Like every year, during the peak of accessions to the universities, graduates are overloaded with advices: what studies to choose, and what perspectives and disappointments await after selecting certain study fields. As a rule, experts in mass media continue to repeat that social sciences offer the least perspectives, while the most promising areas are considered to be engineering, medicine, and biotechnologies. Unfortunately, the mother of all the technological sciences – physics – is often forgotten, however graduates do not feel any lack of jobs, and lately the number of jobs exceeds the number of graduates.
Relatively little attention to physics is probably related to the fact that this science as all the fundamentals sciences is considered to be very difficult, boring and what is most important – poorly adapted to practical life. After all, a good speciality must be practical and allowing to find a good job, to make career, and strive for good wage.
There are no significant uncertainties concerning engineering specialties: we have all heard about the lack of programmers and their high wages not to talk about specialists of construction and mechanics. And what about physicists? This question was answered in the analysis performed by the website www.fmf.lt which is focused on fundamental sciences.
Applied physics – golden mean between physics and engineering
First of all, before starting the story about physics and physicists we would like to draw your attention to the fact that there may be various kinds of physics.
Director of UAB Elinta dr. Vytautas Jokužis urges separating theoretical physics that we have learned in school from applied physics. A demand for the graduates of applied physics is constantly growing, and the most talented ones are hunted by many companies of foreign and Lithuanian capital. Nevertheless, when selecting theoretical physics, one should strive for scientific career rather than for working for business companies. “Scientific activity is also welcome, however, only a small number of people can engage in it and plan working in the area of science in Lithuania because the demand for scientists is very low, and they must be very dedicated”, – explained the differences the director.
Without getting deeper into study programmes it may be unclear, what is the difference between theoretical physics and applied physics. And the differences are significant. While preparing specialists of applied physics it is aimed for a graduate to acquire not only universal theoretical knowledge but also practical engineering skills.
Therefore, this science is linked to many other areas of research, i.e. nanostructured materials and their ways of application, photonics, atomic and molecular physics, biophysics, plasma physics, spintronics, condensed materials, nano- and microtechnology and molecular physics, nanoelectronics, nonlinear optics and optical devices, energy and nuclear technology. Moreover, applied physics is concerned with not only theoretical investigation and analysis of principles but also with application of practical knowledge, e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity is a fundamental physics and its application in the leather fibres is already applied physics.
At the same time, applied physics is also different from engineering: here specialists use knowledge of fundamental physics and physics studies for designing and dealing with the problems of engineering. In other words, applied physics is a bridge between fundamental (pure) physics and engineering that adapts various technologies for researching natural phenomenon.
“I would suggest choosing the studies of applied physics for those who like the exact sciences but do not know exactly what specialty they want to choose. Having completed the studies of applied physics it is easy to direct the knowledge to different areas of specialization although it will probably take longer than completing the desired specialty outright”, – explained the perspectives of fundamental sciences the Director of UAB Elinta.
Is it easy to adjust to specific activity area after completing the studies of physics? “The background of all the technologies surrounding us is physical laws and processes that do not change. What changes is their application in everyday activity and new technologies surrounding us. Department of physics provides this knowledge, and we are those who determine how we will use this knowledge. I can say with no hesitation that even today I can successfully apply the knowledge acquired while studying in the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Fundamental Sciences of Kaunas University of Technology, – says Darius Tribandis, manager of the youth television Kobra TV, and head of the KTU ITPI department.
Does Lithuania really need physicists?
No one doubts that Lithuania needs programmers, medical specialists, and nanotechnologists. This has been often escalated by various experts and businessmen. We cannot say the same about physicists. The demand is also present but it is somehow quiet. After all, it cannot be otherwise. Even a short presentation of physics shows that this is a very universal science, and the graduates usually work as engineers of various processes, physical research specialists, products and radiation protection professionals, and even industrial equipment sales or physicists-managers rather than simple physicists not to mention the fact that each year a certain percentage of applied physics graduates establish their businesses on the basis of the knowledge acquired during the studies after a short while after graduation.
At this point we could mention the famous success stories in Lithuania, let’s say for example UAB Brolis Semiconductors. After their studies of physics, three brothers have established a company that currently is well known in the world, and their list of clients this year includes more than 160 companies from Japan to USA. In various interviews, the brother continue repeating that everything has started from father’s advice.
“We passed maturity examination with very high grades. We were able to choose any specialty but our dad suggested enrolling in physics saying it will give you some intelligence, and then we will see”, – shared their memories the brothers. They have no regrets as regards this choice – even the first year of study showed that physics was the right choice, later they started participating actively in the laboratory activity, and eventually this led to establishing own company.
