Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Physics Students: "Hidden Physicists" Aren't Hidden If You Know Where To Look

Yesterday I stumbled upon one of those articles aimed at helping physics students identify jobs and careers post-graduation. I knew from the start of my higher education that I did not want to become a professor and therefore was not on the “standard track” for physicists. I always appreciated those “hidden physicist” stories that highlight professionals using their physics skills successfully in non-traditional jobs. Not all jobs employing physicists have the word physics in the title.

I have almost three degrees in physics – BS, MS, and PhD-dropout-ABD. My jobs titles don't have the word physics in them. I sometimes don't use my actual job title on my resume or in job applications because some titles are nondescript. Instead, I substitute appropriate titles that clearly state what I did. For example, “research assistant” becomes “astrophysicist” on my resume, but “research assistant” was the posted title when I was applying for the position. Knowing what terms to search for or knowing which jobs are actually open to physicists can help students immensely when applying for positions.

My actual job titles (excluding volunteer positions) and what I really did/do:

Research Assistant/Associate/Fellow
I held this job title in various forms throughout my academic career. I worked for universities and university-like organizations conducting scientific research in the fields of astrophysics, chemical engineering, and planetary science. This is a very common title for student researcher positions.

In one position, my simple official title of Analyst entailed managing the analyst team for a small space industry analyst company, interviewing, researching, and ranking companies within the industry. In another position, my title was Scientific Research Analyst which entailed seeking scientific proposals, evaluating proposals, analyzing scientific research areas, and communicating with scientists. Two very different positions, same job title.

Operations Manager
More fully, my title is Manager, Florida Operations. In this position, I manage everything that the company does in Florida and more, including assisting with operations in other North American locations, working with international partners, and preparing for scientific payloads.

I used my skill set to contribute to whatever needed to be done.

Out of curiosity, I browsed my LinkedIn connections to find listed job titles used by professionals working in technical fields who have at least one degree in physics. This is not an extensive list, but it gives us some idea as to the diversity of terms used.

  • Author
  • Associate Administrator/Chair/Chief/Director/Head/Program Manager/Section Manager/Vice-president
  • Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director
  • Chief Technical Officer/Chief Science Officer
  • Editor
  • Engineer (Aerospace, Design, Electrical, Instrument, Launch, R&D, RF, Project, Quality Assurance, Safety, Software, Spacecraft, Systems, Technology, Test, Validation)
  • Flight Controller
  • Operations Associate
  • Payload Specialist (Astronaut)
  • Postdoctoral Associate/Researcher/Fellow
  • Professor/Faculty
  • Programmer
  • R&D Manager
  • Recording Artist
  • Researcher/Research Scientist/Research Fellow/Scientist
  • Safety Officer
  • Sales/Account Manager
  • Science Operations Coordinator
  • Speaker
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Systems Administrator
  • Teacher/Teaching Assistant/Instructor/Tutor/Educator
  • Technical Specialist
  • TV Host/Personality
  • ZeroG Coach

I remember being told in undergraduate that physicists can do anything. I didn't understand the extent of that statement until I entered the working world and discovered that physicists have the mindset and skill set to pursue anything we put our minds to. One former classmate took her physics degree and went on to culinary school to become a pastry chef. Another former classmate continued his theology education after his physics PhD and is both a Jesuit brother and a scientist at the Vatican Observatory.

Physics students – pursue your dreams and don't let any nay-sayers stand in your way.

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