Any point in doing a physics degree?

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cali123
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There are 2 types of people on this matter: those that say (usually from experience) that a degree in physics only enables you to do jobs you could have done without a degree, and those that say 'physics opens so many doors, you can virtually do anything', and then fail to mention any specific jobs.

The latter also usually haven't even done a physics degree.

Is there really any long term earning potential in a physics career? To me it seems that you know a bit of everything after the degree, but:

1. You are not as good a programmer as a computer scientist
2. You are not as good an engineer as someone who holds a degree in... You guessed it... Engineering
3. You are not as good at maths as a mathematician
The list goes on..

For example, my sister never went to uni, emigrated to this country at 18 (not knowing much english) and has been working ever since then. She now earns around 27k yearly in a recruitment agency.
She works alongside a guy that did his physics degree at Cardiff, and is in the same position as her, earning less (around 25k).

Other than going into academia (which you must be incredibly smart and lucky to do, very few people manage this), physics doesnt offer you concrete career options that you wouldnt have had if you didnt go go uni, and doesnt allow you to earn a respectable wage, such as after doing medicine or engineering.

I'd like to see someone dispute this claim about no earning potential and career paths.
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glug
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What's the point of this thread? Physics is not a vocational degree, unless you become a researcher or something, everyone knows this. I'm unsure of whether or not you study physics because if you did you would realise most people on the course genuinely love the subject and didn't choose it for the job prospects (as they are more than capable of doing medicine or engineering if they so wished) but because they like maths and physics! I think you'll find this is the case with most people not studying a vocational or professional degree.

In terms of earning potential physicists, at least from my university, have amongst the highest average grad salaries. I admit though that this is because they tend to be enterprising and creative people, rather than their degree having explicitly prepared them for a career in some field.

In terms of career paths, physics won't open any specific doors, but sure does act as a brilliant signalling device to recruiters that this person is really bright, hard working and motivated to learn, which is one of the reasons you'll find us working in so many different fields despite not being explicitly 'qualified' to enter them :P

In terms of specific jobs, I'll give you a list of all the fields my friends and I have managed to get experience/job offers in:

- patent law
- corporate law
- accounting
- investment banking
- game design
- software engineering
- petroleum engineering
- instrument design
- aeronautical engineering
- medical physics
- teaching
- civil service
etc
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Schrödingers Cat
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What's the point of this thread?
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username1862217
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There is a shortage of physicists in the world.

What does that tell you?

Seriously, I graduated from physics a few days ago and we were told that the problem witht he world isn't global warming. It isn't terrorism. It isn't overpopulation. No. Humans have the power to overcome all of this. The problem is the lack of people working towards these solutions.

Physics is in the minority of degrees which you will never be poor or unemployed with, and you can work pretty much anywhere in the world. It does have a high earning potential. That one example you showed seems to be a one-off. I would say 1k per year of your life is pretty typical of a physicist up to ones in their 30's or so, although I know of some who are earning much more than that. Six figure salaries are certainly possible for specialists.

A computer programmer may be a better programmer, but can they solve and derive equations? If they are in a research company they may well be expected to do that too.
An engineer may be good at reality but are they as theoretical as a physicist?
A mathematician can do maths, but how good are they at experimental work?

Physicists are pretty well-rounded individuals.

Here are some common careers from what I have seen:
Programmer
Game Design
Researcher (medicine, chemistry, anti-terrorism, security, space, ...pretty much anything)
Teacher (there is a huge shortage of physics teachers, so much so that private schools have been known to offer £40k+ for them)
Robotics
Theorectical Physicist
Inventor
Rocket Scientist
Local Crazy Man (although pay isn't great for this one...)
Banking/Finance
Engineering
And so on. There isn't really a definitive list here. If you can do a physics degree then you can do pretty much anything.
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Joinedup
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http://www.ogdentrust.com/university...hysics-careers

you don't get automatically gravytrained into a wonderful career without any effort and it's also possible to end up doing a dead end job for the rest of your life if you're a bit of a aimless drifter. being an aimless drifter isn't caused by doing a degree in physics.
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cali123
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(Original post by glug)
...
I never said I study physics. I am considering it however.

Don't many degrees as well as courses act as as 'brilliant signalling devices'? My point still stands, an engineering firm is more likely to hire an engineer, and they hire way more engineers than physicists. As is a game company more likely to hire a software engineer. Physics degrees give a lot of advanced broad knowledge, but none of it specialised enough to go into a specific career. Law, accounting etc don't require specific courses, especially not physics.

