What Do I Do With a Physics Degree?

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An oscilloscope is used to measure the time delay created by the light pulse traveling through the fiber optic cable. This speed of light experiment is a part of the introductory Physics curriculum. (Photo by Jay Grabiec)

No matter your major, you are probably in college to improve your employment prospects. You may want to learn and discover about the world around you, but, at the end of the day, a college education is all about your career path. The Physics degree is important whether you want to go to graduate school or plan to get a job after graduation. The department has several different concentrations and some of them are more directed towards grad school while others are more directed towards jobs. Whichever direction you are taking, your advisor will be glad to talk to you about how to best achieve your personal goals.

When we talk about Physics jobs and careers the first thing to notice is that there are very few jobs out there that are labeled “Physicist.” Most of the jobs labeled Physicist are earmarked for people who have completed a Ph.D. But you do not have to complete the Ph.D. in Physics in order to get a job and have a good career.

Employment prospects in Physics are generally very good, even in a bad economy. Physics majors are sought after by employers for many areas. The Physics education emphasizes problem solving and abstract thinking, and this training makes these graduates very desirable in the job market. This is spelled out in Figure 4 on Page 4 of the AIP Physics Bachelor’s Initial Employment Report. This document comes from the American Institute of Physics (AIP) website, and we suggest you explore the AIP Statistical Research Center to learn more about Physics employment. The AIP also supplies the names of some companies in the state of Illinois that have recently hired Physics majors.

You are probably interested in the economic value of your Physics degree. Different concentrations have different ranges, but overall the salary information for Physics graduates is given in the AIP Trends info on Salary Data. You can see that Physics is a field where people are well paid. There is more data about who hires, how much they pay, and the job satisfaction in the AIP Physics Bachelor’s Initial Employment Report. But another look at the job satisfaction for Physics graduates is found in the chart: If I Had to Do It Over Again, I Would still Major in Physics.

A part of the Mission Statement for the Physics department says “The undergraduate program for students pursuing a BS degree in Physics provides a solid and challenging education and prepares them to excel in diverse career paths where independent thinking, analytical skills, and experimental skills are useful. These paths include graduate or professional school, industrial research, and education, not just in Physics but in other scientific, engineering, social, and professional fields.” We take this very seriously and will work with you to start you on your path to a long and satisfying career.

Physics Links

Some general links related to job opportunities in Physics are:

  • Physics Today Jobs
    • Contains a listing of current jobs for bachelor’s degree holders. This is the job search branch of the AIP.
  • Careers in Physics
    • The American Physical Society's Web page about careers. You can find specific job information directly from this page.

There are even some websites devoted to helping college graduates find jobs upon graduation. Check out:

This should certainly get you started if you are a Physics major and thinking about going to work. However, there is some specialized information for some of our concentrations: