With Physics, You Can Do Anything

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Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Congress (PhysCon)

November 3, 2016 to November 5, 2016

San Francisco, CA

Meeting host:

Sigma Pi Sigma


Jamie Weiss, Andrew Thrapp, and Luke Haase

SPS Chapter:

Attendees brainstorming possible careers for physics majors.

What can you do with a physics degree? Anything! Students who attended PhysCon’s workshop on career options, hosted by Dr. Toni Sauncy, learned practical tips for building a resume, creating an elevator pitch and thinking about options after undergraduate school.

Dr. Sauncy’s main premise was to instill into all the students that you can do anything you want with a physics degree.  In most physics departments, which as a physics student you may have found out, the focus is to get students into either physics or astrophysics grad school. Dr. Sauncy said that, it may seem like a physics B.S. is a pre-degree before you get your “real” degree, but this is not true. Where do you go with a physics bachelor’s degree then? Anywhere! You have options and that is one of the best things about a physics degree.

Many students struggle with what they want to do after college. We asked a group of students at the workshop what they wanted to do after college, and we got a wide range of answers, from biotech companies to grad school to “I don’t know.” It is okay to not know what you want to do, Dr. Sauncy stressed.

During the workshop, Dr. Sauncy talked about all the skills students need for the future as tools in a toolbox. One such tool is an informational interview. Business majors often conduct 50 before they graduate, while physics majors rarely come close to that number.

Networking is another important skill—if not the most important. “It’s not enough to just be good in academia, in grad school, or at work. It’s important to talk to others around you, make connections, and follow up on connections,” she said.

Dr. Toni Sauncy, SPS Advisor and Physics Dept. Chair - Texas Lutheran University.

We must also know how to personalize an elevator speech. Think of an elevator speech like a tool in your back pocket; you know it perfectly and can pull it out at any time. Dr. Sauncy added that an elevator speech is “a way to introduce yourself without sounding like a physics student.” She offered tips:Stick to the basics, include information and facts about you like your name and where you go to school, and what you have done and what you want to do. In short, Dr. Sauncy asked, “Can you articulate the magnitude of your skill set to someone?” Physicists typically struggle with this, but it is possible to get better.

Students took a knowledge and skills assessment during the workshop to help them create an elevator pitch and refine a resume. First, we brainstormed how to fill in four blanks: “my classes/training,” “leadership experiences/group activities/professional associations,” “my job/research experiences/internships,” and “my hobbies/others.” We wrote down answers for each blank, and chose skills that related to each of those activities.We then narrowed down the skills to no more than 10 and wrote anecdotes that demonstrated our experiences related to each skill.

Dr. Sauncy noted that students need specific stories for each bullet point, because if an interviewer asks about that skill, you can claim the skill with that personal story. Dr. Sauncy also reminded us that a resume doesn’t get you a job, it gets you an interview.  What you do in that interview is what will set you apart from others.

Attendees with the results of their skills brainstorming exercise.

“As an undergrad you have a vast skill set and you need to be clear when you tell them the skills you have so they know that you will excel at the job,” she said.

Ultimately, the takeaway is that physics opens doors to everything. You can make yourself a more competitive candidate in the workforce and as a graduate school applicant by learning what you know. “The biggest struggle for physics students is not knowing what you can do, and we as physicists underestimate our creativity,” she said. Additionally, it’s important to recognize it will get hard, more so than not, but if you can stick through it, and ask for help when needed, you will be successful. Never give up.