As for the high earning potential i am not sure where you are getting that from. IOP carried out a 4 year study on the careers of physics graduates, and the average salary was only 14% above the average wage for all jobs across the UK. May I ask what university you are at?


(Original post by Schrödingers Cat)
What's the point of this thread?
Read the OP.



(Original post by Keyhofi)
...
This could tell you people understand that it may be a waste of time.

Well rounded, jack of all trades etc but second best in every specific profession. In todays world with the advanced knowledge that is out there people need to specialise in order to be competitive in the job market.
I see many people mention engineering, computing etc but it is not profitable for a firm to hire someone that is not as good. (Engineers, computer scientists etc possess less broad but more specialised skills and knowledge).

A six figure salary can be obtained in any field/profession, but in physics it is extremely uncommon here in the UK (practically unheard of).
This is a problem. People go onto study a physics degree telling themselves they will be very in-demand and well rounded, enough so to tackle any job, but when they graduate they have difficulry finding a well paid job, and have to pick one which they could have done without studying physics for 3 (or more) years.
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Schrödingers Cat
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(Original post by cali123)
x
It's obvious from your responses that;

1) You've never worked full time in a proper workplace
2) You're young
3) You haven't started a degree yet

I will refer back to my original question; What's the point in this thread?

All you seem to be doing is slanting doing a physics degree, you're not going to listen to any of the answers here it looks like
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Joinedup
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(Original post by cali123)
I never said I study physics. I am considering it however.

Don't many degrees as well as courses act as as 'brilliant signalling devices'? My point still stands, an engineering firm is more likely to hire an engineer, and they hire way more engineers than physicists. As is a game company more likely to hire a software engineer. Physics degrees give a lot of advanced broad knowledge, but none of it specialised enough to go into a specific career. Law, accounting etc don't require specific courses, especially not physics.

As for the high earning potential i am not sure where you are getting that from. IOP carried out a 4 year study on the careers of physics graduates, and the average salary was only 14% above the average wage for all jobs across the UK. May I ask what university you are at?



Read the OP.





This could tell you people understand that it may be a waste of time.

Well rounded, jack of all trades etc but second best in every specific profession. In todays world with the advanced knowledge that is out there people need to specialise in order to be competitive in the job market.
I see many people mention engineering, computing etc but it is not profitable for a firm to hire someone that is not as good. (Engineers, computer scientists etc possess less broad but more specialised skills and knowledge).

A six figure salary can be obtained in any field/profession, but in physics it is extremely uncommon here in the UK (practically unheard of).
This is a problem. People go onto study a physics degree telling themselves they will be very in-demand and well rounded, enough so to tackle any job, but when they graduate they have difficulry finding a well paid job, and have to pick one which they could have done without studying physics for 3 (or more) years.
Comp sci graduates are actually pretty useless as programmers til they've been out of uni 1+ years and got some experience.
for the types of career you mentioned graduates generally get hired by companies because of what the company expects them to be capable of in the future and not because the information that a university has put into the graduates heads is particularly valuable to the employer.

By all means don't do a physics degree
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Manitude
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(Original post by cali123)
There are 2 types of people on this matter: those that say (usually from experience) that a degree in physics only enables you to do jobs you could have done without a degree, and those that say 'physics opens so many doors, you can virtually do anything', and then fail to mention any specific jobs.

The latter also usually haven't even done a physics degree.

Is there really any long term earning potential in a physics career? To me it seems that you know a bit of everything after the degree, but:

1. You are not as good a programmer as a computer scientist
2. You are not as good an engineer as someone who holds a degree in... You guessed it... Engineering
3. You are not as good at maths as a mathematician
The list goes on..

For example, my sister never went to uni, emigrated to this country at 18 (not knowing much english) and has been working ever since then. She now earns around 27k yearly in a recruitment agency.
She works alongside a guy that did his physics degree at Cardiff, and is in the same position as her, earning less (around 25k).

Other than going into academia (which you must be incredibly smart and lucky to do, very few people manage this), physics doesnt offer you concrete career options that you wouldnt have had if you didnt go go uni, and doesnt allow you to earn a respectable wage, such as after doing medicine or engineering.

I'd like to see someone dispute this claim about no earning potential and career paths.
Right, seeing as I have a physics degree I think I'm pretty well placed to address the level of BS in this post.

Of all the degrees, Physics and Maths probably close the fewest doors. Many scientific jobs I've applied for might specify a degree in whatever area the job is (examples of places I've applied to include the MET Office, British Geological Survey, microbiology companies, pharmaceutical companies and engineering companies) but they usually also mention that physics is a suitable background. Had I done a chemistry or engineering degree this wouldn't have been the case. Ultimately I did a masters in earth science and I'm about to start a phd studying volcanology.

