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Near the end of my PhD - when to start applying for jobs

  1. Oct 28, 2011 #1
    I'm almost done with my PhD in physics(hep-ex). It's about 6-7 months till I'm out. I was curious about everyone's opinions on what is the right time to start looking/applying for jobs. Is now too early (or should I have already started)?

    Not really interested in post-docs, so this purely a question about jobs outside of academia. That is why I'm asking this here, since I have enough sources of info on the academic path if I wanted it. I wouldn't think that most jobs would be super interested in someone that couldn't start for half a year, but I really don't know.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2011 #2


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    I'm not sure there's a 'perfect' time. This is probably a good time to start casting around though. Lag time between recruiting and start date depends considerably on the particular job and field. In some cases a 6 month lag is not unheard of.

    The advantage of starting now is you might find something where the hiring is done during a particular time of year, so you'll know when to put your CV in and you'll have time to prepare and tailor it, rather than having to thrown in a generic copy.
  4. Oct 28, 2011 #3
    In my experience (I'm a hep theory phd), there isn't an obvious exit-academia strategy for hep phds. We have an eclectic mix of skills that are hard to fit into most places.

    I'd recommend searching around for what you want to do ASAP, so you can spend some time picking up the extra skills to fill in your CV. Also, start pumping contacts for information about jobs (i.e. where are your advisors former students working? Where are your collaborators former students working?, etc). In my experience, most of us (hep-ex and hep-th) are working for banks, so you might want to start looking in that direction.
  5. Oct 29, 2011 #4


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    Now is good - if you apply for government jobs, it can easily take 6 months just to get a security clearance, and they don't start that until after they make you an offer. I've had a few friends stuck sitting around for months waiting for the clearance.
  6. Oct 29, 2011 #5
    Thanks everyone! Seems the consensus is to at the very least to start looking.

    I'd already asked around to this effect and it seems like for all the ones (in hep) that didn't get post-docs there is an effective damnatio memoriae on most of them because of their apostasy. The active disdain of some of the profs to those that don't go for or get post-docs is messed up.

    For the ones I can dig up stuff on via friends of theirs that are still around, its disheartening things like working retail, living in their parent's basement playing World of Warcraft, etc. Don't know how much of that is because they are high-energy or that they graduated in 2010/2011. I know some people in certain fields of condensed matter experiment that have jobs lined up in Silicon Valley even before they graduated, but that's different...
  7. Oct 29, 2011 #6


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    It's probably wise to look ahead a year before graduating and contacting prospective employers, or at least have done research on what employment is available.

    I would advise against sitting around playing WoW,etc anywhere.
  8. Oct 29, 2011 #7
    Its pretty straightforward to find out the names of the students who used to work for your advisor, and the internet makes tracking people down much easier. Sending a cold email that says "hey, we worked for the same advisor, etc" can get a conversation going.
  9. Oct 29, 2011 #8


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    There is no a downside to starting your job search earlier rather than later. Worst case scenario is that you'll get an offer you can't accept because you're still in school.

    There is a downside to waiting too long since you never know how long it will take you to land a job
  10. Oct 30, 2011 #9
    Were the people now playing W.o.W. only looking at postdocs, or were they also looking at non-postdoc jobs as well? If the former, i'm not really surprised, if the latter, that's a little scary, as someone entering the job market soon myself.
  11. Oct 31, 2011 #10
    In terms of the jobless PhD grads I know some were looking for just post-docs and some were looking outside academia, but that by itself isn't any reason to worry. It's not many data points. There were far more people that I haven't found any info on compared to those that I have. Friends of mine who weren't high energy seem to be doing fine though (read this as: if what you do is useful to people that do stuff with silicon, then you're probably fine).

    Also I would guess some of it is just the times.
  12. Oct 31, 2011 #11
    This is one of the things that every physics/astronomy department really should track. One good thing about my program is that there is a professor in the department who has taken it upon herself to track every single graduate and see what they are doing now.

    Incredibly useful information. One of the reason I got into finance was that I found out that one of my friends ended up working for a hedge fund. I never was able to get in contact with them, but it's one of those "well if so-and-so can do it, so can I" sorts of things.
  13. Nov 1, 2011 #12
    I agree completely. Luckily for me, some grad students at my school have a spreadsheet of what people who left here with phds have done. It's pretty complete for recent years, less so for pre-2004 or so, but a pretty valuable resource. I've already talked to some people on wall street and gotten some good info. What I don't understand at all is why the department itself doesn't do this but whatever.
  14. Nov 1, 2011 #13
    Start now. Clearly, you have proven to be a bright person at an academic level. I've seen job markets fluctuate wildly. One month it seems like lots of opportunities and next 6 months it looks like the sale rack at Wal-Mart after the holidays, thin and messy. Starting now does two things. First, you can get a good feel for what's out there in your area of interest. Second, assuming its nill, you have time to broaden your training into an area where employement looks good. Even if you had to hang out one more year in graduate school to pick up a Masters in an offshoot of physics where hiring is better, that wouldn't be too bad.
  15. Nov 1, 2011 #14
    In terms of non-academic jobs in high energy experiment, there are effectively zero. I have to transition into something else that is unrelated.

    On the extra Masters: I have no idea if my department would even let me do that, but I doubt it. Also I don't have any funding left after the spring quarter, so I'd have to pay all the tuition and living expenses myself. That would mean taking out loans. If I am still going to end up working at Jack in the Box, Frys, or whatever random retail job to attempt to avoid being homeless at least for a while, then I'd rather not have to worry about making loan payments.
  16. Nov 1, 2011 #15
    I'd advise very strongly against a Ph.D. getting an extra masters degree since in addition to the fact that you have to pay $$$$, the usefulness to you is negative. One stereotype that Ph.D.'s have to fight against is that we are too academic and can't to anything outside of school, and getting another masters just adds to the stereotype. (Of course, if you take courses and don't get the masters degree that's fine.)

    Getting a job selling used cars or working at Jack in the Box flipping burgers is going to look better on your resume than another Masters degree since if you work at Jack in the Box, that proves that you can function in a non-academic environment.
  17. Nov 2, 2011 #16
    LOL, what total nonsense. Let's see... ego or job???? I'd take the job. As for getting a Masters in a somewhat related field after a PhD, I've seen more than a few do it. I know MDs that decided to get a PhD, which is as much as step down as a PhD getting an MS in another area. I have friends with MS degrees in physics get PhDs in business; hmm... probably still a step down.

    In your PhD trail, you probably have a lot of computer science/programming, so you could push towards an MS in computers. The additional computer training/degree would probably be useful when you got your dream job. Or, add some biophysics training and move toward an MS in Biophysics or Medical Physics. Anything is better than minimum wage at IHOP or Jack in the Box.

    You can still jump at the chance to do high energy physics, when one opens.

    As for what would "look better", IMO, someone that never stops learning looks far better than someone that gave up to sell cars or flip burgers.
  18. Nov 2, 2011 #17
    I've already taken lots of CS courses in undergrad. All my development experience is in a Linux environment anyway, so its probably better to start contributing to some open-source project than to get another random degree. That at least builds a demonstrable portfolio.

    In high energy physics there is the post-doc to maybe eventually tenure-track faculty path or there is nothing else. Also once you've stepped off this path there is generally no going back. I have zero interest in continuing to do high energy experiment, so I'm completely okay with this.
  19. Nov 2, 2011 #18


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    If you want to get into software development, you need project experience of some sort.

    I would also side with two-fish and not get a masters in CS if you want to go into software development: it's pointless.

    What usually happens is if you get hired you get a complex platform thrown at you, and you have to learn it quickly, and then contribute to it equally as quickly.

    Many platforms are not your "one language", "one code-base" type setup. Many are written in multiple languages, have scripting interfaces, have all kinds of 3rd party libraries that stuff really well (the library is written by a group that lives and breathes that area) and all of this is connected together in weird and wonderful ways.

    So yeah your own hunch is correct: build a portfolio and take it from there if you want to get into development.
  20. Nov 3, 2011 #19
    I say this as someone that has reviewed resumes for physics Ph.D.'s. Getting a masters after your Ph.D. doesn't kill the resume, but it hurts it, and I've never seen a situation in which it helps.

    People already think you are an overqualified egghead. Getting a masters just feeds into that stereotype.

    No it won't.

    Not true. +$5/hour > -$20000/year

    First of all, it's going to be non-trivial for a physics Ph.D. to get a job at IHOP and Jack in the Box. Trying to get a job at IHOP with a physics Ph.D. seems like an SNL skit, but the odds are that you are going to have tremendous difficulty trying to get someone to hire you because they will see you as being overqualified.

    Second, having an IHOP job shows some good personality traits. It shows that you can take orders, and more importantly take orders from people that aren't as smart as you are. It means that you are willing to shut up and punch a time clock if you have to.

    Do you review resumes?

    Learning happens in places other than school, and Ph.D.'s have spent so much time in school, that what they really need to learn is stuff that you are going to end up learning selling used cars or flipping burgers.
  21. Nov 3, 2011 #20
    "Not true. +$5/hour > -$20000/year" <- and your point? I made much more than that in 1980, when I worked in the 300 area at Hanford.

    Yes, I've reviewed resumes, interviewed people, hired and fired people, supervised anywhere from a couple to a couple thousand. I've work in a major DOE lab, industry, with the NRC, and in the medical field, but that isn't relevant. My point is pretty simple. The economy sucks and will continue to suck for awhile. The government funding of the major high energy projects isn't looking that promising, and certainly not what it should be. Even at IHOP people start at the bottom... you know, the guy that cleans the restrooms when some pig misses the can. IMO, you should ASSUME your job prospects in high energy physics suck. Perhaps you jumped on the High Energy PhD band wagon too late. Perhaps you chose a degree without even looking at job prospects. You can remedy the situation by getting training flipping burgers, hotcakes, cleaning toilets, OR accept your degree isn't going to serve you well and fix it. Perhaps I’m too old, but having a family tends to make one put aside things like “People already think you are an overqualified egghead. Getting a masters just feeds into that stereotype.” You do what you need to do and to heck with what people will think.

    As for the comment that an MS in CS would be pointless for someone going into software development, seriously? A job opens for software development and the guy without the degree in CS is on par with the guy that does?

    "I've already taken lots of CS courses in undergrad. All my development experience is in a Linux environment anyway, so its probably better to start contributing to some open-source project than to get another random degree. That at least builds a demonstrable portfolio." <-- The trouble with this is "contributing" doesn't pay rent or buy food. Additionally, this is something you could do while getting a Masters in CS or other training for a career in demand.

    As I said at the outset, you didn't get that degree being anything less than very bright. So do the math. Cost of getting an employable degree vs. Burger King wages? Cost of the year of school vs. lost wages at Burger King vs. wages made from a good career after the added year. I know you probably feel like you've been in school forever. However, you went to school to...... yea, get a job. It didn't work out the first time, so fix it and research a job you'd like and has good employment prospects. FWIW, elsewhere in the forums, I think there was a discussion about the need for advanced high school science teachers. The pay isn't bad, hours good, and summers off. For high tech degreed educators, some states have waved the "Education Degree" requirement to teach, e.g. Texas. Hey, and teachers have gone into space, so you never know what the future may hold for you.

    I really do wish you the best! With some soul searching you'll figure it out and be just fine.
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