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Say it ain't so!

  1. Mar 13, 2009 #1
    Hello there helpful people (at least I hope so). I've been lurking in the shadows of these forums since I stumbled upon them a week or so ago and I have come up with a question I have been unable to find enough information for. I'm in my first year of a BSc in physics, although its pretty general stuff at this point, calc, linear algebra, chem, eng, and of course physics.

    I've always told myself i'll will just take the courses I enjoy and a career will come naturally to me in the end. I plan on going to grad school, and eventually getting a PhD, but I have been having some difficulties with investigating what life is like for a fresh out of grad school PhD holding physicist. I love academia, I enjoy tutoring and love exploring new ideas so I have always pictured myself as a prof but the more I read about life when you graduate the more distant that dream seems. Ok, sorry about the long intro, here's my question.

    Is it true that when you graduate with a PhD in the sciences and you want to remain in the academic setting that you spend quite a few years going from university to university making money that does not represent all the hard work you've done and that it's not untill your 40's that you get tenure and a permanent position? Again, I'm sorry about all the text, but this is a big deal for me, I love physics but I don't want to grad and be a glorified research assistant untill I'm 40 jumping from school to school. Maybe I am just paranoid and getting the wrong information so if you can, please shoot some information on what its like getting into the academic world when you graduate. I am from Canada as well if that makes a difference.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2009 #2


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  4. Mar 14, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    I agree with j93's comment- the current picture of academic employment consists of multiple post-doctoral (temporary, low-paying) jobs at various locations until one of three things happens:

    1) a tenure-track position opens up, is successfully obtained, and you have an additional 5-7 years to earn tenure. Award of tenure is not assured.
    2) a non-tenure track position is obtained. In this case, there is no tenure clock unless you wish to jump over to the tenure track; in most cases, the tenure clock has actually been running in the background, which can cause problems at tenure review meetings.
    3) you obtain non-academic employment.

    All 3 options have various levels of job security- options 2 and 3 are about the same in that regard.
  5. Mar 14, 2009 #4
    Thank you, I appreciate your feedback. I absolutely love physics so far, I get butterflies in my stomach in class quite often. For the past few years I've dreamed about entering the academic world, but in my dreams I have always envisioned myself as being able to stay at one university and just eventually earn a tenure position. I will have children by then and I am already married so jumping from one university to another is not the most attractive option.

    I have been considering other option but I really have a hard time picturing myself doing anything else other then teaching and researching so I guess i will just have to kick *** in grad school so as to get myself noticed and increase the likelihood of getting tenure right away (if that is even possible).
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2009
  6. Mar 14, 2009 #5


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    It's highly improbable to be offered a tenure-track position right out of graduate school.

    What you can aim for in Canada however, is a fellowship from NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council), which essentially guarantees you a base level of funding for whatever project you want to pursue in your post-doctoral work and allows you to work where you want. Naturally these are very competative, so you can't count on them.
  7. Mar 15, 2009 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    This is not very realistic. It would be like getting a VP at a Fortune 500 company right out of school. Nothing specifically forbids this, but it just doesn't happen.
  8. Mar 15, 2009 #7
    I know you're right, and I am not going to base all my plans on a miraculous outcome but I am going to work as hard as I can and let my passion for the subject guide me. Whatever will be will be as long as i have physics I will be happy.
  9. Mar 15, 2009 #8
    Are you 100% sure that "...as long as (you) have physics (you) will be happy..."?

    Dating, marriage, children, financial success, time with family, travel, non-physics learning--none of that will matter?

    And if they don't matter to you now--are you sure they won't matter to you in eight to ten years, when you finish your Ph.D., when you are 50% older than you are right now?

    My opinion is that you should think very critically about what is going to be important in your life--including, and especially, those things that are not physics and are not the Ph.D..
  10. Mar 15, 2009 #9
    No, you are right KS, I can't be 100% sure that that will make me happy, but I am already engaged to the love of my life, I have a large and loving family and lots of friends. So as far as a career in life goes the academic world appeals to me.

    I have been reading a lot of information on this forum lately that seems to be trying to dissuade anyone from pursuing a doctoral degree and I have to admit it shook me a bit, but I'm an intelligent confident young man and I'm willing to struggle through the obstacles that I face as they come to me. I appreciate your help and your questions, they definitely need to be asked, but unfortunately they can't all be answered yet.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2009
  11. Mar 17, 2009 #10
    You sound like a people person, so why not high school physics teaching? At least as a fall back position. If that appeals, try volunteering in schools around the time you finish your first degree -- to see if it fits you --- also, universities usually have programmes that help you do that kind of thing (at least in the UK!)
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