Is an MBA more useful than a PhD if I want to keep my options open?
I'm a 3rd year physics major at RIT and still have no idea what I want to do for a living once I graduate. I've heard that our MBA program is great, and I've been enjoying business-related work in my current job. Though I'm not sure what physics and business could combine to make me uniquely qualified for... I'd appreciate any thoughts!
Having said that - some thoughts about what you can do with a physics degree in business role:
- Data Scientist - as a physicist, you are going to be very comfortable working with large data sets, throwing out bad data, understanding statistics, making hypothesis and drawing relevant conclusions from analyzing the data. Just about any large business these days is swimming in more data than they know what to do with, and many desperately need smart people to comb thru that data, turning it into timely information to make business decisions.
- Financial Modelling - again, your comfort with equations and numbers are skills that most people don't have. You have an understanding that most dynamic systems are non-linear, and that not only applies to physical systems, but markets, economic and social systems as well, so your skills will be valuable to investment banks, as an example.
- Product Management - while you're not an engineer, it should be easy for you to relate to what engineers do, so depending on the industry, your physics experience (particularly if you're an applied physics person and have knowledge of electronics, materials, etc.) could be directly applied into developing and launching products.
- Management Consulting - it might seem totally off the wall to pay a lot of money to have a consultant who has never worked in your industry to come in and tell you what you should do, but almost all large companies have hired firms like McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group, etc. to do exactly that. The method to the madness is that those firms pride themselves on identifying and hiring the best and the brightest - people who are intellectually adept and can pick up most anything very quickly - and then rigorously training them. A physics degree from a good school indicates you could have the mental aptitude they're looking for.
Note that for some of the roles I mention above - Financial Modelling, as an example - an MBA would be very helpful. But again, don't bother with the MBA until you know that is at least one of the things you are targeting.
William (Bill) recommends the following next steps:
As it so happens, I have an MBA and my partner has a physics PhD! First of all, I would reiterate the advice that you should choose the career first, then pursue the schooling to get you there. However, I assume you're either not sure about opportunities or just exploring since you've asked the question in this way--so glad you're taking the time to weigh your options! I see Bill provide you with a great list of potential careers and others made the important suggestion to get some real-world experience before pursuing an MBA.
Since your interests happen to align so well with my and my partner's experience, here's a snap-shot of what our careers look like. Keep in mind this is ONLY our experience, but it may give you a jumping-off point in researching things you hadn't yet considered in each path:
Me: MBA, business associate for a global corporation (basically an internal consultant helping solve business problems)
Partner: PhD Physics, faculty at a university
Other careers I considered/had available: consulting, non-profit administration
Other careers partner considered/had available: high school education, industry research
Who went to school longer? Partner
Who has more student debt? Me
Who makes more money? Me
Who works longer hours? Probably about the same
Who has more time off? Partner
Who travels more? Me
Who has more promotion opportunity? Me
Who has more overall job opportunity? Me
Who has more work-related stress? Probably also about the same
Where I work: In a big shared office, from home, at airports, in hotels...basically anywhere I need to
Where my partner works: In a university classroom, his lab, his office
A typical work day in my life: meetings/conference calls, analyzing data, defining problems, developing strategy, creating presentations and proposals, negotiating, networking
A typical work day in my partner's life: teaching, grading, developing curriculum, research, writing/editing/reviewing/publishing, seeking funding, department service, mentoring students
Even though this is very anecdotal, I hope it helps a little in helping you think about what a career in each path might look like. Best of luck with this exciting decision!
The best way to keep options open is likely work experience! Do you see roles related to the one you're doing now which interest you? In addition to what you're learning about science, you also are getting practical experience thinking critically and working with data. There is a tremendous and growing need for "data literate" businesspeople as the amount of data we use to make decisions grows exponentially. Physics can lead to anything from the simply ability to think analytically and solve strategic problems to in-depth hard skills you use to design or implement machine learning algorithms.
Stephen recommends the following next steps:
It is totally okay to not know what you want to do for a living, and you won’t really have an idea about what motivates you or what you are passionate about until you start actually doing the work.
The great thing about education, is that you can go back to school anytime you want. Don’t feel obligated to continue your education right after you graduate from college. There are so many great options for pursuing a graduate degree virtually, and again, in my experience, is much more valuable after you have been in the workforce for a little bit!
Lastly, start off slow with your career while you can! Take this time to explore the workforce and get a feel for what you’re truly passionate about. Often times people jump into high-paying jobs where they get little to no fulfillment, buy a new car or house, etc. and then find it harder to change jobs or career paths due to financial reasons. Find the career you truly want first, and with any luck you may find a company who will pay for you to further your education!
John recommends the following next steps:
I would advise you to look at pursuing a minor at RIT and joining a couple on-campus specialized interest clubs as a way to direct your physics major into a career direction. If you have excellent grades, the right PhD will cost you nothing...in fact all your tuition will be covered and you will be paid an annual stipend in exchange as a Research Assistant and a little work as a teaching assistant. In your field, specialization is key. There are a ton of opportunities in Material Science and Engineering, and your university probably has minor degrees in a number of MatSE fields. Just about all of the top technology companies employ MatSE PhD & MS graduates. You may still have time to get a MatSE internship for this summer, and for sure the summer after you graduate. The Department of Energy National Labs (11 of them) all hire college students for summer internships and pay big money. There you will see lots of opportunities to work on the most important problems of the 21st century. MBA's are a dime a dozen (I have one), and you have to either pay thousands for them or your employer might reimburse you if you are willing to work two full time jobs (daytime and school) for a few years. The value of an MBA is seen when you are ready to move into management. Until then it is just a piece of very expensive paper. I shepherded my son through this entire MatSE process from college to a National Lab and on to graduate school, where his cohort includes graduates with either MatSE, Physics, or Chemistry degrees.
Daniel recommends the following next steps:
Eric recommends the following next steps:
Consider a Ph.D only when you have identified the specific area or problem that is going to be the focal point of your life for the next 3-5 years. If it is exposure to multiple areas you can consider doing an MBA (if your focus is business/management related) or a Masters program (sciene/technology related) that is only course based (and not thesis based - meaning you dont need to submit a written thesis on a specific topic).
A dissertation based Masters is a good preview of what a Ph.D is likely to be.
John recommends the following next steps: