Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Jobs for Physics Ph.D.s outside Academia

Academia is a saturated job market for physicists and other natural scientists, as I hope to have convinced you on previous notes. Furthermore, even if you do make it to a professor position, it is doubtful that you will end up liking it, because of the exhaustive grant-writing, politicking, and committee-forming activities that entail real professorship jobs. These have little to do with Physics! Furthermore, Physics professorship jobs usually have lousy geographical locations, unless the middle of nowhere counts as a destination to you. So what would be your options if you leave academia? This is what I have been asking myself for a full year, as I have decided to leave academia for good. I can point you to a number of resources, since I am by no means the first person with this problem. It has been happening for decades. The only reason I did not know this before, is that I was surrounded by a selected group of people that had made it far into the system, including me! Well that, and I pretty much had not listened to the advice given by other people, because this advice does not apply to you until your academic job prospects are unacceptable, and chances are this will happen with probability close to 1.

The notes by Peter Fiske were quite helpful, if mostly for defining your career direction and generally cheering you up: it is not the end of the world for PhDs to leave academia. Jennifer Hodgdon has a website, entitled "How to leave Physics" that also has many great resources. Ok, my generic list of popular career options are:

Personally, I have tried looking for quantitative analyst Finance jobs, but it has been very difficult. This came as a surprise for me, since I figured a Ph.D. in Physics would be enough to get hired. It turns out it is best if you are a programming guru and/or a true genious (defined as the person with the highest score in the qualifying exams in graduate school). Usually, you are required to know programming in a very specific language, i.e. C++ and/or Perl. You better have taken several relevant courses in Options and Investments. Then, you are probably better off working over the summer in an internship job at Wall Street before you graduate. You will have to have a solid knowledge on probability, since you will be grilled to exhaustion on their first and second round interviews. They also prefer people to be just out of graduate school, don't ask me why, but if you have several years postdoctoral experience, it will actually work against you.

Industry jobs also recruit for knowledge, not necessarily ability. If you can find an industry job where you can apply what you have learned during graduate school or postdoc work, all for the better. However, if you are a foreigner, it is difficult to find an employer to grant you an H-1 visa, since the government has imposed tough quotas and it may literally take one year to get your paperwork through! Many companies do not hire foreigners at all, such as GE, Boeing, Raytheon, etc. In 2005, the "hottest" field for physicists is the war (defense) and security industry, and they only hire American PhDs, with very few exceptions. This is great if you are an American, since your jobs are protected! It sucks if you are not. By the way, European companies are not much different, and probably are even more self-centered than American ones, in that they are only interested in hiring EU citizens (and maybe US citizens for their US offices).

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