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Physics Dejected question about physics future

  1. Oct 24, 2009 #1
    Thank you for taking the time to read this frantic, incoherent pabulum.

    Question -- Would you leave physics Ph.D. graduate research to go teach at a very high-level preparatory school if
    1) you really like teaching (and have taught for three years)
    2) the salary the prep school offering you is staggering (it is exceeding that of a university associate professor :0 )
    3) the students are top notch and include debating champions, math Olympians and AP testing machines (there are also opportunities to work on the physics Olympiad, design curricula, and create a lower-school robotics team)
    4) the location is in a heavenly place in the northeast
    and 5) you enjoyed the films 'Dead Poets Society', 'Scent of a Woman', and 'Emperor's Club'

    But it comes with some perversions. Some of these the school requires and one (no. 5) you realized about yourself in the past three months.

    {Almost done reading}

    1) to get the post and generous salary, you must transition to a Ph.D. program in education/science education with blunt expedience (which means you must default out of the Ph.D. physics program at once and head over to the graduate school of education)
    2) you must have a M.S. in physics (which you already do)
    3) the prep school may actually support research you do and conferences you attend after graduating with a Ph.D. but only if it is in the field of physics education research (PER)/science education/mathematics education/educational psychology; for example they will disregard any activity in carbontubes, condensed matter, high enery, and so on
    4) you must become a coach of either girls table tennis (recent champs), cycling (developing co-ed program), boys swimming (champs a few years ago), but you know nothing about any of the choices and want to avoid it.
    5) you realize you are HATING ALL of your education classes and are regretting leaving physics for it

    That is what I did, I have defaulted out of the Ph.D. physics program 2.5 years into it (department gave me the M.S. for that I qualified) and transitioned to Ph.D. education/science education program but am loathing the education coursework.

    Education is content-less abstraction.

    It will take four years to graduate and I am already 28 years old. (The current physics teacher of 37 instruction-years I am to replace will retire in 2013 exactly the year I am slated to get the Ph.D., and on the phone he sounded like swell, wise, sage). I am allowed to teach there every summer from 2010 to 2013 for six weeks.

    My friends and girlfriend are telling me to "stay the course!" But, I am in a nebulous state of affairs. I do not wish to trace any more antecedents, thank you for reading.

    I will humbly accept all your comments. I cannot get around the fact that I do not like the abstract education courses and am disinterested in to build a champion tennis team.

    Last edited: Oct 24, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2009 #2


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    First of all, I would be wary about orienting my graduate education towards a specific job that is over three years away. What guarantees would you have - in writitng - that you would still have the job if a more attractive candidate comes along. What guarantees do you have that the policies such as supporting research in physics education, will still be in place after three years?

    The other thing to keep in mind, which your concerns seem to highlight, it that you will be a teacher - not a professor. Your priorities will lie with teaching your students and all that entails, including coaching extra-cirricular activities and such. There's nothing wrong with giving up the pursuit of a physics PhD to do this. The world needs good physics teachers and from the sounds of things this seems like an ideal position if you want to pursue that route. But as you've already stated, any research into your particular areas of interest will not be supported.
  4. Oct 24, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Your original question, "Would you leave physics Ph.D. graduate research to go teach at a very high-level preparatory school?" makes me wonder if you have a specific school in mind. If so, you should think about what you will do if you don't get that particular job? Would you still want to teach high-school students somewhere else? Would you give up?
  5. Oct 25, 2009 #4
    Hello Ms/r. Choppy and Andy Resnick,

    Thanks for wasting three minutes of your life pacing through my first post.

    To answer the first question, I suppose my guarantee was verbal after two interviews and an invitation to teach physics every summer from 2010 through 2013 for six weeks (that I received in writing). I was told no one else is slated to do that among the applicants.

    No, continued work in physics education research is not guaranteed after I assume a fulltime post there but teachers in other departments are attending conferences and in some cases continuing research and parsing it out to their students (I suppose that is why the school supports faculty research--to expose ambitious high schoolers to research). For example, the Latin teacher took a sabbatical in Italy and later presented her results at a conference in London. I can only claim that the school historically supports teachers' research efforts—it is not a policy but a tendency allowed by the headmaster.

    As to Mr. Resnick, yes, I was offered a position at a specific school and it begins on 9 September 2013. This was defined after some interviews and the retirement of the current physics teacher.

    Because the school has a very good reputation they will keep to their commitment of hiring me; I was already offered the position, only grooming will follow. But, sir, okay, if for some reason it does fall through, I will look elsewhere, to another prep school, another institute specializing in physics education, or at a college science department or school of education that will give me latitude to do PER.

    What do you think? What are your initial reactions?


  6. Oct 25, 2009 #5
    Honestly, it sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I am sorry for you to have to suffer through so many years of education courses, which are renowned for their vapidity, but if you do in fact enjoy teaching, I would say go for it. Disliking education courses simply means that there is still hope for you.

    It is likely that you would not do any research in something like condensed matter physics or whatever, but just because your field is physics education does not mean you don't get to do anything interesting.

    Take, for example, this http://www.av8n.com/physics/" [Broken]. Most of what Denker writes about on this subject is about problems that have been "solved", but that doesn't make them uninteresting. It is always a challenge to educate a new generation, and finding new and better ways to do that is what physics education is all about. If you can make fun contraptions while you are doing it, all the better.

    Regarding the coaching commitment, just suck it up and do it. If you like teaching, you will probably be able to find an activity to coach that is pretty fun for you. There are aspects of everyone's job that they are less than fond of. You'll just have to make the best of it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Oct 25, 2009 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    If you have a written offer (and it's not clear to me that you do) for employment starting in 9 september 2013, it's the job you want and all you have to do is sit through some boring courses, I would say you would be a fool to pass up that opportunity.

