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Physics Which physics jobs require the least commitment time-wise?

  1. Apr 5, 2016 #1
    I'm a undergraduate physics major in my junior year. I want to work in some physics-related job after I graduate, although I haven't decided exactly what yet. My main problem is that there's no one subject (Mechanics, Electrostatics, Quantum etc..) that I'm really interested in and want to do above all else. I like pretty much anything. And in addition to that, I also have a lot of interests outside of Physics, like CS, Philosophy, Neuroscience and History.

    So I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of spending 10-30 years working on some niche physics experiment, like some people end up doing (especially considering that your life-long efforts may come to no fruition). I need more variety. So I think I want to pick physics fields/jobs where I can work on some problem(s) for 1-3 years, and then move on to something else. Are there fields/jobs/job-types/employers etc... where I could best do that? Or is it the case that in physics you don't have the luxury to choose such things?
     
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  3. Apr 5, 2016 #2

    Orodruin

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    The obvious few-year commitment would be going to grad school. However, that is going to occupy a large portion of your time for those years. It should also be noted that this is the path you would take if you did want a job in academia, although it certainly does not guarantee you would get one even if you wanted one.
     
  4. Apr 5, 2016 #3

    e.bar.goum

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    It's true that there's a lot of "big science" that happens on timescales of decades, but a lot of physics projects are constructed on 3-5 year timescales - about the length of a PhD or one funding cycle. Often, projects evolve over time.

    But it really depends on what you mean by "problem(s)". I'm a PhD student, so I don't have the personal long-term experience, but I know that, say, my supervisors have worked on many different experiments/problems in the last decade. But the key thing is that these problems all have an overarching theme.

    On the other hand, I know a physicist who has worked on everything from cancer therapies through to palaeontology through to oil and gas exploration and neuroscience.

    So yes, there can be a lot of variety. It really depends on the individual, and the research theme.
     
  5. Apr 5, 2016 #4
    I am seriously considering grad school, but that's only a few years. I'm thinking more about my career now. (Probably should have clarified, since I did say in OP "after I graduate")
    See, that's the sort of thing I'm interested in. But I haven't applied for any jobs yet, so I don't know.. when searching for some physics-related job, will I be able to tell how long the expected commitment is? Meaning, is that the sort of thing they tell you in their job descriptions, or that you can find elsewhere?
     
  6. Apr 5, 2016 #5

    Orodruin

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    Academia generally works the following way:
    • You do your PhD (3-7 years depending on where you do it and how fast you do it).
    • After your PhD you might get a postdoc position. You do a number of postdocs, each lasting 2-3 years. Without this step, you will have essentially zero chance at a faculty job.
    • After 2-5 postdocs you might get a junior faculty (tenure track) position. These will typically be 4-6 years depending on where you are.
    • After your junior faculty position you might get tenure.
    There is nothing stating you cannot drop out at any of those levels (or between postdocs). Of course, you can always quit your job! This goes for physics as well as for anything else. Many people drop out because they realise they do not want to be in academia and many also because they simply do not get a position at the next level. There is nothing strange about not moving up the ladder.
     
  7. Apr 5, 2016 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Who are these "some people"? I want to meet them, because in all my career as a physicist, I've never met ANYONE who spend THAT long working on the same "niche physics experiment".

    You are also putting your cart WAAAAAY before the horse. Considering the low probability of getting employed in doing physics, there's a good chance that you won't even have the ability to work in ANY "physics experiment" for any period of time, small niche or not.

    Zz.
     
  8. Apr 5, 2016 #7

    Choppy

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    I think generally what tends to happen is that once a physicist has an education, he or she will gravitate towards the best opportunities available at the time. In many cases the expertise one develops can be applied to a large number of problems, but a person will tend to stay in one area because that's that best opportunity or presents the most stable career for them over a long term. Others jump from problem to problem because the problem gets solved, or the field grows cold, or other better opportunities come up. And even if you stay working in one area, I don't think it's that common to work a single problem for all that long.

    But it's also true that once you develop a reputation for a specific thing, people tend to seek you out when they have problems that relate to that.
     
  9. Apr 5, 2016 #8

    ZapperZ

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    But still, you very seldom end up doing the SAME thing. This is because the knowledge evolves and progresses.

    Let's say that you are an expert doing photoemission spectroscopy, and you started with doing photoemission studies on superconductors. Trust me, you'll NEVER end up doing just that for even 10 years, because the knowledge as progressed and the "hot" topics that get funded will no longer be what you were doing 5 years ago. You may end up (i) studying different material that may have come up recently, such as topological insulators, and/or (ii) making huge improvement to the technique that allows for better energy/momentum resolution, enabling new detection and study that were never possible before.

    None of these are "doing the same niche experiment" over and over again. It is one of the big fallacies and misunderstanding of what scientists do in their careers. In fact, it is more common that scientists change their area of work and topic of investigation throughout their careers to match the ebb and flow of the funding profile. Either you change and adapt, or you'll be left behind and find yourself obsolete!

    Zz.
     
  10. Apr 5, 2016 #9
    Medical Physics: (Radiation Physics in hospitals). Federal employment in government labs seems to draw an eclectic variety of skills.
     
  11. Apr 6, 2016 #10

    f95toli

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    It does happen. There are quite a few project where I work that have been going for more than ten years. However, in many cases they are now on mark II or III of the actual piece of kit/device they are trying to build (this in most cases metrology experiments which takes a LONG time to design, build and test). One project that was closed down a couple of years ago (the experiment was actually moved to Canada) had been running more of less continuously from about 1976 (the guy who came up with the idea worked on it until he retired in 2010, he still visits).
    I guess the same thing can happen if you are working on "big science" where the timescales can be quite long.

    That said, this is by no means "normal" and would really only happen in certain very specialized fields.
     
  12. Apr 6, 2016 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    I spent maybe 20 years on a "big science" experiment. But that's not the same as doing the same thing. I worked on different parts of the detector (including a major upgrade), and did many different measurements. It was about as "doing the same thing" as "staying at the same university" would be.
     
  13. Apr 13, 2016 #12

    radium

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    Theorists can be very fickle with their research interests. Some even completely switch fields. I have heard of string theorists becoming biophysicists and people going between high energy theory and condensed matter theory. It's much easier for them though since there are no experiments involved.
     
  14. Apr 14, 2016 #13
    The physicists I know who have careers like that work at universities where there is no publishing or research requirement. Ironically, since their only job requirements involve teaching, they get to research and publish what they find fun. The most eclectic one works at a state university whose physics department exists because they pump out high school teachers, pre-med, nursing, and pre-law majors. There are rarely more than two or three physics majors graduated there per year. He does his teaching, and in his free time he works on fun side projects. He had a few long running collaborations, in one of which he worked with a guy with similar-ish interests who was better at programming than theory. My friend would work out the equations and relations, and his collaborator mostly implemented them into simulations.

    Anyway, that's one way to accomplish what you want.

    A similar situation involves someone I know who worked for a medium sized industrial corporation as a troubleshooter. He started off without a degree, and got really good at it, then his employer encouraged him to get an engineering degree so he'd have a better understanding of some of the principles behind his work. He ended up getting a B.A. in applied physics instead, and they were even happier with that. Now he still does the troubleshooting, on everything from PCs to lots of different types of multi-million dollar equipment and industrial processes, and he's never bored because the types of problems he's solving are always different. He's not stuck in one department on a single process, where with his personality, he'd be bored to tears.
     
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