If you are fresh out of university or are in the last year of a course, you’re probably thinking about what career path to follow. You’ve most likely already applied for some courses or job positions. And you’ve certainly come across what could be called the Scientist/Engineers Dilemma:
Do I hold out and try and get a job in Science or Engineering..or do I take that position on the teaching course / job at the bank / IT post?
This is often closely followed by:
But how is my physics knowledge and experience going to be relevant?
These questions hide the one real issue: I need to get money. And in this day and age it seems like that’s becoming harder…unless you are a banker (but that’s a different story).
Now before you get disheartened and think you’ve wasted 3 or 4 years of your life, take a moment to look at it from a different point of view? Maybe it’s what you can do rather than what you know that makes you employable?
I’m saying this as a trained physicist who ended up writing software for airplanes (something I knew little about). Then designing space engines that are today flying in space (again not something I knew much about).
How did I manage to blag that?
The answer is that I realised that there are 4 “superpowers” that come to you when you do a physics course. And it doesn’t matter if you only do an undergraduate course instead of doing a masters or doctorate. These skills have seeped into your mind, infused it with a strange ability to solve hard problems…and not be frightened by the outcome.
Now maybe you were always good at this…well, a physics course hones that ability. Maybe you weren’t…again a physics course draws these skills out.
What you should realise is that you are unique among graduates. Everyone else follows rules in some shape or form. You on the other hand are told to ignore these and break everything down to its basics. You must learn to see it from the bottom up.
So what are these “superpowers” and how do they help you get a job?
- Attention to detail: the small things
- Knowing when enough is enough
- Seeing patterns and using them
- Trusting your gut
Now you might not think these are physics skils so let me describe one for you: Knowing when enough is enough. (BTW you can read more about it here – “Physics Graduates, Don’t Fret About Finding A Job”)
For most people and maybe even yourself, there is a point when a challenge seems to be insurmountable. You literally hit a wall. You can’t think of what to do next. Now on a physics course there is usually someone who says that there is an answer..you just have to work it through.
Of course your brain is running wild thinking about what this means and also that this person is a particularly cruel [insert swear word here]. But you do it anyway.
And this forces you to realise that you have to keep going to get a quality answer. You can’t just do it half-arsed. Not for the really important things. Now I’m not saying that perserverance is only reserved for physicists. What am I saying is that physicists develop a particularly stubborn version of it. Yes it might be annoying to some but if a problem needs solved it often requires a particular type of discipline and determination.
On a physics course, hard problems, often impossible problems, are part and parcel of learning. But they have the side effect of making your used to working and working to get that answer. If you have done a doctorate this skill becomes even sharper. In a job it could be anything mathematical, computer related, even just numbers related. Things that other people don’t want to do or think they can’t do.
This creates an advantage for you. And it’s something you should exploit on your CV or in any interview you attend. Sell your ability to be that dog with a bone!
Take a moment and think about that. If you look at your experience rather than just what you know you’ll start to see that you have skills that are transferable, that you should be using instead of just quoting how much you know.
There’s more to it though and luckily I managed to condense it down into a book, purely for Physics Graduates. It shows how you can tailor your CV, learn how to believe in yourself and sell yourself better to employers. And for extra it also teaches you about other skills not taught on a science course that may just make life easier. You can read about it here – “Physics Superpowers”.