Prospects after Grad School

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

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Prospects after Grad School

Post by lokai_ » Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:29 pm


I've applied to several Grad schools in this US. I expect to find which schools accepted me soon.

I like to do physics (I'm currently working at a research institute on an interesting project, and I've already published a paper and met a lot of people in my field), but I suspect that I will not be happy going into academia. This suspicion stems from my experience with post-docs: They get paid little, are not in a place for very long, and their work does not guarantee a long-term position in the future. I've met post-docs in their late 30's.

So, I'm having a bit of a crisis right now. On the one hand, I can see myself being (overall) happy in graduate school, and not worrying about what happens after that. On the other, it is possible that I end up hating grad school because I come to consider it a waste of time, since it may not prepare me for the job/career that I will finally want/get. Of course, I'm worried that if I pass up graduate school, I will not be able to find another job and be forced to live at home bagging groceries full-time.

I need to make some tough choices very soon. Does getting a PhD in physics (most likely Astro in my case) open (non-academic) doors that would otherwise be closed? Is it OK to enter a PhD program with this in mind, or are the chances of burn out high?

I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by grae313 » Thu Jan 29, 2009 12:10 am

lokai_ wrote:I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice.

I'm certainly not set on the academic track. I'm probably 50-50 on whether I would want to work in academia or industry. I think there are a lot of research or engineering jobs outside of universities that pay very well. There are AIP statistics that you can find with google, they are old, but they show what number of physics graduates go to which sectors, and a large number do not go into academia afterward. The way I figured it, grad school leaves me with the most options open.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by zxcv » Thu Jan 29, 2009 4:14 am

I think it's okay to go to grad school with a realistic understanding that you may not end up with (or want) a job in academia. That certainly my case... even though I haven't really thought out what I would do if I don't go that way.

I think a PhD opens some doors outside of science, but probably not enough to make it worth it with just that end in mind.

I'm not worrying about it, because I'm having a blast in grad school. I can hardly imagine myself anywhere else, and I think it will be worth it for just the grad school experience alone.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by Theoretischer » Sun Feb 01, 2009 11:44 am

"A Ph.D. degree is required if you hope to be a faculty member at a college or university, but in industry only the very largest companies hire students with Ph.D. degrees. Thus getting a Ph.D. reduces the number of possible employers and may make other considerations, such as a geographic preference, more difficult to achieve. Spouses who both have Ph.D.'s (the so called two body problem) may find it challenging to find suitable employment for both persons."

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by rohit » Sun Feb 01, 2009 1:11 pm

The not-very-large companies will take a BS over a PhD? At the same pay? :?

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by evilclaw2321 » Sun Feb 01, 2009 2:34 pm

I think it depends on the type of company but also the type of field or physics you want to do. I guess I don't know about the small companies but I work at a huge international research and manufacturing company, and they will hire both BS's and PhDs but if you ever want to be promoted you better have a PhD, or at least a masters. Both of my parents work in the sciences one as a physicist and one as a chemist. My mom only with her BA in chemistry has always regretted stopping because young people with less experience but more schooling will always make more money and be promoted over her. Whereas my dad the physicist who has a higher degree confirms the same thing but has been lucky that he was the one with the higher degree and thus was able to move up.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by nathan12343 » Sun Feb 01, 2009 2:37 pm

There is such a thing as being overqualified for a position, at least in the minds of certain HR people.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by secander2! » Wed Feb 04, 2009 1:54 pm

I wanted to write a post with just the character "0" but apparently that's not allowed:
Your message contains too few characters.
Anyways, I just couldn't help but think that this comic is somehow fitting.

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by happymonkey » Wed Feb 04, 2009 2:14 pm

Starbucks or if you're like me a coffee shop that serves Fairtrade Organic coffee. Man I just can't wait to serve beverages after earning a PhD and enjoying several postdocs!

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Re: Prospects after Grad School

Post by PoincareSection » Wed Feb 04, 2009 2:21 pm

happymonkey wrote:Starbucks or if you're like me a coffee shop that serves Fairtrade Organic coffee. Man I just can't wait to serve beverages after earning a PhD and enjoying several postdocs!
I know someone who did EXACTLY what you just said.... and she just lost her job because Starbucks is laying people off.

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