Italian physicist job-hunting

Hi folks,

currently I’m playing the crazy theoretical physicist in Valencia, Spain, where I got a PhD fellowship. It took four months from my graduation until I got the PhD fellowship and I waited two more months to take possession of my PhD desk. During these six months I went through some job interviews and I considered different kind of jobs, experiences that, aside from the outcome, I recommend to everybody as “formative”, not to say ridiculous, experiences.

The door-to-door salesman

Before getting my Physics degree I already wanted to know what was next and I started applying for different jobs. Just two days before the master thesis defense I had an interview for a job as a door-to-door salesman, that is, amazingly, one of the most requested roles by Italian (or at least Rome-based) companies.

I went to the company office and while I was waiting for my turn, I realized someone was partying in the next room. Or, at least, that was the impression I had hearing music at high volume coming from that room, with somebody talking into a microphone. After half an hour I understood that was the daily “motivational session” for the salesmen conduct by one of the company heads: the class was basically made by a leader yelling things to his employees trying to fuel their commercial flair,  following the music rhythm and involving them in clapping all together.

Ruled out the salesman option I tried my hand at sending CV: if you haven’t got particular expectations or links, the best way to find a job is certainly to send CVs to every mail address you find on the internet. Sometimes it happens that your CV arrives to the right person’s attention in a very strange and surprising way. Using this method I got, among others, an interview for a position as “humanitarian aid salesman”: in other words the job consisted in persuading people to support with monthly cash donations different humanitarian organizations.

What these experiences taught me was that, in the sales world, you need not to worry about a salary really full of ups and downs and that the keen competition is one of the basic features.  You will face a daily competition and your boss will paint it as a game, but I think that people working in this field  are alienated by the work itself.

The “problem solver” and the consulting companies

To become a salesman it’s clearly not required a physics degree. By the way, my “scientific studies” also gave me the chance of various job interviews. Among these, the most interesting one was for sure for a job as “problem solver” at Accenture. It is a general rule that consulting firms like Accenture look for graduates in physics, mathematics & co.

Generally, this kind of company ensures a good salary and a contract which always starts with a paid internship. However according to the people and also to the employees (they nearly boasted of this while confirming it during the group interview) the work day is long (very very long) and you better don’t care about very frequent travels (the clients can be all over the area you’re assigned to: longer are the journeys you’re available to, bigger are the opportunities to get promoted).

The Job placement offices

A good way to find a job are the so called “Job placement” or “Job something” services, that you can find now in almost every university in Italy and probably everywhere else: just take a look to the services web sites. If you join their mailinglist or if you give them your CV you will get a lot of news about companies, public corporations or stores willing to hire people. My experience with the Job placement office of the University of Roma 3 was really great: the service is well organized, completely free and, most of all, they helped me to write a complete and easy to consult CV and cover letter.

The arrival to the PhD

My job-hunting was fortunately short and finished when I got a PhD fellowship in a Spanish university. About this experience I can say that:

  • I applied for PhD in two different  Italian universities and my impression was that you need something more than “to be the best” to get the fellowship: you need a friend inside the university which supports your application;
  • Outside Italy (I tried in Spain and Chile), even if there are favoritisms, it is possible to win a fellowship even if you don’t have any friend or recommendation (for instance I won with two recommendation letters that I think gave me no help at all).

And now I’m fighting for the success of my PhD. After that, I don’t know what can be my work opportunities. Statistically, a good percentage of the people that end the PhD (70% I guess) either get a post-doc or a job in a company in which to be a doctor make the difference (there are virtually no companies like these in Italy). Those who want to keep doing research, after one or more (probably more) post-doc, has to face an uncertain future: most of them will not get neither a tenure track nor a permanent position, far more difficult to obtain than a PhD or a post-doc.

The only real rule is that there are no rules: for instance in this moment the permanent positions are really few, but this doesn’t mean that in three years we won’t see a big increase. This kind of fluctuation depends on a lot of elements and I think it is really difficult to foresee in the long term, even if the fall of available funds we faced these years is not a good sign.


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