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Professor in HEP

  1. May 15, 2008 #1
    Hi all, I was wondering what are the prospects of becoming a professor as a particle physicist. Since the LHC experiments have over 5000 scientists and then there's neutrino, heavy ion, dark matter/energy searches, and more, it seems that getting a professorship after ~3 yrs of postdoc work for a particle physicist is hard. It seems to me that going into condensed matter, or AMO might give better prospects of becoming a professor at a younger age. What are thoughts on this?
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  3. May 16, 2008 #2


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    Define "professor", the word means different things in different countries. In most countries (but not in the US) it means that you are not only a senior researcher but is also leading a group; meaning you are not likely to get a professorship (if you ever get it) until you have worked as a senior researcher (in permanent positions as such as "lecturer" etc) for at least 10-15 years.
    There are expectations where someone gets a full professorship (and enough money to start a group) directly after post-docs (meaning he/she is around 35 years old or so) but I am only aware of a handful of cases.

    Since the labour market in science is very international it might be good to be aware of the distinction.
  4. May 16, 2008 #3
    A professorship in the US. I'm not really talking about other countries. By definition, a professor is anyone who has the title of assistant, associate, and full professor... pretty much anyone who teaches post-secondary (college/university) education is considered a professor
  5. May 16, 2008 #4


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    When I was young, I also wanted to follow that path. When I realized how difficult it would be to get one of the few places, with so many bright and eager people looking out for it, and what it actually would require as sacrifice (honestly, you have no life!), how low the probability was of actually getting there, and what I would finally get out of it, I changed fields (a few times). I have to say that I don't regret it. Although I like particle physics a lot, there's so much more to life (and to physics!) than that.
  6. May 16, 2008 #5
    By "path", do you mean becoming a professor or a particle physicist? And was this in the US? What field did you go into? What is your position now?
  7. May 16, 2008 #6


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    I meant to become a professor of particle physics. It's something I decided to do when I was about 12 years old. I did become a particle physicist (in the sense that I have a PhD in it).


    I worked a bit in industry (microwave instrumentation with HP), was a lecturer in electrical engineering, worked as an instrument scientist on a synchrotron, and now I work as an instrumentation scientist/engineer in nuclear instrumentation (neutron instrumentation) in something that comes close to what you would call a national lab.

    Although I would have loved to do particle physics in a dream world, I didn't really like so much the real world of particle physics (too high demands for too low return in fun, career opportunities and "getting a life"). That said, it was a great education.
  8. May 16, 2008 #7
    Are you sure you want to be a particle physicist??

    Exp. Part. phys. have to do tons of programming everyday...working on the computer,,sifting thru gigabytes of data. I thought i wanted to do HEP, but that just seems wayy too boering, and i realized id rather jsut let other ppl work on the computer and i just want to read their discoveries in scientific magazines for laymen.
  9. May 16, 2008 #8
    yep, I do it now. Though I'd have to say, I would much rather prefer analyzing physics data samples than trying to actually build the detector and all of its components (e.g electronics, hardware, calibration)

    Ok, so I would like someone from the US to give their thoughts. I am specifically talking about becoming a professor in HEP in the US. Also, I have realized that many of the professors that are hired in my department are mostly people who have worked on a physics experiment for a fairly long time... like established in the CDF or Minerva experiment... which causes concerns because I just want to jump right into becoming a professor after a couple years of post doc
  10. May 16, 2008 #9

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    And I want to date a supermodel. I think the odds are against both of us.

    The reason these people have been hired is because they have an established track record. If you want a university to hire you over them, you have to provide a convincing reason. Of course, there's nothing university-specific here. This would be true for any employer.

    I don't think things are necessarily better in condensed matter or AMO.
  11. May 16, 2008 #10


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    Don't get me wrong, having a permanent position would be nice. But from a "scientific" (as opposed to economic) point is view you are likely to be better off doing at least a couple of post-docs before you apply for any kind of permanent position (even if it is not a professorship). The reason is simply that no university will recruit a researcher unless he/she has a proven track record of doing high-quality research and publishing good papers; and it takes years to reach that point; one post-doc is simply not enough time.
    The only exception is if a university is primarily looking for for a teacher, not a researcher. There are plenty of people (especially at smaller universities) who spend almost all their time teaching and don't have time to do any real research at all (which is why there is less competition for that kind of position).

    I have a couple of friend who went directly from their first post-docs to permanent positions (one is a professor in Canada). They like their jobs but they both acknowledge that it is essentially a dead end career-wise; they spend a lot of time teaching and do not have enough resources (not enough people/equipment) to do high quality research (or attract new funding). On the other hand they also know that they will be able support their families and won't have to move to a new country next year in order to find work. And they both enjoy teaching, so for them it has worked out well (I also enjoy teaching, I just don't want to do it 100% of my time).

    Most of us have to do at least two (I am about to start my third) post-docs and after that maybe some shorter contracts before we have reached a point where we can apply for a "good" position.
  12. May 16, 2008 #11
    oh and about condesed matter physics. i talked to a prof. in condensed matter, and he told me it's VERY competitive. it's exciting, so everyone wants to do it. so pretty hard to be offered a tenured track professorship when hundreds (if not thousands) physics Phds are going after that same spot.
  13. May 16, 2008 #12
    That doesn't surprise me, any tenured track professorship in physics, or heck in science in general would be tough to get. At least if you do experimental condensed matter, you are also very employable in industry, and you can keep working on research in the field that you enjoy!
  14. May 16, 2008 #13
    i sure hope CMP is employable in industry..but where can you work? arent most science jobs outsourced?? WEHatever's few spots left is still hard to get.

    And the prof. that told me about the competitiveness of CMP, he says hes now doing things on energy efficiency research, very very low lvl physics (if any at all). Says too much competition for the limited research grants out there. Poor guy!
  15. May 17, 2008 #14
    but CMP spreads out over almost all material science right? If you have a phd in cmp you can do a lot of different industrial/research things.

    As for the HEP Professorships: Hi, I'm one of your competitors :) Only a year into my PhD, but we'll see what I can become. I'm going for theory though, not sure if you said theory or exp.
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