Industry to University

  • #1
Is a post doc a requirement for a university position? Has anyone heard of a person going from industry to a university?
 

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  • #2
Andy Resnick
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I transitioned from industry to a university. I'm not sure a post-doc is a *requirement*, but it's close to being one.
 
  • #3
bcrowell
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What field are we talking about? In physics, obtaining a full-time job at a research university essentially requires (a) extreme talent and motivation, (b) multiple postdocs, and (c) quite a bit of luck. In the 25 years since I finished my undergrad degree, nobody I know has ever gotten such a job with one postdoc, let alone zero postdocs. The most brilliant physics major I knew as an undergrad, who was the commencement speaker at our physics graduation at UC Berkeley, did not get a permanent research job. He did one postdoc and then couldn't find another postdoc position, which meant he could not continue in research. He went into computers.

My advice to people in your position is this: don't go to grad school unless you are sure you'll enjoy grad school for its own sake, and do it with the understanding that even if you're brilliant, your chances of getting a permanent research job are not very high (certainly far less than 50%).
 
  • #4
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What field are we talking about? In physics, obtaining a full-time job at a research university essentially requires (a) extreme talent and motivation, (b) multiple postdocs, and (c) quite a bit of luck. In the 25 years since I finished my undergrad degree, nobody I know has ever gotten such a job with one postdoc, let alone zero postdocs. The most brilliant physics major I knew as an undergrad, who was the commencement speaker at our physics graduation at UC Berkeley, did not get a permanent research job. He did one postdoc and then couldn't find another postdoc position, which meant he could not continue in research. He went into computers.
Hmm, that's weird, I know of at least two assistant professors at my university that have gotten the job with only one post-doc (one in condensed matter physics, the other in geophysics). And I didn't even have to look to hard, total number of CV's viewed was less than 5.
 
  • #5
I transitioned from industry to a university. I'm not sure a post-doc is a *requirement*, but it's close to being one.
Do you feel like the transition was harder than it would've been than if you were a post doc?

What field are we talking about? In physics, obtaining a full-time job at a research university essentially requires (a) extreme talent and motivation, (b) multiple postdocs, and (c) quite a bit of luck. In the 25 years since I finished my undergrad degree, nobody I know has ever gotten such a job with one postdoc, let alone zero postdocs. The most brilliant physics major I knew as an undergrad, who was the commencement speaker at our physics graduation at UC Berkeley, did not get a permanent research job. He did one postdoc and then couldn't find another postdoc position, which meant he could not continue in research. He went into computers.

My advice to people in your position is this: don't go to grad school unless you are sure you'll enjoy grad school for its own sake, and do it with the understanding that even if you're brilliant, your chances of getting a permanent research job are not very high (certainly far less than 50%).
Sorry, I should've been more clear. It is for physics, probably applied physics (electronics is my interest at the moment) if that makes a difference. I know I will enjoy grad school. And I would be perfectly content with my life going into industry. But like most physics majors out there, I would like a university research/professor position somewhere down the line but I'm not sure I want to move around doing several post docs when I'm thirty.
 
  • #6
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But like most physics majors out there, I would like a university research/professor position somewhere down the line but I'm not sure I want to move around doing several post docs when I'm thirty.
I know of several high energy theorists that went into Wall Street, and are now faculty at reasonably big name universities. The key thing is that they aren't faculty in the physics department, but are teaching courses either in the business school or finance departments.

See

http://math.nyu.edu/financial_mathematics/content/02_financial/07.html [Broken] and look for physics for some examples.
 
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  • #7
Andy Resnick
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Do you feel like the transition was harder than it would've been than if you were a post doc?
Interesting question... there's no clear way for me to answer this, since I only experienced a single career path. However, with the benefit of hindsight, here's what I can offer:

I went straight through school BS-PhD, with graduate school lasting a total of 6 years (2 years classwork, 4 years project). When I graduated, I didn't really want a postdoc (although I applied to a few programs) because I was tired of living in poverty. At the time, a few profs who I respected told me it would be exceedingly difficult to "get back into the lab". They were right, but not for the reasons I thought they meant.

I took a job that paid reasonably well (defense contractor) and quickly realized that there was a lot about industrial jobs I could not stand. The technical work was an amazing experience, but that only accounted for 20%-30% of my time; the rest was spent in meetings and writing technical reports which are completely different in character from journal articles. This was one reason it was hard to get back into research- the writing skills don't match up at all.

After a year I wanted to spend more time in a lab setting, so I looked for another job and found one with a NASA contractor that was closer to a research position than my (at that time) current job. In a lot of ways, that job could have been considered equivalent to a postdoc position, only it paid better and lasted longer. After a few years, I realized that NASA was turning into a train wreck and I had better get out before the inevitable layoffs occurred. I started applying for faculty positions, but wasn't competitive for a few reasons (the real reasons for the comment above). Briefly, even though I had been publishing in journals, I had been doing lots of "engineering" instead of "science"- in an industry setting, I had lost the distinction between the two. Also, I had not demonstrated that I could set up a self-directed and self-supported research program.

I got lucky- I applied for and obtained a National Institutes of Health award, which got me back in the lab (at a much better salary than a postdoc). 4 years later, with the grant ending, I again applied for faculty positions and found myself much more competitive. So here I am now, in a tenure-track faculty position at a research university.

From PhD to tenure-track position took me about 10 years- which I suspect is the average. I did it without being poor, and being outside academia gave me some skills that set me apart from my peers (which is a good thing).

Does that help?
 
  • #8
Wow, thanks a lot Andy. That's a lot of help. Seriously, thanks.

You said you ended up doing more engineering than science in industry and that made you less desirable for science positions. Did it make you more desirable for engineering faculty positions?
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
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Considering that part of a faculty member's job is to supervise post-docs, it's hard to imagine that they are ready until they have had at least the equivalent experience of being a post-doc.

I know of a couple people who landed permanent jobs after one postdoc. Maybe 10-20% of those who have them, but that works out to only a few percent of those who went to grad school.
 
  • #10
Andy Resnick
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Wow, thanks a lot Andy. That's a lot of help. Seriously, thanks.

You said you ended up doing more engineering than science in industry and that made you less desirable for science positions. Did it make you more desirable for engineering faculty positions?
Good question- I never applied, since I don't have a degree in engineering and would have likely not been considered.


Considering that part of a faculty member's job is to supervise post-docs, it's hard to imagine that they are ready until they have had at least the equivalent experience of being a post-doc.
In my experience, supervising post-docs is a lot easier than advising/supervising undergrads- I am constantly terrified that I am giving them bad advice. Post-docs have a lot of experience already, so it's a matter of fine-tuning rather than a rough cut.
 
  • #11
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I'd think engineering departments like the industrial experience. Most of the profs at my university (Ontario) are professional engineers (so they spent a reasonable amount of time in industry). One professor spent almost his entire career in industry then just last year moved into academia and got a full prof job, but I'm not sure if he did a post-doc right after his PhD.
 
  • #12
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Considering that part of a faculty member's job is to supervise post-docs, it's hard to imagine that they are ready until they have had at least the equivalent experience of being a post-doc.
This is field dependent. Post-docs are practically unheard of in business and finance departments, because Ph.D.'s immediately find faculty positions after they graduate.

One other big difference is between physics and finance is that there really is a "tier" system in physics graduate schools, whereas there is a very, very strong "tier" system among business schools and finance departments, and typically if you get a Ph.D. from a tier N university, you get tenure track at a tier N-1 university and if that doesn't work you end up with a permanent positions in a tier N-2 university. The catch is that the admissions is more heavily filtered than in physics and most people have to take out loans.

Also the publication system in finance is very different than physics (and IMHO it's seriously broken in finance and economics).
 
  • #13
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Andy - what was your thesis on?? I'm having an insanely hard time getting in with defense contractors, and I'd absolutely love to work for them. My research has been primarily in observational astrophysics. If you want more details, I have an active thread in this subforum.

I would have had an easier time in something like solid state I think.
 
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  • #14
Andy Resnick
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Andy - what was your thesis on?? I'm having an insanely hard time getting in with defense contractors, and I'd absolutely love to work for them. My research has been primarily in observational astrophysics. If you want more details, I have an active thread in this subforum.

I would have had an easier time in something like solid state I think.
My dissertation was about 50% fluids, 50% optics- it was an experimental study of liquid bridges, for example:

http://pof.aip.org/resource/1/phfle6/v9/i7/p1893_s1 [Broken]

http://webserver.dmt.upm.es/~isidoro/lc1/Da%20Riva%27s%20team%20research.htm [Broken]

Occasionally (and intentionally) confused with this:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-W9R3RFPYd7s/TaNJiz2jMNI/AAAAAAAAAdY/sS5ZIILBeIw/s1600/watch-the-soloist.jpg [Broken]
 
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  • #15
Vanadium 50
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This is field dependent. Post-docs are practically unheard of in business and finance departments, because Ph.D.'s immediately find faculty positions after they graduate.
Well, this IS Physics Forums. If someone asked on Finance Forums, they might get a different answer.
 
