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Which has better fall-back career options, Math or Physics?

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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

By fall-back career options, I mean non-academic. Assuming a PhD, which field

1) pays more?
2) has the most jobs available?

Thanks!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
fss
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That's such a general question it's meaningless. Pick one- you'll probably be right.
 
  • #3
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Well how bout this then:
Which field has the highest demand in industry?
 
  • #4
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Well how bout this then:
Which field has the highest demand in industry?
That's such a general question it's meaningless. Pick one- you'll probably be right.
I think the same reply will apply.
 
  • #5
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if you say so...though i find it hard to believe that they are equivalent in this respect.
 
  • #6
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Let me offer another obtuse but honest reply: "Whichever one gives you the most marketable skills." Those are two HUGE fields.

Both math and physics have areas of study that are near useless in looking for work almost anywhere. Other areas can make you sought after. Not surprisingly, these often overlap.

The "which pays more" part of the question is unanswerable because you provide no metric for measure. I've gone into detail on why most metrics for that are really, really bad in the past, but I shouldn't have to, because they're pretty obvious.
 
  • #7
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if you say so...though i find it hard to believe that they are equivalent in this respect.
Why? What possible metric are you using to answer both questions? Could it not be that the median values are so close together that they're totally dwarfed by the variance, leaving choosing between them a useless excersize?
 
  • #8
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with a math degree, i guses you could always be a statistician for the government. But with the physics degree, you can go into a masters for engineering.
 
  • #9
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Why? What possible metric are you using to answer both questions? Could it not be that the median values are so close together that they're totally dwarfed by the variance, leaving choosing between them a useless excersize?
i guess my response was more emotional than analytical, but i see your point.

the reason i ask is because i'm having a very difficult time trying to decide whether i want to go to grad school for math or physics, and while i don't plan on leaving academia, i thought an answer to my question might help me decide one way or the other, but apparently it's too general....
 
  • #10
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the reason i ask is because i'm having a very difficult time trying to decide whether i want to go to grad school for math or physics, and while i don't plan on leaving academia
You should plan on leaving academia, and the earlier you realize that you will likely end up in industry the better off you will be.

As far as which to choose, this is a "which do you like the most" question?

Also as far as application to industry, it doesn't work in the way that you think. Employers don't look at your degree and then decide whether to give you a job or not. A lot of job hunting involves making yourself useful regardless of your degree.

One thing I suggest that you do (and I'm serious about this) is while you are getting a Ph.D., take a summer off and do something like work as a telemarketer or work as a used car salesman. If you have some experience in selling stuff, you can combine that with your degree and do something useful with it.
 
  • #11
chiro
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By fall-back career options, I mean non-academic. Assuming a PhD, which field

1) pays more?
2) has the most jobs available?

Thanks!
1) Jobs that pay more usually fall under three categories: 1) Its hard and requires a lot of experience 2) It requires a lot of responsibility 3) No-one wants to do it.

2)

You'll find that anything "applied" is going to have a higher demand. Any applied science like physics, engineering, statistics and so on are good bets.
 
  • #12
Simfish
Gold Member
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Applied Math, CS, and Statistics generally have the best fallback options. Just make sure to do something that uses a lot of computation, signal processing, or coding differential equation models.
 
  • #13
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You should plan on leaving academia, and the earlier you realize that you will likely end up in industry the better off you will be.
Yeah, I've heard this a lot, but I've never heard a good explanation for the reasons behind this. For example, is it because only the "best of the best" succeed in academia? Or is it seriously just a crap-shoot whether one succeeds in that realm or not? Is it not sufficient to be more intelligent and hardworking than your average competitor, or are there other factors that come into play? Because if you're just basing this on raw statistics, then I don't really understand your line of reasoning. I mean, isn't it already obvious that only the brightest and hardest working tend to succeed in getting exactly what they want, and that in the realm of academia, you just need to be the VERY best and hardest-working?

Or are there random factors that i'm not considering? The young professors i know never seem to leave the office, and I tend to think that's why they are where they are.

Would you say the same thing to a PhD student in a top 5 grad program?
 
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  • #14
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As far as which to choose, this is a "which do you like the most" question?
well yeah, that's the point, i can't decide which i like the best! ....but i think i'm beginning to realize that, while i find physics more interesting, i actually ENJOY doing mathematics more. So that's why i think it's been hard for me. Because when i think of which is more exciting, it's physics hands down. but then when it's actually time to study, i find the mathematics more enjoyable...
 
  • #15
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or coding differential equation models.
sweet! so far i love modeling, but i've only been exposed to a very small bit
 
  • #16
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You should plan on leaving academia, and the earlier you realize that you will likely end up in industry the better off you will be.
i mean , if this is stemming from the whole 1/10 thing, then basically all it takes is being in the 90th percentile? or am i missing something here?

i don't think the likelihood of an individual succeeding in a field has ANYTHING to do with the average statistics of how many succeed. for some, success is guaranteed. for others, it's prohibited. then there's everyone in between, and i guess it's them that you refer to ;)
 
  • #17
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i mean , if this is stemming from the whole 1/10 thing, then basically all it takes is being in the 90th percentile? or am i missing something here?

i don't think the likelihood of an individual succeeding in a field has ANYTHING to do with the average statistics of how many succeed. for some, success is guaranteed. for others, it's prohibited. then there's everyone in between, and i guess it's them that you refer to ;)
I guess the likelihood of an individual succeeding really doesn't have anything to do with the average statistics of how many succeed per se (although you could argue that if the average rate of success is better, one's chances become better, because there's just more spots to fill up), but the latter does tell you how many people that think the same way as you do are actually rightfully doing so.
 
  • #18
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but the latter does tell you how many people that think the same way as you do are actually rightfully doing so.
i understand what you're saying, and i'm sorry to nit-pick....but seriously!! how do you figure that? pretty sure I'M the ONLY person who thinks like ME. okay, yeah, maybe that's a bit too nitty... but still, you're telling me that only 10% percent of those who do WHAT IT TAKES to become a professor become one? i doubt that.

sorry to be so argumentative, but i just can't stand people who tell others, "hey yeah, it's great to dream, but don't plan on it!"
LOL - that's how losers think (no offense, but its true)!!
 
  • #19
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The 90% of physics PHDs is a somewhat more elite group then the 90% percentile on general.
 
  • #20
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i understand what you're saying, and i'm sorry to nit-pick....but seriously!! how do you figure that? pretty sure I'M the ONLY person who thinks like ME. okay, yeah, maybe that's a bit too nitty... but still, you're telling me that only 10% percent of those who do WHAT IT TAKES to become a professor become one? i doubt that.

sorry to be so argumentative, but i just can't stand people who tell others, "hey yeah, it's great to dream, but don't plan on it!"
LOL - that's how losers think (no offense, but its true)!!
Yeah, but there's many more people who think they can make it than people who actually make it. And it's not really how losers think. A lot of people would do what it takes to become a professor, but still hold on to their rationality and give thought to the odds of making it. Just because you're blinded to everything else but the academic track does not mean you're more likely to make it in comparison to someone who is just as determined, but knows that chances are it won't pan out. In fact, I'm pretty sure that other person will have more success in life, because he will be wary of opportunities in other places more than you will, and, again, given the same determination, he will have something you won't.

It's like that everywhere, not just in physics, and I don't know why you're constantly reminding everyone how special your drive and motivation is. I'm not saying you won't make it, no one is, what people are trying to say is don't delude yourself into thinking there's no way you can fail in doing that by just being *the* hardest working person *ever* (which is a delusion in its own right).

And just to clarify, I don't have personal experience with being a Physics PhD and the options it offers, but this is what I gathered from being around here and being around in life in general.
 
  • #21
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i understand what you're saying, and i'm sorry to nit-pick....but seriously!! how do you figure that? pretty sure I'M the ONLY person who thinks like ME. okay, yeah, maybe that's a bit too nitty... but still, you're telling me that only 10% percent of those who do WHAT IT TAKES to become a professor become one? i doubt that.

sorry to be so argumentative, but i just can't stand people who tell others, "hey yeah, it's great to dream, but don't plan on it!"
LOL - that's how losers think (no offense, but its true)!!
There's about 9000 physics professors in the USA.
http://www.aip.org/statistics/

I read somewhere else that there are about 1200 physics PhD's graduated each year in the USA. I don't know the average length of time a professor keeps his job, but a lot of them do hold on to them for a long time. If the average was 10 years, then that 10% would be spot-on.
 
  • #22
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but still, you're telling me that only 10% percent of those who do WHAT IT TAKES to become a professor become one?
Is it that high? I would have guessed lower.
 
  • #23
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i mean , if this is stemming from the whole 1/10 thing, then basically all it takes is being in the 90th percentile?
And lots of luck. As you get into higher and higher levels, the difference between who makes it to the next level and who doesn't becomes more and more a matter of dumb luck and random events than anything else.

i don't think the likelihood of an individual succeeding in a field has ANYTHING to do with the average statistics of how many succeed.
I do. There are ten applicants and eight jobs, you can get a job by not being incompetent. If you have ten applicants and one job, then it's a matter of things that are effectively random.
 
  • #24
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but still, you're telling me that only 10% percent of those who do WHAT IT TAKES to become a professor become one? i doubt that.
It's true.

If you get a Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics, you are not an idiot, and I'm pretty sure that any one of 50 or so Ph.D.'s in theoretical particle physics would make decent researchers. Trouble is that there are five places.

sorry to be so argumentative, but i just can't stand people who tell others, "hey yeah, it's great to dream, but don't plan on it" LOL - that's how losers think (no offense, but its true)!!
If you go into physics, you will almost certainly be a "loser". If you "win" they just bump you to the next level, and eventually you'll reach a point that you will "lose". Note for example, that about one in ten physics Ph.D.'s get tenure-track positions. If you "win" at that game, then there is the tenure rat-race, and once you get to the tenure rat-race, you get into "my university is better than your university." Then you die.....

Personally. I think it's cool. For various personal reasons, I just hate being a "winner" so that when I "win" and something, I just raise the bar, but the consequence of that is that you will eventually lose.

As far as income and mathematical ability, I'm probably at the 99-th percentile of people on the planet. But once you get at the 99.3th percentile, you end up losing out to people that are at the 99.8th percentile. Life in a constant struggle in which are are always a loser, and then you die...

Personally, I think that's cool. Most people don't.
 
  • #25
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Yeah, but there's many more people who think they can make it than people who actually make it. And it's not really how losers think. A lot of people would do what it takes to become a professor, but still hold on to their rationality and give thought to the odds of making it.
The other problem is opportunity cost. Is it really worth it to go from 99.3 to 99.9 in physics ability if it means being at 10th percentile as far as being a good father or a nice guy?

It's like that everywhere, not just in physics, and I don't know why you're constantly reminding everyone how special your drive and motivation is.
And there comes a point where drive and motivation becomes unhealthy and obsessive. I know lots of people that are more driven and motivated at being a research professor than I am, and if it's a competition to see who is more driven and motivated to win at career, they win.

But after seeing the consequences of their obsession on their lives, maybe its a good thing.

There's no way you can fail in doing that by just being *the* hardest working person *ever* (which is a delusion in its own right).
I'm not the hardest worker ever. And after knowing people that work harder than me, I really don't want to be.

And just to clarify, I don't have personal experience with being a Physics PhD and the options it offers.
I do. :-) :-)
 

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