Graduate Study & Careers in Physics
What do physics majors do after graduation?
Lots of different things! Physics graduates are in high demand in any area where problem solving and analytical thinking are important. In the last 15 years about half our students have gone on to graduate school in physics, astronomy, applied mathematics, engineering, or law. The others are working in areas like engineering, industrial R&D, forensic science, computer programming, secondary teaching, business, finance, and the military. These outcomes are in line with national norms.
About half of our graduates pursue advanced degrees in physics, engineering, astronomy, or related areas, including professions like law and medicine. Most of those who continue in physics or astronomy pursue the PhD. It is worth noting that graduate students in STEM areas are typically fully funded via teaching or research assistantships or fellowships. Such students generally have their tuition waived and receive a stipend for living expenses. Students in professional areas like law or medicine are much more likely to be self-funded.
Recent graduates have gone on to pursue advanced degrees in physics or astronomy at:
- University of Illinois
- University of Wisconsin
- The Ohio State University
- Michigan State University
- Ohio University
Others have pursued various flavors of engineering (for example, mechanical, biomedical, nuclear, civil, opto-electrical) at schools like:
- The Ohio State University
- University of Utah
- Washington University in St. Louis
- University of Dayton
- Auburn University
- University of Bristol (UK)
Finally, as an example of the wide variety of pathways available to physics students, recent Otterbein grads have pursued advanced degrees in forensic science, applied mathematics, and neuroscience at institutions such as:
- John Jay College of CUNY
- Ohio University
- University of Connecticut
About 40% of recent graduates moved directly into the workforce, pursuing STEM-related jobs in engineering, industrial research and development, or computer and information systems. Physics is a fine foundation for this kind of work, since the physicist typically has a broad foundation in basic science, excellent problem-solving skills, and the ability to rapidly learn new things. These are high-paying positions; nationally, for the classes of 2017 and 2018, the average starting salary for jobs in this category was $60k.
Some graduates pursue work in the government, including at national laboratories and in the active military, for example in aviation or nuclear power. Many of these jobs will be related to defense or energy research.
For physics teaching at the college or university level, an advanced degree is certainly required. In most cases this will be the PhD, though teaching at a community college is possible with a master’s degree.
Physics teaching at the secondary level (grades 9-12) is based on the bachelor’s degree in physics, with additional courses in the Department of Education leading to state licensure. Qualified physics teachers are in high demand, and we have had several students pursue this option, enjoying successful and satisfying careers in education.
Physics is an excellent foundation for further study in medicine or law. Indeed, as a group, physics majors are among the highest scorers (along with mathematics and economics) on the medical and law school admission tests (the MCAT and LSAT, respectively). Recent Otterbein graduates have pursued the JD at
- DePaul University School of Law
- University of Pennsylvania Law School
A law degree coupled with a technical background in a subject like physics makes a powerful combination, for example in patent law.
Note that for admission to medical school, it is not necessary to pursue a major in biology or chemistry; it is only required that certain pre-requisite courses in these areas be taken. Typically, this will include a year of general biology and a year each of general and organic chemistry. Medical school admission officers suggest that the specific major you take is less important than finding a subject you are passionate about. So, if you love physics but wish to pursue medicine as a career, know that you can do both!
It is important to note that students in professional degree programs are much more likely to be self-funded (i.e., pay their own school and living expenses) than are students in research-based STEM graduate programs, who usually have teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships.
Business and Finance
Finally, some graduates have gone on to work in business or financial analysis. In such cases the benefit of the physics education is in the development of strong analytical and problem-solving skills, which can be applied in many areas. With a graduate degree in physics (or mathematics), numerous opportunities exist at major banks and financial institutions for careers in mathematical modeling of financial markets and instruments. This work can be both highly lucrative and intellectually stimulating.
For more information on career options, see the data maintained by the American Institute of Physics: