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Prof told me to switch out of physics and math if I want a job upon graduation...

ProjectileProjectile Posts: 68- Junior Member
edited December 2011 in Science Majors
And told me I should only stay in math and physics if I love it enough to risk not getting a professorship, going to post-doc, and eventually having no other career options other than minimum wage jobs. Is this the reality for math and physics majors? I have talked to several upper year physics students at my school. A few have told me they are considering trade school and can't even pay off their debt, while others are banking on graduate school.
Post edited by Projectile on
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Replies to: Prof told me to switch out of physics and math if I want a job upon graduation...

  • dunboodydunboody Posts: 18Registered User New Member
    Unless you plan on doing research and going on to get a phd, you really should not be majoring in physics. If you're looking for a job, then engineering is definitely the path. Most of the physics majors at my school went into grad school in a job-oriented field, such as med-school or finance. Others are unemployed or working some unrelated job like an actuary. I'm just letting you know the only reason you should do physics is if you absolutely love it.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 34,759Registered User Senior Member
    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/internships-careers-employment/1121619-university-graduate-career-surveys.html

    It does look like actually getting into jobs in math and physics academics or research is difficult. However, (based on the career surveys) many of the others do end up with good jobs elsewhere, like finance, actuarial, and computer software jobs. (The finance type jobs may be less available if your school is low prestige.) Physics majors sometimes find their way into engineering jobs where PE licensing (and therefore the need for an ABET accredited engineering degree) is not an issue (PE licensing is a big deal in civil engineering, though).

    If you want to stay in math or physics, you may want to consider taking some computer science and/or (math intensive) economics and finance courses to help with the backup job and career options. If you consider actuarial jobs, take a look at http://www.beanactuary.com . If you stay in physics but are considering engineering jobs, consider taking additional engineering courses in the branch you are most interested in for areas which your physics courses do not cover (much).
  • GLOBALTRAVELERGLOBALTRAVELER Posts: 2,846Registered User Senior Member
    Yeah, math and/or physics ALONE may be a difficult sell in the job market.

    Now math with an emphasis in computer science?....much much much better.

    Of course I am going to say that....I was a math major who went into software engineering :-)
  • xraymancsxraymancs Posts: 1,955College Rep Senior Member
    It all depends on how you sell yourself. A solid degree in physics is competitive in may engineering firms since the degree is complementary to the engineering they hire and all new employees need to be trained anyway. I was told by a colleague that Boeing, for example, was ready to hire as many physics majors as his school could send them.
  • warbrainwarbrain Posts: 413Registered User Member
    As shocking as the idea may seem to some, you can in fact get a job that's not necessarily related to your major.
  • pseudoghostpseudoghost Posts: 159Registered User Junior Member
    Your professor is doing you a huge favor in telling you the truth about the Physics job market now, instead of letting you ruin your life. DO NOT GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL IN PHYSICS. THE JOB MARKET IN ACADEMIA IS HORRIBLE.

    You can still get a job with a degree in physics or mathematics, but you need to take additional coursework to make yourself slightly more attractive to potential employers. I second what someone else said: take computer science courses. Minor in CS if you can. Demand for software engineers is through the roof. Or, get a Masters degree in an engineering field. That combination is pretty attractive for most employers.

    While I understand the desire to study what you love, you have to realize that you are not just studying what you love: you are largely determining what kind of career and life you will have post-graduation as well. There is plenty of time to study what you love, especially if you are stable, financially independent, and have a good future ahead of you. If you cannot land a job because you don't have any skills, then all the knowledge in the world won't help you.

    The smartest people I know in college were the ones who majored in degrees with strong job markets and then took the courses that they were interested in on the side.
  • BlobofBlobof Posts: 1,183Registered User Senior Member
    Is your prof a theoretical physicist or a pure mathematician? The job market in academia is tough, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: a math (and even a physics) major is easily marketable in a lot of places. I would highly recommend to take a couple of CS courses and a number of statistics and applied math courses. Data analysis, mathematical modeling and programming skills are highly valued in industry, finance, government, you name it. Of course, if all you bothered learning is epsilon delta-proofs and existence theorems over abstract spaces, you may have a harder time finding a job.

    I work in a math and stats department, and my pure math colleagues were surprised that our open stats position attracted so many people finishing their PhDs rather than postdocs, but that is because PhDs in stats can actually find jobs in tech companies, the biomedical industry, in government institutions, etc. There are tons of options outside academia, so unless they want to stay in academia, there is no need for a postdoc. In pure math, academia is almost all there is, so postdocs are usually the only options after finishing a PhD. It's not quite as bad as in other fields though (I hear in biology 6-10 years of various postdoc positions is not uncommon).
  • ProjectileProjectile Posts: 68- Junior Member
    It does look like actually getting into jobs in math and physics academics or research is difficult. However, (based on the career surveys) many of the others do end up with good jobs elsewhere, like finance, actuarial, and computer software jobs. (The finance type jobs may be less available if your school is low prestige.) Physics majors sometimes find their way into engineering jobs where PE licensing (and therefore the need for an ABET accredited engineering degree) is not an issue (PE licensing is a big deal in civil engineering, though).
    Thing is, I go to a no-name school, like most physics majors. Of course physics grads from MIT and Berkley will have multiple job offers after they graduate, but that isn't true for the majority of physics majors. I'm sure many liberal arts majors as well from Berkley have found stable jobs, but is that true for all liberal arts majors?

