Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

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cooper
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Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby cooper » Wed Mar 21, 2012 1:19 pm

I recently asked a Physics college teacher what I can do with a Masters or PhD degree in Physics. He said pretty much only teaching. Is this true? I told him I once knew someone with a PhD in Physics who worked for a company. The teacher explained that a job in industry is rare and that virtually everyone with a Masters of PhD degree in Physics becomes a teacher. The teacher explained that there isn't much else you can do with a graduate Physics degree. Is that true? I am thinking of obtaining a graduate degree but don't want to be a teacher.

TakeruK
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 21, 2012 4:05 pm

You definitely don't have to only be a teacher! Or do you mean to include researchers and profs in the same category?

Here are what some people I personally know are currently working as, and their highest degree. I don't really know their job titles so I'm just making stuff up.

Google (PhD Physics) -- Not really sure what they actually do for google, sorry :(
Amazon (PhD Physics) -- Also no details, but something about a project on analyzing customer or sales trends
Museum Science Officer (MSc Astronomy) -- responsible for the science programs at the museum
Private firm in geography (BSc Astronomy) -- uses satellite imagery at several wavelengths to create topographical maps of regions (e.g. to find underground caverns, to create a map of tree heights in an area etc.)
Copyeditor (MSc Physics along with graduate degree in publishing) -- Works with textbooks and popular science works
Lab Manager (MSc Medical Physics) -- Research scientist for a medical physics group and also manages its research personnel
Film industry (MSc Physics, PhD graduate student) -- Science advisor for a movie or TV series
Video game industry (PhD Astronomy) -- I actually don't know this person personally, but their advisor told me this happened

There are also a ton of people with PhDs who end up working as research scientists at Universities (i.e. a non-tenured position), government organizations, or other research institutions. These people sometimes take on teaching jobs if they are affiliated with a school, but they would primarily be researchers, and would not have admin or teaching requirements like profs sometimes do.

I don't know anyone who has done this personally, but I've heard that financial firms will often hire Physics and Math PhDs (one recruiter told us that they prefer Physics graduate students due to experience working with real data but I don't know how true this is).

Finally, if you do a MSc and decide you want to leave, some people I know have then go onto Law school to work with patent law or other fields that could benefit from scientific expertise.

However, I don't know how likely it is that you can actually find work in these fields. Hopefully others here can contribute to the list of things you can do! But, I personally wouldn't pursue a PhD without at least one end goal in mind, career-wise, since you probably would want to do certain things (e.g. develop certain skills) during your graduate career to steer you towards your goal. A PhD program is a significant investment, which is why I didn't feel comfortable about my decision to apply for PhD programs until I knew exactly what I want to achieve with it and why I need the PhD training.

microacg
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby microacg » Wed Mar 21, 2012 4:32 pm

On two occasions some people in finance (who had masters degrees in computational finance from CMU) told me if you have at least a masters in physics you can be very useful in finance due to the similarities in the mathematics you do. I didn't press them for more details, though.

bfollinprm
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:00 pm

physicists make good software engineers, quantitative analysts, and other informaticists. Specific fields also have applications in engineering, nanotech, and biological sciences. Most people who get a Phd aren't teaching, either as a professor or otherwise.

Hausdorff
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby Hausdorff » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:23 pm

I always feel like I can do anything that a management graduate does.
But this shouldn't be said in a job interview, since the employers might be management graduates.
You just need to keep this in mind.
It helps you to survive while trying to survive with less than minimum wage for years.
btw it doesn't help after one point. you should come up with a different motivation.

cooper
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby cooper » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:51 am

Thanks everyone for your replies. I actually heard about these things too (I guess I was already skeptical about what the Professor told me). I know that people with degrees in Physics are useful to financial firms, etc. I strongly suspect my Professor is wrong when he said all I can really do is teach. I even recently went on line and found (from a reputable source) statistics indicating the different careers/jobs (besides teaching) that people with Masters and PhDs in Physics end up doing.

bfollinprm
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Mar 23, 2012 11:12 am

To reiterate what Hausdorff said, the primary reason to get a PhD isn't for economic gain or job security. There are better fields to go into, and if you do stay in physics, stopping at a masters if you don't plan on going into a research field is probably better than continuing onto a PhD in terms of life income. Getting a PhD in physics does give you some tools that make you employable, but the primary reason to go has to be a love of physics (you won't survive the first year otherwise).

If you're mostly interested in a career outside of physics, a physics major prepares you well for both engineering and (mathematical) economics graduate programs; you could think about applying for one or the other of those.

microacg
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby microacg » Fri Mar 23, 2012 12:44 pm

Maybe this isn't the best place to ask, but since it was brought up...

What would be an appropriate transition from physics to engineering? For example, what do you do if you have a bachelors in physics and you want to pursue engineering. How is that different from if you have a masters in physics and want to pursue engineering?

bfollinprm
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Mar 23, 2012 1:45 pm

Apply to graduate (probably masters) programs in engineering or applied science, or just apply for jobs in industry. From what I know, undergraduate preparation for the two degrees is pretty similar; in general engineers have a bit more vector calculus and spend more time on fourier series, while a physics undergrad has a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics. I've heard that admissions at graduate engineering programs are pretty ambivalent as to which degree their students come in with; I assume if you're interested in engineering you took lab courses (electronics, etc) and as much E&M as you could. As far as industry, most engineering firms prefer you to learn on the job, so if your skill set (mathematics, fundamental physics) is solid enough, you should be able to land a job as an engineer without ever actually getting a degree in engineering (how high up you can get in the corporate ladder, though, depends).

I should caveat by saying this is mostly educated guesses and 2nd hand information; if someone who has made this jump wants to argue (or corroborate) please feel free.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Types of jobs for people with graduate degrees in Physics?

Postby midwestphysics » Fri Mar 23, 2012 5:20 pm

You can work at a lot of place, for instance on the technical aspects of in-bound marketing. Take as example GE, say Product Management. The Product Managers there, ranging from B.S. to PhD (preferably masters I here) in engineering or physics work in in-bound marketing. Early on in the product development process they are responsible for working with the non-technical side by looking into customer needs essentially. Together they do market research to see what type of product could fit into the segment of the market that they want to focus on (depending on the company it could be medical, energy, automotive, etc that appeals to a certain subset of that focus market). Based on this research they determine what type of product design and feature set they should put into the next generation of products for these customers. Then the technical product manager then creates a business case saying that he thinks with this product we will sell x amount of products, it will cost us x amount to get this to market, so therefore we will make x $. This is the business side of it up front. Then he works with R&D to brief them on the product concept and he monitors their progress. In his case because he is technical, like you would be, so he is involved in the testing both internally and in the market. Once the product gets from a pipe-dream to a viable concept he then starts working with the non-technical again on the outbound marketing side. Together they decide on what the best marketing approach is that they should take to make the product successful - determining sales channels, marketing campaigns, etc. From there the non-technical side will handle most of the business and he handle most of the technical aspects. The non-technical team members will work externally with their markets and report back to him on the progress and he works with groups like R&D, procurement, tooling, etc. and reports the progress back to other side. They continue this all the way until they launch the product and then continue to monitor and improve the product once it is in the market. The depth and specifics of what you would do with R&D and engineering varies from company to company, market to market, and product to product. So that is kind of a high level marriage between science and business and they are always looking for highly educated scientific minds. Those jobs tend to stay open for a while because few people have the skill set to fill them, they favor quality engineers and physicists.




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