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Careers for Physics Graduates
July 21, 2014 3:21 PM   Subscribe

A couple of years ago, I graduated from [famous university] with a decent bachelors in physics. Since then, I've been working in a job which I'm going to be slightly opaque about, but I'm basically a ‘radiation physicist’ who gets paid by the government. I'm finding lots of aspects of this job unsatisfying and I'm looking for a career change. What are good avenues to explore for physics graduates?

The main issue with my job is that despite my description, I do very little physics, and I don’t feel like I'm learning or having to think about anything. I'm not sure I've seen an equation for months; instead I go through a lot of legislation/regulations/bureaucracy, which I find tedious. I’d like to find a career that feels challenging, and lets me use the skills I gained at college, even if I'm not doing physics directly. There are a few other problems with the place I work too, which add up to an environment that I’d rather get out of, if I can come up with a good exit strategy.

I looked at some previous questions on this general subject, and a lot of posters suggested jobs in software development. That sounds tempting, and I've done a bit of coding before (C, Java, Matlab), though nothing big or commercial so obviously I’d need a lot of practice, some studying and maybe some classes to be competitive. If I wanted to get a developer job, what would be the best way to go about this, and does it sound like a good idea?

Also, are there any other career options I should look into? I’d rather stay away from the military and from finance, and I've had enough of bureaucracy and regulations for a while. I’d also prefer to be in a career with a good work-life balance than to earn $$$, but I'm open to any suggestions.

Finally, I've got some savings, and should be able to get some tutoring work, so I think I’d be able to take up to a year away from having a stable job if it’s necessary to learn some skills / take some courses / do a masters if I need to.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have a phd in radiation/health physics and currently work for the federal government. I could talk to you about various options in and out of govt if you wanted to stay in the general radiation area. Memail me.

General options
Medical physics- need v competitive masters, great pay, jobs all over, somewhat tedious work, saving lives

Government work- okay pay, good work-life balance and stability, variable work, there are interesting jobs, can be hard to come by.

National labs- interesting work, good pay, you'd need more education, terrible funding environment right now
posted by pseudonick at 3:47 PM on July 21


My SO got an UG physics degree from in a famous UK university. She didn't know where to go for a while then did an MSc in hydrodynamics and now models marine wave states for a living.
posted by biffa at 3:59 PM on July 21


My brother in law is a quantum physicist, and works in research on quantum computing, but for a while he thought about going into animation or special effects work, to do the kind of problem solving necessary to animate complex physical things like ocean movement.

Probably a niche field.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:16 PM on July 21


Do you still qualify to apply for fellowships from your university? Having savings is awesome, but having your school pay for you to have a six month or year-long experience that might inspire the rest of your life is much better :)
posted by ananci at 4:52 PM on July 21


Although you don't want to do finance (can't blame you), if you're interested in the social sciences many people come into academic economic research from a physics background. Coding experience is a big plus and the hurdle for entry is much lower than software development. You could look into research assistant type jobs at think tanks/the Federal Reserve (yeah, government, but the RA jobs are pretty removed from the bureaucratic stuff)/the NBER to see if you like it. The job market for PhDs in Econ has suffered a bit like everywhere in academia, but is much better off than the humanities and not so reliant on grant funding as in the sciences.

Like I said, maybe not a great fit if "not wanting to do finance" extends to "not wanting to think about economics generally" or if you don't want to be an academic, but thought I'd suggest it if you hadn't considered it.
posted by dismas at 5:48 PM on July 21


My brother in law is a quantum physicist, and works in research on quantum computing, but for a while he thought about going into animation or special effects work, to do the kind of problem solving necessary to animate complex physical things like ocean movement.

Probably a niche field.


The visual effects business may not be currently sustainable; you can win an Oscar and go bankrupt.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:11 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


My bro has a physics degree and works with a bunch of engineers designing and installing geothermal energy systems. They seem to find his physics degree kind of exotic and impressive. So you might look into fields involving engineering, which is a wide range of things. I'm saying you could work with engineers, not that you should get an engineering degree.
posted by the big lizard at 11:25 AM on July 22


You mention tutoring. Have you done this before? And did you enjoy it? If you answer yes to both you might want to consider teaching. There is a dire shortage of high school physics teachers in the US. The pay is not great but the intrinsic rewards can be.
posted by mareli at 2:15 PM on July 23


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