    And if it does fall through, STEM teachers are in demand now, and will be for a while.
  8. Oct 25, 2009 #7
    He said he does have a written offer.
  9. Oct 26, 2009 #8
    I don't see where he says this. I see:

    I must stress, that you absolutely, positively, must get an offer letter in writing. This job is so far out, and represents such a significant time investment by yourself, that it would be absolute lunacy for you to proceed without a contractual guarantee. Seriously. Get it in writing.

    Most professionals wouldn't even consider leaving their old position for a new one without an offer letter first (not a verbal agreement). You're talking about investing years of your life. Play it safe.

    I can think of a million things that can go wrong, even if they're on the up and up. What if the current teacher decides not to retire? He wouldn't do that? What if his wife gets seriously sick, and he can't afford to leave his job and forfeit his health insurance? These things can and do happen.

    Finally, this situation doesn't seem to make much sense. Why would they hire for a position that's four years out? Wouldn't it make more sense to hire closer to the date, when its more clear how things are going to work out? How do they know the table-tennis team will need a coach in four years exactly-- who's doing it now?

    Why would a prestigious school hire a teacher with no experience four years in advance? It doesn't make any sense. Perhaps if you were going to apprentice with one of their teachers for a year or two, I could see it. But otherwise...

    The whole thing smells fishy, man. Get it in writing. Are you sure you haven't read too much into what they said?

    Edit to add: I say 'no teaching experience' above. I want to clarify that I mean 'no experience teaching high-schoolers', which is vastly different than TAing in college, which is what I assume your experience is (since you say you were a few years into a PhD program).
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2009
  10. Oct 26, 2009 #9
    Also, keep in mind that written offers for at will employment are in no way binding. The job may be different than advertised. It may not be there at all when you finish. Written offers are no better than verbal unless they are in a signed contract. I'd recommend that you keep networking, and don't burn any bridges.

    Good luck!
  11. Oct 26, 2009 #10
    Just a couple of comments:

    1) Who cares whether you like your classes? Either the long term deal has changed or it hasn't. Changing your plans because of an extremely temporary problem of not liking your coursework is irrational.

    2) At least you'll have a PhD in something, which - if you like to teach - should open up a number of possible positions across the country.

    If I had made the choice you did, I'd stick with it. Explore lots of other options as well as the one school. At some point, you have to stop waffling or you'll find you've spent your best years being a [strike]waste of carbon[/strike] grad student. That hasn't happened yet. Get this PhD and get out, forever.
  12. Oct 26, 2009 #11
    Oh, Christ, I am stunned at the number of replies; I thought I would get one per month. Thanks for chiming in and sorry if I was unclear. Okay, let me effort now.

    Ben Espen, thank you for providing the two links; I have bookmarked both and sifted through one.

    Andy Resnick, yes, you are right, I do not have a written offer. [Full-stop].

    >"it's the job you want and all you have to do is sit through some boring courses"
    Actually, it’s more than that—I have to produce a Ph.D. thesis of publishable quality in science/physics education, but I do get your point, just endure the education school general coursework and focus on the PER.

    Dotman, you, too are correct. I need to get a letter. Okay, I am realizing I am cascading "You are right!", "You are right!" to every user here. But, I need to clarify some issues. It is the historical hiring practice of an independent school to secure a qualified person’s service as quickly as possible (though I do not motion I am this person). They may not necessarily need a table-tennis coach in four years or at all but are indicating that an extracurricular duty must be filled and in about that time how do I feel about the following programs, table-tennis, cycling or swimming?

    >"Why would a prestigious school hire a teacher with no experience four years in advance?"
    I was a high school physics teacher three years before entering graduate school. And, I *will* be apprenticing at this school every summer from 2010 until 2013, which was offered in writing. Perhaps this is their hiring practice; perhaps I should not put faith in this offer.

    Kote, of course, you got me on that. I actually have nothing; just three summer offers that may be retracted.

    Locrian, you make excellent points and your post script is good, too. A physics professor extended on that that this morning (unrelated topic) that I should not worry too much about the future, PER is emerging from its nebulous beginnings and the more physics students engaging in it in any capacity, whether at a school of education, a department of physics, a high school, in a foreign country, or at Lawrence Hall of Science, the better! There are other opportunities in science and mathematics education research around, a Ph.D. is always good, and passion is a good guiding principle. I should diligently get a good project, write this thesis, teach my courses well, network, attend conferences, and graduate. If a university position emerges, I will consider it, if the academy offer remains or they rescind it for being goons, whatever, at least I would have taught there three summers (or fewer) and benefited. Perhaps it is in my best interest nothing has been signed.

    I am slowly beginning to feel that leaving a physics Ph.D. for an education Ph.D. was not such a terrible thing to do.
  13. Nov 7, 2009 #12
    To update the board. I have been given a letter by the school. It will be officially settled right after the end of my summer 2010 physics camp.
  14. Nov 7, 2009 #13


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    So, it seems the main problem is you are dissatisfied with the direction of coursework for your education PhD, right? If so, why not use that to your advantage. If you think there is some rigor missing in educational research, please, use your physics background to introduce that rigor and raise the bar.

    I would personally agree that there are flaws in the research conducted in that field. When I've questioned other doing educational research about the flaws I see, wondering if it's just that I haven't found the right journals to read, they give me a million and one arguments why those flaws don't exist, suggest a much better journal I should be reading that doesn't have those flaws, so I look up that journal and read several current issues, and discover that they still are all highly flawed experiments that really have a lot of ignored confounding factors and poorly controlled with hasty conclusions drawn. To me, most of what they consider research would be more comparable to what I'd consider a case-study.
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