APS News

Career Liaisons Gather for Workshop on Professional Development

Representatives from university physics departments around the country were on hand at the APS March Meeting in Minneapolis to attend a special workshop on careers and professional development for physicists, organized as part of the APS Careers and Professional Development Liaison (CPDL) program. Established in 1998, the program's objective is to establish a nation-wide network of liaisons in academic physics departments to better disseminate current career information and help physics students compete more effectively in today's rapidly changing job market.

"With the range of jobs available in today's job market, it has never been more important for physics students to have an accurate and comprehensive view of their career options and the skills necessary to compete," said Fred Stein, APS Director of Education and Outreach. "This program is an attempt to help physics departments develop programs that better prepare their students for many different careers."

A large fraction of the program's activities is the dissemination of current, relevant information on career and employment trends through an exclusive website. In the CPDL program, each physics department identifies a liaison who acts as a point of contact through which current information is disseminated to students and faculty. Liaisons are provided with the latest career and employment information and also benefit from the ability to network with their colleagues at other institutions to bring new ideas to their department.

The meeting opened with a poster session featuring programs at physics departments around the country, followed by introductory remarks from Stein, giving a brief background of the CPDL program and a summary of the day's agenda. Roman Czujko of AIP's Education and Employment Statistics Division provided the backdrop for the day's events with some statistics. Using the most recent data available, Czujko reviewed the numbers of Bachelors, Masters, and PhD physicists in the workforce and put those numbers in context with career opportunities, needed job skills, titles and salaries.

Czujko was followed by a panel session featuring institutions and individual scientists who have succeeded in modifying their academic programs to account for the changing employment environment for physicists. Three focused on better preparing students for jobs in industry, through innovative master's degree programs and industrial internships, for example. Dave Berilla, Director of Career Services at the University of Delaware illustrated how university career services departments have automated their systems so as to serve students and employers virtually 24 hours a day. He also gave examples of how the university career services department can work closely with local and national industrial companies and the physics departments to link students with industrial jobs. John Rigden of the American Institute of Physics, who teaches a course at the University of Maryland, discussed the importance of bringing departmental alumni back to campus periodically to speak to current students regarding their career options. Brian Schwartz of CUNY Graduate Center emphasized the usefulness of one- or two-credit mini-courses in educating students on how to market themselves for employment. The keynote luncheon speaker was Jan Herbst of General Motors Research, who illustrated the different perspectives of industrial companies and academic departments with some real-life examples from his experiences at GM.

"With the range of jobs available in today's job market, it has never been more important for physics students to have an accurate and comprehensive view of their career options and the skills necessary to compete."

Most of the participants enjoyed the presentations by the invited speakers and felt the program obtained a good mix of physicists from all types of university backgrounds. "It was good to see that the issues that are important to me are also shared by others across the country," wrote one. Some participants said they would like to hear from more physicists in industry about what employers in that sector are looking for in candidates. Several also said that they would like to see more departments participating in future workshops, especially small departments at non-PhD granting institutions. Members of the APS Committee on Careers and Professional Development agreed that more liaisons should attend workshops and remarked that future workshops will likely have sessions where attendees from each type of university background can separately discuss issues relevant to them. They remarked that they want these workshops to give the liaisons the information they need in order to make a difference to students in their departments.

Aspects of the workshop rated most useful by participants were the importance of alumni in establishing industrial contacts and illustrating different physics career tracks, as well as increased awareness of employment resources currently available. Many participants were especially interested in the concept of providing more focus on those with undergraduate physics degrees who choose to go directly into the workplace.

From the APS viewpoint, this workshop provided information on how the APS can help physics department show their students a return on their educational investment, and help its industrial and applied members develop a skilled a workforce. The liaisons reported especially benefitting from the information provided speakers and other liaisons who have worked on career issues and gotten through the pitfalls.

Future plans for the Career & Professional Development Liaison Program include more workshops, perhaps at APS section meetings, consistently updating the CPDL website, and working with other scientific societies to provide the liaisons the best information available.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette