Cracking the Job Market

How to use this page: If this is your first visit to this page it is a good idea to read the first three bullets completely through before you begin surfing the links. The first bullet contains a description of the kinds of pages you can search for career aids (with examples). The second section provides a checklist of steps to take in the successful career search, and the third section discusses marketing your physics degree to employers.

Resources to Get You Ready

Professional organizations maintain sites that have more specific content and information directed at your particular field. A good example is the career page at the National Academy of Sciences. For mathematics check AMS, and for international information try Physicsworld and PhysLink.

Many universities maintain web sites to help with career planning. These are often lists of links to the sites where the information can be found. These pages are the best way for you to get a broad overview of what is available. A comprehensive site that illustrates what is available is the Jobs in Physics and Astronomy page at Sonoma State University.

Perhaps the best practical information for the beginning career planner, are the pages on career services at major Engineering schools. Two excellent resources are the Cornell career service center and Washington state University. For particular links to Engineering disciplines visit the college of Engineering of your choice. Finally you can get personal help right here at the Career Resource Center at BC. Also the book Careers in Science and Engineering is available online.

Organizing Your Career Planning

Each site linked above is full of information and links to more information. It is easy to get overwhelmed with too much information. You need to set out a plan for establishing your career goals. The following steps will help you to focus your information gathering toward specific goals. You may want to start a checklist of where you are, or keep a notebook of the resources you develop as you go along.
Assess yourself: Visit sites that help you discover your interests and abilities.
Talk to your instructors. They know a side of you that you cannot see.
Begin considering your field of interest
Look for sites that contain career planning references and read through this information.
Consult the American Institute of Physics Career Guide on reserve in the BC library.
Read Careers in Science and Engineering online.

The next phase will be to acquire experience and to begin documenting this in the form of a resume. Look in the sources above for
Internships (UW, visit the BC science adviser for a comprehensive list)
Study abroad. (Search for schools)
Summer jobs. (Sonoma)
Resume advice (Sonoma)

Finally you will want to make contact with employers. Search your resources for:
Lists of employers (all sites for resources, BC for employers in state)
Job Fairs
Jobs available
Informational interviewing (AIP book in library)
Making the initial contact

Marketing Your Degree

A well prepared physics student is an excellent problem solver with a broad physical background. This means that you may be qualified to work in a variety of positions that do not have “physics” in the job description. You can find interesting work in a variety of organizations but you may have to work a bit harder to find and secure these jobs than someone with a more specialized degree (for example Computer Science or Engineering). This additional work involves informing yourself about the possibilities, and educating employers about your skills. Informing yourself just means knowing that it is possible to do many things with a physics degree and considering what you might do as you acquire your education. Find out about related fields, attend talks in your department and in related departments. Learn about technology in industry. Computers are central to data collection in physics so you may acquire skills comparable to some CS majors as you complete your coursework. If you examine the requirements for a bachelors degree in mathematics you may find only a slight difference between these requirements and the courses you have taken. In Engineering you may have encountered the same academic material as many engineers but at a more fundamental level. You are not as fluent with particular problem solving methods, but you have the background to create new methods that your engineering peers may not have.

So, you may be in a central position, able to move in several directions. How do you capitalize on this? The first piece of advice is do not jump at anything that moves. If you entered physics out of interest, you may place a premium on jobs that offer new challenges, demand creativity, or that allow you to indulge your curiosity. Be aware. There are many jobs that require highly technical skills but that do not offer much variety or demand creativity. The information you gather about jobs should focus on these qualities. There are jobs outside of physics that will suit you well but the task of finding them will fall to you. Unlike fields like Engineering or Computer science, they will not all appear in standard lists.

Educating the employer will be just as important. Many people in the general population do not know what a physicist does (or can do). A large fraction of human resources managers are indistinguishable from the public in this respect. In many cases they will not even pick up your physics resume unless “physics” is specifically cited in the job description sent to them through company channels. You can work at two levels to change the odds in your favor. First try to educate the manager who files the request for a position with Human Resources. Arrange informational interviews and use this opportunity to gauge this persons knowledge about the physics major. If the opportunity arises you can educate your interviewer about the physics degree. Do not actively sell yourself during this interview. You will violate a trust if you market your self strongly in this setting, but it is perfectly fair to try to influence what kind of positions are requested from Human Resources. The second line of attack is the Human Resources people themselves. Try to arrange a personal meeting with them. Describe your capabilities and jobs you believe you are qualified for.

The main avenues that lead to employment in physics are contacts developed through your instructors and employers, and by attending Job fairs. The good news is that many of the larger corporations are well informed about the physics degree and actively recruit physics majors both at job fairs and through their Human Resources offices.

The Job Market; Choosing a Field.
In parallel with the activities described above, you must choose a field for your first career. This is a process that will stretch over several years and (probably) be revised several times along the way. You need to find out what is possible by talking to faculty and using resources like this page, and you need to experience physics and mathematics in your courses to see how they suit you.
Your first step is to find out what physicists do, as discussed on the career choice page. But you also want to find out what the market is like. There are two parts to this question:
Reviewing the Jobs Available at the Sonoma site. and
Reviewing statistics on recent graduates. See for example AIP.

What About Careers in Related Fields?
At the AIP and NAS home pages you can link to fields related to physics. You can get information from the research interests page that is usually part of the physics department an any university.

Advising Resources at BC
BC has a Career Resource Center and the science division has a full-time science adviser. Together with your physics instructors these resources should form your primary source for evaluating your choices and gathering information.

Last Updated February 11, 2018