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What career opportunities await a physics major?

Old 09-25-07, 06:24 AM
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What career opportunities await a physics major?

Just supposing I did major in physics in college, what career opportunities typically would open themselves up? I haven't decided on anything yet, but this has been a strong possibility for some time.
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Old 09-25-07, 06:35 AM
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Better plan on getting a Masters then.

With a MS in Physics there is a lot of various positions available. A lot of openings in the aerospace realm.
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Old 09-25-07, 06:45 AM
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Astronaut!

No, really.

But you'll probably need that MS at least

More prosaically, a friend of mine graduated with a double major in physics and math, and now makes a lot of money in banking.
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Old 09-25-07, 08:46 AM
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MS in physics is arguably less useful than a BS or PhD-- there are few terminal masters programs and usually it's something you get when you bail out of the PhD. Getting a masters in some flavor of engineering, though, can be a good move.

That said, a BS in physics leaves you a lot of flexibility in what you can do as long as you can figure out a way to sell it. Typically if you stick with a BS you get things that are some kind of engineering where you get some variety in your work rather than getting pigeonholed as a [whatever flavor] engineer.
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Old 09-25-07, 08:53 AM
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My best friend (now in Cali) did Physics. His dream was to be a pro scuba diver. As soon as he graduated he decided to do a minor in education as a fallback.

He finished that then went to Cali to a pro scuba school and was a pro scuba diver for about 1 year. Work was too intermittent. Good pay when it was there, but not always there. He gave that up quick.

Then he worked for a chemical company doing something labrat like and eventually became a buyer. He hated the company after so many years.

Now he's on his fallback plan. He's now a high school Physics teacher.
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Old 09-25-07, 08:59 AM
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Old 09-25-07, 09:06 AM
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Realize that while a small number of science majors go on to jobs directly related to their field of study, most do not. Statistically, this is true of chemists at every level (BS, MS, and PhD)... based on American Chemical Society members reports' in the job survey, fewer than half work in a "traditional" chemist job. Sales, marketing, regulatory work, governmental positions, etc take up quite a few jobs. And many simply are no longer actively engaged in chemistry. And this is a self selected group of people who actually bother to join the ACS, which presumably is a lot higher in "traditional" chemists than the population of college chemistry majors at large.

One of my college roommates has a dad who earned a PhD in physics. He went on to become a salesman at IBM and eventually worked his way up to be senior VP of worldwide sales and report directly to the CEO. Never used his physics knowledge directly, but had a great friendship with the senior VP of R&D at IBM's research headquarters.
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Old 09-25-07, 09:08 AM
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Old 09-25-07, 09:09 AM
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Old 09-25-07, 09:38 AM
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Unless you are really, REALLY good at math, I'd advise you pursue an engineering degree instead of physics.

Physics for physics sake is largely theoretical.

Engineering pay is typically better. Also, you get to build and break stuff.

The one guy I knew with a physics degree eventually worked on designing and repairing electric wheelchairs.
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Old 09-25-07, 09:52 AM
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Old 09-25-07, 10:09 AM
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Physics major with a minor in a marketable science would give you tons of opportunity.

w/ Mech E. - robotics design
w/ Struct E. - architectural specialist
w/ Comp E. or Sci. - systems design (specifically to build machinery for the theoretical physicists, if you wanted to.)
w/ Biochem - applied biophysicists invent things like PET scanners and other diagnostic/theraputic technologies
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Old 09-25-07, 10:12 AM
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Old 09-25-07, 10:19 AM
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I know a kid who is a year younger then me that is a physics major (i think he's probably done by now)...he's working on robots for NASA, makes 60 grand a year. No joke...
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Old 09-25-07, 10:27 AM
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My BFF is in HI working on mis masters in physics. Right now he's making $14k a year as a grad student. He claims that will probably be the most amount of money he will ever get out of his physics degree unless he becomes a professor.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:30 AM
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You could write grant proposals to fleece taxpayers out of millions, searching for particles that don't exist outside of the warped imaginations of Physicists.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:33 AM
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BS in Physics and MS in Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering and you'll be doing well.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by timmyquest View Post
I know a kid who is a year younger then me that is a physics major (i think he's probably done by now)...he's working on robots for NASA, makes 60 grand a year. No joke...
That's not a lot of money. I sit around and tinker around on BF while my computer runs scripts that I wrote in 10 minutes to do an hour's worth of work on my behalf. Didn't even get my associates and I'm making plenty more than your buddy doing NASA robotics.

