Careers Outside of Academia

Berkeley Connect Physics students talk to graduates about careers in industry


Proving once and for all that there are many paths open to physics majors, a panel of UC Berkeley alums spoke to Berkeley Connect Physics students about their careers outside of academia. Invited to speak were Geena Kim, co-founder of ChemiSense; Micah Ledbetter, a physicist at AOSense; and Trygve Ristroph, a research scientist at Agilent Technologies. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Holger Mueller.

When asked what they wished they knew about majoring in physics as an undergraduate, Trygve said that he wished he’d known earlier that it was possible to pursue his passion in physics and still make money, citing a misconception that the major is not practical. In order to find the right opportunities, however, all three emphasized being persistent.

“Ask people,” Trygve said. “If you find something interesting, learn more and don’t be afraid to reach out.” Geena added that internships and informational internships are great ways of gaining exposure to different pathways, and Micah urged students to apply for interesting jobs, even if they don’t match the job descriptions perfectly. They also encouraged students to take on extra projects and hone their problem-solving skills in order to make themselves stand out to employers.

“Physics can lead to a variety of fields,” Geena said, noting that her husband, a fellow physics major, went into banking and eventually became an engineer. She herself found herself doing both physics and business as a co-founder of a start-up, where she was the only PhD.

All three agreed that hours tended to be more flexible in industry and the work much more independent. “People check your work more in academia,” Trygve said. “In industry, you have to check your own work and be accountable for it.” All three also agreed that it was possible to transition from industry into academia.

Universities could be doing more to prepare students, according to panelists – whether through encouraging students to do more hands-on work or strengthening alumni networks. Speaking from the alum perspective, “We would love to help, but not enough people reach out.” Encouraging words for undergraduates who are just beginning to explore their career options!

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant