APS News

APS Career Efforts Focus on Physics Departments

The primary thrust of the APS' career activities, which are guided by the now two-year old APS Committee on Careers and Professional Development (CCPD), has been directed at assisting physics departments in their efforts to prepare graduates for the full range of careers open to them. Foremost among these efforts has been the Careers and Professional Development Liaison (CPDL) program, initiated by former Associate Executive Officer, Barrett Ripin, in 1998 (see APS News, June 1998).

The CPD Liaison is a contact person in each participating physics department responsible for programs to prepare students for their post-graduate careers and employment. The APS attempts to provide the Liaison with up-to-date useful information for students and faculty regarding physics employment in industry, academia, government, and other sectors. More importantly, the Liaison will typically play a strong role in the professional development initiatives for students and faculty within their own physics department. One way the APS helps to do this is through a website for Liaisons that acts as a resource of 'good practices' that have proven useful in other departments. This may involve Liaisons in departments that have tried successful programs providing suggestions on how to set up student internships, foster closer ties with physics related industry, and developing other ways that physics departments can better prepare students for a diversity of career options. "Despite our good intentions, we sometimes can't provide all of the information our students need," bemoaned one department chair.

The APS is hosting a Career Liaison Workshop in Minneapolis, MN just prior to the Y2K March Meeting to help Liaisons and to stimulate greater interchange between physics departments in the US. In addition, the APS hopes to learn how it can more effectively assist the physics community in the career development area. Currently over 125 physics departments have designated Liaisons, a number that is rapidly growing. The Liaison program is open to all physics departments at all degree levels, BS through PhD granting institutions. Of course, there is a wide spectrum of information to cover these very diverse needs. If your department has not yet designated a Liaison, then consider encouraging the department chair to do so. (Departments may sign up for the Liaison program on the CPDL website)

Departments can learn a lot about what works, or doesn't work, by examing existing programs. The Liaison program is designed to foster such cross-examination and make it easy for interested faculty to learn the real scoop from the most experienced persons.

The APS and AIP initiated a prototype "Career Site Visit Program" in which a department invites in a team of experts to evaluate its efforts at providing for the professional needs of its graduates. The first such visit was made to Southwest Texas State University (SWT). The most important finding, according to Barrett Ripin and Bo Hammer, who initiated the program and were, respectively, the APS and AIP representatives, was that "good teaching counts." The report of the visit, which is accessible through the online version of this APS News issue and the CPDL website, went on to note that the SWT's enrollment did not decline as many other had over the past few years. Many students cited the small class sizes, attention from faculty, and a program is geared to train graduates with skills in high demand by local semiconductor businesses.

Still another way that the Society is actively trying to provide career development is through continuing education for physicists in topics normally not part of the a degree program. For instance, the APS sponsored a short course on Management Problems of the Technical Person at the Centennial meeting in Atlanta.  FIAP, with sponsorship from CCPD, is running a similar short course at this coming March Meeting. CCPD is studying the pros and cons of establishing an accreditation system for physics departments or for special degree programs.

The current chair of CCPD, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky is very much interested in hearing your reactions to these initiatives as well as other suggestions of ways that the APS might help improve career options for physicists.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette