A bit of a background.

I'm a physics student and at the end of September I will finish my Thesis and get my 5 years degree (1 and a half year late). I have done my graduate studies with a specialization in Theoretical Physics. Even though I've gotten through my degree with the best possible grades (that's the year and half) I've realized too late that physics it's not what I want to do and, of course, this has brought me to study just to pass test and not to understand physics making me very bad even at things that I should know (It is apparent to any physicist who talks to me for more than 5 minutes, like the supervisor of my thesis). Knowing now myself I would have loved (and probably I would have been much better) taking an engineering degree.

So now I feel without any option left, having acquired 0 marketable skills. Should I go into a PhD hoping to find something more engineering-like that I could like and could lead me to have a job in the field after it? And even if I find it I'm not really sure I could take that position given my lack of understanding of even the basics of physics (imagining myself having to take teaching duties on things I barely understand is laughable). The other option is to stop here and try to find an admittedly enjoyable coding job (that's the most technical job one can get with just a Physics degree) but it would still require me months of studying to have a chance in a interview. As a last thing, I'm 26 years old and not having any financial income it's quite a burden so this add to the list before.

Honestly, I feel like choosing a physics degree ruined my life and I don't know what to do.

EDIT: To be more clear, I don't want to be a Physicist in the sense that learning for the sake of it it's not something that I want to do, so research is a nono. If I find a job as a, say, software engineer I would not mind expanding my knowledge to which I would see a practical application to. What are my options (I don't mind to move around the Europe) at finding a job using my physics degree. Possibly a coding job (as I said, it's quite enjoyable). Or, could pursue a PhD be a good choice to get more insight in some field of engineering (It's the only way that I see to acquire marketable skill), so that for when it's over I could use these skills to work in the field? For example, all the people that I know that completed 5 years degree in either computer science or electronic engineering got a job (in their field) in less than 2 month from their degree.

  • 1
    Difficult as this looks now, your life is probably not ruined at age 26. It's hard to offer advice given the limited amount of information you provide (or could provide). Perhaps there's a coding job that might use some of the physics you know (even though you don't love it or think much of it). Jul 10, 2022 at 22:05
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    If you want to be a "coder" then you don't need any additional degrees. A PhD in any field would be a waste of time and effort for that.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2022 at 12:11
  • For a hopefully inspiring example, look at the career path of this scientist: technologyreview.com/2009/06/23/212353/rescuing-the-everglades He used his physics degrees for something else and has quite a successful career. Jul 11, 2022 at 13:35
  • 2
    I think your question might be: "How do I find a job outside academia?" in which case you are asking in the wrong place. Jul 11, 2022 at 15:08
  • Either you can get some job in a startup (not recommended: very risky), or you will have to re-qualify. You can do literally anything next, but your degree will have little value beyond demonstrating that you stuck out a challenging degree and completed. You are smart, but have no directly applicable skills. Common exit options include actuary, patent attorney, school teacher, but, as I said, you can do anything: retrain as a doctor, become a world leader (see e.g. Angela Merkel), do a masters in journalism, data-science, retrain as an accountant, or lawyer.
    – Carl
    Oct 23, 2022 at 13:50

5 Answers 5


Many students with a degree in physics, even theoretical physics, end up in interesting jobs never doing physics. I myself have a PhD in theoretical physics, but built my career in commercial roles in industry. You need to realise that completing a degree in physics gives you much more than an understanding of physics; it gives you a way to look at problems, analyse them and find solutions. These are invaluable skills in a variety of jobs.

So don't worry about it, just find something you like to do. You are still young and can afford to make several more mistakes.

  • 3
    +1. The physics degree gives a toolkit - conceptual and practical tools - valuable well beyond the narrow field of physics. Jul 11, 2022 at 12:26
  • +1. I'm also in the position of having gotten a PhD in theoretical physics and have found a career in industry. And, I can say the same of many of my former physics colleagues.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2022 at 19:03
  • 1
    I think you already have those skills before you study Physics. I can't honestly say that any of the advanced mathematics or general relativity I studied has much use in the real world. Neither does the thermodynamics, particle physics, Maxwell's laws. I can't even remember when I last used Pythogoras' theorem, and we did that for GCSE. Physics knowledge is redundant: Engineering is more useful for technical roles. Unless you want to become an academic, Physics is a poor choice of degree in the modern world (Imperial MSci. here). Retrain: google unemployed ivy league physics graduates.
    – Carl
    Oct 23, 2022 at 13:55

Surprisingly common complaint. At least even if you graduate late, you did well grade-wise. Most people didn't.

In my opinion, it's good to be somewhat realistic about the local job market. Type in "physics" on job search websites, and see if anyone in your city or country is actually explicitly looking for a physics graduates. People always say finance or software industries recruit a lot of physics graduates. I don't think that's generally true, and highly dependent on many factors. But if you can afford it, give a coding bootcamp a try.

There's obviously the option to do a masters or phd in engineering. A lot of engineering programs are willing to admit physics majors. But it's still the same physics, something that you don't particularly enjoy. And it may not even have a great job market either, depending on your location.

Other than that, I think you're aware about the possibility of becoming a teacher, or a tutor of some kind. And if your native language is English, there's always the option to teach English in Asia or other countries. Or even online.

There are less traditional jobs such as youtubers or streamers. I don't know what it takes to make a living income with them.

