IOP Institute of Physics

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Graduating in physics with a 2:2 or a 3rd?

Most people don’t hope to get a 2:2 when they enter university.

Neither are thirds the things that dreams are made of. And with most postgraduate courses and high-powered jobs in research being limited to those with 2:1 and up, you have the right to be a bit miffed. But, on the other hand, the world has by no means ended and you have the rest of your life to live, so what’s your next move?

Stay positive
Well, the first thing to remember is that you have a degree in what is perhaps the hardest of all university subjects, and that counts for a lot with many employers. Being a physicist still gives you an edge. In business and finance you’ll be perceived as a highly numerate individual with well-developed problem solving skills. So don’t sell yourself short on your CV or application form. Explore our Job Preparation section on the left hand side for tips on how to make sure you strike the right note.

Into industry
If you want to work in industry, you can utilise your degree to apply for jobs in areas such as engineering and defence, And with many jobs in industry, you may be employed because of your physics training, but you won’t necessarily be called a physicist. You may be labelled as an engineer, games developer, wind analyst, so you need to focus on the person specification and job description and not be put off by the job title.

One word of warning: if your heart’s set on a job in pure industrial research, don’t expect to be able to get the job you’re hankering for straight out of university. Most recruiters in this area will want graduates with a 2.1 or up – and many will favour those with a postgraduate qualification. So you may have to apply for a job at a lower level – as a technician, for example, and work your way up the old-fashioned way.

Key skills
Employers don’t just value the academic skills you will have picked up in the lab and the library they’re looking for softer skills such as communication, negotiation, motivating others and team-work. These could come from the most unlikely places. Check out our advice on brushing up on your key skills

Getting a slightly poorer class of degree than you expected, only takes a bit of lateral thinking to see that you’ve probably developed rather better communication and negotiation skills than many a science graduate who spent all their time in the lab. So if you enjoy talking to people and think you’re one of life’s persuaders, why not consider technical sales? Were you better known at university for your pithy sense of humour than your academic brilliance? Randall Munroe is a physicist who became a cartoonist. If you have a literary bent, you might want to consider a career as a technical author. The prospects website has an A-Z of careers that you may want to explore and www.stc.org has more information.

Further study
For funding, you could try one of the research councils (like STFC or EPSRC), but bear in mind that their minimum requirement for Masters courses is likely to be 2.2 (more on popular courses) and 2.1 for PhDs. For other sources, check out our funding opportunities for students page. Your local library may also have information.

Start your own business
More graduates are choosing to go it alone and work for themselves after they graduate. Being your own boss has many benefits – not least the fact that you won't mind if you've got a lower degree. There are some downsides too, however. Read our advice on starting your own business.

Need back-up?
Moving from life as a student into the world of work isn’t always easy, and many an illustrious career has fits and starts at first. Most universities realise this, and your university’s careers service should give you support and advice for the first year or two after you graduate. Many produce vacancy lists of possible jobs suitable for graduates, details of local employers and other resources.

And finally …
Think outside the box. A physics degree needn’t necessarily lead to a career in IT, finance or engineering. Once a physicist is a series of case studies that includes profiles of physicists who have made some unlikely career moves, from politicians to jazz musicians.

last edited: July 04, 2014