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Career Profile: Become a Physics Consultant

The consultant career at a glance

A career as a physics consultant allows you to put your critical thinking skills to work helping clients solve unique challenges. Here's a quick overview of this career path:

  • Education: Bachelors, masters, or PhD in physics or a related STEM field; business training required for some jobs
  • Additional training: Programming expertise, business knowledge, or relevant internship
  • Salary: starting between $58K - $100K and increasing to $120K - $160K mid-career
  • Outlook: There is a broad range of consulting jobs physicists can pursue, with some being more technical and requiring data analytics skills and some focused on education and/or outreach, while others are more focused on business and marketing strategy.

What they do

A physicist in a consultant role will spend most of their time working with clients, combining their data and analytics skills with relevant knowledge to find solutions within that sector. Typical activities include:

  • Thinking critically about and finding creative solutions to problems that may arise, from the product development stage all the way to finished products ready for marketing
  • Effectively communicating and presenting technical findings and/or business concepts to audiences with different levels of expertise
  • Performing data analysis and visualization
  • Conducting market research to determine product needs
  • Assessing products and performing technical evaluations
  • Translating technical requirements into business solutions
  • Developing business and marketing strategy
  • Frequent travel for work

The work of education consultants, who often have training in physics education research (PER), varies widely by firm, including topics like educational policies, research and development policies in higher education, or business analytics in college enrollment. Typical activities for an education consultant may include:

  • Analyzing educational data
  • Identifying audience needs for an educational product or approach
  • Assessing the impact of an educational program or product
  • Translating results for the client to direct their decision-making
  • Doing cost/benefit analysis of research investments
  • Developing trainings for faculty researchers and teachers
  • Writing grants or proposals

Education & background

Bachelors, Masters, or PhDs in physics or related fields could all potentially become consultants; great problem-solving ability and excellent verbal and written communication skills are key.

Programming skills, for example in Excel, Python, or R, and a basic understanding of business concepts like cost benefit analysis can also be helpful. In addition to quantitative skills, qualitative research skills are crucial for successful consultants, which are one key component of training in physics education research.

Unlike many academic positions, experience in postdoctoral appointments is not considered a prerequisite for jobs in most private sector companies.

Additional training

Relevant internship experience and having industry contacts in one’s network are very helpful for getting a job as a consultant. Excellent communication and presentation skills, as well as experience working in collaborations or teams can set candidates apart. While not required for entry level consultant positions, having some training in related fields, e.g. taking a course in accounting or business, can be attractive to employers. Programming experience in Excel, Python, or R, can also help. In the case of educational consultants, training in text, policy, program evaluation and interview analysis can also be valuable.

To be successful in this job track, one has to be a good problem solver, be able to collaboratively work in multi-disciplinary teams and be a good communicator. Also, being flexible and willing to learn about other fields is an essential strategy for success. One defining characteristic of jobs in industry, including nonprofits, is that things move quickly; being able to work efficiently on projects and meet deadlines is key.

Some tips that can help you better prepare for a career in consulting:

  • Work to improve your comfort level using business jargon and improve your general business acumen. You can do so by, for example, listening to Podcasts such as “How I Built This,” or reading Harvard Business Review case studies to learn about the problems businesses face, or reading “Case-In-Point” to develop consulting skills.
  • Practice and improve the skills that companies value in people with a physics background, such as being a quick learner, the ability to logically break down thought processes, research skills, and working with and processing data.
  • Have an open mind and be prepared to learn new concepts, such as accounting, business strategy, and using business frameworks.

When applying for a private sector job, understanding the difference between a CV and a resume and being able to write a good resume are very important. For a good tutorial on the difference between CVs and resumes, and for advice on how to write a skills based resume suitable for private sector jobs, please watch our video tutorial. In addition, you will also need to be able to write a compelling cover letter that is tailored to your position and translates your skills to their business needs. Many companies rely on digital networking and social media for hiring, and evaluate potential employees’ digital presence. It can be worthwhile to invest time in updating these profiles, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub repositories, and/or a blog.

Career path

There are several broad options for the career path of a consultant. If working as a consultant within a particular company, one can choose to focus on the management path. A manager spends most of their time on project, resource, and personnel management. High level management positions in companies carry among the highest salaries for physicists in the private sector. Some companies may require an MBA to progress to a manager level position.

Another path is to continue working as a consultant, thereby enhancing one’s skills in this job and establishing oneself as an expert both within and outside the company. A consultant may choose to pursue this path within the same company, or gain experience at different organizations to develop a wide set of skills.

An alternative to working for an organization is to become an independent consultant, contracting work with various companies on your own. This is often easier once a person has an established network and gained relevant experience in the field.

Those working as educational consultants may consult for a variety of clients, including nonprofits, academic institutions, or private companies.


Maggie Seeds

Maggie is a consultant at Clarkston Consulting in North Carolina. Clarkston is a management and technology consulting firm, which focuses on the consumer products and life sciences industries.

Ramón Barthelemy

Ramón is an assistant professor at the University of Utah specializing in physics education research with a focus on equity and inclusion in physics and astronomy.

When you uncover a job opportunity that aligns with your skills, you will need to put together a resume to include with your application.

In this 2021 APS Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Workshop participants learn how to write an effective resume.

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