1) Maybe so, but a physics graduate is a damn sight better at physics than most computer scientists. I know many people who do programming for a living and they all agree that software companies would rather teach physics graduates programming than teach comp sci graduates physics if it's relevant to the job.

2) I actually know quite a lot of physics graduates who've gone into engineering and done really well. Several of them got onto an MSc Mechanical Engineering from a physics degree and their offer was lower than if they had done BSc Engineering rather than BSc Physics. Even engineers realise physics is an excellent preparation for engineering.

3) True, but unless you're planning on going into mathematics as an academic then physics gives you a more than adequate level of mathematical training to do pretty much anything. Even then I know people who've studies theoretical physics who are planning on going into mathematics academia.

About half of the people I know who did a masters in physics have gone into academia. There's actually a ton of funding for PhDs because it's such a valuable skill and the return on investments is huge (particularly in solid state physics).

Having a high wage isn't everything, but then physics sets you up nicely if you want to go into investment banking. I hear the pay there is still astronomical. Alternatively you can get into the oil industry where everything pays a huge amount of money in the first year and rises very quickly.

What physics gives you is the ability to learn pretty much any technical/physical science you need as it is almost all ultimately a specialised form of what you study in physics. That and valuable lab skills, problem solving and analytical thinking.
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Smack
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(Original post by cali123)
1. You are not as good a programmer as a computer scientist
2. You are not as good an engineer as someone who holds a degree in... You guessed it... Engineering
3. You are not as good at maths as a mathematician
The list goes on..
1) Computer science graduates aren't necessarily always the best programmers. My dad's in IT and a lot of those he works with and has worked with have came from a variety of backgrounds, from engineering to volcanology to even neuroscience I think.

2) That's true. But I don't think many physicists want to become engineers (otherwise they'd have taken engineering).

3) There aren't an awful lot of jobs that genuinely require maths skills as advanced as that which a maths graduate, and only a maths graduate, has obtained. Physics graduates are more than capable of competing with maths graduates for an awful lot of jobs which merely request someone who is numerical and can work in a technical environment.

If you want to be an engineer, then do engineering. If you want to be a maths academic, then do maths. Otherwise physics is a pretty versatile degree.
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mik1a
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I did a physics degree, and have since worked in the engineering and banking sectors. It has never been an obstacle because people respect physics as a discipline.

A physics degree will not teach you everything you need to know, but it will give you an analytical framework with which you can approach almost any problem. You don't get the practical experience in a mathematics degree. You don't get the numerics from a computer science degree. You don't get the fundamental theoretical understanding from an engineering degree. Physics covers all the bases. Very few employers will discount an applicant as unsuitable on the basis of a physics degree alone. You do statistics, applied mathematics, problem solving, experimental work, numerical methods... you cover all of it. And in the real world, that breadth of knowledge and versatility is a very strong trait to have to add value to a company.

It's not the key to success, but it is a stepping stone on the way.
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Protoxylic
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And an Engineer is not as good a physicist as a physicist. I don't see the point in this argument. If your goal is to ultimately get a job in those sectors then yes perhaps doing a degree specifically in CompSci or Engi is more useful. But this doesn't cause a Physics degree to become any less useful. After all, most of the laws and concepts Engineers use are discoveries that were made in physics, to give an example of why physics isn't useless.
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lllllllllll
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(Original post by cali123)
There are 2 types of people on this matter: those that say (usually from experience) that a degree in physics only enables you to do jobs you could have done without a degree, and those that say 'physics opens so many doors, you can virtually do anything', and then fail to mention any specific jobs.The latter also usually haven't even done a physics degree.Is there really any long term earning potential in a physics career? To me it seems that you know a bit of everything after the degree, but:1. You are not as good a programmer as a computer scientist2. You are not as good an engineer as someone who holds a degree in... You guessed it... Engineering3. You are not as good at maths as a mathematicianThe list goes on..For example, my sister never went to uni, emigrated to this country at 18 (not knowing much english) and has been working ever since then. She now earns around 27k yearly in a recruitment agency.She works alongside a guy that did his physics degree at Cardiff, and is in the same position as her, earning less (around 25k).Other than going into academia (which you must be incredibly smart and lucky to do, very few people manage this), physics doesnt offer you concrete career options that you wouldnt have had if you didnt go go uni, and doesnt allow you to earn a respectable wage, such as after doing medicine or engineering.


I'd like to see someone dispute this claim about no earning potential and career paths.
Unless it's medicine, you should really be applying to take a course that you enjoy.

