What Opportunities Are There for Physicists in Industry?

Alumni Discuss Their Experiences as Professional Physicists After Graduation

Derek Broadhead, class of 2013, and Samantha Massa, class of 2015, came back to Embry-Riddle on Feb. 20, 2020, to talk to current Space Physics Majors about the path they took after graduating. They both went into industry after completing their undergraduate degrees. Broadhead works as a Data Scientist at Arete for the past six and a half years and Massa works as a Software Engineer at Northrop Grumman for almost five years. 

They discussed their backgrounds starting with getting their Bachelor’s degrees. Both Massa and Broadhead were Space Physics Majors, which was a great inspiration to reassure  physics majors that they can get a job doing what they love while still at Embry-Riddle.

Broadhead had done research with Dr. Gretarsson, was involved with intramural soccer, played video games, and graduated with honors. Massa did research with Dr. Rachford, did internships at Northrop Grumman, was in Silver Wings and also graduated with honors.

For the two of them, grades were the highest priority and their interests and curiosities were greatly facilitated by the professors in the Physics and Astronomy Department. They intended to go to graduate school soon after graduation but the grueling process of taking the Physics Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and waiting to hear whether or not they were accepted to their desired universities did not favor their hopes and dreams. Even though they were beaten down, they picked themselves up and sought out industries as their next venture as brand new industry physicists.

Applying to jobs as a recent college student, the applications and interviews can be some of the most anxiety-provoking tasks. Students can harbor fear of what will happen if they misspeak in an interview or just get flat-out rejected without an interview. 

Broadhead was more worried about a common interview topic that most STEM majors get asked in some way: present to the company your knowledge of coding. When Arete was interviewing him, they asked to see previous work and to walk through it in front of an  intimidating room full of PhDs. What was supposed to be a twenty-minute interview turned into an hour and a half session which was hijacked two minutes in by the board. He and the board soon were having a conversation about different aspects of his research not related to his presentation. He later found out that how he was responding to their questions made him a more ideal candidate for the company. After that session was a four-hour interview where representatives from Arete introduced themselves and let Broadhead ask specific questions.

Massa had interned at Northrop Grumman and she had anticipated a job offer from them when she graduated, but they didn’t reach out right away. She was searching for another job and was about to accept a job offer when she was contacted by Northrop Grumman and was offered a job with software engineering. Her interview process was a twenty to thirty-minute phone call where they were telling her all about the job because she had the job if she wanted it – and she wanted it.

In industry, the two reflected that the workload is a lot different from college. They had an exponential increase in paperwork and more because they were in the defense contracting world. They also admitted to using the internet as a vital tool when needing to learn new things for the job if they weren’t already offered a workshop for the topic. Broadhead said he was taking advantage of Arete’s higher education program to pursue his Masters. Their jobs offered them ways to grow their mind, skills, and future which they said they constantly take advantage of.

Both Broadhead and Massa wanted to emphasize that networking early on in your college career will prove vital later on. Massa specifically wanted to hit hard on the fact that sometimes you will fail but as long as you get up and push harder then you will get the thing you’re working the hardest to achieve.

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