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Letters from Physicists working in the Industry

Why take Applied/Industrial Physics?


Here are actual letters written by professional physicists who have made a career working in industry.  They were published as letters to the editor in the magazine The Industrial Physicist. Generally speaking, industrial physicists have received much less exposure than their engineering peers, but as these letters attest, their skills are highly valued, and their careers are very rewarding.<hr>

  • I received my B.S. in Physics in 1952, and did three years of graduate work, but no Ph.D. It's the best education for any technical job I can imagine.  I have worked on lasers, built a better refrigerator, and developed and installed control programs for hydroelectric dams.  I'm now a ``development engineer'' working on photovoltaics.  The point is it's the background that physics education provides, not the title. Morton Schiff, Sunwize Technologies, Inc., Kingston, New York, mschiff@Besicorp.com
  • When I was in high school and preparing for college in the late 1970's, I originally intended to study electrical engineering. It seemed like a well-paid profession with much opportunity.  Then, early in my college years, I acquired this youthful, idealistic notion that learning the ``secrets of the universe'' was more important than ``mere'' professional training.  So, I chose instead to study physics and not to narrow my studies to one specific area of engineering. I received my B.S. in physics in 1986 but did not pursue graduate school.  I eventually accepted a position as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office near Washington, DC. My physics background has been a tremendous asset in working in the patent field.  It has equipped me to write and prosecute patent applications in a very broad range of specialized technologies.  Many of the engineers I encounter are brilliant in their specialty but quite unknowledgeable outside their little niche.  I highly recommend a physics education to someone seeking a strong foundation in the physical sciences. Along the way, I became interested in amateur astronomy.  The applied mathematics learned in my physics program was indispensable in learning the arcane geometric elements of this subject and the optical principles required for amateur telescope making.  A physics education has also helped me acquire a knack for explaining difficult phenomena observed in the physical world.  To this end, I create an astromony-related comic strip called SkyWise, which appears every month in Sky & Telescope magazine. I can testify that a broad knowledge base in the ``secrets of the universe'' can be aesthetically rewarding and satisfying, and that it can create many unique opportunities not available to those who specialize in a narrow field of technology. Jay Ryan, Cleveland, Ohio, starman@cyberdrive.net
  • Being a physics major planning to attend graduate school, I have had numerous people ask me why I ever went into physics, because ``there are almost no jobs out there.''  Well, I have had to correct them by saying that in numerous situations, people actually employ physicists before anyone else because they tend to pick up on things faster and can bring new ideas into the workplace. Chris Fleck, Grand Valley State University, Wyoming, Michigan, fleckc@river.it.gvsu.edu
  • We physicists do have greater freedom than our engineering peers, in that if we don't like our chosen careers, we can always pursue another, since we are equally qualified for any number of technical disciplines. James Smith, Rockville, Maryland.
  • I am one of those physicists (B.S. in Physics, 1995) who works in industry under the title of engineer.  In my case it is test engineer. I design test equipment, write test software, and develop test methods for electronics equipment at a wireless data communications company. Even though I work in a field other than that traditionally defined as physics, I use my physics training every day.  While I don't use Newton's Laws or Maxwell's Equations in my work, I do use the problem-solving skills and knowledge of basic physical principles that I acquired in my physics training.  I wish more industries would recognize the value of physicists. Also, B.S. degree programs in applied physics would be a big help for those who plan on entering industry after graduation.  The applied physics degree could carry the designation of the major applied subject of study (e.g., optics, acoustics, materials, instrumentation, computation, electronics, mechanics, etc.), which would greatly help physicists in getting a foot in the door for job interviews. Jim McBride, Test Engineer, LXE, Norcross, Georgia, jpm2729@lxe.com.

Reprinted with permission from The Industrial Physicist.
Copyright (1999), American Institute of Physics.
This material may be downloaded for personal use only.  Any other use
requires prior permission of the author and the American Institute of Physics.