Most people who enter their degrees have completely different career paths in mind by the time they graduate.
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rxns_00
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You shouldn't do a degree just because you want a certain job... That's the complete wrong way of thinking about it. What's the point of dragging yourself through something you don't like and putting yourself in debt if you're not passionate about it? That's completely pointless and you clearly shouldn't do a physics degree if you're don't just simply want to do physics
Also no it isn't hard to get into academia and research because not only can you do research for a university but you can also be a researcher for a whole load of companies. I don't see the point in trying to make physics a vocational degree when it clearly isn't
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TunaTunnel
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When Lockheed Martin came to my university for a careers talk having a physics degree allowed you more career opportunities than mechanical engineering.
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josh_v
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I haven't read all the responses as they are quite long, so this may have been already mentioned.

In the world of quantitative finance (where there is certainly career opportunities and decent salary on offer) I would argue that physics is the most valuable degree you can have. The maths used in finance almost directly comes from physics, and you would be better placed to tackle it having a physics degree over a maths degree
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IWantToBeThere
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I think what other answers miss is that OP probably is interested in studying physics AND working in physics, not studying physics and working in finance or programming.

To the OP: It depends a lot on which area of physics you are interested in (particle physics, condensed matter physics, biophysics, astrophysics,...) and what degree you have (BSc, MSc, PhD). In some areas of physics, it is possible to be a researcher in industry, if you're interested in being one, and you'll probably need a PhD for this. I'm not saying you should know whether or not you want to get a PhD when you haven't even started uni, just saying there are jobs in PHYSICS outside academia. There might be even some which don't require a PhD.
Plus, there are some interdisciplinary fields which you might become interested in later on. For example, I was recently looking at some Biophysics PhD programs, and they take students from physics, biology, neuroscience, etc. So you might even be able to change your route largely, and still work as a physicist.
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cali123
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(Original post by IWantToBeThere)
I think what other answers miss is that OP probably is interested in studying physics AND working in physics, not studying physics and working in finance or programming.

To the OP: It depends a lot on which area of physics you are interested in (particle physics, condensed matter physics, biophysics, astrophysics,...) and what degree you have (BSc, MSc, PhD). In some areas of physics, it is possible to be a researcher in industry, if you're interested in being one, and you'll probably need a PhD for this. I'm not saying you should know whether or not you want to get a PhD when you haven't even started uni, just saying there are jobs in PHYSICS outside academia. There might be even some which don't require a PhD.
Plus, there are some interdisciplinary fields which you might become interested in later on. For example, I was recently looking at some Biophysics PhD programs, and they take students from physics, biology, neuroscience, etc. So you might even be able to change your route largely, and still work as a physicist.
That sounds interesting. Im just not completely sure about the job prospects after the degree, hence my post (which people seemed to take a bit to heart, especially those who have done physics degrees). So sorry if I came off as agressive.

I must say though, taking a stance such as mine guarantees a lot of responses, so I guess I succeeded in that aspect...


(Original post by RonnieRJ)
You shouldn't do a degree just because you want a certain job... That's the complete wrong way of thinking about it. What's the point of dragging yourself through something you don't like and putting yourself in debt if you're not passionate about it? That's completely pointless and you clearly shouldn't do a physics degree if you're don't just simply want to do physics
Also no it isn't hard to get into academia and research because not only can you do research for a university but you can also be a researcher for a whole load of companies. I don't see the point in trying to make physics a vocational degree when it clearly isn't
Thats completely not what I'm saying. I understand from the OP you might have gathered I don't enjoy physics, but its in fact quite the opposite.

Also, please do your own research first...
Getting into research isnt easy, and getting a decent job in academia is VERY difficult. Seriously, look it up first, then come back and post your thoughts. Private research isn't the same as academia btw, like you said in your post..
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cali123
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(Original post by josh_v)
I haven't read all the responses as they are quite long, so this may have been already mentioned.

In the world of quantitative finance (where there is certainly career opportunities and decent salary on offer) I would argue that physics is the most valuable degree you can have. The maths used in finance almost directly comes from physics, and you would be better placed to tackle it having a physics degree over a maths degree
What about an economics degree? They have the maths skills required, and know the real life applications and theory of markets.
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josh_v
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(Original post by cali123)
What about an economics degree? They have the maths skills required, and know the real life applications and theory of markets.
In most cases, its unlikely they would have the necessary mathematical ability. I imagine the top few universities may produce students who do, but in general, the maths covered in an economics degree doesn't come close to what would be expected in a quant based role.
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