Given the previous post, josh asked if I would pick the same degree/education (physics) if I could do it all over again.
When I got my Masters (default in my country), I had 3 choices. I could go to grad school in Switzerland. I could substitute for an engineer or a computer scientist in a lab in company or I could become a high school teacher. I chose option 1 which lead to four year stay in Switzerland and a PhD, a move to the states, doing the research circuit visiting the developed world for free and giving talks, and as you know, enough money to leave that and do non-profit work. If I hadn’t left, I would still be in postdoc purgatory, but probably or should I say hopefully end up as a staff member or an assistant professor in a couple of years. If I had chosen option 2, I would be in middle management, senior staff, or lead engineer in some company by now. If I had chosen option 3 I would be a HS teacher with a better position on their pay scale.
The main limitation of the degree itself is in convincing companies that physicists are a good investment in being able to self-learn anything that can be put into an equation. It is a general education rather than a specialized education, so one has a wider selection of choices, but the choices are not as deep. To give an example. You can teach a physicist accounting more successfully than you can teach an accountant physics, but if a company needs an accountant, they are probably not going to hire a physicist.
If you think outside of the career opportunities, physics is the study of the underlying fundamentals of the real world and it provides a background that leaves most (actually, in my opinion, all) other fields in the dust when it comes to general technical understanding. Hence with physics, you can understand the principles of engineering, chemistry, biology, computer science, finance,…; basically anything that can be cast into equations. Such a wide understanding allows you to see and think and learn about opportunities that otherwise go unseen.
If I had wanted to pursue a lifetime career of work, I would have picked electrical engineering and taken some finance courses. This offers more industrial career choices than physics. Also, if you do want to become a professor, it is much easier, since the engineering or economics fields are not saturated like the hard sciences.
If I had wanted to retire 8 years earlier than I did, I would have gotten myself a truck delivering packages for FedEx or UPS or maybe simply doing long haul trucking.
Naturally, me being me, I wanted to challenge myself with the hardest thing, I could think of, which is theoretical physics—actually, that’s not true, I think pure math is harder. I did that. Then I wanted to challenge myself to become financially free must faster than the system allowed. I did that too.
Now, actually, I am still not quite sure what the next challenge should be.