Do Anything. Do It All. Do Physics.

[Career image] As a professor, Suzanne Stout spent more than a decade teaching students business management. But she missed physics—or at least the opportunity to use what physics had taught her.

Stout developed a passion for physics at age eight after watching Carl Sagan on the PBS program Nova. So, she was somewhat pained when, after receiving her B.A. in Physics from the University of Texas, she did not pursue that first love in graduate school. Instead, she earned a traditional MBA from Southern Methodist University, though it was clear to her that it was not to be her cup of tea.

Nonetheless, Stout thought that she was getting back to her physics roots when she completed her Ph.D. in Management from Standford. Closer? How is management closer to physics?

“I was very interested in understanding how research happens and how things work in a research environment at a company,” Stout says. “I did a lot of modeling, which is a part of what I did in physics at UT. I could see the connection.”

Stout was on the professor track, so she decided to take a few laps to see if she would enjoy the ride. After years of teaching in the United States and in France, though, she became restless. After a short stay with a start-up company, and in need of a job, she took a training position with Cisco Systems, Inc.

As a trainer, she was right back in the professorial role; but then Cisco opened up an operations department on the engineering side of the organization—and that was her shot, even if she didn’t know it at the time.

“I didn’t have any idea what the job was going to be,” Stout says. “I was very interested in creating things and working with new ideas. I liked things that are technical. With my physics background, I knew I could go into a situation where you don’t know a thing and you can learn. That was fundamental about my experience with physics at UT. I can go into any circumstance and learn it.”

So, as the Vice President of Business Operations, what exactly does Stout do? Imagine two companies trying to negotiate a deal or work together on a project involving extremely complicated technical issues, and the two sides reach an apparently unresolvable impasse. That’s where Stout comes in.

“I am a pretty technical person,” Stout says. “I like hard problems. I don’t really care what they are. Take the hardest problem of the day, the week, or the month, and my job is to solve it. That describes my job, and I love it.”

So, does she still miss physics? She points out that, although she uses the analytical skills that physics taught her, she still doesn’t get to do physics.

“That’s why I do math and physics at home, you know, proofs, whatever,” she says. “My boss is very much interested in physics, too. We swap math and physics problems—it helps keep us sharp.”

In the final analysis, Stout says Physics majors shouldn’t worry that they might not be as marketable as others, because, if they focus on what physics prepares them to do, they’ll realize that it’s a lot more than just physics.

 

Sound interesting? Read another profile!

Careers in Physics

Despite what you might have heard, you can do more with a Physics degree than teach at a college and conduct research. Physics teaches you to think. Thinking helps you to solve problems, regardless of the field. Think of Physics less as a career path and more as a skill set or toolkit. That’s why the careers below, and pretty much anything else you can think of, are possibilities.

Medicine

MRIs, PET scans, and proton beam accelerators are all based on physics. The proton beam accelerator at M.D. Anderson in Houston is used to treat cancer patients.

Fusion

Read about a UT Physics student who is now studying nuclear fusion energy at MIT.

Nuclear engineering

Read about how a Naval nuclear engineer ended up studying physics. We hate to say it this way, but while physics students can be engineers, engineers can’t necessarily do physics. (OK, so we don’t hate to say it that way.)

Teaching (high school physics)

Think about the most earthshaking discovery you might make as a physicist. What if you could pass that knowledge and problem-solving skill to hundreds of students every year? And then they could make thousands of earthshaking discoveries. Explore UTeach to find out more. You can also read about two students, Claire and Andrew, who plan to teach high school physics, and why.

Science journalism

If the public doesn’t know about the importance of science in our daily lives, how will it receive the attention it deserves in our public policy-making? Read about a UT Physics student who is doing her graduate work in Science Journalism at Johns Hopkins University.

Energy exploration

Imagine creating an MRI tool that is used to go into boreholes in oil fields. You have to make sure it works to 150° Celsius, and it must withstand 20,000 PSI. Once you do that, you’ll have to work as the go-between for the hardware and the software folks. And you’ll have to make sure that it works. So you’ll have to work with the manufacturing people and help create the process used to actually build the tool. You’ll also have to develop a way of calibrating the tool. When you get all that done, give us a call and let us know you’re finished, would you?

Patent attorney

Physicists make excellent patent attorneys because not only do they udnerstand complicated processes related to science-based inventions, they can explain it to others.

Business

Since physics is about discovering the “why” behind things, a Physics graduate is unexpectedly and uniquely qualified to tackle all sorts of business challenges. Read about a Physics student who will graduate in December and will most likely go to work for an alternative energy development company.

Consulting

Physicists were asked to help with the placement of the new Yankee Stadium, taking into account how wind patterns might affect the flight of a baseball. Physicists are asked to work on cool problems like this all the time.

Taxidermy

Well, maybe not. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

We Get You Ready If You’re Ready

Finding the right field is hard. You have to participate in undergraduate research to discover what fuels your passion. You also need to learn what fuels your professor’s passion for physics so you can decide if that field is for you or if you can cross it off the list. Nobody ever said that pursuing the “why” would be easy.

Physics Prepares You for What Comes Next

Physics majors and minors are prepared to perform well on entrance exams. Physics and Math majors score the best on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and are second only to biomedical engineers on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The Numbers That Really Intrigue Physics Majors

The median annual income for a physicist is $94,240. The middle 50% earn between $72,910 and $117,080. The lowest ten percent earned less than $52,070, and the highest ten percent earn $143,570. The average starting salary offer to Physics doctoral degree candidates is $52,460.