APS News

Letters to the Editor

Attitudes Toward Industrial Postdocs

Alvin Saperstein’s letter about industrial postdoc positions (APS News, March 2014) brought back some not-so-fond memories. During the early 1970s I served as the director of the Physics and Chemistry Division of the North American Rockwell Science Center. Several group leaders and I were trying to set up an industrial postdoc program. We discussed our proposal with professors at several leading institutions. The receptions we received were often hostile. At a meeting with faculty in the Physics Department at Berkeley we were accused of “only looking for cheap labor to advance our scientific projects.” Others made it clear that they would participate only if we intended to give them grants or consulting contracts.

Attitudes have changed a lot since [the] 1970s and perhaps an APS-endorsed program might now succeed. I certainly hope so.

Thomas Wolfram
San Clemente, California

Advantages of the Master of Arts in Teaching Degree

We were thoroughly heartened by the article “The Role of Physics Departments in High School Teacher Education” (Back Page, APS News, August/September 2013), and we encourage all departments willing and eager to boost their fields of study to consider petitioning their institution to establish a Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

Virtually all the points delineated in the article would be encompassed by an MAT degree, which is awarded by the department in question rather than by the School of Education. This ensures a thorough, rigorous, and precise instruction of the subject matter, which can be tailored to target content typical of a high school classroom.

The advantage of an MAT program over either an MA or an MT is that it requires a serious investment on the part of both the specific department and the School of Education. The department takes charge of preparing its students to possess a comprehensive content-knowledge background, while the School of Education administers a variety of pedagogy, psychology, and even law courses, which provide teachers-in-training with the latest techniques and best practices in secondary education. The direct alliance with the School of Education also facilitates the student teaching and certification processes thus freeing the departments to focus their time and resources elsewhere.

One of us (P.R.-B.) is a graduate of an MAT program in classical studies, and could not be more pleased with the intensive but broad preparation she received to begin a career as a high school Latin teacher. We desire that the same opportunity be made available to all aspiring teachers in any and all fields.

Paula Rondon-Burgos and Oscar Rondon
Charlottesville, Virginia

Leveling the Playing Field for Non-tenure Track Researchers

Including and supporting “industrial” physicists with local chapters as recommended by the APS Early Career Task Force (Brad Conrad, Back Page, APS News, December 2013) is a good idea. However, I wonder if everyone recognizes that the goal of improving corporate competitiveness is at least partially responsible for the limited participation of these physicists in what I agree with Conrad is an APS heavily biased toward “academic physics.” The proprietary nature of industrial research may prevent presentation of results at local chapter meetings.

What might serve this group of physicists as well would be presentations at local chapter meetings that would allow these physicists to hear the latest in more academically oriented physics research that they don't have an opportunity to hear where they work. The local chapter meetings would function in the same way that physics department colloquia function, and this might help foster the sense of a single physics professional community for this group of underserved physicists.

My biggest concern with the report, however, is that it overlooks a significant part of the academic physics research community by considering only tenure-track and tenured professors, and their “temporary” undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students. This attitude is clear in the article and ignores the cohort of full-time, career (not temporary) academic researchers: in the University of California System, for example, they have payroll titles of research associate, project scientist, and research scientist, although professional titles vary by academic institutions.

My own experience suggests that significant numbers of early career scientists are also dramatically under-served by APS programs (even established non-tenured, career academic researchers like myself are under-served), and by agencies like NSF which provide extramural support. Even the DOE Office of Science, which supports significant numbers of such researchers, bans them from applying for Early Career Awards which are (in my view, unfairly and unwisely) restricted to national laboratory staff and tenure-track professors.

This bias against permanent non-tenure-track academic researchers pervades professional organizations like APS, the universities where they work (which like APS are largely governed by tenured professors), and even the organizations which provide extramural support for research. I think that a concerted effort to acknowledge the concerns and problems faced by this cohort in our profession is long overdue at APS headquarters. If we are indeed a single research community, then we must level the playing field for these early career physicists.

Rick Moyer
San Diego, California


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