What kind of job for a physics graduate willing to travel?
August 26, 2011 2:25 PM   Subscribe

What kind of job could have a physics graduate willing to travel? I have recently graduated and I'd like to move and work in another country for an undetermined time.

Hello AskMeFi!

I've recently graduated with a master's degree in physics, and I would like to have some work experience outside my home country, which is Belgium.

The problem is, I don't really know what to do with my degree. I had initially planned to do a PhD in Belgium, but I discovered two months ago that I wasn't as motivated as I pretended to be for this kind of job. For this reason, I don't have a clear idea on what kind of sector I should focus my demands.

I'm looking for original ideas outside the world of banks or education. For example, could my competences be relevant for:

- NGOs: paid or as a volunteer at the beginning;
- ONU;
- The European Commission;
- ...

As you can see, I have a very vague idea about the kind of job I'd like to have. Nonetheless, I'd really like to discover other culture and languages, and if any future job involves a little of that as well, that would be a big plus.

I'm not excluding the possibility to work in education or work as an engineer, so if anyone of you has an interesting experience to share, I'd love to read it!

You should also know that I have written my master's thesis on an aspect of string theory called the AdS/CFT correspondance. This is a very theoretical subject which needed no programming skills at all.

As a final note, I speak French, English, and have an upper-intermediate level in Spanish (and some Dutch buried inside, but that doesn't really count).

Thank you very much for you help AskMeFi! I'm sure you can help me. :-)
posted by Fillus to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing that comes to mind is engineers without borders. I'm guessing that at least some of the work that they do requires skills that you could pick up fairly easily. I don't have any personal experience with them though.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:43 PM on August 26, 2011

Unfortunately I don't know what you could do with a physics MA at all. (This is just because I don't know, not to imply that one is worthless, which I'm sure it's not at all!) Perhaps you could be clearer about that, and then people could help you with where or how to do that job o/s? I think you're not getting many answers because at the moment you need someone who knows about pathways for physics graduates who also knows about how to do international versions of that. Perhaps if you could fill in the first stage a little better, people could help you a bit with the second?
posted by jojobobo at 10:08 PM on August 26, 2011

Ok, with your background, qualifications and what you'd like to do (work outside your home country) it seems a job with one of the big consultancies would be suitable. Most of the big consultancies rely upon globally mobile, well educated folks with excellent communication skills. But be aware: globally mobile in the context of consultancy generally implies 100% travel.

I used to run EMEA (Europe, The Middle East & Africa) for one of the big ratings agencies, and you've pretty accurately described our target profile. To me your degree says you have solid problem solving and abstract thinking skills, complemented by organisational and writing abilities. While execution is implicit its not clear what presentation skills, if any, you possess - these are key to consultancy. One serious question would be your ability to work in a team and while that's something we'd suss out pretty quickly during interviews if there is anything in your background that would alleviate this concern be sure to get it on your CV. After all, your primary concern should be getting an interview since that is your opp to sell yourself.

Another possible red flag - you mention your research required "no programming skills at all" - do you have any? If so get them onto the CV. If not don't worry, it won't necessarily exclude you from consultancy jobs but will constrain you somewhat. That being said, most of these firms relentlessly train and retrain so you'd have to chance to acquire these skills at a later date.

I'd downplay your research while looking for a job; it is largely non transferable as presented ("AdS/CFT correspondence") and not relevant. Suggest you present this as "String Theory" and extract some transferable skills likely to be of interest from your overall research process.

Languages are excellent as you've presented but you might want to augment with some business vocab classes as that's really what would matter to a potential employer.

Ok, the downsides of consultancy: long hours, be prepared for ten hour days as the norm with bursts (when the client demands it) of up to sixteen hours or so. Weekends may be disrupted by client demands, clients may be and very often are total jerks if not outright asses. Travel may sound exciting - and for a while it is - but for the last three years of my career I was flying 200K+ a year, home maybe five days a month. Lots of time in airplanes, airports, taxis & hotels, I used to wake up and wonder where the hell I was. If you've got specialised dietary requirements it may be difficult to maintain while on the road, especially so if you (like I did) end up in remote parts of Africa or some Middle Eastern nations.

Upsides of consultancy: you'll get exposed to lots of different businesses and industries which will give you an opp to select one for a long term career. You'll make tons of contacts that will help your career for years to come, and the ability to save excessive amounts of money. When you're on the road all expenses are covered, if you're home only a few days every month is downright difficult to spend. There were points in my career when I was saving up to 95% of every paycheque. Lots of frequent flier miles. A plus to difficult clients: after spending so long in consultancy I can get along with pretty much anyone, and when I moved to a role as Global Programme Manager for one of the biggest European Investment Banks my client management skills were widely lauded since I never got fussed nor agitated no matter how inappropriately someone was acting up.

If you approach this properly after spending five or ten years consulting you'll have enough cash to do pretty much anything you'd like for the rest of your life.

Finally, this document detailing what first job folks with Masters in Physics are getting was recently passed among my research cluster at University (I'm taking a Phd in Finance, and we've got several Physicists in the department).

Hope this helps!
posted by Mutant at 1:37 AM on August 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

Well, thank you for these answers.

@ jojobobo: the usual pathways you hear about in physics departements are education (high-school teacher), banks and private industry (as an engineer). However, many students choose to continue forward to a PhD, and the information about possible jobs outside academia is quite limited. I believe this is a big problem with physics education which is not encountered in engineering for example, where students often get contracts before the end of their studies. In short, I don't know much more than you, because I didn't seek the information in the past, and because it is difficult to obtain.

@Mutant: Thanks for this detailed and informative answer. This is something I didn't know about and it's the kind of information I was looking for.

Regarding the programming skills, this is not entirely true. I have some basic knowledge of C++, but I've never had the chance to put it to use because of the theoretical path I chose. I'd certainly need a good training.

Concerning the presentation skills, I'd say that this is not what physics education focuses on (at least in my university). We do acquire presentation skills over the years, but the feedback is tenuous. Some professors don't even have some basic pedagogical skills, but that's usually not why they are hired for.

Do you have any company names for me, or should I just Google them?
posted by Fillus at 9:10 AM on August 27, 2011

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