Saturday, 2 June 2012

Forging Ahead

I've been writing up my PhD thesis. That's right, I'm in that boat now. With any luck, I'll have it done at the end of this month. A lot of people hate the write-up phase of their PhD, but I've been really enjoying it. Part of it is that it's been a long time coming, and I'm happy to have reached that stage. The other is that I actually enjoy writing to some degree. I hated writing essays in high school, but I really like science writing. None of this arguing your point of view on something; if you have a point to make, show it with data!

So what next for me? For a few months at least, I'm sticking around in the lab trying to get some nice data and publish papers. I could potentially stick around for another two years, but I've been living in this town for seven years now and feel like a change! On the other hand, there are some reasons to stay a little longer too.

So what sort of jobs can a person with a physics PhD get anyway? Let's see...

  • Academia. Do a post-doc or two, try to find a position as a lecturer and run your own lab. Hard to get there, and the job itself is much more than 9-5 and the pay is low relative to industry. However, it is a very rewarding career, since you get to work on whatever you want, provided you get funding for it, and you get to stay in the nice bubble of academia. You are a scientist. I would consider this option.
  • The big bad finance industry. There is something called a "quantitative analyst". You need to have a physics, math or similar PhD to get the job, and good programming skills (Matlab counts). It's ideal for theorists who have spent their PhDs running simulations, but rumour is that you don't need to be a programming expert and that the sort of things they are doing are not really difficult for physicists, so maybe even an experimentalist like me could do it. Entry level salary: approximately $200,000 HOLY CRAP WHAT! But they take your soul, you see...
  • Working for a journal. You often need some experience as a researcher (post-doc or even more) to get to be something like an editor. Could be interesting.
  • A wide variety of industry jobs. I am told these exist and that they like people with physics PhDs. Apparently we are better at thinking outside the box than engineers, who are good at making things cheaper and more efficient and within specified parameters. You could be making washing machines or rockets. Who knows! I don't want to make washing machines, but I could potentially be interested in the right project, such as rockets.
  • An astronaut! Did you know that you need a PhD (physics being a desirable subject) to be one? Going into space is basically my ultimate dream. However, to get into the training program in the US, you need to be a citizen there. Oops. In fact, most national space programs require you to be a citizen of the respective country. I have citizenship of two countries, neither of which has a space program to speak of. One of them might get into the EU in a decade or so. Then I'm in, but otherwise, it looks bleak. Oh, you can also be an "astronaut" if you are very rich and can pay the Russians to get you up. Perhaps the finance industry is a way to get in on that route.
  • Civilian space industry. Companies like SpaceX. I would be keen on something like that. SpaceX takes their employees on zero G flights for company outings. That sounds great, and they hire all kinds of people and don't seem to be restricted by the same things as government organisations. I would strongly consider this. New Zealand has a private space company, but I haven't heard much about them.
  • A wide variety of jobs that don't require PhDs. There are many of those. Teaching, medical physics (working with radiation therapy equipment and such), patent offices, power companies, insurance (risk analysis), consulting, government ministries, and more. There are a lot of those kinds of things out there, and I don't really find them captivating.
  • Something completely different. Start a company? Become a reclusive genius? Evil mastermind? Costumed vigilante? Hitwoman or assassin (I do martial arts, I could be Beatrix from Kill Bill)? Spy? Freeloader? I could learn to use the ways of the force and be a Jedi, like my father.

I could totally do this.

 A lot to think about. Life changing decisions to be made soon!


  1. I've thought about the private space industry for jobs too, actually. The options are increasing steadily with companies like Planetary Resources stepping out into the light. Unfortunately, I think they're more likely after engineers than scientists, but still...

    1. Lots of companies hire physicists, though. I'll give it a go and see what happens!

    2. Ok, cool. See you there! :)

    3. I'm liking the evil-genius jedi mastermind plan, I could do with more of those in my life. Especially if you get a rocket to take us into space for a space party. Then we can TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!!!!!