Physicists, assemble!

The school experience. School related queries, discussions, and stories that aren't specific to a subject.

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b.roll
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Physicists, assemble!

Postby b.roll » Thu Jan 08, 2009 10:49 pm UTC

After all my reading on the subject, I still feel confused about what a physicist (depending on his degree) can hope to do. I find a lot of informations, yet it almost never comes from an actual professional physicist. So, I'm seeking for testimonials from working physicists, and since these fora seem quite proliferous, I may succeed. This, I hope, will give a good insight of what a physics students will face after his studies. If you comment, please include your location and your academic qualifications (MSc in nuclear physics, PhD in bird watching, etc.). Jobs totally unrelated to physics done by someone who studied physics are welcome as well.
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby doogly » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:27 am UTC

I am in grad school now, which is delightful. My plan is to stick with the academics. My other friends who did undergrad majors with me (at Dartmouth College) have gone on to - a few at other grad schools, one at a finance/equityish thing (I have no idea what he actually does with his time there), one managing for Kaplan (though he switched from physics to math, the weakling), one an econ phd (not due to a double major, just hopped over from physics).

I think the APS (American Physical Society) keeps some data on this sort of thing also.
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Sungura » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:31 am UTC

I have a friend who is an astrophysicist...her most recent work was looking for the missing baryons. She's now back in Germany looking for a job (she was here in the US for quite a while).
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby ks_physicist » Sat Jan 24, 2009 7:53 am UTC

BA Physics, MS Physics. Teaching, secondary (7th-12th grade by license, 9th-12th by job).

I was exploring a number of options a few years ago when I decided to take the teaching route.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby alexgmcm » Sat Jan 24, 2009 12:43 pm UTC

Anyone know any Medical Physicists? That seems like a pretty cool route. Or Condensed Matter?

Meh, hopefully Physics is a pretty good degree for the recession as opposed to business studies or economics etc.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby z4lis » Sat Jan 24, 2009 5:29 pm UTC

What they (mathematicians) define as interesting depends on their particular field of study; mathematical anaylsts find pain and extreme confusion interesting, whereas geometers are interested in beauty.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby alexgmcm » Sat Jan 24, 2009 7:35 pm UTC

Is that second link only aimed at women? Meh, the write up on Medical Physics, teaching and lecturing seemed encouraging. The research positions not so much as they seem underpaid but I still have years to decide..

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby ks_physicist » Wed Jan 28, 2009 6:19 am UTC

I know three people pursuing medical physics as a career. One is about done with her program, another is accepted but deferring for personal reasons, and a third just entered a Ph.D. program. (The first two are doing the MS, which is more clinical--the Ph.D. is often more research focused, though you can practice clinically if you wish).

Medical physics is probably a good growth area. It may be the only one in physics for the foreseeable future.

I would not recommend any generic physics degree as a "good" degree to get you employed, especially in a recession. If you have a passion for it you can make a career, but there are many easier paths with other degrees.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby gistick » Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:48 pm UTC

I am in graduate school now for my phd in medical Physics at the university of Wisconsin Madison. I got a BS in physics from the University at Buffalo.

As an undergraduate I got a lot of information from the AAPM (American association of physicists in medicine). Via the society of physics students I got into contact with a few medical physicists through an outreach program the AAPM has.

I would recommend checking out the AAPM's website at aapm.org.

Also, medical physicists make a lot of money. Below is some info from the AAPM's 2008 salary report. I think medical physics is a great field to be in for a number of reasons.
1. you can get a great job at a hospital or in industry -->more options than just the government !!
2. there is room to focus on clinical aspects of the field or very technical aspects with one degree
3. there is a need for more medical physicists in the clinical setting

(cert refers to certification.)
Members Who Were Full-Time Employed in 2007 & 2008 and Did Not Change Employers (numbers in us dollars)
M.S. no cert 259 115,000
M.S. with cert 699 166,100
PhDs no cert 280 130,000
PhDs with cert 678 180,000
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Jun 09, 2009 7:10 pm UTC

ks_physicist wrote:I would not recommend any generic physics degree as a "good" degree to get you employed, especially in a recession. If you have a passion for it you can make a career, but there are many easier paths with other degrees.

How would you say this applies if you intend to stick with it through Ph.D.?
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby LaserGuy » Tue Jun 09, 2009 8:42 pm UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:
ks_physicist wrote:I would not recommend any generic physics degree as a "good" degree to get you employed, especially in a recession. If you have a passion for it you can make a career, but there are many easier paths with other degrees.

How would you say this applies if you intend to stick with it through Ph.D.?


