Monthly Archives: November 2009

About to graduate?

2. I am finishing my Ph.D. When should I begin the process of looking for a job?

by Prof. Michael Johnson

At least 12 months before you expect to graduate. At that time you should begin to view your search as your most important job – more important than completing yet another paper or running yet another experiment. It may seem paradoxical, but it can be harder to find a job with a Ph.D. than without. The reason is simple: these are not routine hires. Nearly all Physics Ph.D.’s find fascinating jobs – but each is an individual fit to an individual person. There are many job postings for electricians but few for Physics Ph.D.’s. You have to do your homework to find that wonderful job, but if you do then you will.

Your two big tasks are, first, deciding what type of job really appeals to you; and, second, identifying, researching, and applying for jobs. These are logically separate issues but in practice they
are intertwined. As you research possible jobs, or interview, you are likely to learn more about your own likes and dislikes. Do you want a postdoctoral position? Half or more of Physics Ph.D.’s go this route. Your advisor may be able to help you identify possibilities. People you have met at conferences, or who have cited your work (or vice versa) are also good possibilities. There is no magic technique for other positions. Approach your job search like a research project in a field that you are just getting into. Dig into the literature (of how to search for jobs), hunt for opportunities, forge connections, and apply. Like any research project your results are more likely to be positive if you put in the necessary work – and avoid presuppositions.

Please do not assume that the academic path is superior. So the academic life suited your advisor. So what? Those of us running graduate programs have discovered that many students feel almost apologetic if they choose another route. We would like to offer what we have told many other finishing students: only you can decide what is best for you.

It is normal to be anxious while searching for jobs. But don’t feel compelled to accept your first offer. It is important to like the job you take. While a Ph.D. does not make your job search easier, it does
make it much more likely that you will be able to find something you love.