  • #16
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One of the nuclear engineering professors at Ohio State transitioned from industry to academia with only a master's - granted, he was exceptionally experienced in the realm of reactor operations, which is sorely lacking in many nuclear engineering programs, but it's certainly possible.
 
  • #17
I'd think engineering departments like the industrial experience. Most of the profs at my university (Ontario) are professional engineers (so they spent a reasonable amount of time in industry). One professor spent almost his entire career in industry then just last year moved into academia and got a full prof job, but I'm not sure if he did a post-doc right after his PhD.
Any idea if it would make me less desirable if my Phd wasn't in engineering? Current plan is applied physics.
 
  • #18
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Any idea if it would make me less desirable if my Phd wasn't in engineering? Current plan is applied physics.
It's all about how much money you're brining to the table. Do you have a track record of getting research grants? Do you have some opportunities already in the pipe? Or are you just looking for a smooth teaching gig and to do a little research on the side? I know, I know, not the last one. But you don't have to convince me, you have to convince them.
 
  • #19
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Well, this IS Physics Forums. If someone asked on Finance Forums, they might get a different answer.
Except that I as pointed out a non-trivial number of physics Ph.D.'s end up as faculty in business and finance departments. It would be interesting to compare the number of high energy theorists that end up with a faculty position in a finance department versus in the physics department, and I think the numbers would be significant.

Personally, one reason I went into finance was that it is far, far more likely that I'd end up with a faculty position this way than going the standard physics route.
 
  • #20
Vanadium 50
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It is for physics, probably applied physics
So let's discuss physics. If the rules are different in finance, or art history, or in music, it doesn't answer the OP's question.
 
  • #21
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So let's discuss physics. If the rules are different in finance, or art history, or in music, it doesn't answer the OP's question.
The rules of finance departments are relevant to physics Ph.D.'s, because a non-trivial number of physics Ph.D.'s (particularly theorists) end up as faculty in business and finance departments, and it's a lot easier to make the transition if you know the rules.

One thing that will kill you if you try to make an industry->physics department transition is the lack of a publication record, and I agree with Andy Resnick that the lack of a publication trail is *the* biggest barrier for making the jump. However, business and finance departments can and do hire physics Ph.D.'s with extensive business experience and no publication record.

Academic publishing matters less in finance and business departments than in physics departments, and that works strongly in favor of physics Ph.D.'s. The main thing that will get you hired is networking.

There are also some land-mines. For example the AACSB has a Post-Doctoral Bridge to Business program that retrains non-business Ph.D.'s to certify them as B-school faculty.

http://www.aacsb.edu/bridgetobusiness/default.asp

It looks nice, but in fact, it's a horrible path to take for physics Ph.D.'s.

Also having a post-doc is pretty much a requirement for getting a job in a physics department, but it will seriously hurt you if you want a job in the B-school. It won't give you the business experience or social networks that makes you attractive, and the way that finance works, getting a post-doc is a taken as a sign that something is wrong with you (i.e. you weren't good enough to get a industrial job or a faculty position once you got the Ph.D.)

The other thing is the number of jobs. Physics departments have this inherent Malthusian characteristic (i.e. professor -> Ph.D.'s -> professors). Finance and business departments don't, which means that you end up with a lot of job openings.

There's also the University of Phoenix, which may or may not be what you are looking for.

None of this would matter if most people with physics Ph.D.'s were able to get jobs doing thing by following the standard procedure, but that isn't the situation. One problem with the university structure is that it encourages people to think in terms of silos which will kill you once you get the Ph.D.
 
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  • #22
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Also if we restrict ourselves to physics departments the answer to the OP's question is likely to be "you are screwed."

There aren't enough jobs for people that go through the standard route, so anything non-standard about you will get you eliminated. Once you go off the beaten path, then people on the standard path aren't likely to want you back, so once you start doing things a little crazy, you end up having to go really crazy to get what you want.

On the other hand, it's not crazy to jump out of a plane, when you've figured out that it's going to crash anyway.
 

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