If money is what you're interested in, Ph.Ds in general are almost always provide a negative return on your investment. The time lost in getting a Ph.D rarely justifies the opportunity cost of going out and working (say with your Master's) during the same period. Depending on your field of study (and location), a Master's in physics isn't always possible though: a lot of fields (eg. astrophysics, especially in the US) tend to short-circuit Master's programs directly into Ph.Ds since the prospects of the degree are almost entirely limited to research positions that really demand PhDs. Other specialities, especially in medical physics, climate science, etc. may offer much better prospects for people with a Master's.

Physicists are unlikely to get much work directly related to their field coming out of their undergrad. If you have some research/lab experience, good technical skills, and good references, you could probably get work as a technician--but doing a degree in engineering would give you a lot more opportunities for that (and other positions) in my opinion. Having the degree might convince some employers that you are smart and have good problem solving skills, but again, engineering would do the same--honestly, if money is more your interest, a degree in engineering will probably give you a better return than physics under almost any circumstance. If you picked up some added certification, a highschool math/science teacher is probably as good as the average B.Sc is likely to do.

For the record, I'm a PhD student studying photonics in Canada.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Telec » Tue Jun 09, 2009 8:44 pm UTC

I know a guy who is Msc in nuclear physics, and works in the city. or did, until the crunch.
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Jun 09, 2009 8:52 pm UTC

Thanks, LaserGuy, but research is actually what I was really interested in. Good advice, though, thank you.
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Birk » Wed Jun 10, 2009 1:46 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:Thanks, LaserGuy, but research is actually what I was really interested in. Good advice, though, thank you.



I'm with you. Research/Academia is my primary interest. As long as I can pay the bills and not live off Ramen I'll be content.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby Adacore » Wed Jun 10, 2009 10:14 am UTC

Birk wrote:I'm with you. Research/Academia is my primary interest. As long as I can pay the bills and not live off Ramen I'll be content.

But Ramen is so noodly and good! I have several friends from uni who studied physics but I can't for the life of me remember what they're up to now. I'll have a look on FaceBook this evening! I know there's at least one physicist working in my company (an engineering firm - we design, build and maintain utility boilers) in the R&D office, I think they mostly do materials analysis and visualisation techniques stuff. As others have said, though, if you're in it for the money rather than academia and/or passion for the subject, engineering is pretty heavy on the applied physics and gives a far higher average return.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby gistick » Wed Jun 10, 2009 3:54 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:If money is what you're interested in, Ph.Ds in general are almost always provide a negative return on your investment. ...
For the record, I'm a PhD student studying photonics in Canada.


Most phd programs in science pay you to go to school. I think if you can get in and get a stipend, why not go for a phd? When you get out there are a lot more opportunities for a phd holder. And even if you want to leave early, no one is forcing you to stay for the ~5 years it takes for a phd(although that is frowned upon - to leave early).
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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jun 10, 2009 6:34 pm UTC

I can't speak beyond my own experience, but the stipend you get as a Ph.D student doesn't work out to be much better than what you'd get for working full-time at a minimum wage job (in Canada at least). I'll explain what I mean in more detail. My older brother graduated from the same university as I did with a bachelor's in electrical engineering, while I have a bachelor's in physics. We both had comparable (high) grades and both did co-ops during out degrees. Within 2-3 months of graduation, he had a full time job that pays around 3 times as much as I get in stipend as a PhD student. So if it takes me 5 years to do my PhD, in that same period, he'll have accumulated a few hundred thousand dollars more than I will have. Even once I finish, then there will probably be post-docs or (hopefully not) the adjunct circuit, which pays better, but still probably not as good as he made the day he started his job. It will probably take me 10 years more experience to hit the same level of pay that he was making for an entry-level position. Even if at that point my earnings start to accelerate more quickly than his, I will probably never be able to make up the difference of those ten years. If you want to do a PhD in physics, do it because you want to do research and love physics--if you want to make money, try engineering, economics (maybe not so much any more...), law, medicine, etc.

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Re: Physicists, assemble!

Postby gistick » Thu Jun 11, 2009 1:21 pm UTC

True. At least were not English majors...

Also, I did a comic about college choices, and thus far it has turned out to be true based on the engineering friends I have and the few art major people I know.
http://www.quarkquark.com/electronman/i ... 26#topAnch

I guess the reason I am going for a phd is that in medical physics I see a lot of job ads saying they want someone with a phd, and in the future there is probably going to be some changes in med phy making a new doctorate program for people who just want to work in the clinic. With that said I will feel much safer with a phd than with a masters in 10 years if I have to compete with people with med phy doctorates.

And I hear you about making minimum wage. I am married so I have a wife pulling in more than I make. But on a grad student salary, I priced out how much dough I would have for food and it was something like $40 a month. Thats with paying off a car/ pay car insurance/rent/putting some towards college loans... the whole nine yards. But since my wife works, we can afford to eat meat and have everything paid off already.
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