There are lots of similar success stories, however not very often we hear the word “physics” or “physicist” in them for this science is often a starting point which eventually leads to being businessmen, designers, and engineers. This is why we rarely hear about the specialty of physics in public space, however, many companies come to education institutions to look for such graduates.
For example, the Faculty of Fundamental Sciences of KTU often receives guests from the companies such as Baltic-Amercan Freedom Foundation, Barclays Technology Centre Limited Branch, Bentley Systems Europe B.V, UAB CSC Baltic, UAB ELAS, UAB Ernst & Young Baltic, UAB Etronika, AB FL Technics, UAB IBM Lietuva, UAB Elinta and many smaller ones that are hunting for mathematicians and physicists.
The above mentioned company Elinta has graduates of applied physics employed for many years, and according to the Director, they have justified the choice perfectly: “graduates of applied physics have a stronger background of technical knowledge and it is easier for them to absorb new technologies. These graduates can understand operation of devices and control processes from the perspective of physics. Therefore, they have better chances to better select devices and explain their operation”.
If the demand for the graduates of physics is that high, it would be logical to think that statistical indicators of their employment could be pretty high. This is apparent from a short research of statistics: based on the data provided by Aikos for the year 2012, there are only 4 unemployed people with the education of a physicist, and each year approximately 300 students complete university studies of physics. For comparison: based on the data provided by Lithuanian Labour Exchange, at early June of 2013, there were 542 unemployed lawyers in Lithuania.
However, we should not think that contrary to theoretical physics, studies of applied physics are unfavourable for academic career. For example, the majority of those who have completed bachelor studies of applied physics in KTU continue their studies as master students in various Lithuanian and foreign universities. According to the statistics, master studies were chosen by: 90% of graduates in 2010, 75% in 2011, 89% in 2012. Some of these graduates decide to head towards the way of scientists and choose doctoral studies.
Working only does not make your stomach full
Despite the fact that unemployment does not threaten the graduates of applied physics, what are the wages they might expect? After all, financial potential has always been and will be one of the most criterion when choosing the specialty.
This question does not surprise dr. V. Jokužis, and having heard it he started to explain the ABS of business:
“A good question would be “how much is realistic to earn”. Most often, people ask: how much will I get?”. In a private company one must earn since his/her wage is paid from the money that is paid by the client for the employee’s work. Most often, during the first or second year graduates does not bring much benefits for the company because they know little and are less capable. During the first two years, students are trained and get rather than earn their wage which is rather low – LTL 1500 – 2000 after taxes. An experienced engineer can earn from LTL 2500 to 3500 after taxes. Project manager salary may reach LTL 3000 to 5000 after taxes. Bonuses after accomplishing successful projects may reach up to 50% of annual earnings.”
But is a graduate of applied physics capable to rise up from simple engineer to a designer or a project manager and claim for highest salaries? In Director’s opinion, these are absolutely realistic achievements that depend on character traits and capabilities: “if a graduate likes engineering, and if he is able not only to think theoretically but also to dissemble and assemble a device, perform experiments and measure parameters with an oscillograph, then in the future, having mastered the technology and understanding its principles of operation, such person can become a designer or a project manager.”
Education system is unfavourable for the studies of physics
Despite the bright prospects and shortage of specialists, each year, the number of people choosing the specialty of applied physics is lower than the demand for such specialists. Why is it so?
According to the head of the Department of Physics in the Faculty of Fundamental Sciences of KTU Giedrius Laukaitis, this is basically determined by fear of challenges: “the science of physics is not one of the easiest ones (after all, students have to understand the great secrets of the world, perceive the causes of physical phenomenon and links between them), however, we can confidently say that the opportunities they face are really wide”.
Dr. V. Jokužis also agrees with the opinion, that physics can offer good prospects: “studies of physics should gain popularity in the future. Physics is required everywhere where we have production and technologies. I believe that eventually production will be relocated from China back to Europe”.
However, the current education system poke sticks into the wheels of physics studies: students are forced to make very early decisions regarding profiling which later are practically impossible to change.
“It is very sad that our students are deprived of the opportunity to make free choices as regards their future professions, for many student no longer choose to take final exams of the exact sciences: physics and mathematics. This prevents from further studies of exact sciences. Study field selected in the early age may be incorrect because it was selected by accident: liking or antipathy for teacher, friends’ choices, parents’ advices, easy or difficult to study, etc. It would be good that after graduating secondary school all the graduates would be in the same starting position”, – explained the main shortcomings of the current education system Dr. V. Jokužis.
Thus, if you still had not made the decision where to study and have not selected a specific engineering specialty, we suggest considering the studies of applied physics. We have enough lawyers and managers in Lithuania, and it is the time to raise specialists of exact sciences thus encouraging innovations in Lithuania.
Mokslo ir technologių populiarinimo centras (Science and Technology Promotion Center)