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Old 09-25-07, 10:41 AM
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I majored in Physics. But I buttressed my life choices with a second major in EE. Then I went for a masters in EE.

2 very good friends majored in Physics, but have PhDs in it; it is what they wanted. Another buddy majored in Physics in undergrad, went for a Master's in nuclear physics and took a job in research; is now working on a PhD in Physics.

Yet another did physics undergrad, started a master's program, came to work, options were limited, and is now in his last years in a PhD program.

The trending here is that unless you want to 1. be a high school instructor 2. be a lab technician working for someone with a PhD 3. be a technician doing something completely unrelated to physics (tough to get real jobs with just a physics degree), I would add something else a bit more tangible (Engineering, Engineering Physics, Material Engineering etc) OR go for broke and complete the doctorate. You'll make more money and have more choices. And grad school can be fun ..

What I've found is that many of my colleagues who have Physics degrees are quantifiably more deverse in thinking than those with just straight one or the other.

But then you could ignore all this and focus on just the B.Sc. in physics. Just be prepared to live a life smoking weed and counting stars (and riding bikes, of course); not that that's all that bad ..
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Old 09-25-07, 10:43 AM
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Originally Posted by ax0n View Post
That's not a lot of money. I sit around and tinker around on BF while my computer runs scripts that I wrote in 10 minutes to do an hour's worth of work on my behalf. Didn't even get my associates and I'm making plenty more than your buddy doing NASA robotics.
Not many people have the drive or know-how to be successful in a technical career w/out formal education. Requires a lot of luck, too, since most employers these days won't give anyone a second thought unless they have a degree. Of course, you can always start your own company, but that's an even tougher ball game.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by ax0n View Post
That's not a lot of money. I sit around and tinker around on BF while my computer runs scripts that I wrote in 10 minutes to do an hour's worth of work on my behalf. Didn't even get my associates and I'm making plenty more than your buddy doing NASA robotics.

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Depends on where/how you live, although I do agree that this isn't a lot of money at all ..
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Old 09-25-07, 10:46 AM
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It's a lot less about what you know when you start, and how much you're willing to learn as you go. Still, if I spent over $100k for an education, I'd expect to be making more than 60 a year.

In fact, regardless of education, I'd expect to make more than that doing robotics, but NASA is still technically government work.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:47 AM
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A friend of mine who studied physics is working for the local observatory doing data interpretation. They put him away in a dungeon of a closet with an extremely powerful computer and no windows. Also, every other hour a man dressed in a gimp suit comes in to whip him for not properly formating his excel tables.

That's one option.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by BLIMP View Post
A friend of mine who studied physics is working for the local observatory doing data interpretation. They put him away in a dungeon of a closet with an extremely powerful computer and no windows. Also, every other hour a man dressed in a gimp suit comes in to whip him for not properly formating his excel tables.

That's one option.
Yep .. technician. It's been said, but I agree, largely, what your degree gets you is the starting salary, which can be significantly different depending on your field, but it's up to you to make more.

But if you are the reclusive type, manufacturing/management types will love you and love to keep you in that closet crunching data. The closer you are to manufacturing leadership and/or customers, the more you make.

Those who only crunch data will reach a fiscal plateau relatively quickly.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by FrankBattle View Post
Depends on where/how you live, although I do agree that this isn't a lot of money at all ..
I could feasibly make 30k a year work for my wife and I. Sure. We own a car outright, and I use my bicycle a lot. Making what I make affords my family quite a few luxuries, so yes, 60k isn't BAD money. Living in Kansas City, I also enjoy some of the lowest costs of living in the USA. At the end of the day, though, there are scads of people around here making a lot more than I make - with and without degrees.

I'll agree though, I'd be where I am now faster if I had a degree, or I'd be a lot further along by now. Fortunately, my work ethic, knowledge, and skill have been impressive enough to gain a lot of respect and letters of recommendation from co-workers, former bosses and mentors. I still worked very hard for what I've got, I just chose to work hard in my career rather than working hard in the classroom. In hindsight, I took the harder of the two paths. I'd give almost anything to go back in time and pick up at least a Bachelor's degree. My argument certainly wasn't that a degree is worthless. It was more that I think there lies more potential than 60k in the robotics industry. Sorry if it came off different than that.
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