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By Crystal Bailey
Whether at the bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. level, most physics graduates will find permanent careers in the private sector rather than in academia (Careers Report, APS News, June 2015).
To enable students to map out their future possible careers, a mentor can help educate them about the full range of career options available to them — and these efforts should begin years before students are nearing graduation. Even the most organized students need time for self-assessment, skill-building, and networking before they start focusing in earnest on the next steps of their careers.
Fortunately there are a number of ways that you as an academic mentor can do this, without adding much to your own or your students’ workload. One is to utilize the Physics InSight slideshow, which you can display on screens in common areas around your department.
Physics InSight is a free, downloadable PowerPoint slideshow that features physicists in various degree paths working in diverse sectors. It also includes up-to-date information on physics employment and salary statistics, opportunities for students — and also cool, cutting edge physics topics! A new version of the slideshow goes up about twice per semester; it’s a great diversion for students (majors and non-majors alike) who are waiting in hallways for their classes to begin. You can download the most recent edition at the Insight: Physics Slide Shows page.
Students also benefit greatly from one-on-one contact with physicists working outside of academia. Consider holding special seminars in which a non-academic speaker visits the department to talk about his or her work. An event like this not only provides students with information and insight about non-academic work, but also gives them an invaluable opportunity to network with potential employers.
Where colleges or universities are near industry, it is a common practice for companies to look to their local universities as a source of new talent. Your institution’s alumni office can help identify good potential speakers — or you can use the APS Industrial Speaker’s List, which is available at the Industrial Speakers List page (be sure to open “more options” and check “industrial careers” before you do the search).
You could also enlist the help of physicists who have won the APS Distinguished Lectureship on the Applications of Physics (DLAP). This award recognizes physicists in industrial or nonacademic careers for significant technical, industrial, or entrepreneurial contributions. The award is co-sponsored by the APS Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics and the Committee on Careers and Professional Development.
Each lectureship winner gives at least three talks at venues such as APS section meetings, annual meetings, and individual department colloquia during his or her term; all travel costs associated with talks are covered by APS. It’s an easy way to get someone with a rich and interesting perspective on non-academic careers to visit your department. For more information please visit the DLAP homepage.
Another way you can bring students, faculty, and physicists in industry or national labs together is to start an APS Local Link in your area. APS Local Links are small, grassroots gatherings of local physicists in a concentrated geographic area (such as a city), who meet on a regular basis to network, build relationships, and discover new opportunities for employment and collaboration.
Local Links benefit employers and students as recruitment opportunities, and they also encourage new collaborations among national labs, industries, and academic research facilities. APS provides each Local Link with some administrative and logistical support, and helps boost the visibility of Local Links meetings by sending announcements about upcoming events to local membership. If you’re interested in learning more about the APS Local Links program, please visit the APS Local Links page.
Building students’ awareness of non-academic careers can seem daunting — but with a modest amount of energy you can build a solid program that will both benefit your students and help make your faculty colleagues aware of career paths and research opportunities outside of the academic sphere. Such efforts can improve students’ confidence about — and preparedness for — their own future career prospects.
Crystal Bailey is APS Careers Program Manager.
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