Jobs immediately post-PhD

  • #1
StatGuy2000
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Let's ask some different but related questions here. Suppose that someone were to graduate with a PhD in the sciences in 2013. For simplicity's sake, we will consider 3 areas: (1) physics (for the moment, I'm not distinguishing between experimental or theoretical physics), (2) chemistry, and (3) mathematics (excluding statistics).

Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?
 

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  • #2
AccAcc
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Let's ask some different but related questions here. Suppose that someone were to graduate with a PhD in the sciences in 2013. For simplicity's sake, we will consider 3 areas: (1) physics (for the moment, I'm not distinguishing between experimental or theoretical physics), (2) chemistry, and (3) mathematics (excluding statistics).

Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?

Question 1: 0% (rounded) immediately upon graduation. For National Lab jobs, Chemistry and some branches in Physics have at least some chance. After 1 postdoc, in Physics it would be about 10%. I don't know enough about the other fields to comment.

Question 2: Near 0%? Don't aim too far theoretical, and you'll almost certainly be able to find a job if you look widely and actually try. Those that "screw up" the job search, so to speak, get part-time teaching jobs (i.e. adjuncting), which pay poorly but are better than nothing, while they continue the job hunt.

I am from a low ranked Ph.D. program, but my predecessors have all had eventual luck... as long as they were actually applying to things outside of a handful of postdoc jobs. It hasn't always been an easy path, though.
 
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  • #3
StatGuy2000
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Here is an additional question:

Question 3: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(2) (i.e. physics or chemistry) would end up working in areas completely unrelated to their field of expertise immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1-2 years (either unemployed or underemployed)? Same probability after 1-2 years of postdoc?

(Please note that for mathematics, determining whether a field is completely unrelated is more problematic since so many areas of business and industry involve some quantitative work at some level which could be considered related to math).
 
  • #4
analogdesign
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Question 1: 0% (rounded) immediately upon graduation. For National Lab jobs, Chemistry and some branches in Physics have at least some chance. After 1 postdoc, in Physics it would be about 10%. I don't know enough about the other fields to comment.

Here's a datapoint. I'm a Ph.D. Engineer at a US National Lab. Here, at least, we don't hire any career-track (our version of tenure-track) scientific staff without at least a postdoc. We just hired a new HEP postdoc in our group a few months ago. She was a stellar performer working at the LHC and got her Ph.D. from a top-10 world University. Yet, 6 months after graduation, she was doing contract work for a software company trying to get a postdoc when we contacted her. We had probably 20+ applications for this requisition. With Fermilab on the ropes and SLAC reinventing itself... it's tough out there for physicists right now.

Also, how did we know about her? Networking. She came up and introduced herself to me at a HEP conference in 2011 and I remembered her initiative. Once she applied, we were able to talk to her work group at CERN (we knew them personally) and learned how good she was. If she had just focused on her studies and not put herself out there and met people she wouldn't have this job.

The moral: Show initiative and network!
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50
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Since this is taking the thread in a new direction, I've separated it.
 
  • #6
ParticleGrl
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Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?

I can only answer for physics, where the probability is about 0% immediately after graduation. Postdoc is pretty much required. Even the people I know at liberal arts schools in tt positions did at least one postdoc. I'd guess 1/20 after 1 postdoc, maybe 1/10 after 2 (across subfields, in some fields the norm is 1 postdoc, in others its 2).

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?

It might take 6+ months to find something, but I'd estimate the probability you can find SOMETHING near 100%. In many cases it won't involved physics.

Yet, 6 months after graduation, she was doing contract work for a software company trying to get a postdoc when we contacted her. We had probably 20+ applications for this requisition

A question for you, relevant to my own interests- how long would she have had to work at the software company before you consider her skills "expired," and would no longer consider her?
 
  • #7
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Three datapoints, all PhDs who work outside of academia.

One holds a PhD in astronomy. He went the normal postdoc, ..., postdoc route and eventually landed a tenure track position at a midlevel university. After one too many reorganizations, one too many dumbing downs of the curriculum, one too many misses (but no rejections) at getting tenure he finally decided to look to industry. This was a hard, gut-wrenching decision. He had been trained for years to think that any job in industry was the equivalent of flipping burgers. After the fact, his one regret is that he didn't make the change a whole lot sooner.

Another holds a PhD in mathematics. He followed a similar route as did the first, including a postdoc at the IAS. Even with this, he didn't get that vaunted job in a research college. He did land a tenure track position, but it was in a teaching college on a peninsula in the middle of nowhere. His transition out of academia was a bit easier than was the first person's because this guy had also done a couple of non-academic internships. The mathematics department where he received his PhD had some ties with government and industry. His training said that while working outside of academia wasn't the ideal, it was far superior to flipping burgers.

The third holds a PhD in aerospace engineering. He had the easiest going of the three. He regularly did internships outside academia. Engineering departments have immense ties with government and industry. Doing an internship (and, BTW, getting paid more than twice what TAs and RAs are paid) is SOP for an advanced engineering degree. Professors regularly move from academia to industry back to academia. Working outside of academia is viewed as anything but a burger flipping job. This third person didn't even look for work in academia. Postdoc after postdoc at subsistence wage levels, only to be rejected for tenure at 40? Why?


The attitude that any work outside of academia or a government lab is the moral equivalent of flipping burgers seems to be pervasive in some parts of physics. I've tried to cultivate ties with my alma mater's physics department. No go. Ties with their aerospace engineering department? No problem.
 
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  • #8
jtbell
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Even the people I know at liberal arts schools in tt positions did at least one postdoc.

Or a sabbatical-replacement position (often called "visiting assistant professor"). I had a two-year position like that right after grad school, then got lucky with a tenure-track job.
 
  • #9
kinkmode
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I've known a handful of people over the last 10 years who went directly from grad school to tenure track position in physics. One or two went to small (just so-so) liberal arts colleges, and one went to UCLA. The another batch went to big R1 universities after a short stint as a post doc.

The sad thing about industry work as a physicist is that even if you don't think it's the equivalent of flipping burgers, a lot of people in industry view you as only capable of flipping burgers.
 
  • #10
analogdesign
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A question for you, relevant to my own interests- how long would she have had to work at the software company before you consider her skills "expired," and would no longer consider her?

That's a tricky question, because it can only be answered on a person-by-person basis in my opinion. While this is all nebulous I think the fact that she was taking contract work, rather than having spent two years as a software engineer is a big point.

I imagine if someone had done technical work that is relevant to the activities of a postdoc, then sure, I think we would be open to someone at least several years out of the Ph.D. Hopefully in a personal statement the candidate could indicate why he or she was in an industrial job. Something like "family obligations required me to remain in the Boston area for two years" or something similar would be good enough for me.

I have to be honest with you, our new postdoc took a significant paycut to come work with us. Hell, I took a huge paycut myself to come work here. Science isn't lucrative, that's for sure. On the other hand, you have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects at the national labs.
 
  • #11
analogdesign
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The third holds a PhD in aerospace engineering. He had the easiest going of the three. He regularly did internships outside academia. Engineering departments have immense ties with government and industry. Doing an internship (and, BTW, getting paid more than twice what TAs and RAs are paid) is SOP for an advanced engineering degree. Professors regularly move from academia to industry back to academia. Working outside of academia is viewed as anything but a burger flipping job. This third person didn't even look for work in academia. Postdoc after postdoc at subsistence wage levels, only to be rejected for tenure at 40? Why?


The attitude that any work outside of academia or a government lab is the moral equivalent of flipping burgers seems to be pervasive in some parts of physics. I've tried to cultivate ties with my alma mater's physics department. No go. Ties with their aerospace engineering department? No problem.

It's been pretty easy for me as well. I worked for over 7 years post-Ph.D. in industry (some at a startup, some at a well-known large semiconductor company). I had no problem coming back to a research role at the national lab. In fact, there wasn't that much competition since the pay is comparatively low here (I love the work here, though). I think industry is thought of much more of as a one-way door on the physics side.

The irony is that my industrial experience has made me MUCH more effective than if I had gone directly to a national lab. As I'm sure you know, national labs (and universities) lack the kill-or-be-killed aspect that you get in a high-pressure industrial job. I am certainly the better for having been forged in industry. It's too bad that's not the standard in science, as well.
 
  • #12
AccAcc
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It's been pretty easy for me as well. I worked for over 7 years post-Ph.D. in industry (some at a startup, some at a well-known large semiconductor company). I had no problem coming back to a research role at the national lab. In fact, there wasn't that much competition since the pay is comparatively low here (I love the work here, though). I think industry is thought of much more of as a one-way door on the physics side.

The irony is that my industrial experience has made me MUCH more effective than if I had gone directly to a national lab. As I'm sure you know, national labs (and universities) lack the kill-or-be-killed aspect that you get in a high-pressure industrial job. I am certainly the better for having been forged in industry. It's too bad that's not the standard in science, as well.

I want to make the transition to industry right post-Ph.D. What did you do to make the transition? Was it networking or regular applications? What did you do to make the network/connection, if that is what it required? I'm in an isolated field with a low transition to industry/non-science-related jobs, from a new Ph.D. program, so it feels like I'm lacking in connections relative to the HEP people.
 
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  • #13
analogdesign
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Hi AccAcc,

I did it entirely through networking. I've had 4 post-PhD jobs in my career and I've never applied for a job. I was lucky to have strong industrial connections with my University group. If you don't you need to cultivate them yourself. Do you know former students from your lab who work in industry? Can you go to conferences and introduce yourself (and give a business card you can make from Vista Print or something)? It might sound weird but I am always impressed (and remember) when a student introduces him or herself to me.

What is your field of research and school's physical location? What industrial field are you interested in? Maybe I can give better ideas if I know where you're coming form. Applying to jobs on the web probably isn't going to get it done, I'm afraid.
 
  • #14
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The sad thing about industry work as a physicist is that even if you don't think it's the equivalent of flipping burgers, a lot of people in industry view you as only capable of flipping burgers.

I don't understand this.

If they think they are only capable of flipping burgers, what did they hire them?
 
  • #15
kinkmode
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I don't understand this.

If they think they are only capable of flipping burgers, what did they hire them?

There are plenty of people in industry who don't hire physicists even though they are quite suitable for the work. I wasn't talking about the ones who were willing or eager to hire one.
 
  • #16
AccAcc
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Hi AccAcc,

I did it entirely through networking. I've had 4 post-PhD jobs in my career and I've never applied for a job. I was lucky to have strong industrial connections with my University group. If you don't you need to cultivate them yourself. Do you know former students from your lab who work in industry? Can you go to conferences and introduce yourself (and give a business card you can make from Vista Print or something)? It might sound weird but I am always impressed (and remember) when a student introduces him or herself to me.

What is your field of research and school's physical location? What industrial field are you interested in? Maybe I can give better ideas if I know where you're coming form. Applying to jobs on the web probably isn't going to get it done, I'm afraid.

I'm in accelerator physics, which nearly nobody leaves because of how favorable the job market is. Graduate school hasn't been the best experience for me, which is why I'm prefer to leave physics in general and not just academia. Industry connections have been hurt by government funding; a company that I worked with in the past frequently asked me over the years when I was graduating, but when it came time, they weren't hiring. Changes to the SBIR system have hurt them and many physics-related companies. No more conferences for me, as I'm graduating in 4.5 months, but the jobs I could get through conferences are not really the type of jobs that I want. I am going to two job fairs over the next few weeks.

My school is near Chicago, so I hope to stay in the area and branch into data science or finance. One of the big things that is pushing me to leave Physics (other than my general dislike) is the lack of geographic mobility, i.e. that changing a job typically means moving cross country.

EDIT: I've taken a lot of advice and talked to people, but connections in industries I want to branch out into haven't panned out. Regardless, I'm spending my little free-time brushing up on Finance basics, C++, R, and SQL.
 
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  • #17
analogdesign
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Sounds like you have a good plan and are doing everything right. Lots of stuff going on in Chicago so I am confident you'll find some if you keep looking. Getting a job as a software engineer for a few years might be a good way to ease into industry as well. You would be looked at highly at Fermilab or Argonne for example if you apply for software-related jobs. Just an idea.
 
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  • #18
Corpuscule
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Question 1: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up being in a tenure-track position immediately upon graduation? Same probability after 1 postdoc?
In my experience ranging from 0% (both after graduation and after a postdoc) in developed countries to about 10% or even 20% in some developing countries.

Question 2: What is the probability that individuals who graduated in fields (1)-(3) would end up not finding any employment or only find employment in areas not requiring higher education (i.e. low-skill work like retail, waiting tables, common labour) for 1-2 years upon receiving their PhD?
Based on the statistics I've seen about 50%-60% are unemployed after getting a PhD or finishing a postdoc, but in a few months most of them find some job.

You can easily find this statistical data by googling it. There were a lot of surveys on this topic recently.
 
  • #19
kinkmode
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You can easily find this statistical data by googling it. There were a lot of surveys on this topic recently.

Just remember, as with all statistics, take them with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure a lot of the APS's statistics stop 5 years after the receipt of the Ph.D. - that's when they stop surveying graduates. For many people, this is still in the postdoc phase.
 
  • #20
StatGuy2000
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Just remember, as with all statistics, take them with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure a lot of the APS's statistics stop 5 years after the receipt of the Ph.D. - that's when they stop surveying graduates. For many people, this is still in the postdoc phase.

This would lead me to my next question -- what percentage of those who graduated with a PhD in physics would be unemployed or underemployed 5-7 years after receiving their PhD? (kinkmode, I'm specifically thinking of you when I'm asking this question)
 
  • #21
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There are plenty of people in industry who don't hire physicists even though they are quite suitable for the work.
That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive.

Here's how our interview process works. Suppose you're from the other side of the country and we've invited you in for a formal interview. We'll fly you here, with the round trip plane ticket on us. We'll get you a rental car, on us. We'll put you up in a *nice* hotel, once again on us. If the interview is on Friday (preferred), we'll offer to fly you home on Saturday or Sunday if you wish so you can take some time to see the town. The extension on the rental car and hotel stay: That's on us, too. The day of the interview, an all-day process, you'll be talking to people who cost the company a whole lot, and whose value to the company is even greater. We'll take you to a very nice restaurant for lunch. (BTW, watch what you say during lunch. Stupid things said during lunch have sunk more than one otherwise fantastic prospect.) The day after the interview, everyone who met with you / went to lunch with you will be dragged to a meeting to determine whether this person should be given an offer. One interview costs several thousand dollars. Why bother with that expense if you'll never accept the offer?

Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a $100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in.
 
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  • #22
kinkmode
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This would lead me to my next question -- what percentage of those who graduated with a PhD in physics would be unemployed or underemployed 5-7 years after receiving their PhD? (kinkmode, I'm specifically thinking of you when I'm asking this question)

Who knows. That's my point. I would think that most physics Ph.D.s usually end up in decent jobs, but there's not a lot of statistics out there on it. Though the unemployment rate of physicists is usually quite low, if you've left the field of physics (and are now in IT, big data, etc.), you aren't a physicist anymore so you don't end up in that number.
 
  • #23
AccAcc
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That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive.

Here's how our interview process works. Suppose you're from the other side of the country and we've invited you in for a formal interview. We'll fly you here, with the round trip plane ticket on us. We'll get you a rental car, on us. We'll put you up in a *nice* hotel, once again on us. If the interview is on Friday (preferred), we'll offer to fly you home on Saturday or Sunday if you wish so you can take some time to see the town. The extension on the rental car and hotel stay: That's on us, too. The day of the interview, an all-day process, you'll be talking to people who cost the company a whole lot, and whose value to the company is even greater. We'll take you to a very nice restaurant for lunch. (BTW, watch what you say during lunch. Stupid things said during lunch have sunk more than one otherwise fantastic prospect.) The day after the interview, everyone who met with you / went to lunch with you will be dragged to a meeting to determine whether this person should be given an offer. One interview costs several thousand dollars. Why bother with that expense if you'll never accept the offer?

Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a $100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in.

What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?
 
  • #24
kinkmode
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That's true. There's a good reason, though. Hiring mistakes are expensive.

...

Even worse, what if we give you the offer, you accept, but six months later you leave for a postdoc position at half the salary? Now it's not just a multi thousand dollar mistake. It's bordering on a $100K mistake. It shouldn't be that surprising that employers are very careful with interviewing and then offering a job to freshly minted PhDs, nor should it be surprising that biases against certain kinds of PhDs set in.

Of course hiring mistakes are expensive. The funny thing is though is that you'd think these same standards would be applied to non-PhDs as well. ANYONE can leave 6 months later for a better job. Or a lower paying job. I have a friend who was a lawyer who just one day quit because he'd rather teach at a private school and coach track. Huge pay cut.

In this job market, you'd be silly to stick around after 6 months in a job if a better opportunity materialized at that point. For a PhD, that might be moving to a low paying postdoc position (doesn't sound good to me though). For a freshly graduated engineer, that might be moving out of an entry level job into a better one at another company.

That last one is a true example that happened to me. This company had just finished putting in about a year into training this young engineer, at which point he got a better job in another state and left with no notice. Put the company in a bad position because they had a big project that started in 2 weeks that they had been prepping for where the engineer had some important duties. So they had to scramble and find a temporary contractor. I was the temporary contractor, which is why I'm aware of the situation.

I'll tell you what I get sick of. Being judged by a different standard while applying for jobs. How come PhDs are the ones who are subjected to the 'what if they leave in 6 months' question? Shouldn't the same question be asked about ANYONE who might have career goals?

I agree that the hiring process is tricky and very important. It's a whole different topic, but I really wish companies as a whole treated it as more important and put more effort into it. If you can't ascertain in an interview why someone with a PhD wants to leave academia, then there's something wrong with your interview process. Of course, said PhD can lie to you, but so can anyone else.
 
  • #25
kinkmode
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Who knows. That's my point. I would think that most physics Ph.D.s usually end up in decent jobs, but there's not a lot of statistics out there on it. Though the unemployment rate of physicists is usually quite low, if you've left the field of physics (and are now in IT, big data, etc.), you aren't a physicist anymore so you don't end up in that number.

One other thing about this: Anecdotally, 5 years is about the time when many of my friends who are gainfully employed as physicists/postdocs are thinking seriously of leaving the field.
 
  • #26
kinkmode
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What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?

I'd like to hear DH's response to this, but in my mind, if said potential employer feels like you might bail for a low paying postdoc before you've ever met him, you might have a hard time convincing him. If on the other hand, he is open minded about you and your background, it will be a lot easier.

I'd say tell him the truth. I don't want to teach or live in the desert making bombs, so academia/research as a career is essentially dead to me. I can explain that in an interview. If the interviewer doesn't believe my answers, then there is really nothing I can do about that. If they do believe and understand, you should be fine.

I've found that when dealing with people who also have PhDs and who have also left academia/research for their own reasons, they are more understanding of wanting to leave research. The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.
 
  • #27
analogdesign
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I'll tell you what I get sick of. Being judged by a different standard while applying for jobs. How come PhDs are the ones who are subjected to the 'what if they leave in 6 months' question? Shouldn't the same question be asked about ANYONE who might have career goals?

Actually it is high on the list of things hiring managers worry about for anyone, not just Ph.Ds. Hiring someone is very expensive, and having to do it again in six months or a year is painful. Maybe hiring managers are more careful with Ph.Ds because there is a real question that is not always asked "why did you get the Ph.D. to do this job?".

Depending on the job, it is quite possible to come up with satisfactory answers. Even something as simple as "I did it for personal fulfillment.. I wanted to be the world's expert in one small thing and really dig into it down to bedrock" or something like that would be a good start.

I don't think you're being judged to a different standard. For example, imagine a registered nurse applied for a job as a health aide, or a lawyer applied for a job as a paralegal... the hiring manager would worry.
 
  • #28
analogdesign
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I've found that when dealing with people who also have PhDs and who have also left academia/research for their own reasons, they are more understanding of wanting to leave research. The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.

There are certainly companies like that and you should try to avoid them if at all possible. I'm an engineer and there are companies in my field that respect a Ph.D. and companies that don't. You can hear through the grapevine which are which. I focused my efforts on companies that would respect a Ph.D. even though I didn't end up getting a job that required one.

I dealt with the questions about "why a Ph.D. if you want this job" by saying something to the effect of "A Ph.D. isn't for everyone, but I think I am a far better designer at this stage of my career that I would have been without the degree because of the concentrated experience I got while earning it. I believe having gone through the Ph.D. process will enable me to contribute more to this group than if I had left with a Master's".

The real key is you want to show them that your Ph.D. can be an asset for THEM. They really don't care one bit about you, so you have to show them how you're an asset, not a cost.
 
  • #29
kinkmode
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Actually it is high on the list of things hiring managers worry about for anyone, not just Ph.Ds. Hiring someone is very expensive, and having to do it again in six months or a year is painful. Maybe hiring managers are more careful with Ph.Ds because there is a real question that is not always asked "why did you get the Ph.D. to do this job?".

Like I said, I think interviewers should do a better job with their interviews. I have great answers for that question, but it's never asked. Answers like, 'Because I was 22 when I went to grad school and I didn't know any better.' If that's the question, then ask it. The decisions many people make at 22 are pretty unrelated to where they are in their mid 30's or 40's career wise. Why should I be any different?

I don't think you're being judged to a different standard. For example, imagine a registered nurse applied for a job as a health aide, or a lawyer applied for a job as a paralegal... the hiring manager would worry.

While some situations might be like a lawyer applying for a job as a paralegal, many are not. Academics/researchers in my field work long hours, have uncertain funding, and make decent, but not outrageous pay. Postdocs are the same, yet with much worse pay. Moving to industry in many ways is big step up because you gain some geographic stability and probably higher pay, amongst other things. So how is it like a lawyer taking a paralegal job?
 
  • #30
kinkmode
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The real key is you want to show them that your Ph.D. can be an asset for THEM. They really don't care one bit about you, so you have to show them how you're an asset, not a cost.

Totally agree. Unfortunately, in my situation (and others), you don't really get a chance to prove that to them. You don't get an interview to begin with. They see PhD and trash your application, if anyone ever actually looks at it.

In my geographic area, it seems the companies who are willing to hire or want PhDs are large enough to have an incredible amount of HR and associated bureaucracy, which makes it impossible to apply directly and even difficult to network with internal employees. The smaller companies are much more accessible, but much more close minded about their employees.
 
  • #31
analogdesign
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Like I said, I think interviewers should do a better job with their interviews. I have great answers for that question, but it's never asked. Answers like, 'Because I was 22 when I went to grad school and I didn't know any better.' If that's the question, then ask it. The decisions many people make at 22 are pretty unrelated to where they are in their mid 30's or 40's career wise. Why should I be any different?

I'm on your side here, kinkmode. I am trying to give you the perspective of a hiring manager (I am one) and help you see it from the other side. The insight might be helpful.

I understand the question isn't often asked. Most interviewers are not competent at it because actual training in interviewing is extremely rare. One very important skill for an interviewee is to take control of the interview. Remember you're interviewing them as much as vice versa. If the question isn't ask, then address it yourself! Get those great answers out there and take the initiative away from the interviewer. Probably answering "I was young and stupid" isn't the most effective approach. There are always ways you can spin it in such a way to be an asset.

While some situations might be like a lawyer applying for a job as a paralegal, many are not. Academics/researchers in my field work long hours, have uncertain funding, and make decent, but not outrageous pay. Postdocs are the same, yet with much worse pay. Moving to industry in many ways is big step up because you gain some geographic stability and probably higher pay, amongst other things. So how is it like a lawyer taking a paralegal job?

It's not. But I'm not taking about reality, I am talking about the perceptions of hiring managers in various companies. That is how *they* will see it so it behooves you to address this.

In their minds, they see a candidate with degree X, going after a job that needs X-1. It doesn't make sense to them. So your job as the candidate is to explain it in a way that makes sense. Something as simple as addressing the fact that this isn't a step down but a "lateral move" (hiring managers love buzzwords) for the reasons you gave. Making the argument about it being a "big step up" could be helpful too. I would leave out the part about "probably higher pay."
 
  • #32
analogdesign
Science Advisor
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Totally agree. Unfortunately, in my situation (and others), you don't really get a chance to prove that to them. You don't get an interview to begin with. They see PhD and trash your application, if anyone ever actually looks at it.

In my geographic area, it seems the companies who are willing to hire or want PhDs are large enough to have an incredible amount of HR and associated bureaucracy, which makes it impossible to apply directly and even difficult to network with internal employees. The smaller companies are much more accessible, but much more close minded about their employees.

Linkedin is actually a good resource for this. Try really hard to bypass HR... you're right that they are a barrier to you. You have to have a story and make it short, sweet, and powerful. I know it is extremely difficult to do this, I am not making light of it.

Unfortunately, sending in applications to job postings is not an extremely effective way to get a position.
 
  • #33
kinkmode
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I know you are trying to help analogdesign, I appreciate it. Also note that most of what I write here is to vent/get the word out to younger people. It is NOT how I conduct myself in an interview. That would be silly. 'Young and stupid,' while partially true, was more of a facetious answer. The reality is that I had different priorities as a 22 year old than I do in my mid 30's, and my career goals have changed. Not only that, but the market has changed too. In 1997 when I started majoring in physics, a degree like that could get you a lot of jobs. Nowadays, not so much.

For the record, from my limited experience, most people conduct horrible interviews. Also in my limited experience, that's almost a moot point. Interviews don't happen. You never get a chance to present your case to the hiring manager because you don't get called in. Their perceived reality as you addressed is sometimes so strong you can't overcome it. Which is why I made my two off hand comments earlier ('industry thinks you are only capable of flipping burgers' and 'being judged by a different standard'). They either:

1. Downplay/don't understand your expertise and capabilities and how there might be the potential for you to be useful. They do this so much that you don't even really get a chance to pitch your story.
2. Think you are taking such a massive pay cut or step down in prestige that this job is beneath you that they don't consider you as a serious applicant. Never mind that you need to pay the bills too, and no, that postdoc didn't pay 6 figures.

Directly applying is a complete waste of time, and networking has been less than productive for me. I average about 1 informational interview a week, but they mostly end the same way:

1. 'Have you thought about teaching?'
2. 'Have you thought about moving somewhere else?' (I can't)
3. 'Have you thought about going back to school?'
4. 'Networking is the key. Get on LinkedIn.' - Yes I agree. Why do you think I initiated contact with you in the first place? (flippant response, not actually verbalized)
5. 'We might actually have some opportunities for you here!' At this point, I never hear from them again, or they get let go literally the next day.
6. List of new references to contact. Wash, rinse, repeat.
 
  • #34
analogdesign
Science Advisor
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I know you are trying to help analogdesign, I appreciate it. Also note that most of what I write here is to vent/get the word out to younger people. It is NOT how I conduct myself in an interview. That would be silly. 'Young and stupid,' while partially true, was more of a facetious answer. The reality is that I had different priorities as a 22 year old than I do in my mid 30's, and my career goals have changed. Not only that, but the market has changed too. In 1997 when I started majoring in physics, a degree like that could get you a lot of jobs. Nowadays, not so much.

For the record, from my limited experience, most people conduct horrible interviews. Also in my limited experience, that's almost a moot point. Interviews don't happen. You never get a chance to present your case to the hiring manager because you don't get called in. Their perceived reality as you addressed is sometimes so strong you can't overcome it. Which is why I made my two off hand comments earlier ('industry thinks you are only capable of flipping burgers' and 'being judged by a different standard'). They either:

1. Downplay/don't understand your expertise and capabilities and how there might be the potential for you to be useful. They do this so much that you don't even really get a chance to pitch your story.
2. Think you are taking such a massive pay cut or step down in prestige that this job is beneath you that they don't consider you as a serious applicant. Never mind that you need to pay the bills too, and no, that postdoc didn't pay 6 figures.

Directly applying is a complete waste of time, and networking has been less than productive for me. I average about 1 informational interview a week, but they mostly end the same way:

1. 'Have you thought about teaching?'
2. 'Have you thought about moving somewhere else?' (I can't)
3. 'Have you thought about going back to school?'
4. 'Networking is the key. Get on LinkedIn.' - Yes I agree. Why do you think I initiated contact with you in the first place? (flippant response, not actually verbalized)
5. 'We might actually have some opportunities for you here!' At this point, I never hear from them again, or they get let go literally the next day.
6. List of new references to contact. Wash, rinse, repeat.

You are in a tough situation, that's for sure. I don't understand why hiring systems and perceptions like these persist, since we're leaving a lot of talent on the table.

I can imagine your informational interviews... it is pretty big that you're out there doing it. I know it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere but plugging away at it bit by bit is probably the best way to go.

I'm sure you've summarized your background elsewhere (I've only been using physicsforum for a couple of months or so) so could you give me a link? I might have some ideas if I know your specialty, skills, location, etc. Maybe not but it's worth a try. If you could give me a link to that info I'll have a look.

I had a career crisis of my own a few years ago. I was getting completely beat down by the pace of industry and was able to get back into an academic-related job. I was very lucky (and it helps I'm an engineer) but I had to keep pushing until something came up. It turned out all my applications to things were a waste of time, like you said. I ended up back at a place I interned at as a undergrad and new grad student.

Best of luck to you!
 
  • #35
D H
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Insights Author
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What should I do to convince potential employers that I really want to leave Physics, and won't be bailing for a postdoc position?
One trick that almost always works: Talk about your newborn baby.

Sans that baby, be honest. Let the employer know that you don't want to go down the lowly paid postdoc, postdoc, ... postdoc route, only to be denied tenure in another decade or so. Show them that you know what they do, that you are truly interested in that work, and that you have something special to offer.


I'll tell you what I get sick of. Being judged by a different standard while applying for jobs. How come PhDs are the ones who are subjected to the 'what if they leave in 6 months' question? Shouldn't the same question be asked about ANYONE who might have career goals?
Bayesian inference. Burnt once, shame on you. Burnt twice, shame on me. Burnt a bunch of times and its not surprising that employers develop a Bayesian prior against certain types of PhDs -- even with companies that hires lots of PhDs. PhDs are not a protected class. Employers can discriminate against them with no repercussions.


The people I've had issues with are the ones in large companies who employ NO PhDs, where the mindset of many of the employees is 'school is worthless'. Thus, if you spent that long in school, you must be worthless too. It's hard to demonstrate your worth and convince them that you do in fact want to leave research.
You mentioned flipping burgers a whole ago. These are the technical equivalent of a burger flippin' job. Why do you want those jobs? Yech.

There are lots of companies that are "PhD-happy" employers. They like their PhDs. They like their pie charts that show the levels of education of their employees, with PhDs occupying a nice, hefty slice of that pie. Those PhD-happy employers are the only ones I have worked for, even though I "only" have a bachelors degree (you can read my sordid bio in the "meet a mentor" discussions at this site). I wouldn't want one of those technical burger flippin' jobs, and neither should you.
 

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