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Soon-to-be Physics Ph.D. In Need Of Advice

  1. Aug 29, 2014 #1
    Dear PF:

    I've spent a decade-plus in school by now. I earned my BS in a country different than the US in 2002. My degree allowed me to work as a Math & Physics teacher in high schools in my country, but not in colleges or universities. From the beginning, I knew I didn't want to be a high school teacher forever, so I made diligent efforts to avoid this and to ensure that I could become a university professor.

    Thus, between 2003-2006 I embarked in further studies in Physics to pump up my BS degree. I earned a 'sort of' Master's degree in Physics (it's really not considered a master's in my country;it is called "specialization"so, I became a "specialist" in Physics). After that, I managed to find a job for a year or so in a local college, which I found very very enriching. I immediately realized that I wanted to be a university professor (to work in higher education).

    However, this "specialist" degree wasn't enough to fulfill the requirements that this college (and almost all colleges in my country) required. So, by 2006 I decided to move out of my country and pursue a Master's degree outside of it. In that time, a master's degree in Physics was a big deal in my country, so I didn't doubt it, and I traveled to Puerto Rico, where I was admitted.

    I didn't apply to a Ph. D. program in the US (which, since I started to teach in universities, became my dream) because my English was not very good at the time and in the early 2000s it was nearly impossible for me to take the English proficiency tests demanded by universities in America (i.e., TOEFL, GRE, etc). My thought was that once I were in Puerto Rico, which is American territory, I would use the time to brush up my English there and take the aforementioned exams. I spent 2.5 years there, between 2006-2008 and in 2009 I was admitted in a university in the US.

    Since 2009, I've been in the US pursuing my Ph. D. studies!

    It's been literally a dream come true!

    I've learned tons!

    In my time here, I finally managed to publish (4 times!) in international journals, which I hadn't been able to (for whatever reason) in my previous studies. My studies have concentrated all this time in theoretical physics, so I am sure and I consider myself a theoretical physicist.

    Now my time here is approaching to an end. I'm in my last year. Now, I command the English language fairly well and I want to try to become a professor and teach in a university or a college here in America. I don't know if this is a goal too high, but I want to try.

    I've started a job search, but very quickly I became very disappointed. All universities seem to be looking for someone highly experienced and who is engaging actively in research and probably has been assigned a grant. This is perfectly understandable from the perspective of employers but what are the options for a guy like me who is just starting?

    How can I engage in a research topic that I don't even know if exists or if someone else has taken it? Do you know what I mean?

    Where do I start, for example?

    Let me get something straight: I love doing theory! I love to take a book, or a paper, and 'open it up', dissect it and understand it. For example, I spent part of my summer studying GR by myself, since our department doesn't have an Astrophysics group and GR classes are not offered. I had never taken a single GR class. Now some of my colleagues want me to teach them. So, I know that if I'm faced with a problem I can take steps to solve it.

    I also consider myself very confident teaching. I worked as a teacher in my country, as I said previously. I worked in several high schools and even elementary school before getting that job in that college I mentioned. I enjoyed that too and I'm interested in Physics education. As a TA during my graduate studies I was of great help to my students who praised my teaching abilities over their professors'. I can teach and I'd love to be paid for it!

    Now, it's not that I am totally clueless. During my Ph. D., I studied the observation of gravitational quantum states in ultra-cold neutrons. My advisor and I ran simulations and we made suggestions to the improvement of the experiments. We basically concentrated in the experiment and not much in the neutrons per se, but I find some of the areas of applications of ultracold neutrons fascinating: for example, tests of Newton's law of gravitation at quantum level and even plans to use them to detect dark matter and/or extra dimensions! There are interesting experiments involving resonant states as well! There are some suggestions to use UCNs to further understand neutron stars!( This one is very appealing to me) These are exciting developments that I would like to dive into and that I believe my work with my advisor qualifies me to do! But I don't have a single clue where to start looking if someone else hasn't already taken these problems and, more importantly, hasn't solved it already!

    I feel very underqualified for the type of job offers I'm seeing out there. Am I overworrying? With the brief description of my CV that you've read here, would you consider I have a chance to fulfilling this dream of mine?

    I'm so terrified that I can't find a decent job in which I can exploit my abilities and I have to return to my country. I have spent hours really stressed about this on top of the obvious fuzz implied in writing my thesis, organize defenses and dissertations, etc. I would sincerely appreciate your advice, because I'm certain many have had to go through this.

    Thanks in advance and thanks for your time reading this.

    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    What is your visa status? That could prevent a potential employer from hiring you to teach if you don't have PR or US citizenship.

    Where have you looked so far? Not all jobs are posted in a publicly searchable way, you may need to send out some resumes to various physics departments.

    Have you looked at community colleges? You are probably overqualified for these but they do hire physics profs from time to time. It might be a way to get some experience and find your way. There may also be a cost in doing it like making it more difficult to jump to a four year school. On the other hand, if you're a theoretician then maybe you'd enjoy the freedom to work alone developing your ideas.

    Have you networked with your American profs? They may have colleagues at other institutions that they can call to see what available.

    Have you gone to any conferences? Sometimes they post job openings in their proceedings. They may also have grant information that you can apply to but I think the visa status would pop up again.

    These are just some thoughts other folks here may have much better suggestions for you...
  4. Aug 29, 2014 #3
    My current status is F-1 [student non-immigrant]. I plan to apply for an employment authorization [OPT]. The visa issue is yet another downsize. I don't know how big of a disadvantage I'm in for not holding a green card.

    Online job postings, mainly from 'physics today' website, higheredjobs.com and the chronicle of higher education.

    There are very few in the job postings from that kind of community colleges. I don't know if it's because it might be too early though. Most of the job postings are from universities that demand a statement of research, so they want a researcher. That's my biggest concern so far.

    I'm very confused. What's the difference between University, College, Community College, Junior College, 4 Year College... :confused:

    So far, my current advisor is giving me some advice like evaluating the quality of my CV, Resume, statement of teaching philosophy, etc., but he's not very encouraging. I plan to ask some of the other faculty members for their letters of recommendation but further than that I don't expect more of them, specially because I'm not American. I will contact the career center here in the university, but I don't expect much help from them either. I have a few of acquaintances to whom I've expressed my interests, but they're not heavy hitters.

    Where to look for the job openings is not much of the issue. As I mentioned above, it is my qualifications that worry me on top of the visa status.

    Thank you for your inputs. They're very much appreciated.
  5. Aug 29, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

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