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Joining Military after Receiving Phd

  1. Feb 9, 2011 #1
    My question is to whether or not anyone has experience with joining the US military after graduating from graduate school. I know (from what I have heard) that direct commission is available (in at least the Navy and Air Force) for those that have college degrees.

    My questions are whether or not as a phd, one would receive a higher initial commissioning in the service, i.e. go in as an O2 as opposed to an O1? Also what is the employee premium on health insurance (on average, ballpark) when working for the government?

    I have no qualms about joining the military and currently am doing the research to understand if joining is the best (monetary and future opportunity) option.

    I appreciate any help you can give.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2011 #2
    I presume you are aware that direct commissions are limited to certain career fields. While I know they exist, in my experiences working with the Navy I have never met a direct commissioned officer who was outside the three standard professional areas (medicine, law, chaplaincy). They may be out there, but they are relatively few and far between.

    You will not be a scientist as a military officer. Why exactly do you want to join the military?

    (Not sure what you want as far as the health care question. Go to tricare.mil and start reading. In general, active duty personnel get medical care that is somewhere between cheap and free.)
  4. Feb 10, 2011 #3
    I was reading about Air Force scientists some months ago. If I recall correctly, with a master's degree + work experience, you can be directly commissioned as a Colonel. I don't know how the Navy works because I only looked at the Air Force.

    I would suggest that you speak to an officer selection officer. Call your local recruiting office and ask how to get in touch with an OSO. Regardless, you will still have to go through Officer Candidate School (i.e., basic training with higher standards for people with diplomas or prior military experience) before you earn your commission.

    From what I understand, direct commission is the preferred way to enter the military for someone with a college diploma regardless of which branch you want to join. The Air Force seems to have the most high tech jobs, though.

    As far as monetary and future opportunity go: there's a lot to be gained by going military. A security clearance goes a long way. Also, many companies and all areas of the federal government have hiring preferences for military people.

    The military wasn't the right decision for me which is why I didn't join. It would be silly to not consider it at all though. I hope I could help you a little!
  5. Feb 10, 2011 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    As mentioned before, this is very, very rare. I am aware of exactly one career path for this - health physics officer in the Medical Service Corps. There are 78 positions in this community. (To compare, the Navy has 220 admirals) You can expect competition to be fierce to get in. Indeed, what really matters is how many of the 78 are leaving in a particular year.

    A PhD could be commissioned as an O-3. I don't know what would happen if there is only an O-1 billet opening in your year.

    Can you post a reference? I find this very surprising.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011
  6. Feb 10, 2011 #5


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    As do I. I have never heard of someone with zero military experience being promoted to one rank below General.
  7. Feb 10, 2011 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Maybe "+work experience" means "8 years as a Lt. Col."
  8. Feb 10, 2011 #7
    Have you looked into the possibility of a civilian research position within a military lab? I was once employed within AFRL at WPAFB (before my Ph.D. in physics, during my M.S. in Electro-optics). Most of the research positions (and management of this research) was done by civilians or ex-military who stayed after their last commitment.

    http://www.fedjobs.com/pay/pay.html" While I was working on my MS, I was a "GS7" and they were additionally paying for my M.S. degree (this was 10+ years ago). When I left (to pursue my Ph.D. in physics), I knew someone, who, after 8 years commitment (leaving the military as a Captain) with a newly obtained M.S. in optics, who became "GS12" when he renegotiated his position. I'm not sure how easy it is to get these positions, how much they are advertised, or if there's currently any hiring freezing due to budgets ad priorities... but it might be worth looking into.

    Most of the individuals I knew with Ph.D.s who came in as "new" to research positions were former "Palace Knights" (a programs where the military paid for your Ph.D. -- at a location other than near the labs, and then you owed them 3 years of service at the labs per year of your degree -- although you were never commissioned as military during the service, and would stay civilian). The Palace Knight program is now defunct; people seemed to have figured out how to leave without serving their time or without payment of tuition costs, and as a result the program eventually was just canceled (about the time I was finishing my M.S. -- where I got out of serving because of my joint employment at the labs during my degree).
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  9. Feb 10, 2011 #8


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    From the website WWW.Navy.com:

    "Officer Qualifications
    Navy Officers must exhibit high moral standards and strong academic performance. See if you meet these basic Navy Officer recruiting requirements. If you’re qualified to enter one of the Officer training programs, check out the next steps to take. Questions? Talk to a Navy recruiter.

    You must be no older than 35 but at least 19 years old depending on the program desired (waivers may be granted for positions in high demand).

    You must be a U.S. citizen.

    If you’re a non-citizen*, you may join the Navy if you entered the United States on a permanent residence visa or have an Alien Registration Green Card and have 1) established a bona fide residence, and 2) established a home of record in the United States.

    *To verify your eligibility to be commissioned, contact a recruiter.

    If you are a single parent, please contact a recruiter for details on how you can join the Navy.

    Also, the Navy will normally not allow you to join if you have more than two dependents under the age of 18. Need more details? Contact a recruiter.

    Financial Obligations
    In certain cases, you must prove that you can meet your current financial obligations.

    To become an Officer in the U.S. Navy, you must have received a four-year BS or BA degree from an accredited university and have strong grades. For specifics, contact a recruiter.

    Drug/Alcohol Policy
    The Navy has a zero tolerance drug/alcohol policy. Early in the commissioning process, you will take two urinalysis tests. You’ll also be asked questions about prior drug and alcohol use. Answer honestly. If you have questions, contact a recruiter.

    Medical/Legal/Moral Standards
    The Navy also applies medical, legal and character standards to your application, including traffic offense history, criminal history, citizenship status and more. For more information, contact a recruiter.

    Service Commitment
    The amount of time you are required to serve depends upon many factors, including your interests, your background, your pursuit of an Officer or Enlisted position, or whether you are taking advantage of Navy education opportunities.

    In general:

    Enlisted positions typically require an initial service commitment of two to four years (positions involving longer-term training may involve longer service obligations).
    Officer positions typically require an initial service commitment of three to five years (again positions involving longer-term training may involve longer service obligations).
    The best way to confirm the specific service commitment that will apply to you is to contact a recruiter."
  10. Feb 10, 2011 #9
  11. Feb 10, 2011 #10
    If you're a medical doctor with a specialization, you get promoted to Major. I believe this was the case with Hasan.
  12. Feb 10, 2011 #11

    Dr Transport

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    I was a career Reservist in the Army, when I got my PhD, I was offered a commission as an O-1 (2nd Lieutenant) even though I had 17 years experience and was at the time a Sergeant First Class on the promotion list for Master Sergeant.

    Direct commissions to higher grades are rare at best unless you have a Medical Degree.
  13. Feb 11, 2011 #12
    Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Officer_Training_School , the section on Commissioned Officer Training. Looks like I was off on the Master's bit though. Whoops. No harm no foul, right? According to Wiki, it is theoretically possible to be commissioned as an O6 in the Air Force. I can't find the citation for that comment though and it does seem pretty dubious when given a second thought... I'll bow out here :)
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2011
  14. Mar 10, 2011 #13
    I do research for the Navy at a lab (not NRL), with a PhD in theoretical physics, doing image processing research. In 15 years, I have yet to encounter a Navy officer who was directly commissioned after a PhD . I did study with two grad students who did go into the air force as captains . Working for DoD is always an option.
  15. Mar 10, 2011 #14
    In the Navy at least, the term "Direct Commission" refers to one who is commissioned into the Navy Reserve. As a Reserve officer, it is theoretically possible to be commissioned up to O-6 (Captain). However, this would probably require at least 20+ years of professional experience in your field and a personal recommendationfrom the Secretary of the Navy. If you want to do active duty, you pretty much have to start at O-1 unless you are in a professional field such as medicine or law. You also generally have to be no older than 29 at age of commission. More info: http://www.cnrc.navy.mil/noru/orojt3/generalofficer.htm" [Broken]

    Also, despite the fact that the Navy has research labs such as NRL and ONR, most scientists and engineers employed there are civilian and the officers who are assigned there are mostly project managers. The Navy does have Engineering Duty Officers, a fraction of which work in research and development, but you can only enter that career field after becoming a qualified officer in ships or submarines. They also have an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer, but I think this designation is mostly for being in charge of aircraft maintenance. I think that the Air Force has more opportunities for officers as scientists.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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