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Programs Career in academia after graduating from a lesser PhD program

  1. Sep 24, 2010 #1

    Physics_UG

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    Hello,

    I am considering getting a PhD in physics from a lower ranking university (not really bad though). I think it is ranked about 50th in physics by USNews. Is there any chance of breaking into a career in academia? I would like to teach physics at a small liberal arts college somewhere. I am not so much interested in teaching at a big R1 state school.

    Have you guys even heard of Wayne State U? Is it a decent school?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2010 #2

    jtbell

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    With that kind of background, it's certainly possible to get a teaching-oriented position at a small college. You need to make clear in your application and background (i.e. teaching experience as a graduate student) that you're really interested in teaching, and don't view such a position as a stopgap or stepping stone to a "real" research-oriented position.

    Nevertheless, most small colleges nowadays do also expect faculty to do some kind of research that can easily involve undergraduates. So if that's what you're aiming for, you should choose a research field and projects with that in mind.

    The "prestige factor" does sometimes come into play. If a college has two applicants who are otherwise equally matched, in background, motivation towards teaching, etc., and one comes from Wayne State and the other from U of Michigan, guess who will be offered the job first?

    The "otherwise equally matched" bit is pretty rare, though, so prestige doesn't often come into play.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2010
  4. Sep 24, 2010 #3

    eri

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    I'm graduating soon from a unranked (>100) physics school, and have friends at several others. Many people from these schools graduating in the last 5 years have gotten faculty positions. Sure, they're not teaching at ivies, but they're teaching at state schools and liberal arts colleges. It's certainly not impossible. It's not so much the school you graduate from, it's more about what you've accomplished. Lower ranked programs aren't necessarily bad, most are just small. There's a direct correlation between the rank and how many PhDs they graduate each year.
     
  5. Sep 25, 2010 #4
    if you do a prestigious post-doc, i imagine the phd is far less relevant...
     
  6. Sep 25, 2010 #5
    Where do you find those ranks of physics schools? I'm just curious about my uni (K.U. Leuven in Belgium) :)
     
  7. Sep 25, 2010 #6
    It's nice to see someone else interested in teaching, rather than thinking of it as a dead end impeding their progress towards becomming the next R.Feynman.

    I am attending a relatively middle-of-the-road program, and I noticed that many of the professors teaching here are graduates from the local state college that is also fairly middle-of-the-road.

    I like the explanation given by the guy above, prestige is really a non-factor unless you are equal to another applicant, in which case, that would be a deciding factor.
     
  8. Sep 25, 2010 #7
    The program at Wayne State is alright. They're probably better known for their medical physics though.
     
  9. Sep 25, 2010 #8

    Physics_UG

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    Thanks for your replies. Actually, WSU is ranked 113 by USNEWS. Meh...

    What do you think my chances are at getting into Michigan or Michigan State? I have a double major in EE and physics from lawrence tech (www.ltu.edu), 3.44 GPA (higher GPA In EE and physics), and very low GRE scores (670Q 400V 4.0AW 600 physics GRE (35th%)). I spent a year at arizona state's PhD program in electrical engineering but decided I wanted to stay in Michigan so I quit the program and moved home to Michigan. I have lived in Michigan my whole life. I also decided that I wanted to do a PhD in physics more than EE. I have two coauthor publications in prestigious journals (JACS and nanoletters) that I had published while at ASU. I think I can get solid recommendations from my advisor at ASU and good recommendations from profs I had as an undergrad. I had a fellowship my first year at ASU. I was awarded first place for best presentation at a conference and recieved a prize of $5000. I was given an outstanding eta kappa nu member award as an undergrad. I have undergraduate research experience at Wayne State doing molecular beam epitaxy research.

    I don't want to take the GRE again. I already took it twice and scored lower my second time. I just suck at standardized tests I guess.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2010
  10. Sep 26, 2010 #9
    US News rankings are totally worthless for physics Ph.D. programs.

