March 12, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of California - Davis
Department of Physics and AstronomyWebsite
Patricia Boeshaar Ph.D.: In general, Physics majors can do just about anything, as indicated by just a few of the positions/jobs in which physics majors have found positions:
-Patent Lawyer/Patent law office assistant
-State of CA/Water Engineer
-High School or Community College Science Teacher
-Computer Animation Specialist
-Artificial Intelligence/Robotics Research
-Scientific and Computational Management (with minor in Business)
-Software & Yield Teams/spin-electron quibit engineer
-Night Operations Support Scientist/Subaru telescope
The skills learned in physics allow one to go between different disciples, e.g. astrophysics to investment banking....so in a sense they can change career direction.
Given what our students have accomplished in the past and the continual need for good people in these positions, I do not believe that the pandemic will have a serious effect on this year's physics graduates" prospects.
Patricia Boeshaar Ph.D.: This depends on what field they enter, e.g. Education usually requires a Masters in Education; Graduate Programs generally require anywhere from 2-6 years in that specialty. Otherwise, Physics teaches students how to problem solve, so many often pick up any additional skills on the job.
Patricia Boeshaar Ph.D.: We suggest that students who wish a job in industry try to pick up some Business courses...a minor in Business would be especially useful...along with building people/communication and networking skills. Emphasis on networking here.
In general, a Ph.D. will increase your earning potential, as will working in industry over academia. I suggest you look at the salary and employment tables in the American Institute of Physics web site for more details. They have done a superb job graphically displaying not only career choices by degree, but also as related to type of employer and salary.
University of Northern Colorado
Department of Physics and AstronomyWebsite
Charles Kuehn Ph.D.: I think the two biggest trends that we are going to see in the job market are an increased availability of remote work and increased importance of interdisciplinary work.
Even before the pandemic there had been a slow trend toward embracing remote work more and the pandemic accelerated that. While the amount of in-person work will go up as we move out of the pandemic, remote work will have a much larger presence than it ever did before. The biggest benefits to future employees from this will be an increase in jobs that they can apply for since location will be less important. Jobs that were in a region where the employee wouldn't want to live are now feasible, two-career relationships won't have pressure about relocating for an opportunity for one partner, etc... This increase in remote work opportunities will also increase the importance of good communication skills when applying for jobs.
STEM fields in general are seeing a growing amount of interdisciplinary work and physics is no exception. Biophysics and medical physics are fast growing areas, as is experimental optics where we are seeing collaborations with chemists to work development of new types of solar cells. Increasingly we are seeing how skill sets from one area are useful for others and how many connections exist between the behaviors of different systems. For example, physicists studying soft materials have seen connections between their work, how folding occurs in the brain, and behavior of human populations in cities. The increase in big data in physics has led to the growth of econophysics where economic systems are modeled using methods developed in computation physics. Being able to see, understand, and exploit these interdisciplinary connections will be important not only for increasing ones desirability to employers but to solve many of our most pressing current problems in the world.
Charles Kuehn Ph.D.: Big data is becoming increasing important in most areas of physics so the ability to work with large data sets is extremely valuable. This includes nor only the ability to program but to understand the statistics needed for working with large data sets. Any training in data science, whether it is a minor, a certificate, or just a few classes will have a huge positive impact on job prospects.
In the classes I teach I always put a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of communication. You can be the best physicist in the world but if you can't communicate your results then you won't have much of a career. Learning how to communicate to different audiences is crucial; how you communicate with experts in the field is very different from how you communicate with people outside the field and the most successful people are the ones who can do both. I'm also a big supporter of learning project management if you ever want to move up the ranks.
Charles Kuehn Ph.D.: It depends on if you are looking at academia or the private sector. Physics jobs in the private sector have shown strong growth with starting salaries increasing by about 20% since 2010 according to data from the American Institute of Physics. In academia the picture isn't as positive with starting salaries showing about 10% growth on the low end and remaining flat on the upper end; against according to statistics from the AIP.