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Physics Should only people from elite universities bother with TT (tenure track)?

  1. Mar 4, 2017 #21

    Dr Transport

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    Not trashing industry, but academia. In the physics community, the academics that I have interacted with tend to look down their noses at the industrial physicists (I have seen it and can pass it along privately) whereas in industry we accept that you have a degree or an advanced degree as competence. Totally differnt cultures and frankly in academia if you don't completely fit into their mold of what they want you to do they deny you tenure and you are off to the next position, whereas in industry you can move around internally within a company to find a better fit.
  2. Mar 4, 2017 #22
    My career became much more fulfilling when I focused my joy and satisfaction on having done a good job (on a project, paper, or mentoring a student) rather than having a stable job. Sad to say, I've often had to prioritize doing the job more highly than keeping the job. It occurs in industry also - as a quality control person, test engineer, or customer interface, one puts ones ongoing employment at risk at times being firm and honest about product quality issues.

    I took a 60% pay cut when I left my job as a Principal RF Test Engineer at Cisco Systems for a TT teaching position. But the insult the administration added to the (voluntary) pay cut was: FIRST they sent my CV and course syllabus to the big state schools arguing for transfer credit, because our physics courses were (purportedly) just as rigorous as theirs, and THEN they began pressuring me to dumb down the course so students without basic competence in algebra and trig could pass the course. They wanted me to be their shill.

    One attractive feature of the position that made me willing to stomach the big pay cut was there was no restriction on outside consulting work. I could get paid for consulting and research done under my private company with no interference from the school as long as I taught the required course load (12 or so hours spring and fall, nothing in summer) AND maintained the office hour requirements (10 when I was first hired, lowered to five hours per week shortly after). Being less than a 2000 hour per year job left a lot of time for paid consulting and research hoping to build a business and return my income back to the levels when I worked in industry.

    But then I began to get blowback from the administration, because my research and publications were in the politically incorrect field of ballistics. There was never a hint that my consulting or research was negatively impacting my teaching or performance of academic duties, they just did not want their physics faculty becoming known for research in ballistics. Needless to say, it wasn't too long after that when we parted ways and I found an academic employer more favorably inclined to research related to the profession of arms and more committed to academic rigor.
  3. Mar 4, 2017 #23

    Dr Transport

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    @Dr. Courtney , isn't your degree from MIT, an elite university.... you play directly into the OP's hand.....
  4. Mar 4, 2017 #24
    Yes, my degree is from MIT, but I've seen people without degrees from elite schools do fine in TT positions. All you need to do is sacrifice your conscience and academic rigor on the altar of high retention rates at teaching focused schools.
  5. Mar 4, 2017 #25


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    I think it depends most on where you did your postdoc, but I have noticed in my field that for the most part, the students getting the best postdocs are coming from a pretty small number of schools (at least in the U.S.) and a small number of research groups. I think advisor clout is pretty important
  6. Mar 7, 2017 #26
    My 2 cents. When you're reading what's in the journals related to your discipline, is what's grabbing your attention coming from academia or the private sector? That's probably not going to change and might offer some direction.
  7. May 11, 2017 #27
    My own background: Big 5 PhD in abstruse theoretical subfield of physics with no applications. One postdoc, followed by a TT position at a liberal arts college--the position did not work out for me due to geographic and family reasons, so a year in I resigned, left, and went to what is basically a non-science position in "industry."

    Yes I have seen several PhDs from non-elite schools go on to become faculty at R1s. That said, those people were very, very good and all of them did go on to postdocs at elite places. It doesn't matter where you get your degree. It matters who you are and what you accomplish there. In some ways it's easier to do something impressive if you come from a Big 5. You have great peers and if you take advantage of that you can get a lot done. In other ways, it's actually harder. There's much more competition. You may get less attention from your advisors. Your advisors are going to be at the top of their field professionally, but the best of the best scientists are not always the best mentors. You may not be able to get in with the best advisors. Sometimes it's better to be a big fish in a small pond. Certainly all is not lost if you are.

    Teaching/liberal arts college jobs may in some ways be easier to get than R1 spots, but they are definitely not an automatic Plan B if you cannot get a faculty position at a research university--the selection criteria are different. If you want a teaching job, or even if you want to keep that option open as your Plan B, you are going to need to orient your CV in that direction, starting a few years before you want the job. Mentor some undergrads. Take on some extra or unusual teaching responsibilities. Whatever. Creating a competitive CV for a TT teaching job is easier and more under your control than creating one for an R1 job--but you have to do it, starting years before you want the job.

    Just my $0.02.
  8. May 11, 2017 #28
    Great idea. Emphasis added. Could not have said it better myself.

    If you think that ship has sailed and you are working in industry, there are things that you can do to open the doors back up to transition back into teaching (at a teaching oriented school). Your best plan is to get an adjunct position and teach a course or two at a local community college to begin accruing additional teaching experience on your cv. Now these adjunct jobs pay pretty poorly, but physics PhDs who can teach the evening classes for adult students tend to be in demand in a lot of places. If you can't get a job teaching an evening physics course, bounce over to the math department and teach a math course. There are usually a lot more evening math courses than physics courses.
  9. May 11, 2017 #29
    I've made quite a bit of money private tutoring through one of the tutoring start ups, and I'm sure that will help with a teaching CV if I want it. That's another option to consider.
  10. Aug 7, 2017 #30
    I accidentally ended up doing that because I liked it (didn't really have a plan B) and then accidentally ended up getting a 50% teaching / 50% research TT in R2 three years after a PhD :) Incredibly happy! :) R2/R3 is not R1, but there is quite a bit of cutting edge research in R2/R3 if the topic is right.

    Started my TT less than a year ago. My PhD / postdoc experience is from decent but not elite places (not in top 50), and I don't have any high impact papers. 3 of my friends recently got and accepted similar offers in similar circumstances.

    Posting it just to mention that not everything in academia is divided into R1 and pure teaching. There are plenty of opportunities between these two extremes.
  11. Aug 10, 2017 #31
    ^^The above post is very important. There's a weird assumption that one cannot have a good career outside of R1. However it turns out that the real world is complicated. There are extremely productive faculty at less well known places. There are even not very productive faculty at R1 institutions.

    The average value of a dataset doesn't explain the whole dataset, in other words.
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