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By Crystal Bailey, APS Careers Program Manager
Contrary to what most young physicists (and many of their faculty mentors) believe, most physics graduates, whether bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D.s, will find permanent careers in the private sector rather than in academia. According to the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center, 64% of the potentially permanent initial hires of Ph.D.s are in the private sector . The National Science Foundation Survey of Doctoral Recipients has put the percentage of Ph.D.s working in the private sector at between 40% and 55% over the past three decades . While employment in four-year colleges was often a close second, the majority of those jobs were temporary positions, such as lectureships and postdoctoral positions. Even at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, of those graduates who go straight into the workforce after receiving their degrees, over half will be in the private sector.[3, 4]
Of course, it should come as no surprise that physicists have an important role to play in the wide variety of careers available outside of academia. The far-reaching expertise that physics students develop while receiving their degrees, through exposure to a broad set of techniques and equipment and skills, makes them exceptional problem-solvers. Moreover, the ability to approach problems from general principles often means that physicists can apply their knowledge to novel contexts, and often produce innovative advances in technological development.
However, many of these graduates find these eventual careers in spite of, rather than because of, the career mentorship of a typical physics department. Generally speaking, there are few faculty members present in physics departments with prior experience working in industry (a stark contrast with other STEM disciplines like engineering, which frequently employs faculty with private-sector experience). Furthermore, while many well-meaning physics faculty want to advise their students on how to pursue careers outside of academia, few have industrial colleagues in their professional network to whom they could turn for advice, or whom they could ask to be industrial mentors for their students.
Fortunately, APS can help. In the last several years APS has been working hard to develop and disseminate resources and information on careers outside of academia through our website, through new programs such as the Distinguished Lectureship in the Applications of Physics, and through workshops and panels at APS division and section meetings. One of these resources is the online APS Professional Guidebook, available through the APS Careers site.
The Guidebook contains eight chapters that address the essential elements of a successful transition into the industrial workforce. Chapter titles include Career Planning and Self-Assessment, Conducting Informational Interviews, Networking, Writing an Effective Resume, Interviewing and Negotiation, and more. Each chapter not only contains important advice and information, but also links to other resources on the website — such as five-minute “webinette” clips from our top webinars on career preparation, online tutorials, links to employment and salary-statistics information, and more. It really is a “one-stop-shop” for all the resources available on the APS Careers Website for physicists preparing to eventually transition into the industrial workforce.
In addition to the Professional Guidebook, the APS Careers website also offers an extensive library of archived webinars on everything from choosing a graduate school, to finding a six-figure salary job in the private sector, to commercializing academic research. We also offer a free product called Physics InSight, which is a downloadable slideshow featuring physicists from a diversity of degree and career paths, and which is suitable for display on LCD screens in common areas around physics departments. You can even add your own slides for a customized show: Visit the Insight: Physics Slide Shows page to download.
Responsible mentorship of students and early career physicists means providing them with information about the full breadth of career options available to those with a physics degree. It also means giving them access to information which will help them adequately prepare for those future careers.
1. AIP Statistical Research Center, Focus on Physics Doctorates Initial Employment, December 2014.
2. NSF Survey of Doctoral Recipients and Integrated Survey Data, 1971 - 2010.
3. AIP Statistical Research Center, Focus on Physics Bachelor’s Initial Employment, September 2012.
4. AIP Statistical Research Center, Focus on Physics and Astronomy Master’s Initial Employment, April 2011.
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