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The Long Hard Road

  1. Aug 29, 2010 #1
    ... to becoming a professor. I was looking around and saw how difficult many people say it is to become a uni professor so I am going to skip that question "How Hard is it?!!?" but let me just make sure if i have this right
    Graduate (masters)
    Assisstant Professor (tenure track)
    Full time professor (tenured)...Here is my question how long does one do postdoc for? Because that isn't permanent is it? I think you do research make publications and then in due time they can ask you to make your own way right?

    I guess one could just choose to go into R&D right after they finish masters? or do you need phd for that too?
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  3. Aug 29, 2010 #2


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    You can do R&D out of a masters but your skills will limit you in what you can do compared to someone with a PhD. A postdoc is generally 2 years and people tend to do 1 or 2, it's not a permanent job.
  4. Aug 29, 2010 #3
    Post-docs are for three years, and most physics Ph.D.'s get two. The problem is that if you don't get something permanent by end of the second, the third is extremely difficult and the fourth is impossible.

    There's also the problem that the goal posts are likely to move. We are talking about 15 years from undergraduate to tenured prof, and it's quite possible that in 15 years the academic system may be radically different. It wouldn't surprise me at all if in 2025, there are no new tenured professors anywhere.

    The good news is that you will be doing physics research by second year grad school at the latest, and you can do it at the undergraduate level.
  5. Aug 29, 2010 #4


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    It's good to remember that nothing in life is "permanent" - life is a journey, not a destination. If you don't enjoy what you're doing along the way, you're going to be unhappy and should look for something else that you do enjoy.
  6. Aug 29, 2010 #5

    Why is this?
  7. Aug 29, 2010 #6


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    The fate of post-docs I think varies from field to field. I know a few people who seem to have made careers of jumping from post-doc to post-doc. It certainly is not ideal from a financial stability point of view, but in other ways it has some advantages - for one you can spend the majority of your time actually doing research.

    Post doctoral fellowships are essentially contract positions. You join a group to work on a specific project. Usually the money comes from a grant.

    With regards to the possibility of tenured positions disappearing, I'd have to agree (that it's possible - not that it necessarily will happen in that time frame). From a business point of view, why would a university hire someone into a permanent position when there is a steady supply of fresh PhDs willing to work as sessional lecturers for peanuts? Why pay someone to go on sabatical? Why should they hire full-time, permanent faculty when they can reach out into industry and make adjunct appointments which will connect students to the "real" world? (NOTE: there are good arguments against this, but the trick is to get univeristy administators to pay as much attention to them as they do to the immediate financial bottom line).
  8. Aug 29, 2010 #7
    But that's because everyone think there is a chance of getting a tenure-track position later on in life. If this motivation is taken away, who would do that?
  9. Aug 29, 2010 #8
    hmm..very true. I don't suppose that a time will come when unis close down tenure-track positions. After all, research is an integral part of any reputable university. And without full time professors who have been there 10 years or plus that would be very hard to do.
  10. Aug 29, 2010 #9
    1) Because 15 years is a relatively long time, and a lot can change.

    2) Because of supply and demand. There isn't a lack of people that would work as researchers and teachers without tenure. There is a *LOT* of institutional inertia, but if one university can show that they can run without tenure, then its going to disappear rather quickly.

    I'm not saying that it will happen. Institutional inertia may keep things going for a long, long time. I'm just saying that you shouldn't be surprised at all if tenure disappears for new hires.

    Something that I'd like to understand better is how tenure became the "holy grail" of academia,
  11. Aug 29, 2010 #10
    But then we have a major problem in that there just aren't enough tenured positions to go around.

    One of my annoyances is that academia is supposed to be based on "seeking truth" and if you have to have hiring practices that require you convincing people of something that isn't true, then you are going to have a lot of problems with the "seeking truth" bit.
  12. Sep 5, 2010 #11


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  13. Sep 5, 2010 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Changing tenure will make little difference to the university funding situation. Take the University of Michigan (chosen because it's easy to find financial information on the web). They have a budget of $4.7B. Of this, $164M is for tenured faculty salary - 3.4%.
  14. Sep 6, 2010 #13

    However, $2.4B of University of Michigan involves the hospital they run.


    The general fund is $1.5 billion and the state appropriation is $300 billion.

    The problem with removing tenure is that once you no longer have tenure, then administration will have a pretty free hand in closing departments and schools, and doing your standard corporate reorgs that they don't do now.

    Not to say that's a good thing....
  15. Sep 6, 2010 #14
    It seems to me that tenure jobs will never completely disappear. Think of Academia as a funnel; new PhDs looking for work is the load and there's a lot more than can fit through the funnel. But, some still get through, these are the people that are replacing the tenure track Professors as they go out, albeit at a very slow rate. This leaves the rest of the PhDs to just wait for there chance to get through the funnel and in the interim take adjunct jobs.
  16. Sep 6, 2010 #15


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    True. And not many candidates would get into the funnel if there was no opening at the bottom. Meaning, no one would take adjunct work (which is low-paying and offers no job security), if the hope of getting tenure is zero.

    So one argument for tenure: using it as a dangling carrot ensures an endless supply of cheap labor.
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