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My name is Andrzej and I am going to graduate in July with MSc in physics from one of major Polish universities. Last holidays I thought a lot about my future and what transferrable skills I have that could get me a job after graduation. I identified that two main are:

  • ability to code (a few courses related to numerics / C++ programming)
  • analitical and critical thinking, good numeracy.

Therefore last academic year I was applying to a lot of jobs in two fields: IT and finance to try to squeeze something from my coding and analytical skills respectively. However, sadly, I got turned down from any of the positions I applied for. I managed to get invited to a couple of interviews but that was it.

In the meantime, I applied for PhD position at my university under the supervision of the same PI I am now finishing masters with. The topic is pretty interesting, however I do cannot imagine myself following an entirely academic career path. For example, I don't think I'll ever be able to lead my own research group.

I got this position without any major problems. The PhD position is fully funded. The stipend is 1800 PLN net (around 400 EUR) monthly. However as this is a stipend, they do not pay any kind of pension/insurance contributions. IT/finance jobs usually compensate better: around 3000 PLN (670 EUR) net and many times do provide pension and insurance.

Now the question comes: what to do? I think there are three possibilities:

  1. Go for the PhD and fully concentrate on it, and not write any IT/finance applications during the PhD.
  2. Go for the PhD and apply to IT/finance during the PhD; quit PhD once being hired for a decent position in commercial sector.
  3. Reject the PhD offer, graduate unemployed, apply for government benefits and fully concentrate on the job hunt for IT/finance positions.

Which option would you recommend? If option 2 or 3, do you know any really good pieces of advice how to increase chances of getting industry job with a theoretical physics MSc?

Zero is a good first-order approximation of my job experience: I did two unpaid internships, one during BSc, second during MSc, both in local research institutes.

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  • Yes, of course I am considering this and this is sort of inside number 1. I can't say for 100% what I'll do after PhD.
    – Andrzej
    Jun 24, 2016 at 20:03
  • I see, I rewrote your possibilities to make it clear that 4 is part of 1. Jun 24, 2016 at 20:08
  • Suppose that the money didn't matter and you weren't going to be awarded a doctorate at the end of the process. Would you dedicate years of your life to researching this topic? If you didn't, would you regret it in 10 years' time? I propose this exercise because you should first know how desirable your PhD is without considering money or career – and then add those considerations in. Jun 24, 2016 at 20:42
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    Either way, please don't do 2 "Go for the PhD and apply to IT/finance during the PhD; quit PhD once being hired for a decent position in commercial sector.". There are many perspectives in the industry with a theoretical MSc, for example in aerospace. Knowing C++ opens many directions in Java for example, JSP, web programming, etc. Also, if you know Matlab I am confident there should be some jobs related. Concerning the research part, I don't think anyone is fully prepared to lead a research group only within a few years after PhD. It takes time and dedication.
    – Nikey Mike
    Jun 25, 2016 at 11:09
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    If you are uncertain, do not get a PhD. Dec 4, 2020 at 10:44

4 Answers 4

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Make an in depth analysis of your needs and wants and also look at your attitude, motivation and passion. If you are motivated and you like doing research then go for it without taking care of any job opportunity. When you will be doing PhD with a passion there is likely possibility you can come up with some interesting findings which will open many new horizons for you and new opportunities. In case you want to do PhD just to kill time then it is better to be unemployed and job seeking

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Job hunting is a long process, and depends on your luck, skills, and networking. I would go for getting a certification if you intend to pursue computer science jobs. This will help you get extra skills. Another option is a coding boot camp with a project to work on - you can include this on your CV. There are many that are free and will help you get a job. A final option is a paid internship to learn and work on the same time.

From another perspective, your master's in physics can help you, if you intend to do a PHD. Quantum computing is a subfield of physics, and you could use your master's degree to enter quantum computing research. If you like physics and you are interested in this research field, I think this is a better long term path.

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Go for the option 1. Try to do as good as you can. In the meantime, study whatever you need (for programming that would be i.e. Java and databases, I don't know anything about finances). Then after four years you will have some knowlegde and it will be easier for you to find a job.

If during the four years you decide you are fed up with working in academia, you could consider having a non-academic job and leaving your PhD. But if you can have some income now, it doesn't make any sense to graduate unemployed.

Also, I think you should try to find a better PhD position. Students often stay with their master thesis advisors, because it's convenient for them. I suggest you at least try to find a professor who can offer you an additional scholarship (~2 000 zl). It's pretty common- many professors realize that the scholarship offered by the university is pretty low, so they pay their PhD students from a grant. Then you would have a decent salary. It's worth to consider it.

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Get the Ph.D.

As long as you won't hate the experience (it is stressful at times) you should get it - a Ph.D. makes you very marketable. You could then go into Finance (which is what I did) or do what graduates are doing these days which is Data Science.

It doesn't even matter what your Ph.D. is in as long as an employer considers it "technical". Physics / Math / Computer Science are all interchangeable for a lot of jobs, certainly for Finance or Data Science.

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    "a Ph.D. makes you very marketable"- definitely not in Poland. If I were to hire somebody, I'd prefer someone with four years of experience than someone with a PhD. Of course, that depends on the person, but the mere fact of holding a PhD won't give the OP any advantages when looking for a job. Jun 25, 2016 at 13:59
  • Is that so? I didn't know that... not even for finance and data science? I don't know the Polish job market at all. Jun 25, 2016 at 15:38
  • Maybe if the OP had a PhD in statistics that would be helpful to get a job in data science. But anyway, four years of experience would be much better. I don't know about finances. It may be specific to the Polish job market, but would holding a PhD in Maths make anyone marketable? Such person wouldn't have any practical skills (apart from reasoning, etc). Jun 25, 2016 at 17:22
  • Ah this I do know because my PhD is in Math! MathPhD < CodingSkills < MathPhD + CodingSkills. And many employers believe that it's easier to teach a PhD how to program (whether or not they become a serious developer) than to teach a developer "PhD-skills" (however those are defined). Jun 25, 2016 at 17:37

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