But first things first, I suggest you talk with your parents/relatives and friends. And ask if they can set you up with a job or an interview. Good old nepotism networking. I don't think you're alone in this situation, especially among your cohorts. Ask what their plan is. A lot of people don't do a job related to their degree.

  • Thanks for the answer. The job market where I live it's basically absent (let's say that south italy it's not a tech powerhouse) but I had plan to move to another country, so I basically have the whole Europe. The problem here (I'll edit my question) it's to at least make use of the years that I've spent on physics and possibly doing something that I like (like coding, which I enjoy). Jul 11, 2022 at 5:29

The other option is to stop here and try to find an admittedly enjoyable coding job

About 40% of American physics bachelors degree holders do just that. This is a perfectly fine solution.

but it would still require me months of studying to have a chance in a interview.

Well, maybe. Currently, some companies hire coders with zero experience.

  • 1
    It's a poor solution: you don't need a degree to become a computer programmer. And software engineering is an increasingly competitive degree, at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. You have done one of the most challenging degrees that includes advanced mathematics, you don't want to be working with C-grade students in the back-office sweat-shop! Retrain into a career that has some structure, that you find enjoyable, and that appeals to your interests. Maybe that is programming, but actuarial/law/statistics/economics are probably better choices that you might prefer.
    – Carl
    Oct 23, 2022 at 14:01
  • @Carl I actually found a job as a programmer, paid relatively well, that I like very much. All the other things that you listed are maybe more profitable, but I despise each one of them. The advice that you gave of "retraining" is for rich people who can allow more year of no income. Oct 23, 2022 at 20:00
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    Congratulations! I'm not sure about 'rich' people: many people now borrow to continue their studies, and I know of several examples. University is no longer 'free', after all. Some retraining schemes (e.g. accountancy, actuarial studies) are also paid. But I'm glad that you have managed to find something that you are happy with. Many Physicists do fall into programming, although it does not require a degree.
    – Carl
    Oct 24, 2022 at 16:25

The fact that you chose the theoretical physics rather than experimental physics path will make a transition to engineering less likely. Were you a major in solid state physics, transferring across to things like electronics, materials science, aerodynamics, plasma technology, etc would be a doodle. Theoretical physics is largely mathematical - yet modelling in various arenas like engineering, finance, social sciences, etc is still a clear possibility for you.

It is a fact - though one many of us regard with unease - that many high degree graduates in sciences go into management consultancy, accounting, MBA, CFA, etc. You even see an odd physics PhD in the diplomatic service, often initially as a science/economics attaché.

I think going into software on the basis of your current skill "marketability" would be crazy. With your profile, they'd put you into some big-data role where your math skills would be in the service of making more money for lazy people by analyzing the online behaviors of ordinary hard-working people. If you are depressed now, where would you be after a couple of years doing something as humanly futile as that ?

But the real question here is why in 5 years you never reflected on at least subjects you like, if not professions you could see yourself in.

It is your life. You have to take hold of it. Go off on a solo hike and clear your head for a while.

Then get out into the world beyond college campuses and do anything just to make a positive difference - voluntary service overseas, anything to get out of this false comfort zone and tedious predictability of university staging.

If you have some money see if there are any reputable psychometric testing companies near you to see what else you may have a turn for.

But above all else: take some active step yourself.

It's not the degree, it's what you do with it.

  • Actually, programming was maybe the only thing that I found enjoyable during my degree(I only did C++ and some Fortran). However, I really find hard to let go something that is not finished and that's why I did my whole degree without really complaining. As I said, it has been a fatal mistake. Jul 11, 2022 at 19:12
  • Not a 'fatal mistake'. It's a difficult job market for everyone, and unfortunately your degree isn't that relevant to the skills that are in demand. It will stand you in good stead when you (likely) retrain into something different. And that could be something completely different, you have to make your own way. The advice in the answer above is good ...
    – Carl
    Oct 23, 2022 at 15:06

Since you wrote "Possibly a coding job (as I said, it's quite enjoyable)", I suppose that you love coding jobs. You are only 26 years old, and you still have plenty of time to pursue your dream career that you enjoy the most.

Therefore, I would suggest that you try one of these options:

  1. Apply for a job as a programmer in the private sector

    Some companies may hire programmers with STEM backgrounds and do not necessarily require applicants to have lots of programming experiences.

  2. Study to get a MS degree in CS or in Engineering

    It won't be too difficult as you already get a MS degree in physics and know how to study STEM subjects. With a MS degree in CS, you will be on the right track for the super high-demand jobs in the CS job markets such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning,...

    You may need to take some CS undergraduate courses to get up to the speed before joining the CS program. But, it will not be difficult at all.

  3. Get a certification from a coding bootcamp

    I can't promise this is the best option. But, some times, a coding bootcamp can be a fast track and give you really practical coding experiences such as building websites, etc...

  • The best jobs in ML need a relevant PhD ... and you have a bit of a lottery there because whether or not your area is 'hot' when you finish your PhD depends on factors that are likely to be out of your control. An MS in ML from a good university will basically get you an entry level role in data-science, but you will be unlikely to be designing the algorithms themselves: you will be a data analyst/software engineer. For that job you don't really need an MS in statistics/CS anyway as you can self-study from a Physics degree. ML is generally much easier than Physics and less advanced Maths.
    – Carl
    Oct 23, 2022 at 15:03

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