2 Path to an Academic Career Undergraduate Physics MajorGraduate SchoolPostdoctoral ResearchFaculty Position
3 Undergraduate Main goal: Prepare for graduate school Take as many physics courses as you can (within reason)Get advice from your class advisor on coursesTry to get as much as possible out of each coursePrepare to take the Physics GREGeneral + Physics subject exam (physics most important)First step: learn as much physics as possibleAt some level, your Physics score will determine graduate schools you can get intoThe best schools use strict cuts on GRE as starting point to filter applicants
4 GRE (Continued) GRE Information online: Take the exam in Fall of senior year, or Junior Spring if you feel comfortable with the materialAllow time to take exam twice if possible, in case you have troublee.g., illness, some other sort of disruptionSenior seminar and Dept. study groups will help you prepareCan download free practice examNo reason not to download and flip through now, just to get an idea what to expect
5 Physics GRE Topics… some of the questions are, well, random and very specific.Best to review broadly
6 Physics Graduate School Apply late fall/early spring of senior yearKeys to getting accepted:Transcript and gradesLetters of recommendationEspecially from research experience/summer REUsGRE scores (especially physics)Picking a graduate school: Important decisionDepends a lot on field(s) of study you think you might want to pursueIntangibles are importantRelationship with advisor (more in a moment)Graduate student classmatesDepartmental atmosphere(happiness is important)Ask professors for advice!
7 Graduate School Basics Most physics programs focus on Ph.D.Stay at one school the entire timeTypically takes 5-7 yearsPhysics graduate school should be freeIn fact, you usually are paid a modest stipend while a studentIn return, you serve as either teaching assistant or research assistantIf you are not offered a TA or RA, probably don’t want to go to that schoolIf you can win a national fellowship (i.e. NSF) for graduate study, big plus!Higher salary, no teaching responsibilitiesApplications for these are due before the grad school onesTake classes and do researchClasses mostly done in first 2 yearsFocus is on research with a thesis advisorEnd goal: Produce a Ph.D. thesisOriginal researchGuided by a professor who serves as advisor to research (and often career and life….)
8 TimeLine Year 1 Year 2 Year 3-5+ Taking core graduate classes (Quantum, Math methods, E&M—Jackson, mechanics)Typically supported by TAExploring research areas, looking for a graduate advisorYear 2Taking advanced classes, especially in subfield (e.g. particle, nuclear, condensed matter, etc.)Continue TA or start RA (if working with an advisor with sufficient funding.Year 3-5+Done with most classesRA, unless advisor doesn’t have enough funds (otherwise TA)Note: Typically work on research through summers—no more summer break!
9 To Graduate Exact requirements vary among institutions Courses: Core graduate curriculumElectives: both within specialty and outside (breadth)Qualifying Exam (sometimes called other names)Written physics exam that must be passed in early yearsFocuses on advanced undergrad/core graduate curriculum (i.e. mechanics, E&M, stat mech., quantum.Difficulty and scope varies widely among institutionsCandidacy exam (some schools don’t have this):Oral (and sometimes written) in specialtyUsually: purpose to evaluate whether you’re pursuing a viable thesisPh.D. ThesisWritten document: ~ pagesDefense: oral presentation and Q&A sessionBy this point, you are THE world expert on topic!
