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Job hunting advice for theoretical physics PhD

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Can you explain why you think I was being arrogant and difficult to work with?
It's a hunch we have based on your responses in this thread.

Something to think about. . .
 
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Why did you feel the need to 'hide' your background when talking to new clients? Wouldn't additional skills (in a field as difficult as physics) impress them even more and give them more reason to hire you
Never thought about this - this was not a strategy picked deliberately. There was no need as I had more requests for projects that I could work on anyway.

In hindsight I took great pride in the fact that I really started from scratch in IT and that I had been considered an expert by IT clients after a few years.

I have worked in a very specific niche in IT and customers were looking for somebody with exactly this knowledge. Customers want you to solve a - very often time-critical - problem they have right now and they just want to know if you have the right skillset to do the job.
 
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Customers want you so solve a - very often time-critical - problem they have right now and they just want to know if you have the right skillset to do the job.
Exactly. Whether you know anything about physics or know how to skydive or can run a four-minute mile is completely irrelevant.

(OK, if I was interviewing, I'd be impressed if you run a four-minute mile. But it won't help you get the job. :smile:)
 
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I don't believe I've ever worked with you, Diracula, but from your descriptions of your interactions with hiring managers and coworkers, all I feel is empathy for them. And I honestly believe that you are shooting yourself in the foot. Repeatedly.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe they *are* all out to get you. You are right, I have no way of knowing.

I do know that if you act this way at a job interview, you will be shown the door rather quickly.
Neither one of you is backing down on going off topic.
 
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Neither one of you is backing down on going off topic.
Point taken, apologies to all.
 
I don't believe I've ever worked with you, Diracula, but from your descriptions of your interactions with hiring managers and coworkers, all I feel is empathy for them. And I honestly believe that you are shooting yourself in the foot. Repeatedly.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe they *are* all out to get you. You are right, I have no way of knowing.

I do know that if you act this way at a job interview, you will be shown the door rather quickly.
Why are you trying to twist this around into me claiming they are "all out to get me"? Really really strange that you would resort to creating a strawman and distort this into accusing me of being paranoid. Did you miss the part where I had an insider later communicate with me that was involved in the hiring discussions? Or did you willfully ignore that out of convenience?

If you think how I (or anyone) acts on an anonymous internet forum is equivalent to how I (or anyone) would act at a job interview, then I'm quite glad you aren't involved in any hiring decisions. Not that posting my direct experience about how I was treated by non-math/physics people at a previous job is bad in any way, but somehow you've managed to convince yourself this so there you go anyway.
 
It's a hunch we have based on your responses in this thread.

Something to think about. . .
I have a similar hunch: people who assume things about people's behavior at work, or, at a job interview (lol, really?) based on a handful of posts on an internet forum probably aren't the type of people who should be giving advice out on, well... anything really.

But yeah, I posted some anecdotal experiences and people basically said I was a paranoid liar, and I pointed out that well, no, I actually had inside information during the process. That totally makes me an ******* at work. Not the people who are implying I'm making **** up for no reason. Nope, they are the pinnacle of social grace and are clearly easy to get along with. This makes sense now, I certainly see where you are coming from.
 
Neither one of you is backing down on going off topic.
I'm actually attempting to relate this to the original question in the thread; it's just difficult when you have a swarm of loonies accusing you of being paranoid or outright fabricating stories for no reason.

My point is basically know your audience, and realize it is an extremely typical human emotion to feel threatened by people that you perceive could be more intelligent than you. See elkement's story of how someone relayed to him that everyone thought he was arrogant before even meeting him simply by virtue of having a Ph.D. in physics (if, for some reason, you think I'm hallucinating or lying with my anecdote, there's another one for you). Probably the easiest way to make someone feel intellectually inferior is to go in great detail about a field that's really abstract and esoteric and that a huge portion of the population could not hope to understand. Do you really think making a hiring manager feel dumb in any way will help you get the job?

Basically, I would distill this down into the following advice: minimize the technical details of your physics Ph.D. thesis (both on your job app/resume and during the interview) if you know that job is not related to your thesis or you're pretty darn sure the details are irrelevant. This, conveniently, somewhat mirrors the advice of others saying to focus on what you can do for the company (don't talk about what you did during your Ph.D. that no one understands, focus on your programming skills, for example). Try to shift the focus away from your Ph.D. work. Hell, omit the Ph.D. entirely if necessary to get the job (some say this is unethical, I say that's hogwash. If you need a job you need a job).

Just trying to present an alternative to "all these uber talented physicists can't find a job because the market is flooded with a bunch of Alan Turing clones". Be aware of how you may come off to those that don't have a background in a field like math, physics, or engineering. I've seen enough instances of people feeling threatened (or automatically assuming Mr. Math Guy is arrogant) that I know people are not always rational about this.
 
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Diracula,
as you quote my anecdote so often I need to add a disclaimer. Sorry, all, for the off-topic, but I will try to bring this posting back on track at the end (job hunting, resumes etc.)

I tried to write a balanced post on several issues discussed here that does not consist solely of this anecdote. I am very much inclined to judge other people only based on skills they demonstrate right in front of me. This is what I learned from the hacker community and this is how I want to be judged by others.

I need to stress again that I always got along very well with the initially skeptical colleague from day 1. It seems I was able to convince him within the first seconds of talking to each other that I am not some stereotypical arrogant holder of an advanced degree. He told me the anecdote years later and we had a good laugh.

I had never, ever been bitter about it and I had never, ever in my life any experience that would have implied I was not hired or otherwise rejected based on my degree.
Rather the opposite: I have been told repeatedly that I am an easy person to work with by clients - and to me this is a more important feedback than people calling me a technical guru (which also happened).
I second the posters who state people are hired based on the combination of social and technical skills. Yes - I might have been hired because my social in a sense superseded the degree, but I am fine with that!! It is the result that matters.

So the remaining issues is the following, and here I try to return to resumes, networking and job hunting in general:
Yes, people may be biased in an irrational way based on something they read about you - your social media profiles, your CV, whatever they see before they meet you in person.

I had been shocked about myself sometimes when I was browsing CVs of others. I could not help forming an opinion within nano-seconds, sometimes based on weird details. Having a degree is just one of many other triggers of biased thinking. Others may be put off by your hobbys, by the fact you mention hobbys at all or by the fact you do not mention hobbys.

As a job hunter you should probably ask other people what they spontaneously feel when they see your CV, your professional profiles etc. Probably these should be people who know you, but who are not emotionally attached to you.
You might be surprised about the feedback and should incorporate it into the CV - even if you do not like it.

I'd like to emphasize again that the anecdote was about an opinion somebody had about me as an online persona so to speak, not about me as human being he had met in person.

And I simply cannot resist: If you post to a forum for physicists your scarce forum online persona makes people obviously believe you need to be male and they start talking about 'his' posts ;-)
 

atyy

Science Advisor
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If one leaves a physics PhD off a CV, wouldn't one look "unemployed" during a period of 6 years?

Or does one describe the PhD without mentioning it's a PhD?

In which fields does one leave off the PhD? I assume not in insurance, finance, big data since those do hire physicists?
 
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If one leaves a physics PhD off a CV, wouldn't one look "unemployed" during a period of 6 years?

Or does one describe the PhD without mentioning it's a PhD?

In which fields does one leave off the PhD? I assume not in insurance, finance, big data since those do hire physicists?
I haven't done that, but if I wanted to I would state I was employed by the university (or a funding agency, whatever is more suitable) for R&D and teaching.

Probably it's easier in Europe - here working towards the PhD is 'a job', you are not considered a graduate *student*
 
I am very much inclined to judge other people only based on skills they demonstrate right in front of me. This is what I learned from the hacker community and this is how I want to be judged by others.
Many of my colleagues who work as programmers have similar attitudes. I'm trying to specifically target places with that type of workplace culture. Then the question is: how does one find places like that and show them what you can do?

I spent a lot of time building an online portfolio of programs and technical writing. It's mostly mini-projects, kind of like what ParticleGrl described. I got the idea from the Coding Horror blog: Anyone can put together boilerplate resume text, full of assertive verbs and fancy keywords. Blah blah enterprise blah blah strategic blah blah architect blah blah. The benefits of "show, don't tell" are much more compelling. My resume has a link to the portfolio at the top.

Yes, people may be biased in an irrational way based on something they read about you - your social media profiles, your CV, whatever they see before they meet you in person.

I had been shocked about myself sometimes when I was browsing CVs of others. I could not help forming an opinion within nano-seconds, sometimes based on weird details...

As a job hunter you should probably ask other people what they spontaneously feel when they see your CV, your professional profiles etc. Probably these should be people who know you, but who are not emotionally attached to you.
At least you are aware of your own cognitive biases! I think that gives you a competitive advantage when trying to find future co-workers. There's also another good point in here: responses to applications are random variables, and their volatilities are often much higher than people want to believe.

Many friends reported depression from staring at the phone and reading the deluge of rejection letters, and I know what they mean. Some use meditation, religious rituals, or various hobbies as psychological defenses. I use poker and probability theory. It quickly becomes obvious in poker that frustrating and unfair disasters happen all the time. Skilled players focus on controlling their own decisions instead of trying to control the cards. It's a bit like zazen plus mental arithmetic.

One of my toughest opponents has a saying: if you have a good hand, don't worry too much about your opponents folding. You probably weren't going to get many chips from them anyway. Maybe I'm taking the analogy too far, but I use a similar tactic for job applications. Some of your readers don't give a damn how good you are at anything. The expected utility of impressing these people is zero, so don't worry about them. Others do give a damn, but they lack the time and energy needed to accurately understand you. Write something that looks good from their point of view.

This is essentially how news journalists are trained to write, and it's easier said than done. One idea I read is the "10 second test." Print the resume/CV on physical paper. Pretend it's for a stranger and your job is to read it. Your job is also 500 other things, 10 of which are impossible, and 280 of which are overdue. Look at the paper for 5-10 seconds, then flip it over. Describe what you read to someone in 1 minute. Can you change the text to make that snap-judgement more accurate?
 
If one leaves a physics PhD off a CV, wouldn't one look "unemployed" during a period of 6 years?

Or does one describe the PhD without mentioning it's a PhD?

In which fields does one leave off the PhD? I assume not in insurance, finance, big data since those do hire physicists?
I put my PhD on my resume and am getting a few phone calls from FIRE (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate), so it must not be a total death sentence in those industries. It's near the top, but otherwise I try to dodge the arrogant-******* stereotype by listing it as if it were just another education credential like a double major or something. The bulk of my resume is bullet lists of projects, programs, and keywords like applied probability, statistics, MATLAB.

I've heard lots of anecdotal evidence supporting the hide-your-PhD-for-intro-jobs theory. If I have to do that, I'm going to list Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant on my employment history so people don't think I was just playing Farmville for 6 years.
 
If one leaves a physics PhD off a CV, wouldn't one look "unemployed" during a period of 6 years?
During your phd, you draw a salary from the university for research and teaching appointments, so I included those as job experience. Basically, my resume stayed exactly the same except the line that said 'phd' in the education section went away.

In which fields does one leave off the PhD? I assume not in insurance, finance, big data since those do hire physicists?
For me, I received an order of magnitude more interviews for engineering and scientific programming jobs with my phd off my resume. I never actually got an offer at these places, but at least I was getting interviews. For finance jobs I left it on.

For the first job I actually got, I never even submitted a resume, which I think underscores that the best way to get a job is to know someone.

Regarding the phd, the advice I got from two headhunters was 1. if the requirements include an advanced degree in a quantitative field, obviously leave it on. 2. If your phd subjects is directly relevant to the job at hand, leave it on. 3. In all other cases, you should probably leave it off. Remember that a resume is a quick list of things about you that are relevant for the job you are applying to.
 
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I always felt one should leave the PhD on the resume – at least, include it in the education or work experience section. However, I’ll defer to ParticleGrl.

If you are going to leave it off, have a simple, upbeat reason for doing so in case it comes up in the interview. Maybe “it didn’t seem relevant to the job” is good enough, but also be prepared to expand a little.

Remember to say nothing negative. I’ve always thought that a stance such as “I enjoyed my time in grad school and am proud of what I did, but I’m looking forward to doing XXX even more” or something of the sort is a good angle to take. Turn the conversation back to what you’ll be doing for them ASAP.

Edit: Maybe the key is where you put it. If the resume says “Dr. Jane Smith, PhD” at the top and the job listing doesn’t specifically require a PhD, that’s just asking for the circular file.
 
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: Maybe the key is where you put it. If the resume says “Dr. Jane Smith, PhD” at the top and the job listing doesn’t specifically require a PhD, that’s just asking for the circular file.
That might be the issue. As a recent phd, your education is likely front-and-center of the resume, which might feel a bit like having Dr. Know It All, Phd plastered across the top. Perhaps simply moving the entire education section to the end of the resume after a "work experience" section that includes your lab and teaching experience would suffice.
 

jk

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People judge you based on what you do or say as well as mental models (really, prejudices) they have about you. These mental models could be positive (PhD = smart) or negative (PhD = arrogant). To be honest, what I have seen in industry is that people tend to have a positive (i.e PhD=smart) prejudice. The worst I have seen is that advanced degree holders are seen as impractical (i.e interested in theoretical questions and not necessarily "getting things done"). I have seen this tendency in some candidates with advanced degrees who displayed a lack of knowledge of practical issues so this prejudice is not entirely unwarranted. That being said, it was understood by all who interviewed them that this lack of knowledge was due to the fact that they had never worked in industry and so it was not held against them. I think offers were made to at least one although I don't know if he accepted or not.
People have tried to give you advice and you interpreted it in ways that they did not intend. Let me point out a few more in your response here:
I'm actually attempting to relate this to the original question in the thread; it's just difficult when you have a swarm of loonies accusing you of being paranoid or outright fabricating stories for no reason.
"swarm of loonies" is not exactly a friendly term to describe people who are trying to give you the benefit of their experience. I also saw no accusations of being paranoid - only that you are drawing incorrect conclusions.
My point is basically know your audience, and realize it is an extremely typical human emotion to feel threatened by people that you perceive could be more intelligent than you.
I disagree. People feel threatened by people who act in threatening ways. I have NEVER encountered the phenomenon of people being threatened by advanced degree.

I actually enjoy meeting people who are more intelligent than I am but I do not consider the holding of any degree to be proof that the person is some sort of genius. I have met a lot of average (and a few dim bulb) PhD holders.
See elkement's story of how someone relayed to him that everyone thought he was arrogant before even meeting him simply by virtue of having a Ph.D. in physics (if, for some reason, you think I'm hallucinating or lying with my anecdote, there's another one for you).Probably the easiest way to make someone feel intellectually inferior is to go in great detail about a field that's really abstract and esoteric and that a huge portion of the population could not hope to understand. Do you really think making a hiring manager feel dumb in any way will help you get the job?
I don't see why that would make anyone feel intellectually inferior. People know that the PhD holder spent anywhere from 4 to 8 years post-bachelor's studying this stuff. Of course that person would KNOW more about physics than someone who maybe only studied it in high school, if at all but that does not confer intellectual superiority. Just means you spent a few years studying one field. Most people understand this and will not hold your knowledge of physics against you.
Basically, I would distill this down into the following advice: minimize the technical details of your physics Ph.D. thesis (both on your job app/resume and during the interview) if you know that job is not related to your thesis or you're pretty darn sure the details are irrelevant.
But why confine this advice to just Ph.D physics? You should minimize conversation about anything that does not give the interviewer the idea that you can do the job. You only have an hour or so to convince that person that you are perfect for the job. Why waste it on anything else?. So don't go on about your vacation, your homeowner association meetings, your hobby of building model trains in the nude ..etc (unless asked..even then steer the conversation back to the matter at hand)
This, conveniently, somewhat mirrors the advice of others saying to focus on what you can do for the company (don't talk about what you did during your Ph.D. that no one understands, focus on your programming skills, for example). Try to shift the focus away from your Ph.D. work. Hell, omit the Ph.D. entirely if necessary to get the job (some say this is unethical, I say that's hogwash. If you need a job you need a job).
I think instead of trying to "shift focus away from your Phd work", you should "shift focus to" the skills you have that they need.
Just trying to present an alternative to "all these uber talented physicists can't find a job because the market is flooded with a bunch of Alan Turing clones". Be aware of how you may come off to those that don't have a background in a field like math, physics, or engineering. I've seen enough instances of people feeling threatened (or automatically assuming Mr. Math Guy is arrogant) that I know people are not always rational about this.
If you are an uber talented physicist with a modicum of social skills you will find a job because you are an uber talented anything you will find a job. However, physicist=talented is not always true and people know this.

One last thing: a lot of times people are reluctant to hire someone who spent years studying subject A and now wants to work in area B. The question is: will this person be happy doing this? Will they leave first chance they get? People have a perception that an advanced degree opens doors so they may fear that you are just waiting until you find the job that you really want.
 
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Oh god. Can both sides let it go. One side has certain life experiences and another side has another set of life experiences.

How did it reach the point that people are arguing on what really happened in an experience in a presumably private setting in another person's life experience without having been there?

For all you know Diracula's experience could be valid. I dont know since I wasnt in the room. I could choose to maybe not believe it but I cant argue that it didnt happen because I wasnt there.
 
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However, physicist=talented is not always true and people know this.
Even more importantly, talented physicist != talented programmer.

It seems to me that the number one reason for not discussing your Ph.D. research is that it, in all likelihood, is completely irrelevant and will only feed into the idea that you'd rather be doing something else.

I'm with Locrian though... leave it on your resume, just don't make it the centerpiece of your job pitch.
 
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Many of my colleagues who work as programmers have similar attitudes. I'm trying to specifically target places with that type of workplace culture. Then the question is: how does one find places like that and show them what you can do?
I was not exactly a programmer, but I was designing and implementing Public Key Infrastructures (closer to architect blah blah strategic blah blah ;-) I really like this quote!). So take the following with a grain of salt.

I think participating in internet discussion groups is a way to build up some reputation - providing others with helpful advice and giving proof of your expertise. One of my customers once found me via a discussion group.

However, it takes some time - usually this is something you do in parallel to working on projects and you would not start it specifically for the purpose of job hunting.

One idea I read is the "10 second test." Print the resume/CV on physical paper. Pretend it's for a stranger and your job is to read it. Your job is also 500 other things, 10 of which are impossible, and 280 of which are overdue. Look at the paper for 5-10 seconds, then flip it over. Describe what you read to someone in 1 minute. Can you change the text to make that snap-judgement more accurate?
Obviously you have already a lot of experience with optimzing the CV - this is a great idea.
I wish you all the best!!
 
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jk

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Oh god. Can both sides let it go. One side has certain life experiences and another side has another set of life experiences.

How did it reach the point that people are arguing on what really happened in an experience in a presumably private setting in another person's life experience without having been there?

For all you know Diracula's experience could be valid. I dont know since I wasnt in the room. I could choose to maybe not believe it but I cant argue that it didnt happen because I wasnt there.
That's what forums are for.

No one is arguing about what happened in a private setting. We are discussing whether it is valid to extrapolate from that incident.

I will stop now
 
I found some links relevant to the "Should I hide my PhD?" question:

A physicsforum thread from last year in which ParticleGrl replaced "PhD" with "researcher," and twofish-quant moved it to near the bottom of the page. (Both emphasized that playing down a PhD is a good idea for some applications, not all of them.) There are also some potentially useful job-search tips on that thread.

A Slashdot post full of hilariously terrifying quotes like this one: I often joke that if I ever have to apply for a (non-academic) job, my chances will be better if I just put 'prison' for the four years I was doing my Ph.D. in order to explain the time gap. This is eerily similar to what twofish-quant said: The reason I mention I have a Ph.D. is so that no one thinks that I was in jail for armed robbery.

At least one Slashdotter endorsed my favorite tactic, similar to what ParticleGrl suggested: If you want me to hire you, you have to show me that you are worth it. How can you do that? Work on a project (open source/your own/whatever) in your spare time and bring it to the interview. That brings us back to the short version of my original question:

How do I encourage those people to click on my math/programming portfolio?

If I already have some social or professional connection, I can just ask. What can we do to get the attention of competent hiring managers whose social graph is >2 degrees of separation away?
 
Obviously you have already a lot of experience with optimzing the CV - this is a great idea.
I wish you all the best!!
Thanks! But I also made some beginner blunders.

I figured nobody would care much about my TA responsibilities or service-industry jobs from ~10 years ago, so I didn't list a chronological work history. Apparently this is called a "functional" resume. What I didn't know: many HR workers are required to construct a chronological history and ask you about "gaps." It annoys the hell out of them if they have to spend time finding the dates. If there are no dates at all, they'll often just delete you.

So now my resume/CV has a clear reverse-chronological timeline ending with an almost-completely-irrelevant customer service job. At least I wasn't in jail for armed robbery.
 

atyy

Science Advisor
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I guess the problem with people thinking you were in jail for armed robbery is that it implies incompetence for getting caught?
 
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No one is arguing about what happened in a private setting. We are discussing whether it is valid to extrapolate from that incident.
My point was that no matter what happened in the private setting he has a bigger advantage at extrapolating from that incident because he was there. People could choose to not believe him but at the end of the day being there is the best insight into an event
 

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