Physics Career Questions

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

A physics student named Nicole asked me several questions regarding careers in physics.  Below are my replies to her questions:

1.  What kind of grades/QPI (e.g. per major subject, per year, overall) do I need to be able to easily land a well-paying job in a physics related-field after I graduate?

You need at least to be a good student with a QPI of B.  But beyond the grades, your adviser’s recommendations regarding your work ethic is a big factor.  So you must work hard in your thesis.  It is a big plus if you presented your work in national or international conferences or get it published in international journals.  If you can get a publication out, your academic grades won’t matter much.

2.  What are you recommendations and opinions on choosing between pursuing a Master’s Degree in Physics right after college versus immediately pursuing a paying career with only a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics?

I would suggest you go straight to MS Physics.  In a crowded field of job seekers, an MS Physics is a plus.  A degree in MS Physics means you master one topic very well and that is your MS thesis.  Employers in technology firms normally layoff the bottom 30% of their employees.  An MS Physics degree may insulate you from this.  It takes only two years of full-time work to finish an MS Physics degree. In many companies, an MS degree would set you apart and may double your salary.

In the US, you go straight to PhD. in Physics.  An MS degree is only given as a consolation prize to those who finished their coursework but not their dissertation.  If you get accepted for PhD in Physics in US, you get to study for free and the university gives you at least $30,000 per year as a student.  (Read Reinabelle Reyes answers to physics career  questions of Physics Majors here.)

3.  Based on your knowledge, what is the competition like for physics-related job positions in the real world (locally, or in neighboring countries)? What can I do as a student to boost my chances of “getting the job” when pitted against other excellent physics degree graduates?  

There are fewer physics graduates than engineers, and the demand for physicists is greater in other countries than in Philippines.  Check out the physics jobs, for example, in Physics WorldPhysics TodayAmerican Physical SocietyTip Top, and New Scientist.   Since you will be competing against other excellent physics students, the only thing that would set you apart is your specialization: your thesis.  Work on your thesis by spending at least an hour or more on it each day.  Read journal articles about your topic.  See your adviser often and share to him your new knowledge.  Listen to his advice.  Hone your skills related to your thesis: Python programming, Matlab commands, LaTeX word processing, Linux servers, spectrometers, holographic crystals, climate data processing, etc.  These are the skills that would separate you from the pack. Master them well and list them down in your skill set.  These will get you the job.

4.  How much does an entry-level B.S. Applied Physics degree holder usually earn in certain physics-related fields (e.g. teaching, oil-industry, engineering, etc.)?

If you are teaching, you may get Php 15,000-Php 20,000/month.  If you are in industries like HP or Canon, you may get Php 30,000/month.  This is only in the Philippines.  You may get higher rates abroad.

5.  How much does an entry-level M.S. Applied Physics degree holder usually earn in certain physics-related fields (e.g. teaching, oil-industry, engineering, etc.)?

About Php 25,000-30,000 in teaching.  This may be double in the industry.

6.  What are the drawbacks of working in a physics-related field?

The joy of physics is in using what you learned in physics to derive new equations or fix old problems or make new things.  Usually, this would require long hours of lonely work in a laboratory.  If you don’t find this appealing, it is time to quit physics and change career.

7.  What are the benefits of working in a physics-related field?

Physicists are the company’s problem solvers.  Give them any problem–engineering, finance, mathematics–and they will thank you for giving them a fun thing to do.  The physicist can break down a problem into components and analyze each one using models in physics: this road cracks due to uneven thermal heating and linear expansion, the Ohm’s law breaks down for large voltages, lighting strikes induce currents in the roof rails due to Faraday’s law,   financial accounting equations are similar to balancing of torques, and profit optimization is similar to Fermat’s principle of Least Time.   Once the physicist understand the reason for the failure and propose solutions, engineers would then step in to check the computations, propose standard operating procedures, and apply the theory to more complex but similar problems.

8.  Any additional comments and advice?

Physics is an exciting field.  If you love someone or something, you have to spend time on him or on it.  If you love physics, you must spend time on it to solve more problems, read more papers, and do more things.  As the fox said to the Little Prince, “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”  It is the same way for roses and for physics.  Magis.  More.  That is one of the motto’s of Ateneo’s Jesuit education.  And the rewards will be great: the joy of discovery, the joy of adding one bit more of knowledge to the edifice of physical thought that span thousands of years constructed by individuals from all space and time.  Good salaries and Nobel prize may come, but they are only consolation prizes.  And as the fox said, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”


About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

2 Responses to Physics Career Questions

  1. Si Cruz says:


  2. I couldn’t agree more with this very nicely written article on any Physics career. Thank you for sharing this clear-cut piece of information.

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