10 Typically choose theory vs experiment early on Working on calculating/solvingVERY math intensive: Study all the math you can!May be more computational or pen and paperMeasuring thingsNeed to have good grasp of statistics, electronics, and computer programmingOften better funding: more chance of RA, less of being TA as senior studentTypically choose theory vs experiment early on
11 After Graduate School You are now “Dr. So-and-so” You can make your friends/siblings call you “Dr.”Your parents may call you this whether you want them to or notYou are not a professor yet!Need a faculty positionDepending on goals, may need to do one or more post-doctoral research positions. (Postdocs for short)Analogy:Grad Student = “Apprentice”Postdoc = “Journeyman”Professor/Scientist = “Master”
12 Postdoc Perform research full time under guidance of faculty member Temporary position: 2-6 yearsSometimes will do two (or even three) before finding permanent position (e.g. faculty, lab scientist)Salary typically about 2x greater than graduate stipendOften asked to do research tasks faculty can’t do because of teaching responsibilities:Live at remote experimental facilityTravel to different labs for experiments“Visibility” or “becoming known” to other members of the field is a big part of this stageShould include high-profile talks at conferences, leadership positionsForms basis for “next step” in career
13 Faculty Position Teaching and research performed at university Balance between teaching and research determined by type of institution (see next slide)TimelineAssistant Professor: Initially hired for limited term contract: either 6 years or 3 years + 3 years (with renewal decision in between)After 6 years: tenure decisionEstablish national research reputation + sufficient to excellent teaching: given permanent position: Associate ProfessorFail to do so: contract not renewed—dismissed from universityFull Professor:Establish international research reputationService to the universityTypically after ~6 years as associate professor
14 Faculty Position Research University Liberal-Arts School Postdoc requiredSpend ≥ ½ time on researchTeach 1 course per semesterSupervise graduate studentsTeaching assistants to help with grading, help sessions etc.Postdoc optionalResearch often “on your own time” or limited to summersTeach ≥2 courses per semesterOnly work with undergraduatesLimited access to teaching assistants
15 Job Prospects Frankly, challenging to get academic job Numbers: Physics Ph.D.’s graduated per year in US: 1554 (2009)Number of Physics faculty retirements per year (2006-8): 378Number of Physics faculty openings per year in US: 705 (2008)Number of new Physics faculty hires per year: 563 (2007)Openings in field can vary significantly depending on circumstancesExample: plunge in HEP openings when SSC canceledMay not have luxury of being picky about where in country (or world) you seek employmentWill need a back-up planLuckily, physics is good training for lots of things…
16 Another PerspectiveIf you want a teaching and research position at a top university (like ND), cannot apply for any faculty openingonly opening in your specific fieldTake (as example) my field (experimental high energy physics)Over last few years:~ 15 faculty offers made per year in US HEP experimentCompare toNFL draft: Div 1 players: 224 players / year (32 in first round)NBA draft: 4800 Div 1 players: 60 players / year (30 in first round)Getting a faculty position at a research university is not easyYou can do it, but be prepared for the challengeWork hard!Have a backup plan
17 Timeline for a Faculty Position Graduate School: 4-6 yearsPostdoc: 2-6 yearsAssistant Professor (before tenure): 6 yearsTotal: years from undergradYou will “finish” the process at age (assuming you graduate from college at age 22), where “finish” just means “tenure”Be prepared to be significantly “behind” your peers who go into private sector in terms of career advancementBe aware that part of the way through the process, you may not be able to move to next level (e.g. unable to find faculty position after 6 years of postdoc)Being aware of this timeline is key to avoid disappointment
18 Benefits of Academic Career Absolutely best job in the whole world!Job responsibilities include:Plumbing the depths of the universe to wrest away its secretsInteracting with and guiding brightest young minds US has to offerCommunicating your enthusiasm and excitement regarding physics to the world at largeOther benefitsComplete freedom regarding research path (and largely teaching too)No one keeping track of hours, activities, etc.Flexible schedule outside academic school yearDiscounts on football tickets, tuition, bookstore, etc.You will love your job and never be bored for rest of your life (many profs work past retirement age and then become professor emeritus: still have office and do research but no teaching/service—and of course, you’re retired…)
19 Cautions about an Academic Career Constant need to self-fundResearch is paid for by grants you writeNo productivity = no grant money = no researchSo, being your own boss means that you work all of the timeCareer/Family balance can be trickyMany competing responsibilitiesAn academic department is a cooperativeCommittees have to do work or nothing functionsTeaching: very important but time-consumingAll of this takes time away from researchSort of like being an undergraduate againToo many things to do in too little timePriority/time management, triage techniques, efficiency become keyExhilarating, but Exhausting!