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Competition to be a professor

  1. Sep 14, 2009 #1
    I have heard that at the University of Minnesota there was one professor opening with 300 candidates. This makes it sound very unrealistic for anyone, however smart, to ever hope to be a professor. So could it be there are worse schools, with less competition?

    I know part of the equation is that I want to be in quantum field theory or gravity, and these are harder to get than something more lab oriented. But I am not willing to back up on THAT, as this specific area of physics is my life time goal. However, I *AM* willing to go to a very bad school.

    So if I go to the lowest ranking school in the country, and apply for a job in quantum field thoery or gravity, what would the competition be like? I am thinking of three basic possibilities:

    1) School in USA/Canada that ranks extremely low

    2) The school in Europe (who knows, may be everyone rushes to USA so there is more competition in USA)

    3) A school in third world country

    Please let me know what is the competition in each case.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2009 #2

    MathematicalPhysicist

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    I am not sure it should be a concern for you that there are 300 applicants for an academic job, such a situation exists also outside of academia, and sometime even worse.
     
  4. Sep 15, 2009 #3
    So if all jobs have such a tough competition, how come we don't have 99% of population homeless?
     
  5. Sep 15, 2009 #4
    People apply to more than one job.
     
  6. Sep 15, 2009 #5
    Lots of people might already have jobs but want to get a better one.
     
  7. Sep 15, 2009 #6
    Are you saying that they will choose someone who doesn't already have a job since that person is in more need? I mean that would be the only way it could answer the 1/300 question.

    Also, out of the job applicants, what is the ratio of the ones who don't have job compared to the ones who do?
     
  8. Sep 15, 2009 #7
    That would work if it was a simple drop of a coin. But it isn't. So, if you are better than 90% and worse than 10%, then sometimes you will come across as 85-th percentile, sometimes 95-th, but you will NEVER be best out of 300, unless one of the employers is insane.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2009
  9. Sep 15, 2009 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    This reads like a classic case of not matching your needs to the needs of a potential employer. Specifically, what evidence do you have that there is a large pool of universities (including the third world...?) trying to hire field theorists?
     
  10. Sep 15, 2009 #9
    Well, even though I got my ph.d. in Michigan, I had a co-advisor from Missisippi. I saw the NSF ranking and the University of Missisippi is very close to the bottom of the list; yet, they do have a large gravity group.
     
  11. Sep 15, 2009 #10

    Choppy

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    I'm not sure that just because a school has a low ranking there will be any less demand for a job there. Remember, these rankings are somewhat arbitrary and take into account many factors that may not necessarily reflect how desirable it would be to work at the given institution. Further, walking into an interview with the opinion that a school is "bad" is not likely to make you very competative for a position there.

    Another issue to consider is that there are lots of advertised positions these days that end up seeing an avalanche applications. But the real question is how many of the applicants are actually qualified for the position? There are a lot of people these days who electronically fire a form CV at any opening they appear to be moderately qualified for.

    In my field (medical physics) it's not uncommon for job openings to have dozens or even hundreds of applicants. But once you start actually sorting through the applicants, you find that only a handful of candidates are actually qualified for the position.
     
  12. Sep 15, 2009 #11
    No chance. They are ful of Europeans & Third World braniacs who can't get into undefunded institutions in their own countries...
     
  13. Sep 15, 2009 #12
    The 99% get a job in IT...
     
  14. Sep 15, 2009 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Mississippi is not the third world. :wink:

    Like Choppy said, rankings are not really an indication of competitiveness. Highly ranked departments tend to be big. Small, specialized departments tend to be unknown outside their particularly specialized field, and rank lower.

    He's also correct that there will be a lot of unqualified people submitting applications. But there will also be a lot of qualified people. If you're #30 of 300 or #30 of 150 or #30 of 600 it doesn't make a big difference. You won't even be shortlisted. Last year there were 9 people that got new theory faculty positions at research universities in the US. 3 or 3.5 of them do stringy or QG-ey stuff. So that should tell you about where you have to be - one of the top three people in your field.

    I hesitate to point this out, but letters of recommendation are vital in getting a faculty position. A candidate who has burned many bridges will have a more difficult time than one who has not.
     
  15. Sep 15, 2009 #14

    atyy

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    Do you know this just because you are in the field, or is this data published somewhere?

    Yes, indeed, although not always practicable, it does make life easier if this advice can be followed!
     
  16. Sep 15, 2009 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    I am in the field, but if you look for the HEP Theory Jobs Rumor Mill, you'll get some similar numbers. It's also worth point out that often faculty searches fail - i.e. they look at a list of 300 or whatever and no one gets an offer.
     
  17. Sep 16, 2009 #16

    Andy Resnick

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    That's not really my point. The reality is, there is an oversupply of potential faculty candidates in certain branches of physics. One could argue that there is an oversupply of potential faculty candidates in *all* branches of physics, but I'm not going to.

    The ranking of a school doesn't always correlate with the quality of a specific program- you provide an example of that- but your sentence "However, I *AM* willing to go to a very bad school" seems (to me) to indicate that those ("very bad", whatever that means) schools would not be interested in hiring *you* because of your attitude. Like, are you gracing their program with your presence?
     
  18. Sep 17, 2009 #17

    Vanadium 50

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    Good point, Andy. People need to look at this from the faculty's point of view - they're asking themselves "do I want this person to be my colleague for the next 30 years?"
     
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