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One of the biggest challenges physics educators face, given today’s ever-evolving technological environment, is helping their students understand the career paths available to physics graduates. The training one receives with a physics bachelor’s degree goes far beyond one particular skill set. Physics underlies all other physical sciences, and in learning how to do physics, students learn how to solve problems, design solutions, and understand the fundamental nature of the universe—in short, they learn “how to think.”
It should therefore come as no surprise that physics bachelors are highly sought after in the workforce. According to the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center, around 40% of graduating physics bachelors enter the workforce directly after graduation1. Of these, the majority work in science- and technology-related fields in the private sector (such as engineering or computer science); a sizable portion also go into non-science fields.2
Not only are physics bachelors highly employable, they are also likely to be highly paid. In 2009, AIP published data on initial starting salaries of physics bachelors, which shows graduating physics bachelors can now expect to earn higher salaries than civil and mechanical engineering , chemistry, and biology majors.3
However, the range of opportunities for physics bachelors does come as a surprise to students, and also to those who advise and mentor them. In spite of the fact that only a tiny fraction of physics bachelors can reasonably expect to become physics faculty, students consistently name this career path as the “typical” track for physicists. Therefore a reliable, accurate source of information about physics careers is essential, in order to give students a clear picture of what’s possible after graduation, and beyond.
The comPADRE Careers Resource Website Home
The Physics Careers Resource website4 (http://www.careersinphysics.org) provides information about physics careers to students and those who advise and mentor students. While some resources for teachers and professors are new, much of the information has been collected from professional society and government resources into a single location. Wherever possible, the links to original sources are included, to enable the user to find more detailed information. The Physics Careers Resource is part of the comPADRE Digital Library, which is a partnership between APS, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), AIP, and the American Astronomical Society, and a member of the National Science Digital Library.
The website is organized in two main sections: one for audience-based information, and one for general facts and resources. The audience-based sections provide information relevant for student, educator, and parent audiences. For example, the college student section links to career resources on the APS website, APS webinars, the Society of Physics Students’ comPADRE publication The Nucleus5, the Graduate School Shopper, guides for marketing skills to potential employers, links to the APS Job Center6, and more. Each of these sections contains information specifically tailored to each of these groups at the middle school, high school, and college levels.
In addition to the audience-based sections, there are five general information sections: Employment Facts, Physicist Profiles, Physicist Employers, Physics Institutions, and Fields of Physics. The Employment Facts section contains the latest reports and statistics on the careers of physics bachelor’s degree recipients (including starting salaries, employment rates, and common employment sectors). The Physicist Employer and Physics Institution sections include interactive maps showing locations that physics bachelors found employment in recent years, and also names and locations of physics degree-granting institutions within the United States.
However, the heart of the collection is the library of Physicist Profiles. The profiles represent working physicists from a variety of degree and career paths, and give information not only on the physicist’s current job description, but also on how their physics training informs what they do today. In conjunction with the profile collection, the website contains a special section on the Fields of Physics, which gives a brief description of the primary employment bases for careers in physics, and describes how job descriptions change in those areas as one moves from a bachelors to an advanced degree.
Example of a Physicist Profile
The Physics Careers Resource website is one of many APS programs designed to excite and inform students about careers in physics. Physics InSight is a free, downloadable slide show which is generated bi-monthly, highlighting specific physics careers, statistical information, and current research topics. The slideshows are designed to be displayed on monitors in common areas in university science buildings, physics departments, and in high school classrooms. The slide shows are colorful and eye-catching, and always contain fresh, up-to-date content. You can find more information on Physics InSight—and download the latest slideshow—at our Physics InSight webpage7.
Fields of Physics Page
APS has also recently launched a series of free webinars, designed to connect viewers to the expertise of individuals offering insight into physics careers, educational programs, and professional development for students, working physicists, and educators. Topics have included careers in patent law, maintaining a work/life balance as a physicist with a family, and how to become a physics teacher, among others. The webinars are currently broadcast monthly, and are archived so that registrants can view the broadcast at a later time. For a listing of upcoming webinars, or to view a previously recorded webinar, you can visit the APS Webinar homepage8.
Providing students with the necessary tools to solve tomorrow’s problems with their physics training is an important goal for the physics community, and a crucial first step is connecting them with stimulating, relevant, and rewarding careers. Through the Physics Career Resource and other programs, APS is committed to helping achieve this goal. We invite and encourage your participation as well, by using these resources and sending us your ideas for ways to improve these important services.
Dr. Crystal Bailey is the Education and Careers Program Manager at the American Physical Society in College Park, MD. Some of her principle projects include the physics InSight slideshow, ComPADRE Physics Careers Resource website, Future of Physics Days events at annual meetings, and APS Career Fairs and job boards. She received her PhD in nuclear physics from Indiana University in 2009, and her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas in 1999. While at the University of Arkansas, Crystal was a student of Gay Stewart, to whom she attributes her inspiration to become a physics major.
Disclaimer- The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.