Science postgraduates, especially those in the biological sciences, often see postdocs as a way to continue and refine their research, learn to run a laboratory and develop a broad, deep collaborative network. Flatt is one of many early-career physicists in the United States who dismiss that idea. Although researchers in the biological sciences may have to take multiple postdocs before landing their first permanent post, the landscape is shifting for physicists. Nearly 70% of physicists who earned their degree in 2004 took a postdoc, but the proportion had fallen to 56% in the classes of 2007 and 2008, according to the Statistical Research Center of American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland.
One reason for the decline is that fewer people with physics PhDs are pursuing an academic research career. This is in part because there are, and have been, fewer positions to pick from. Academic hiring has been flat since 2003, says Crystal Bailey, the education and careers programme manager for the American Physical Society (APS), also in College Park. Between 2006 and 2007, about 350 faculty members left their job in physics, but in 2008, about 450 people with physics PhDs were seeking positions. Of those with physics PhDs in the United States from the classes of 2007 and 2008 who did not take a postdoc directly after earning their degree, 62% accepted private-sector positions, according to the AIP Statistical Research Center. Another 10% accepted government positions, such as at one of the US Department of Energy's 21 labs and technology centres. About one-quarter accepted academic posts.
Few private-sector or industry positions require an applicant to have completed a postdoc — even if those posts involve research. Bailey says that she rarely advises physics graduate students to pursue a postdoc, unless they are certain they want a career in academia or they need a job while they consider their options. Physics postgraduates are, she says, far more likely to get full-time permanent employment in the private sector, for which a postdoc is largely irrelevant.Could you imagine what the chemistry world would be like if some of these statistics were true of chemists? Let's play pretend and replace the word "physics" with "chemistry":
Between 2006 and 2007, about 350 faculty members left their job inHehehe -- if I wasn't laughing, I'd be crying. Here's a little more:
physicschemistry, but in 2008, about 450 people with physicschemistry PhDs were seeking positions. Of those with physicschemistry PhDs in the United States from the classes of 2007 and 2008 who did not take a postdoc directly after earning their degree, 62% accepted private-sector positions, according to the AI PStatistical Research Center.
A postdoc could even be a drawback for physicists considering the private sector. Many of Europe's industrial employers prefer to hire applicants who have a PhD and a 'clean slate', says Maria Allegrini, a physicist at University of Pisa in Italy and a member of the APS Committee on International Scientific Affairs. “They want to train you in their own field,” she says.
Physicists with experience in US industry warn that a CV with three or more academic postdocs can create the impression that the applicant had hoped for a career in academia and does not really want one in industry. “We want to find someone who's charged up with enthusiasm to work for our company,” says Jim Hollenhorst, Agilent's senior director of technology, who regularly hires physics postgraduates. “So don't do three postdocs, not find an academic job, and then apply here.”I can't help but like Dr. Hollenhurst's forthrightness. The same is likely true for chemistry, i.e. doing multiple academic postdocs (more than 2) is probably detrimental to being hired in industry. However, I'd like to think that hiring managers in industrial chemistry are aware of the terrible macroeconomic circumstances affecting today's chemistry postdoc and would be willing to cut some slack to applicants. (cue laughter?)
All in all, a very interesting article and an interesting contrast to chemistry. Go over there and read the whole thing.