1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics Would anyone hire me with just a BS in Physics?

  1. Aug 4, 2010 #1
    I hear a lot about people getting jobs in finance, programming, or maybe some type of engineering job with an undergrad degree in Physics but I'm going into my final year of undergrad and am only recently questioning whether I want to go on to get a PhD in Physics so all the classes I've taken have been preparing me for that. I haven't taken any economics or computer science courses or anything that would be useful in the real world. I feel like I have no skills that are useful in the real world. Would somebody really hire me with my background? What type of jobs could I get? I just wish I had foreseen this earlier and tried to take courses in things other than math and physics that would have been useful for trying to get a job straight out of undergrad.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2010 #2
    What's an example of a skill you might need in the real world?

    How would you go about getting that skill?

    I think it would be awesome if our society stopped asking children "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and started asking them "What skills do you want to use when you grow up?" It would revolutionize the way we chose our career and the way in which we measured our personal success.

    For the record, after I got my BS in physics I managed to land a job in the private research sector. I probably had a worse record than you do (I had a terrible undergrad gpa). So on the upside, I'm proof positive it's possible. On the downside, I think in retrospect it was just dumb luck, and I'm not sure I could pull it off again in this economy (and don't have a way to test it, since I have a masters now).
  4. Aug 5, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I don't think that this is realistic. What child knows for sure what is associated with such-and-such a career, much less, what skills are something he/she would like to have?

    What we can do, which is what I've been trying to do, is tell people who, say, want to major in physics (regardless of what area of specialization he/she wants to aim for), that they should try to have as wide of an education and experience as possible. If you think you want to be a theorist, don't look down on doing advanced physics labs, or learn some new techniques in a professor's research group, or learn how to write some codes to solve some physics questions, etc. One just never know when some of these things actually might become useful when one is desperately looking for employment and needs to stand out just a little bit.

    Idealism is one thing, but reality can be something completely different. One's goal should be a balanced mixture between the two.

  5. Aug 5, 2010 #4
    The whole point was to not choose a career, so it's not important that they do. I think you must have misunderstood me, because your response doesn't connect with what I said.

    I do agree about getting a broad education and experience. Ultimately it's about what skills you offer.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2010
  6. Aug 5, 2010 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    You didn't quote the whole sentence that I wrote, which was:

    I.e. it is even MORE difficult for a child to be aware of what SKILLS that he/she would want. It is easier to know one wants to be an 'astronaut', but would that child knows all the skills that would be "beneficial"? How many of us here were aware of the skill in materials fabrication when we were, say 9 years old? In fact, there are many incoming freshmen who are totally clueless on such a skill.

  7. Aug 10, 2010 #6
    how is it that you haven't even taken ONE CS course? I thought its usually required for a physics degree? Anyways I just recently managed to find a nice engineering job with just a physics degree. But thats because I took a couple relevant courses, had programming experience, and research/work experience. If you don't have those, then yes it will be tough for someone to hire you.

    As for physics-related jobs, you might still have a chance at positions requiring an EE degree, work in a government or university research lab, etc. If you're willing to take anything, then I can tell you that on my school's job board, I found that there are some data analysis or some technical-related positions requiring a physics/math background but no programming experience was required.
  8. Aug 11, 2010 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    If you are going into your senior year, then you have time to pick a couple of classes to help you here. If you have some reasonable software experience then taking a CS class isn't necessary, but if you are not comfortable programming then I recommend taking a good intro class.

    I am an engineer, and I have interviewed a fair number of math and physics majors. Where I work we do a lot of signal processing algorithm development, as well as build prototype systems to obtain the data we need for that. So basically we do R&D (other parts of the company build real things). We like to have folks with a variety of backgrounds to keep fresh ideas coming in. I cannot speak in general for all jobs ofcourse, but if that kind of work sounds interesting I can tell you what classes I want people to have:

    1. some programming course or equivalent experience. Everyone writes some software, and right out of school that is usually the easiest way for new hires to earn their keep while they get up to speed on the rest of the stuff. I have never interviewed someone who didn't have this.

    2. Linear algebra. You must have taken this already, and your experience with quantum mechanics probably makes the subject more alive for you. Believe it or not there are still some engineering schools that allow students to not take this, which should be criminal!

    3. Probability theory. Everything we do is statistical - knowing statistics and/or stochastic processes would be good too, but probability theory is the foundation. For some reason many physics students (including grad students!) never take probability. The ability to think probabilistically is useful for anyone in a technical area, whether you go to grad school or get a job.

    4. Signals and systems - this is the one course to take to make a physicist (or mathematician) think like an electrical engineer. Every EE department teaches this. On the surface it is just applied Fourier analysis, both continuous and discrete, but learning to think in both the time and frequency domains is key. DSP, communications, etc., are all easy to understand with the tools from this one course. I recommend it if EE kind of jobs are at all interesting to you. This is not a hard course, just an important one!

    5. This is more of a wish than a requirement, but I like folks who have a solid understanding of electromagnetic theory, especially waves. Everything today is wireless, and occasionally having a good feeling for waves and radiation is useful. you should have this sewn up!

    My guess is that items 1,3 and 4 may be holes, if you are interested in these sorts of jobs. If I had to pick two, I'd pick 1 and 4. Physicists usually have reasonable intuition for probability since they learn a little in statistical physics, so learning on your own isn't too bad.

    This is just one perspective, others will have additional info for you.

    Good luck,

  9. Sep 23, 2010 #8
    Well I was asking myself that question last year and I got a job where I am a valued and respected part of the company that gets payed 40K/yr but it took A LOT of looking. I applied to hundreds of jobs online, customized resumes and cover letters the whole bit. What actually ended up paying off is pounding the pavement at every corporate park and local business that looked remotely technology related, marketing the skill set my degree gave me not the degree itself. People will pay you more than others with the same job title and they will expect more from you too. If you have the grades and the money getting an MBA too would make a good combo.
  10. Sep 23, 2010 #9
    I've been thinking about options too.

    If it's purely money I want, I have considered being a commercial pilot.

    If it's for status and self-accomplishment, then I'd further my studies for a PhD or Masters at least, get hooked up to some R&D company.

    If I get lazy I'd probably end up as a physics teacher in high school or something.
  11. Sep 23, 2010 #10
    The same problem wanted to disturb my mind but i did not give in. From their training, physicists are known to be versatile and adaptable to a new situation. do not worry. there will always be some company that needs the service of somebody with B.Sc. in physics.
  12. Sep 26, 2010 #11
    You could be a high school teacher if you feel like doing another year to get your B. Ed.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook