Before going to university, the Physics graduate was as much a myth to me as the Loch-Ness monster or your friendly neighborhood pontianak. I had never met one, so I didn’t know where they went after university, what kind of jobs they had, or whether they could get jobs at all!
When I started applying for internships at the end of my first year, I was shocked by how many jobs I was suitable for. Professional companies in finance, consulting and technology were all looking for people with STEM, specifically Physics backgrounds. From attending interviews and speaking to recruiters, I realised that while I was studying about lattices and electromagnetic fields, I was also developing the skills were that employers are hungry for.
One of the most obvious skills that you will develop during a Physics degree is mathematical capability. The sheer amount of equations and proofs will make you comfortable with numbers and back-of-the-envelope calculations, a skill that will carry you through careers in most fields. Many jobs in technology and data analytics also value experience in statistics, which you will learn through data analytics during labs and projects.
The second, and perhaps the most transferable skill, is programming. Whether you are an experimentalist trying to cool superconductors to millikelvins, or a theorist trying to model the curvature of Hilbert space, programming is so essential in driving analysis and modelling that it forms a big part of a physicist’s day to day job. This is the one skill that opened the doors to my current career in Technology, where my experience in C++ and Python are highly sought after.
Finally, Physics will teach you one of the most generic but important soft skills – problem solving. While general problem solving skills are developed in most degrees, mathematical sciences will teach you how to consider theoretical concepts to make informed inferences and develop logical solutions. While this might seem trivial, the ability to deconstruct complex problems and formulate calculated solutions is the number one skill that employers look for in graduates.
Perhaps the even bigger shock was how wide the world of research was. The most common path in academia is completing a undergraduate degree, progressing to post-graduate and post-doctoral positions, before moving on to teaching and research positions. While academic careers are not commonplace in Malaysia, it is a thriving economy with fantastic opportunities for working with esteemed institutions around the world. The nature of the work can differ – you could be working independently or in a larger group (in the case of experiments the scale of those at CERN, the project teams stretch out to the hundreds spread across institutions around the world!). In research, you work hard and navigate through confusing, never-before explored terrains. But in the end, you could end up emerging as a world specialist.
Right now, about 6 months after graduating, I am working as a Emerging Technologies Developer at Liquid Studios, Accenture. My work involves building applications around artificial intelligence and cloud solutions, and I’m using the skills I developed during university in ways I never imagined before. I also have friends who are working for the UK’s Civil Service, scientific journals, investment banks with obscenely high salaries, as software engineers, game developers, trainee medical physics, as well as pursuing PhDs all over the world.
We are currently poised at a very interesting time where new kinds of jobs are being created every day, and I dare say that some of the doors to some of the most exciting ones in research, technology and even business will be opened with your physics degree. The most important thing is to use your time at your university to explore it in its entirety, and figure out which area deserves your time and talent the most.