    I've met several physics grads from my school, and the ones who haven't went on to graduate school are either unemployed or working in retail/construction/general labor.
  • ProjectileProjectile Posts: 68- Junior Member
    Unless you plan on doing research and going on to get a phd, you really should not be majoring in physics. If you're looking for a job, then engineering is definitely the path. Most of the physics majors at my school went into grad school in a job-oriented field, such as med-school or finance. Others are unemployed or working some unrelated job like an actuary. I'm just letting you know the only reason you should do physics is if you absolutely love it.
    It has been my experience that career counselors and professors find it amusing when a first year student says they are dead set on getting their PhD. I like physics and want to go to graduate school, but things could change later on and I meet need to get a job. Do you come from a top school like MIT or Caltech? Because the majority of physics grads at my school who didn't graduate school are either unemployed or working in retail.
  • pseudoghostpseudoghost Posts: 159Registered User Junior Member
    If you want a good career in Physics, then you need to go to graduate school at a top tier institution. Anything less is basically a waste of time. You might enjoy your career in graduate school, but you will probably find that employers won't know what to do with you, and you have no chance in academia.

    Don't worry about where you do your undergrad. Just do well, get a solid undergrad research experience, and then apply to top notch institutions. Don't go to grad school unless you get into one, and it's a fully funded ride. Remember, you can always explore Physics at a graduate level by taking classes on the side, and you can always, always learn on your own. Just because you don't get a PhD in Physics doesn't mean that you are not smart enough to do so.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 34,759Registered User Senior Member
    Projectile wrote:
    Thing is, I go to a no-name school, like most physics majors.

    Does your school have career survey results to look at?

    As far as Berkeley goes, the physics majors do better than humanities, biology, or social studies majors, but not as well as applied math majors.
    https://career.berkeley.edu/Major/Major.stm
  • ProjectileProjectile Posts: 68- Junior Member
    If you want a good career in Physics, then you need to go to graduate school at a top tier institution. Anything less is basically a waste of time. You might enjoy your career in graduate school, but you will probably find that employers won't know what to do with you, and you have no chance in academia.
    So, if I can't make it to graduate school, is that it? I can't pay my debt off since there aren't any quantitative or technical jobs that would hire a physics major who couldn't make it to graduate school?

    So, essentially, I would have the same job prospects as a high school dropout, wouldn't I? If this is the truth, then I really don't know what to say. I don't think I would want to go through 4 years of rigorous education in a very difficult major and accumulate lots of student debt, only to work with high school dropouts. :(
  • ANDS!ANDS! Posts: 211Registered User Junior Member
    Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
    Because most jobs are in basic research and development, a doctoral degree is the usual educational requirement for physicists and astronomers. Master's degree holders qualify for some jobs in applied research and development, whereas bachelor's degree holders often qualify as research assistants or for jobs in other fields where a physics background is good preparation, such as engineering and technology.

    As others said, graduate school is the end of your education. As such your "work" will be research, as it should be.

    Same with pursuing a pure math background. Your work lays the groundwork for other majors to "apply" it.
  • ProjectileProjectile Posts: 68- Junior Member
    I just don't know what to say, then. Statistics show only 25% of physics majors end up in graduate school. 3/4 of physics majors never make it to graduate school. So, do they just end up picking up a minimum wage job and eventually retire and die never paying their student loans? It would be fine if 100% of all physics students made it to graduate school, but we all know that it is only the top 25% that end up in graduate school.

    Freshman and sophomore physics students aren't even suppose to be thinking about graduate school, as it is unrealistic to expect students to think they know what graduate studies in physics entails before they've even started on their fourth research project. Professors even chuckle at how naive first year students are when they say "I want to go to graduate school!!!".

    So, you're essentially telling me I have the same job prospects as a high school graduate once I graduate with an undergraduate degree in physics?
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 34,759Registered User Senior Member
    Seems that physics is a rare enough major at less well known schools that the few with career surveys seem to have insufficient data on their physics graduates. Does your school have career survey results that include physics majors?

    A general survey of people whose highest degree was a bachelor's degree is here (but it includes experienced people, so pay levels are higher than new graduates should expect):
    Center on Education and the Workforce -
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