    What you should do is to look at the publication record of the school that you are interested in. What a lot of small schools do is to get really, really good at one specific topic in physics, and if it happens to be an area in which there are jobs then your chances of an academic position rise markedly.
     
  11. Sep 26, 2010 #10
    Also networking comes into play. If you go to a school that is very heavily networked, then you'll know about the positions before other people do. Something else that plays into this situations is that for much of physics Ph.D., you will be "branded" less by the school that you came from than by the name of your dissertation advisor.
     
  12. Sep 26, 2010 #11

    Physics_UG

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    what about my chance of getting into Michigan? Will my lower GPA and GRE score keep me out?
     
  13. Sep 27, 2010 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Could it be that the tests are correct?

    Looking at your syllabus, your program does not seem very strong. You might compare what you have learned to Michigan or Michigan State's syllabus and see where you stand. My experience is that students who "know the material but who just don't do well on exams" are very rare. More common are students that think they know the material.

    I don't know whether you really have a test problem or not - but I think you owe it to yourself to ask if you really have the material under your belt or no. Michigan and MSU are two of the very best schools in the country for physics. In nuclear physics, MSU is probably the best school in the country.
     
  14. Sep 27, 2010 #13
    Would you mind elaborating on this a bit? I ask because I'd like to go to graduate school for mathematics but I'm not at a top notch school. I want to do everything within my power to compensate for that; comparing syllabi isn't a bad idea to reveal some areas where I might be weak (without even realizing it). I've also read that doing very well on the subject GRE and (perhaps?) taking some graduate courses while still an undergraduate might be good ideas.
     
  15. Sep 27, 2010 #14

    Physics_UG

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    Where did you find course syllabi on ltu's website? Did you just look at the course list or did you look at course descriptions as well?

    I was a double major in EE and physics also. The engineering departments at my school were a lot stronger than the physics department, but I don't think the engineering department was bad.

    My friend got a BS in physics from LTU and now he is in the nuclear engineering program at Michigan.
     
  16. Sep 27, 2010 #15
    One note here is that the skills that you need to survive graduate school and post-graduate academia are *wildly* different than those necessary to get into graduate school.

    The main thing that you need in order to survive graduate school and academia is persistence. Getting a low physics GRE isn't worrying, but the fact that you seem resigned to getting a low physics GRE rather than trying to figure out why and trying again and again and again is worrying.

    Also, one big test for whether or not you should get a Ph.D. is whether or not you are willing to do the Ph.D. for the sake of doing the Ph.D. Let's suppose I bring out the crystal ball, and tell you that you have ZERO chance of getting *ANY* physics related work after you get your Ph.D. Would you still do it? If the answer is no, then you should reconsider because the difficulty and cost of getting a Ph.D. is so huge, that you really need to be doing it for the sake of doing it, rather than as a stepping stone to something else.

    One thing that is a warning sign for me is when someone gets overly concerned over getting into the top school. Suppose I tell you that you have *ZERO* chance of getting into a top school. You have *ZERO* chance of getting into a mid rank school. In fact the only school that will take you is the *WORST* physics Ph.D. school in the world. That once you get your degree you will be a total laughing stock of the academic community, and you'll be spending your years doing physics in back rooms and garbage dumps. If after telling you this, you *STILL* want to sign on, then I think you'll do well.

    Something that people don't get is the quality of a school depends on its graduate students, and that what you do in graduate school will determine the quality of your own education and the quality of the school. If the only school that you can get into is a bottom five school, that's your chance to take the offer, and do what you can to make the school into something more than it is.
     
  17. Sep 27, 2010 #16

    Physics_UG

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    thanks twofish. I would do a phd in physics even if I wasn't doing something physics related when I finished. I really want to do this.
     
  18. Sep 28, 2010 #17

    Vanadium 50

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    The course descriptions. Now, syllabi lie, so it's not a sure thing, but it's worth looking at them and deciding how accurate it is. If it's accurate, the program is not strong.
     
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