Pictured: members of the Society of Physics Students trying to keep their cool while in reality totally freakin’ pumped about getting to personally speak with the one, the only, the awesome Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson after an Eliot Society dinner in April 2017. This is why you join the physics club, kids.
Decided you don’t want to become a researcher at a university as your full-time career? Don’t give up hope!
According to a recent study, only about 30% of physics Ph. D’s end up with permanent jobs in academia, or about 5% of the total students who get undergraduate physics majors. So where does everyone else end up? Well, a lot of different places (see this link: Who’s Hiring Physics PhD’s).
Some famous people with physics degrees:
- Ash Carter, U.S. Secretary of Defense, 2015-17
- Wendy Carlos, Grammy-winning composer, soundtracks for movies such as Clockwork Orange
- Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, 2009-2013
- Shirley Ann Jackson, physicist, chair of Nuclear Regulatory Commission, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Hedy Lamarr, physicist, inventor, and actress
- Brian May – astrophysics Ph.D. and lead guitarist of Queen
- Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany
- Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of Energy 2013-17
- Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel
- Elon Musk of Space-X and Tesla
- Sally Ride – astronaut
- James Harris Simons mathematician of Chern-Simons, Renaissance Technologies (hedgefund)
- Neil deGrasse Tyson – astrophysicist, head of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, writer, television host
There are lots of things you can consider doing with a degree in physics besides academia!
The Wash. U. Career Center is specifically designed to help you successfully find employment in your fields of interest during the summer and after graduation. They will be your best friend over the coming years!
The national Society of Physics Students has a career page with lots of helpful advice about finding jobs after completing any stage of your education. They also have lots of articles with advice about all the different aspects of career building. Also of use are profiles of physicists with varied career paths; you’ll see all the places you can go with your physics education and how you might go about getting there!
There are many other helpful websites. For example, you can find out statistics about physics students’ employment or other aspects of physics and careers. Some employers you might check out are national labs, NASA, a list of who’s hiring physics PhD’s (they also hire undergrad majors), companies that take WashU engineering grads, finance, teaching, and many more! Also, see the bottom of this page for ideas based on what area of physics you like best.
If you don’t want to go directly into a technical career, there are lots of other options, too. Many people take gap years, whether that means enlisting in the military for its excellent benefits, volunteering in programs like the prestigious Teach for America or the Peace Corps, or just taking a few years off to explore other jobs or earn some money. If you have a specific field you’re interested in working in, perhaps try to find someone on campus who can guide you. The Career Center, the ArtSci dean devoted to a specific advising topic, or a professor in a more closely related department might be places to start.
Things to do while in school
- Spend time researching the jobs you’d like to have someday
- Develop skills to make yourself more employable
- Learning how to program is a must!
- Analytical skills are also helpful – consider taking more math or statistics
- Consider adding on courses in the engineering and business schools, or education courses if you want to teach physics at a high school
- Get proficient in a foreign language
- Would another minor or major help?
- Would a master’s, doctoral, or professional degree help you land your dream job?
- Get internships over the summer or during the school year in job areas you’re considering
- Prepare for technical interviews! The tech and finance job processes aren’t just submitting a resume and going in to talk to someone. Often you have to take a test on your skills too – scour the internet for details about each company’s exams so you’re prepared
- Network! The people you meet could have a huge influence on your getting your dream job after graduation