APS News

Workshop Seeks New Ways to Prepare Students for the Job Market

The APS Committee on Professional Development spearheaded a special half-day workshop just prior to the APS March Meeting in Indianapolis, entitled "Careers in Industry: Preparing Your Students." The workshop was organized to help department chairs and APS Career and Professional Development Liaisons grapple with how to better prepare their students to compete in today's job market.

The academic job market for Ph.D. physicists is the strongest it has been in a decade, with an estimated 500 tenure and tenure track openings per year, according to Roman Czujko of AIP's Education and Employment Statistics Division, who presented some of the latest findings, to be featured in an upcoming report. However, he cautioned that not all such positions are filled, and that academia hires from all sectors, including industry and government laboratories, not just recent PhDs. He also reported that while Ph.D. production went down 4% in 2000 and is expected to decline through 2003, the number of graduate students admitted is slowly starting to rise, and the production of BS degrees in physics went up 4% in 2000.

Educational consultant Sheila Tobias discussed innovations in science education, most notably the Sloan Foundation's pilot program for the development of professional master's degrees programs at U.S. universities [see APS NEWS, January 2002]. Such an approach views degrees as launch pads for a wide variety of careers, but most science and math majors don't realize this. The fledgling programs feature new applications of classical subjects, such as financial mathematics or biotechnology, connected to local industry, with interdisciplinary courses and a required internship for hands-on training. According to Tobias, such programs can be new sources of research funding for university professors, since more funding may come from the private sector in the future.

One often overlooked area for job opportunities is medical physics, according to Charles W. Coffey, professor and chief clinical physicist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and immediate past president of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM). There are currently 3000 practicing medical physicists in the U.S., usually specializing in radiotherapy physics, diagnostic physics, or medical radiation safety physics, which are the prevailing hot topics in this field. There are two pathways to entering the field - getting an MS and a Ph.D. in medical physics from a suitably accredited program, or getting an MS or Ph.D. in physics followed by a medical physics residency - and the AAPM has recently established a mentoring program to foster student interest in such a career.

The final speaker was Ed Esposito, formerly of Alcatel, now a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, who addressed how industrial physicists are managing their jobs in these uncertain times. He believes that the despite the economic downturn, "The high-tech revolution is here to stay," with unabated increases in the overall growth and evolution of the high-tech marketplace. Likewise, R&D funding will be increasingly market driven. While physics remains at the core of the industry, physicists themselves are perceived to be at the periphery of the talent pool, even as the boundaries between physics and traditional engineering disciplines becomes fuzzier. Esposito suggested maximizing one's exposure to industry prior to graduation through internships, etc., to learn what skills companies seek, which include a broad, interdisciplinary knowledge base; good communications and interpersonal skills; versatility and adaptability; and often, personal mobility.

The talks were followed by a panel discussion moderated by the NSF's Rajinder Khosla. The panelists noted that there is currently not enough mentoring taking place to prepare physics students for careers in industry. Several pointed out that universities can mentor simply by bringing industry speakers in for special colloquia, which would help expose students to alternative career opportunities.

Sunday's program concluded with a luncheon keynote address by Venky Narayanamurti, dean of Harvard University's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who has had a varied career in industry, government and academia.

Online Resources

Sloan Science Master's Outreach Program:
http://www.sciencemasters.com

American Association of Physicists in Medecine:
http://www.aapm.org

The Industrial Physicists magazine:
http://www.aip.org/tip

Science's Next Wave:
http://nextwave.sciencemag.org

AIP Statistical Research Center:
http://www.aip.org/statistics

Career & Professional Development Liaison Website:
http://www.aps.org/careers/guidance/cpdl/index.cfm

Industrial and Applied Speakers Lists:
http://www.aps.org/units/fiap/speakers.cfm

Women and Minority Speakers Lists:
http://www.aps.org/programs/women/speakers/index.cfm
http://www.aps.org/programs/minorities/speakers/index.cfm



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