The Plight of Physics Majors Today and the Most Viable Path to Take
The Plight of Physics Majors Today and the Most Viable Path to Take Maybe you have decided to major in physics and are going to move on with your education with it in sight. Maybe you are already on your way to getting a degree, or perhaps wide-eyed and intrigued, you have just been introduced the world of physical sciences.
In whatever group you might fall into, the unequivocal similarity among all fans of the particular science is the fascination with the subtle connections between it and mathematics, the ability to explain all that is around us, to extrapolate in order to predict accurate outcomes, and to demonstrate apparently impossible events with an explanation. Magic without the mystery.
Unfortunately, when it comes to making a career out of the subject, chances are slim, and the expectations for the ‘great future’ become sketchy.
We all know what the image in most minds about the perfect job is. Perhaps it is being a professor at a prestigious university, with the freedom to research and work on one’s own problems. To be able to crack open the universe’s secrets, and stand where the messiahs of science like Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Madam Mary Curie stand. However, this vision is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish as positions are scarce, and being able to have a career like this is no ordinary feat.
Being a tenured professor at a university can mean starting out with untenured, lowly positions with little pay. (Although money might me the least of concerns for many who love the subject, this has to be taken into account.) A Ph.D. is necessary for any high-level academia jobs, and in many cases you would be required to initially work as an assistant in colleges, which also does not allow for the much desired freedom and working with established teachers sees to an unequal relationship between them and you. Even achieving a position like this signals good luck, and hard work and utmost dedication is required to move up the ladder from assistant professor to associate professor to a ‘complete’ professor. Security for the job might be low and many would never be fortunate enough to have the chance of experiencing a great opportunity like this.
Other open fields in academia could possibly be high school teaching. As numbers for high school teachers are already behind the number required, (Especially in the US) this could be an obvious path for career building. However, the absence of better prospects as one advances further into the field and the lack of good pay has driven many away from high school teaching. It appears that new degree-holders going for research teams and projects are somewhat less pressed for the finding of a job, but the truth is that competition is fierce in finding a research position even if it might not be temporary, and even harder is turning a temporary job into a permanent position. One of the main reasons for this is the decrease of funding over the past years despite now that new discoveries like the finding of the Higgs boson have been made. The forward push for physical research gained with the cold war is now, truly, gone, and researchers find themselves with only marginal budgets.
At the end of the day, it seems like the best career prospects for a physics major or a student with a physics degree would be in the fields of engineering and being an industrial physicist. Electrical engineering, aeronautical engineering, geological engineering etc. are all good paying jobs in which a career can be pursued successfully as industrial growth and development of consumer goods continues. Many physics majors also end up in software engineering and in the fields of IT, but this raises the question as to why would someone go through so much trouble rather than majoring in the respected subjects themselves. Physicists can also find jobs in the government, with jobs for analysts paying satisfyingly.
Whatever, the conditions may be, it is always prudent to understand the risks of a particular career, analyse the available prospects and make the most out of what is available before diving in with a lifelong commitment. And, perhaps, many would find that in the real world, casting the net where there are no fish is unwise, no matter how much you might love something.