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After a couple of years in a decent grad school, passing quals, many times thinking about quitting (the usual: impostor syndrome, stress etc), and one paper. I feel like I have a clear head to make this decision. I do not want continue with a career path in academia, I want to be an engineer (or other technical field). In short, I will be happier that way and need to support my family with a better income.

I love physics and it will always be a part of my life and would love to still work with it. Currently, I work in experimental condensed matter: know a lot of fabrication techniques, studied lots of mechanics, can build circuits and perform fairly complicated electronic measurements, written programs for analysis (mostly Matlab, but some C in the past). The list can go on... I feel like the transition with this track record shouldn't be hard - but I don't want to be misinformed or get too "cocky".

What can I do to be a competitive applicant that will have to contend with people that have engineering degrees and training?

  • 2
    Industry companies want skills. You have them (You said The list can go on). Put the skill list on your resume. – scaaahu May 8 '15 at 4:06
  • That is of course my naive thinking. I just want other peoples takes and stories to insure I am not being short sighted. And any further advice I may be overlooking. – Fire May 8 '15 at 4:18
  • Just to be clear, you're going to finish the PhD, right? – Potato May 8 '15 at 7:21
  • No - I am quitting – Fire May 8 '15 at 14:32
  • Make strong the point that your skills are complementary to, not a replacement for, the skills of someone with an engineering degree. – Moriarty May 8 '15 at 20:38
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There are actually a few areas where you might stand out more than someone with a straight up engineering background.

  1. Look at specific types of organizations like Space research and exploration organizations. These typically have other PhDs in Physics in their program and you might have a better shot. A collection of such roles is here: http://tapwage.com/channel/space-doctor

  2. Another area are interesting startups. Something like 3D Printing focused startups are looking for bright scientists. Given your experience with mechanics, electronics and tools like Matlab, that could be an interesting area and startups might be more amenable to looking beyond very structured educational experiences as they look for good talent http://tapwage.com/channel/engineer-in-3-dimensions

Ping me via the tapwage.com site if you have further questions or clarifications and I'd be happy to answer.

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You probably already know that, but, supporting @scaaahu's advice, I want to emphasize that you should have an industry-focused resume versus an academia-focused CV. The latter should focus on your skills, but since your future engineering work will likely be in industry R&D or similar domain, make sure that relevant research and education details are mentioned in your resume as well.

Speaking about a potential strategy for transitioning from academia to industry, one IMHO easiest approach would be to try to find positions, relevant to your skills, experience and goals, in high-level research facilities. For example, for condensed matter physics, you could take a look at (here I assume that you reside in the USA) corresponding departments at Brookhaven National Laboratory and many other US government labs as well as Harvard and many other research universities, hosting experimental physics labs. While many of positions there might require specific training and degrees, I'm sure that some don't (probably, highly dependent on area and institution), so your expertise and skills would be enough to secure employment. Best of luck!

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First of all, Physics is part of engineering. Not in so much depth but still if you chose electronics or electrical field in engineering, you will still be doing physics. Just rethink on why you want to do engineering actually? Is it because you want a better income in your future for your family or you really have your interests. I would say just follow your interests. It will not be right to change your career just because of good income as their are lots of unemployed engineering grads also. Just follow your dreams and be happy.

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