Jobs & Internships
As a physics graduate, you will have a wealth of options upon completion of your degree. While some students will pursue further specialization in graduate school, many others will enter the workforce directly. Still others will take a "gap year" to explore options, volunteer with agencies such as the Peace Corps, or travel. Whatever the case, you will emerge from your undergraduate education with career possibilities in a variety of fields.
During the course of your physics program, you’ll develop skills in advanced mathematics, high level problem-solving, critical thinking, data analysis, laboratory instrumentation, electronics, and computer programming. Each of these skills is a huge asset to you and your marketability, and companies are constantly on the lookout for employees with your capabilities and skills. For this very reason, the list of employment options for physics graduates is virtually endless.
In practice, many physics majors are successful in careers with job titles such as systems engineer, software developer, research scientist, systems analyst, lab technician, science teacher, etc. Typical employers hiring physics majors include engineering firms, technology-based companies and start-ups, computer hardware and software companies, national research laboratories, universities, and public schools. Indeed, the list of possibilities is limited only by your creativity and desire.
In your time as an undergraduate, we encourage you to seek out internships, research projects, and other physics-related work experience. A few options you might consider:
1. Speak to one of our faculty about getting involved in research. All majors are encouraged to engage in research during their undergraduate career. Find out a little about each professors’ research interests. If something interests you, ask if they have an opening on their research team. Depending on availability of grant funding, you may even get paid for your work.
2. Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs are becoming increasingly popular for physics students. There are increasing numbers of them throughout the U.S. They are typically around 10 weeks in length, often during the summer months. Most programs include a healthy stipend, room and board, and even travel funds. They are often both academically and socially rewarding, and can give you a leg-up in finding employment, or being accepted into graduate school. In general, you will have the best chance to earn an REU after your sophomore or junior year, but you should apply any year you are interested and available! Click on the following databases for identifying REU’s:
- National Science Foundation.
- The Physics Nucleus.
- Montana Space Grant Consortium.
- Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
And you are always welcome to stop by Mark Reiser's office, in CHCB 120, to see a collected list of advertised programs.
3. UM provides a number of internship services for its students. Click on the following links to utilize these resources:
- UM Internships: Provides resources and contacts for specific internship opportunities.
- Handshake: An excellent resource for students! (replaces "Griz e-Recruiting") Log-in using your NetID / password, and create your Handshake account and profile. Upload as many version of your resume as you'd like, and search internship postings tailored to your major, background, and interests. All postings are directly from companies seeking UM students. Andrea Rhoades is our local guru in Handshake; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available in the Office of Academic Enrichment, in the basement of the DHC. (See link below!)
- Academic Enrichment: Explore other options for outside-the-classroom experiences.
4. Montana High Tech Jobs: A database of Montana-specific postings from high-tech and manufacturing-based companies. Check this database often, as there are over 100 member businesses that post here.
5. NASA Internships - OSSI: NASA's portal for internship opportunities and applications. Their "One Stop Shopping Initiative." For a bit more background on how to utilize this website, please see this flyer.
6. If a local business or company sounds intriguing to you, stop in and introduce yourself. Ask about the possibility of being an intern for them. A substantial number of internships are created for students who network and express interest in working for a company. It can be as easy as stopping in to introduce yourself!
As you prepare to graduate, you will begin focusing on specific targets for careers and employment. A number of resources are available:
1. Handshake: Again, an exceptional resource for not only internships, but careers and full-time exmployment as well. Log-in using your NetID and password, and create your Handshake account and profile. Take time to create your full profile. You can upload many copies of your resume, and choose one to be your default, if appropriate. Again, all postings are directly from companies seeking UM students. Contact Andrea Rhoades with questions, email@example.com, or visit her in the basement of the Davidson Honors College.
2. Montana High Tech Jobs: A Montana specific database that posts not only internship opportunities, but full-time positions. This search portal was created by a new Montana initiative that began in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.
3. The Missoula Economic Partnership: Funded in part by UM, they work with local companies to help them thrive and expand. They are extremely connected and in-tune with the economic climate of Missoula. A component of their mission is to help connect local industries and companies with potential employees, a great fraction of whom are UM graduates. If you have a specific idea of what type of career you’d to have, contact someone at MEP, and they will be able to tell you which companies in Missoula could offer that. James Grunke and Brigitta Miranda-Freer visited our department in the spring of 2014, and welcomed our students to contact them with questions.
4. Blackstone Launchpad: Another UM-student specific resource. Combine your abilities in science and technology with your creativity and ambition, and consider taking an entrepreneurial track with your career. Paul Gladen, head of UM’s Blackstone Launchpad, visited our majors recently, and encourages our students to stop by their office in the UC. They have grants available to students with ideas for start-ups and small businesses. Further, they are continually looking to connect students with parallel ideas and passions, and especially students with complementary skill sets. Maybe you are the science expert that a team of business-savvy students are seeking.
5. American Institute of Physics: The AIP maintains a significant database, sorted by state, of dozens of companies that have recently been hiring graduates with a bachelor's degree in physics. While there are dozens of companies listed, keep in mind that not all states have submitted data, and keep in mind that this is only a small sampling of possibilities. But it's a tremendous place to start looking for options across the country, with some specific companies to really keep an eye on here.
7. Emails from your academic advisor: Make sure you are on the email list for all physics & astronomy majors. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure, but you should already be receiving regular emails with updates about the department, upcoming events, and even job postings. Any time a job posting targeting our majors is specifically passed along to me, I will be sure to forward this along to all our students.
HOW DO I MARKET MYSELF?
It is understandable to ask, “Who is hiring physics majors? What jobs can I get with this degree?” However, it may be more helpful to ask the following questions instead: “What do I most want to DO with my physics degree? What skills do I most enjoy using? What kind of position would I truly like, and where might I find it?” In reality, your physics degree will set you up with an impressive arsenal of marketable skills, and it opens many career possibilities for you. Rarely do companies advertise for positions using the term “physicist.” But do not fret – this is just an oddity of semantics. Since there is no direct industry of “physics,” it is the skills and capabilities of a physics major that are constantly in demand, rather than the title of “physicist.”
In short, physics is everywhere, and used by every branch of science and technology. Further, the competencies and abilities you acquire as a physics graduate are constantly being sought by employers. Every industry is in need of problem solvers, critical thinkers, data analysts, software experts, etc. So remember: a physics major is a generalist who is trained to do a tremendous number of things very well. And depending on what you enjoy most about your physics experience, you can leverage your abilities into any variety of potential careers that uniquely match your goals and passions.
For insight and tips on successfully landing your ideal job, see the SPS Careers Toolbox. Among other things, you'll find ideas about professional networking, writing your resume & cover letter, and navigating your interview.