help me with my physics life

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zincdichromate
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help me with my physics life

Postby zincdichromate » Thu May 15, 2008 12:13 pm

I just finished my first year of a 4 year physics degree, and it made me realize that although I love physics and I am really good at it, but I do not want to be a physicist. This has a lot to do with my first taste of research life with a condensed matter group I had been helping and it really wasnt a good experience. It made me realize that I really do not want to waste 10 to 15 years of my life going between lowpaying postdoc positions, being someone's lab monkey for the chance of getting a stable and well paying tenure/tenure-track position by the time half of my life is gone.

I love physics, but I can't see myself devoting every aspect of my life to it like some of my friends are able to do.

I am looking for a way out, and into a well paid profession, but I dont think I want to leave physics completely, i.e. change degrees.

Does anyone have any tips on how to make a physics degree useful for maybe a life in finance, or industry or anything? (I am open to possibilities)

marten
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby marten » Thu May 15, 2008 12:57 pm

If you love physics, and want a well paid profession, how about engineering? Since you've only completed one year of physics, most of the classes that you just took are probably the same or similar, depending on your program. Engineering can be a lot of fun, and a bachelor's degree in engineering is a lot more useful in the job market then a bachelor's in physics. It doesn't mean leaving physics completely, a good engineer should have a good understanding of physics and use that knowledge.

Marten

edit: plus there are those degrees in "applied physics" or "engineering physics" that would have good job prospects.

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twistor
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby twistor » Thu May 15, 2008 1:15 pm

There are plenty of mid-range salary positions for someone with a 4 yr physics degree. However, your best bet would be to switch to engineering since there are even more positions there.

zincdichromate
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Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:55 am

Re: help me with my physics life

Postby zincdichromate » Thu May 15, 2008 1:34 pm

Thank you for your advice,

I see a lot of universities offer a masters in mathematical finance. Do any of you know of people going from a physics/math degree onto such a program?

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Helio
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby Helio » Thu May 15, 2008 2:25 pm

I am doing that at the moment. I am a Mathematical Economics and Physics major. The math/econ program had the option to do a MS in mathematical finance for an extra year. I decided not to do it because I want to go to grad school in physics. I may do it if there are no other options for me. Anyhow, to get back on topic. I would either switch to engineering or find a different group. I went through the same motion at some point. I did research in a solar physics group during the year and enjoyed it a lot. Then i wanted to taste something else so I spent the summer in a condensed matter lab. What a crap shoot that was. I was bored out of my mind most of the time and the advisor was a true advisor out of hell... never around, only complaining, no clue what was really going on, wanted results without having the lab setup or the right equipment, etc. As an undergrad you will get to do the bitch jobs the first time around, maybe you will need to gain a bit of their trust before you get to do the real things.

There is another option. Physics PhDs can go into finance, consulting, etc. I know people who have done it and they are happy about it. I mean you are somebodies monkey for maybe 5 to 6 years, but it might give a good return in the end.

BTW, I saw a grad student here who had a masters in physics and now is a phd in economics with a masters in mathematical finance

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will
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby will » Thu May 15, 2008 7:55 pm

Education is kind of a silly thing in that people don't care what it says on your frilly little paper in the "real world". Having a degree in engineering might get your foot in the door for engineering jobs, but no more so than a friendly smile and a firm handshake. I have several friends now that just got their physics degrees and are hopping right into good salary engineering positions. I don't think it's unfair to say that nearly everyone who whines about being unemployed and how they wish they'd done engineering instead would probably be unemployed with their engineering degrees too.

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grae313
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby grae313 » Fri May 16, 2008 3:37 pm

My dad has a BS in physics and has been an extremely well-paid engineer his whole career. He has said he has met a number of physicists in the engineering world, and they are almost always the best engineers. That door is wide open, don't worry.

In fact, I think you can do almost anything with a physics degree. People know that the degree means you are smart, can do math, understand how things work, and can solve problems. Learning any other side knowledge for the job is piece of cake. On the other hand, teaching someone who already knows the field-specific knowledge how to think, solve problems, and do math can be a huge challenge. For the most part people realize this. I'm still split on whether I want to try and do academia with my physics PhD or just jump into industry or biotech and make six figures right away. Oh, you can also do research at a federal labs. AIP has salary statistics and it is very decent. I don't get it when people say you can't make money with a physics degree.

Oh, and Mckinsey loves hiring physics PhDs to do consulting. Lots of PhDs do financing as well.

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will
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby will » Fri May 16, 2008 4:41 pm

It's kind of funny, but every "successful" physicist that I talk too has plenty of stories about their "unsuccessful" peers from grad school, who never were able to land that professorship, but are currently driving lamborghinis. Being an academic is hard work, and for the amount and importance of the work they do, many of them are severely underpaid. If it's what you want to do, though, go for it! If it's not? Don't let that get in the way of a good education.

The people who got their Ph.D.s and became professors or industry scientists or financial analysts don't waste time bitching and moaning about how they wish they'd done something else. The people who do are generally the kind of people whose advice you should take lightly anyway.

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Helio
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Re: help me with my physics life

Postby Helio » Fri May 16, 2008 6:00 pm

grae313 wrote:
Oh, and Mckinsey loves hiring physics PhDs to do consulting. Lots of PhDs do financing as well.


Yeah i heard a talk by a former post-doc at Berkeley National labs during the APS regional meeting who now works for McK.

On another note, I would recommend to marry before you take that route, as word of warning... McK is not what i call family friendly at times and you have to be born to stick with the company. either hate it or love it.

zincdichromate
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:55 am

Re: help me with my physics life

Postby zincdichromate » Sat May 17, 2008 1:16 pm

Thank you guys for your advice. It has strengthened by decision that, regardless of my current uncertainty, physics is the right degree for me.




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