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Returning to Physics after Computational Biology

  1. Nov 23, 2015 #1

    I was hoping to illicit advice on returning to physics after a stint in computational biology. I have a PhD in theoretical physics with a good number of physics publications in good journals, but unfortunately lacking in significant citations. At the end of the PhD, for various reasons (some good, some kinda stupid; 20/20 hindsight) I packed my bags for a postdoc in comp bio, building models, doing numerical simulations, and statistics-y stuff. I enjoy it, but I have [too] slowly come to the realization that I want to return to my first science (desperately).

    This current postdoc has been 2 years (since my phd), but the plot thickens because a few months ago (after several, but probably not enough, failed physics job applications) I signed for a new comp bio postdoc elsewhere, this one focusing more on multiscale modelling and big data, amongst other things.

    I make no bones about the fact that despite recognizing to hole I put myself in, I appear to be trying to dig my way out. Regardless, any advice on such a situation (viable paths back into the fold, I hope) would be much appreciated. I have a keen interest (and briefly did some work on) galactic dynamics and cosmological analysis, and so I have a vain hope that by expanding my simulation/analysis/coding skillset I am maybe not running in entirely the wrong direction.

    Thanks in advance.

    Note: I have no intention on breaking my signed contract, I'm well aware of the implications of such (or at least, I wouldn't do it unless I had something truly amazing lined up to make it worth the negatives).
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2015 #2
    Hopefully this advice is not illicit.

    After a PhD and two post docs, you should be qualified for a few faculty positions. If you eschew faculty positions at R1 schools where you need to keep the grant money rolling in and focus on applying for physics faculty positions at institutions where you don't need a steady stream of grant money, you should be able to land a job and do your theoretical research on whatever pleases you.
  4. Nov 23, 2015 #3
    Ah yes, good catch on the typo (not really a flying start when trying to advertise manuscript writing skills!)

    Just to clarify - despite the fact that my postdocs have been in computational biology, you still think it's possible to get a physics faculty position? I understand your point about getting a position and then researching whatever I choose, though I guess I would definitely like to benefit from the training of a physics postdoc first (but beggars can't be choosers and all that)

    Edit: also, thanks for reply!
  5. Nov 23, 2015 #4
    My wife and I have held several physics faculty positions without having done any post doctoral work in physics. Once you are looking at the schools which don't care about the research dollars faculty are brining in (not R1 schools), you are hired primarily to teach, and secondarily (if at all) to maintain an active research program. In many cases, the research expectations for promotion and tenure can be met by publishing without bringing in lots of money (or any). If you can involve students in your research, all the better.
  6. Nov 24, 2015 #5
    Ha ha is that some kind of pickling process?

    Sorry for showing my ignorance on these subjects, but what is an "R1" school?

  7. Nov 24, 2015 #6


    The links give a fuller explanation as related to the Carnegie classification of different schools, which was taken over last year by a different group.

    The point is that some schools care more about a faculty member's research grant funding than they do about their teaching.

    There are a lot of schools that care more about teaching. There is more freedom for research at these schools, because there is much less pressure to bring in grant dollars, and you can actually do the kind of research you prefer, especially if it is theory that can be done without large external grants. Grants at these schools are gravy, they are not the needed fuel for the machine.
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