Employment opportunities for Physics Ph.Ds

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

heterodyne
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:04 pm

Employment opportunities for Physics Ph.Ds

Postby heterodyne » Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:25 pm

Greetings to all,
I am an undergraduate physics major set to graduate at the end of this year and I am currently considering my options for grad school. Although I haven't taken the PGRE yet looking at the profiles on this forum I feel confident that I will be able to get into a well ranked graduate program, but my concern is what will I do with a Ph.D in physics? Much of the research I have done as an undergraduate has been what most schools would consider applied physics or EE (experimental radar research for the army) and my supervisors (who are physics faculty) have encouraged me to go to engineering grad school instead of physics because of my career goals. I would like to work as a researcher for the government or a private company (Lockhead, GE, etc.), though not necessarily in the field I am currently involved in.
When I look at current employment opportunities in these sectors (granted they are few these days) I usually see that they require a degree in engineering, although some offers list "degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, or related discipline". I was wondering if anyone on these forums had some advice for where to look for jobs hiring physics majors. I love studying physics but I despise academia and would rather continue my current job of delivering pizza than become a professor (no offense to the future professors on this site, just my opinion :roll: ) and it seems to me that this is where the majority of Physics Ph.D's end up. Any insight and/or flame posts would be greatly appreciated.

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Employment opportunities for Physics Ph.Ds

Postby grae313 » Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:29 pm

heterodyne wrote:Greetings to all,
I am an undergraduate physics major set to graduate at the end of this year and I am currently considering my options for grad school. Although I haven't taken the PGRE yet looking at the profiles on this forum I feel confident that I will be able to get into a well ranked graduate program, but my concern is what will I do with a Ph.D in physics? Much of the research I have done as an undergraduate has been what most schools would consider applied physics or EE (experimental radar research for the army) and my supervisors (who are physics faculty) have encouraged me to go to engineering grad school instead of physics because of my career goals. I would like to work as a researcher for the government or a private company (Lockhead, GE, etc.), though not necessarily in the field I am currently involved in.
When I look at current employment opportunities in these sectors (granted they are few these days) I usually see that they require a degree in engineering, although some offers list "degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, or related discipline". I was wondering if anyone on these forums had some advice for where to look for jobs hiring physics majors. I love studying physics but I despise academia and would rather continue my current job of delivering pizza than become a professor (no offense to the future professors on this site, just my opinion :roll: ) and it seems to me that this is where the majority of Physics Ph.D's end up. Any insight and/or flame posts would be greatly appreciated.


My dad is a physics major who works as an engineer, and he has said that he only occasionally encounters other engineers with physics backgrounds, but that without fail they have been the best engineers. Especially with relevant research, I can't imagine people turning you away because you have a physics PhD from a highly ranked school. In fact, I think it would give you an advantage, because your understanding of what you are working with will be better. If you're not sure, call up a few of these places that say you need an engineering degree and ask them how they would feel about a physics PhD with very applied research.

If you look at the AIP statistics, the majority of physics PhDs go into industry and do applied research / engineering. Academic positions are much more limited.

User avatar
noojens
Posts: 187
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:59 pm

Re: Employment opportunities for Physics Ph.Ds

Postby noojens » Thu Jun 25, 2009 2:06 am

I think the employers you mentioned (GE, Lockheed, etc) will be more interested in the specific expertise you develop in your PhD research, than in the department you graduate from. If Lockheed is looking for a PhD to take a leadership role in radar devices, for example, they'll look for someone who has a track record of generating strong, original and relevant research in that specific field. Whether they took the core EE courses or the core physics courses isn't of primary concern, IMO.

That being said, engineering departments (in my admittedly limited experience) generally have much closer ties to industry. Some of my engineering PhD friends are conducting their research half at a university, and half in an R&D department at companies like Boeing, Lockheed, GE, Schlumberger, BP, etc. Those types of connections definitely open doors for future job opportunities that PhD students who work solely in academia miss out on (and make finding funding easier, too).

Anyway, I think grae's idea of talking to people who hire PhDs at the big corporations you're interested in working for is a good one. I'd also suggest applying to a range of departments, from EE to applied physics to physics. See where you get accepted, and talk to potential advisors. Get an idea for the type of research you could do with them (this depends highly on the professor's interests and funding sources) and the jobs their students take after graduating. It's good to have clear goals at this point, but you don't have to figure it out exactly yet.

Good luck. :)




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests