's not unusual for him to go in at 7 am and leave at 2 am. I'm not sure what he does exactly, i think IPOs are involved. Also, there's something that bothers me about "shuffling money around". I don't quite understand it .. it's not tangible. I don't mean to criticize your job area .. these are just some concerns of mine. Maybe I could test the waters for a couple years.

    p.s. Thank you. I'll take a look at those sites and read up more on it. I have enjoyed programming. I'd still prefer something more science or engineering oriented though.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2012
  8. Jun 23, 2012 #7
    You should briefly look into community college instruction in the area you want to live. In a lot of areas, state cuts have lead to downsizing and replacing full-time faculty with adjuncts. My local community college offers 2-3k a class, and there are no full-time physic teachers on staff (just 2 or 3 adjuncts at any given time). Even if you taught all their physics courses, you probably would take a pay cut from grad school- not exactly the career you probably want.

    I got my phd a few years back in theoretical particle physics, and know several condensed matter and particle theory phds. Hard truth- three years after a phd, none of them are still doing physics for a living (myself included). There just isn't much industrial demand for theory phds in any area. Basically, my advice is more or less give up on finding a job that takes direct advantage of physics knowledge. I spent several under-employed years while looking for a science/engineering job and it was, in retrospect, totally a waste of time.

    Most people I know with science phds are working in finance,consulting and insurance, in jobs that use some of the math background you can develop as a physicist (I more-or-less retrained myself as a statistician and now do data mining). Programming and IT are other areas that get tossed around. Also, highschool teaching pays substantially better than community colleges, but credentialing for that can take time, and there are a lot of potential negatives about the job (also won't use much of your grad-level physics knowledge, but again, no job will).
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2012
  9. Jun 23, 2012 #8
    Heard you said that your experimental condensed matter physics friends did well. How many did you know? You said one went to Intel, did anyone else go anywhere? Did you know anyone that did optics? How are they doing compared to the condensed matter guys?
  10. Jun 23, 2012 #9


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    I see a lot of applications of DFT in computational physics and simulations of materials. A lot is going on with national research labs in US and Europe, and probably Asia. In the nuclear industry, there is a lot of work using DFT to develop better models of how materials work in their intended operating environment. There is both development of models and computational systems, and applications of those systems. I expect this holds for other industries, especially those involved in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

    IBM is doing research with DFT - http://www.research.ibm.com/nanoscience/index/index.html [Broken]

    And other groups - http://www.cpmd.org/
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Jun 24, 2012 #10
    A lot depends on what one considered "physics skills". I spend most of my day debugging numerical code, but that's what I did in graduate school.

    Yup. I pass these people when I leave the office, and I feel very sorry for them.

    As far as what they do. I think of a real estate agent. O.K. now instead of a real estate agent selling a house, you are an agent trying to sell a bunch of new stock. You are lining up customers, trying to put together brochures, making sure all of the forms are filled out, fixing leaky roofs, etc. etc.

    Sure, money is not tangible. Neither is time, space, energy, or gravity. :-) :-)

    If we understood it, then we wouldn't need to hire physics Ph.D.'s. Money is like gravity. The more I think about it, the less I understand it. That's a good thing. It's fine to not understand something. It's dangerous to think that you understand something that you don't.
  12. Jun 25, 2012 #11
    Yep, you're right. The local community college mentioned they're only eager to hire part-time physics lecturers.

    OK. I'm not thrilled by what I'm doing now anyway. Though my roommate (a 4th year post-doc) says I'm the academic "type". I imagine I'll read GR here and there in my spare time to satisfy my physics demon.

    Some of what I heard too. I could see myself doing finance, programming, or data mining. Maybe the other two. I don't know what a day in the life of a insurance or consulting person would be like.

    Thanks, but I'm currently trying to avoid this for my next job. I'd like something of a fresh start, and doing DFT would mean being stuck doing the same stuff for another XX years. I might leave and decide it wasn't so bad after all, but I have to try something else first.

    Hmm .. believe it or not, writing and debugging code doesn't bother me much. Maybe being a quant wouldn't be so bad. Especially if it's not more pressure than being an engineer or any other professional. Do you have to undergo lots of retraining to do this? And would that be before or after they hire you? Also, does the culture just expect you to be an on call genius? .. or do they realize that all good work takes practice and training? And maybe a book recommendation? (Thanx a bunch.)

    Appreciate everyone's suggestions.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2012
  13. Jul 4, 2012 #12
    Not really. The reason banks hire physics Ph.D.'s is that we are expected to learn whatever needs to be learned very quickly.

    Everyone is a genius at something and an idiot at something else. A lot of stuff that physics Ph.D.s end up doing looks like magic to someone that doesn't have as good math skills, but is a genius at something else.

    There's a fair amount of "fire fighting" in which you are expected to fix a problem rather quickly.

    As far as books.....

    Hull, Wilmott, and Baxter and Rennie are the standard texts....

    Also I like

    Fusai's Implementing Models in Quantitative Finance: Methods And Cases

    Because that book has the best description of "real world" problems.

    If you want lots of math, find something by Damiano Brigo.

    One thing about these texts is that you shouldn't take anything they write literally. Most of the texts are either wrong or irrelevant. For example, short rate interest rate models just don't work, but the point of Hull is so that you know what a short rate interest rate model is so that you understand what it means when someone tells you that they don't work.

    The quantitative finance papers in Los Alamos preprints are also worth looking at, since they give you a flavor of the problems that people are interested in.

    As far as what does work.... Well..... That's why they are hiring you..... If it was in a textbook, they wouldn't have to hire someone to figure this stuff out.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2012
  14. Jul 4, 2012 #13
    Appreciate the help twofish.

    Sam Bell
  15. Aug 1, 2012 #14
    I'm reviving an old post here, but I recently started thinking about liberal arts colleges. There is a higher priority there on teaching, good working hours, lower pressure on research, potentially bright students, and good locations. Is this a good possibility for hire if you don't have strong research credentials but show intelligence and an aptitude for teaching?
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