How much education should I get?
When deciding how far to go in the education system, you should consider at least two questions: how passionate are you about the field and what kind of career would you like. It is perfectly acceptable to pursue an advanced degree in a field simply because you love it and find it intellectually stimulating. It is also reasonable to consider income potential as a factor in your career decision.
What credentials will I need?
Educational credentials provide opportunities and open up specific possibilities. First, identify the set of career options that you envision for yourself and, then, research whether specific credentials are required or recommended. For example, careers in medical physics that involve patient care often require board certification and high school teachers typically need a certificate attesting to their background in pedagogy and educational methods.
For more information, you should talk with your academic advisor or your school's career counselor. In addition, you should contact the professional societies or organizations relevant to the career paths you are considering. Check the resources section to find a list of links for organizations.
What aspects of their undergraduate training do physics bachelors report as the most important in shaping their career?
People with physics degrees pursue a remarkable variety of careers in a broad range of settings. Yet, the majority reported that their undergraduate physics training was a solid background for their current careers. Specifically, nearly all physics bachelors noted the importance of their training in cognitive areas like complex problem solving, analytical and critical thinking, and learning how to learn.
Physics bachelors also cite the importance of their knowledge of physics, that is, the broad understanding of basic principles and the foundation for acquiring new knowledge in a rapidly changing world. Physics education is also valuable in the technical skills that it provides including advanced mathematics, computer skills, and equipment skills. Many physics bachelors credit their physics education for important personal traits such as mental discipline, perseverance, a strong work ethic, and the self-confidence of having completed a difficult and challenging course of study.
Would physics graduates major in physics if they had to do it over again?
Yes. The majority of physics graduates, at all degree levels, report that physics is a solid foundation for their current career.
However, physics graduates advise current or future students to also take classes outside of physics. Specifically, use the other courses to develop two skills: a broad technical background with subjects such as programming and math and communication and management skills with courses in the social sciences and foreign languages. It is also important to develop a specialization that provides you with expertise in an applied area; getting a second major or a minor accomplishes this.
What are the most rewarding aspects of the work physicists do?
Regardless of where they work and their specific occupations, most physics bachelors report that the most rewarding aspects of their current positions is the challenge of solving interesting and complex problems and the satisfaction of developing creative solutions to problems.
The second most cited reward was working with people. These include the satisfaction of working with intelligent and creative co-workers, supervising employees and helping them develop their full potential, and the rewards of working with customers, clients, and students.
Many physics bachelors, especially those in the private sector, report a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a project yield a successful and useful product. The last major category of rewards reflects the intellectual satisfaction of developing new methods, processes, and designs. PhD physicists also note the intellectual satisfaction of successful research and adding to the knowledge base.
What do employers look for in an ideal candidate?
Obviously, most employers first look for knowledge and experience that matches their specific and immediate needs. Beyond that, however, many look for some combination of four general skills and traits. One area is problem solving ability including intelligence, quantitative skills, and a practical orientation, e.g., the ability to break a complex problem down to its elementary parts and identify a set of likely solutions. Another area is drive and aspirations including persistence, a strong work ethic, and a high standard of excellence.
A third area is personal impact including such traits as communication skills (writing, speaking, and listening), the ability to work within a team environment, and a personal presence. A fourth area is leadership including initiative and entrepreneurship, which is especially important in the private sector. Employers are looking for people who can assess the strengths of their company, assess the strengths of their team, and propose an idea for a new product or service that is consistent with the company's goals.