Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Jobs for Physics Ph.D.s outside Academia
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:
- The National Laboratories: working on defense, spying, weapons, and other applied technologies. Nearly every chemist, biologist, physicist, and engineer can find a job there. Pros: decent salary, interesting projects, 9-5 job. Cons: morally dubious, security is a pain.
- Industry Jobs: depending on your field, this could be information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, oil companies, pharmaceuticals, electronics, etc. Pros: good salary, market impact, hours vary. Cons: very focused, skills may not be transferable to other sectors.
- Government sponsored laboratories or institutions: like NASA, JPL, NSF, NIH, etc. Pros: job may be interesting, decent salary, 9-5 jobs. Cons: bureaucracy, politics, jobs are limited to U.S. citizens, which eliminates about 50% of the doctorates in the U.S.
- Defense Industry: euphemism for the War Industry. The military-industrial complex needs you! Pros: high salary, cozy jobs. Cons: guilt (if you have any), security, only U.S. citizens.
- Consulting: management consulting, IT consulting, and others. They require that you are a clear thinker and a team builder, but other than that, it is pretty open. Pros: high salary, high-power positions, talk to CEOs, get business training. Cons: incredibly long hours, stressful, you may not use your knowledge as much, cookie-cutter corporate culture.
- Finance: you could be an analyst for an industry related to your Ph.D., but you may need some business training. Physicists go to quantitative analyst jobs, but the competition for these jobs appears to be more fierce than academia! Pros: very high salary, technically interesting. Cons: jobs very hard to get, C++, stressful, cookie-cutter corporate culture.
- Startups. Pros: you can make it big on your own. Cons: if you knew how to do it, you would not be reading this.
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).