Tuesday, December 28, 2004

So You Want To Be A Physicist - Part 8

We are still discussing the final year of your undergraduate education. So far, we have covered what you need to consider if you want to go on to graduate school and prepare yourself as best as you can for that part of your journey. However, this isn't the only path one can take with an undergraduate physics degree. Many physics degree holder do not continue to pursue a graduate degree in physics. So in this part of our series, I will discuss this aspect of an education or career beyond the traditional physics path.

If you have followed the series so far, you would have noticed that very early on, I emphasized one very important thing: the acquiring of a range of skills during your undergraduate years. This includes everything from computer programming skills to experimental skills. This is extremely important for any students, but especially if you end your physics education at your upon completion of your undergraduate degree. If you decide to pursue employment, your employability depends very much of what you can do. Let's face it, not many employers are looking for someone who can "do physics". There are, however, employers who would like someone who can analyze numerical models and maybe write codes, or maybe someone who can work in an electronics industry doing thin film fabrication, etc. You will be surprised that some of the things you accidentally picked up in an advanced physics lab might be the very thing that gets you the job.

One of the most popular path that physics graduates take at this point is to go into teaching at the high schools. Most who intend to pursue this line of work usually were enrolled in a simultaneous education program while they were pursuing their undergraduate degree. That way, but the time one obtain one's physics degree, one is also qualified to teach high schools. However, there are many graduates who obtain their teaching certificates after the fact. So it is never too late to decide that this is the profession you want. Keep in mind that different states in the US may have their own requirements with regards to teaching credentials. Some may even allow you to start teaching while you are in the process of getting your certification. So this advice comes with plenty of caveat.

One of the growing options for physics degree holders is to go into a graduate program in a different field of studies. There is now a clear, growing need for physics degree holders to go into law. With the high demand for patent lawyers (not to mention very high salary), there are many physics graduates who are pursuing their law degrees.

Another popular career change is to go into medical schools. This is very common to many students especially if they intend to go into medical physics research (note that one doesn't need to go into medical school to major in medical physics). Again, there is a growing number of physics degree holders who are making use of their physics degree in this field.

One of the other "untraditional" avenue being adopted by physics graduates is to go into either journalism, or writing. There are schools now offering cross-displinary programs in which students majoring in an areas of science or engineering can also augment their education with either a minor or even a double major in such untraditional subjects. Most are training either to go into mass media (science reporter), or even politics as assistants to various representatives in Congress. There clearly is a demand for scientists who can write and speak very well to the public, and programs such as these aim to produce such people.

There are many other avenues one can pursue with a physics degree. I have only listed just a few. However, in every single one of these, the preparation is still the same. One must have as wide as an experience as possible as an undergraduate. This will allow for the possibility that something one did might end up being the useful skill that one needs for a certain line of career.

In the next installment of this series, we will finally graduate out of our undergraduate years and go into the dreaded first year as a graduate student and the nightmare of facing with the qualifying exam!