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Academic Career in Physics

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Presentation on theme: "Academic Career in Physics"— Presentation transcript:

1 Academic Career in Physics
Sophomore Seminar

2 Path to an Academic Career
Undergraduate Physics Major Graduate School Postdoctoral Research Faculty 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 courses Try to get as much as possible out of each course Prepare to take the Physics GRE General + Physics subject exam (physics most important) First step: learn as much physics as possible At some level, your Physics score will determine graduate schools you can get into The 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 material Allow time to take exam twice if possible, in case you have trouble e.g., illness, some other sort of disruption Senior seminar and Dept. study groups will help you prepare Can download free practice exam No 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 year Keys to getting accepted: Transcript and grades Letters of recommendation Especially from research experience/summer REUs GRE scores (especially physics) Picking a graduate school: Important decision Depends a lot on field(s) of study you think you might want to pursue Intangibles are important Relationship with advisor (more in a moment) Graduate student classmates Departmental 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 time Typically takes 5-7 years Physics graduate school should be free In fact, you usually are paid a modest stipend while a student In return, you serve as either teaching assistant or research assistant If you are not offered a TA or RA, probably don’t want to go to that school If you can win a national fellowship (i.e. NSF) for graduate study, big plus! Higher salary, no teaching responsibilities Applications for these are due before the grad school ones Take classes and do research Classes mostly done in first 2 years Focus is on research with a thesis advisor End goal: Produce a Ph.D. thesis Original research Guided 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 TA Exploring research areas, looking for a graduate advisor Year 2 Taking 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 classes RA, 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 curriculum Electives: both within specialty and outside (breadth) Qualifying Exam (sometimes called other names) Written physics exam that must be passed in early years Focuses on advanced undergrad/core graduate curriculum (i.e. mechanics, E&M, stat mech., quantum. Difficulty and scope varies widely among institutions Candidacy exam (some schools don’t have this): Oral (and sometimes written) in specialty Usually: purpose to evaluate whether you’re pursuing a viable thesis Ph.D. Thesis Written document: ~ pages Defense: oral presentation and Q&A session By this point, you are THE world expert on topic!

10 Typically choose theory vs experiment early on
Working on calculating/solving VERY math intensive: Study all the math you can! May be more computational or pen and paper Measuring things Need to have good grasp of statistics, electronics, and computer programming Often better funding: more chance of RA, less of being TA as senior student Typically 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 not You are not a professor yet! Need a faculty position Depending 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 years Sometimes will do two (or even three) before finding permanent position (e.g. faculty, lab scientist) Salary typically about 2x greater than graduate stipend Often asked to do research tasks faculty can’t do because of teaching responsibilities: Live at remote experimental facility Travel to different labs for experiments “Visibility” or “becoming known” to other members of the field is a big part of this stage Should include high-profile talks at conferences, leadership positions Forms 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) Timeline Assistant Professor: Initially hired for limited term contract: either 6 years or 3 years + 3 years (with renewal decision in between) After 6 years: tenure decision Establish national research reputation + sufficient to excellent teaching: given permanent position: Associate Professor Fail to do so: contract not renewed—dismissed from university Full Professor: Establish international research reputation Service to the university Typically after ~6 years as associate professor

14 Faculty Position Research University Liberal-Arts School
Postdoc required Spend ≥ ½ time on research Teach 1 course per semester Supervise graduate students Teaching assistants to help with grading, help sessions etc. Postdoc optional Research often “on your own time” or limited to summers Teach ≥2 courses per semester Only work with undergraduates Limited 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): 378 Number 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 circumstances Example: plunge in HEP openings when SSC canceled May not have luxury of being picky about where in country (or world) you seek employment Will need a back-up plan Luckily, physics is good training for lots of things…

16 Another Perspective If you want a teaching and research position at a top university (like ND), cannot apply for any faculty openingonly opening in your specific field Take (as example) my field (experimental high energy physics) Over last few years: ~ 15 faculty offers made per year in US HEP experiment Compare to NFL 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 easy You can do it, but be prepared for the challenge Work hard! Have a backup plan

17 Timeline for a Faculty Position
Graduate School: 4-6 years Postdoc: 2-6 years Assistant Professor (before tenure): 6 years Total: years from undergrad You 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 advancement Be 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 secrets Interacting with and guiding brightest young minds US has to offer Communicating your enthusiasm and excitement regarding physics to the world at large Other benefits Complete freedom regarding research path (and largely teaching too) No one keeping track of hours, activities, etc. Flexible schedule outside academic school year Discounts 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-fund Research is paid for by grants you write No productivity = no grant money = no research So, being your own boss means that you work all of the time Career/Family balance can be tricky Many competing responsibilities An academic department is a cooperative Committees have to do work or nothing functions Teaching: very important but time-consuming All of this takes time away from research Sort of like being an undergraduate again Too many things to do in too little time Priority/time management, triage techniques, efficiency become key Exhilarating, but Exhausting!

20 Questions? The end

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