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By Leah Poffenberger
For students and early career physicists, deciding on a career path can be stressful in the best of times—and this stress has only increased during the coronavirus pandemic. To help counter some of that stress, the APS Careers team hosted a panel on non-academic careers at the 2020 Virtual April Meeting that included a virtual networking event, allowing job seekers to tap into the some of the same resources they might find at an in-person meeting.
The Sunday afternoon session "Meet Your Future: Career Panel and Networking," featured four speakers who shared their own experiences, offered career advice, and answered audience questions. Elizabeth Goldschmidt, Shannon Swilley Greco, Apriel Hodari, and Jenna Walrath brought diverse expertise to a lively panel discussion, moderated by Crystal Bailey, Head of Careers Programs at APS. After the panel, attendees and speakers were able to mingle and network via Zoom.
Goldschmidt is currently a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but also has worked at the National Institutes for Standards and Technology and the US Army Research Lab. Greco, the Science Education Senior Program Leader at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and Chair-Elect of the APS Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public, was on hand to talk about science education. Hodari is currently a principle investigator at Eureka Scientific Inc, researching equity in STEM. She also has a background in science policy and she offered advice on breaking into that field during the panel. Walrath, a Senior Process Engineer at Intel Corporation, shared her experiences working in industry as a physicist.
Despite holding very different types of jobs, the speakers agreed that the most important skill students need to build for achieving a career in their areas is communication. “There isn’t a single career that wouldn’t benefit from communication skills,” said Walrath, adding that her line of work often involves problem solving and the ability to explain those solutions to stakeholders. Goldschmidt said that another valuable skill, especially for those pursing research careers is to “learn how to fail. Get good at trying [something], realizing it doesn’t work, giving up, and moving to the next thing.”
For more on physics career opportunities, the APS Careers 2020 guide is available free online at aps.org/careers. A new edition will be available later this year.
Many questions during the session touched on various aspects of choosing graduate schools, how to build up new skills while in school, and whether graduate school is even necessary. Bailey reminded attendees that 50 percent of physicists enter the workforce directly after receiving a bachelor’s degree, with Walrath adding that many people she works with at Intel don’t come in with advanced degrees. On choosing a graduate school, Hodari encouraged prospective students to find out about the culture of an institution and to talk to people about what their everyday life is like. Greco offered similar advice on choosing an advisor who will support career goals and projects outside of a thesis: “It’s important when you’re selecting an advisor to see how much they’re invested in their graduate students—are they supportive of their development?” she said.
One participant asked the panelists how they found their current opportunities, and a similar theme emerged: picking an advisor—and friends and partners—that supported them. Greco and Walrath agreed that talking to people, seeking out opportunities, and taking risks were integral to their careers. “In terms of discovering opportunities, it’s important to do some reflection on what you want,” added Bailey. “You can change your plans.”
The Virtual April Meeting session "Meet Your Future: Career Panel and Networking" can be viewed at the meeting web page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik