Thursday, October 06, 2011

How to Land Jobs Outside Academia

This panel discussion for students and postdoc was held as SLAC. It consisted of members who are physicists and working outside of academia. In essence, this panel discussion tries to impart on how one gets a job, what should one do to be well-prepared for such a career, and how to go about applying/seeking such a job.

If you have been a long-time reader of this blog, you would notice similarities between what was said here, and what I've been saying all along. For example:

It’s never too early to start, added Chris Barnes (Stanford, ’07, and SLAC), and late of Solyndra. “The time to acquire the specific skills is when you’re still in school and can take classes,” he said. Some of the panelists focused on programming skills as a good example, but Exploratorium Senior Scientist Paul Doherty (MIT, ’74), said it never hurts to expand your physics problem-solving repertoire, as well.
I've always tried to emphasize this. In my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay, I explicitly said so in "Part VIII: Alternative Careers for a Physics Graduate"

If you have followed the series so far, you would have noticed that very early on, I emphasized one very important thing: the acquiring of a range of skills during your undergraduate years. This includes everything from computer programming skills to experimental skills. This is extremely important for any students, but especially if you end your physics education upon completion of your undergraduate degree. If you decide to pursue employment, your employability depends very much of what you can do. Let’s face it, not many employers are looking for someone who can ”do physics”. There are, however, employers who would like someone who can analyze numerical models and maybe write codes, or maybe someone who can work in an electronics industry doing thin film fabrication, etc. You will be surprised that some of the things you accidentally picked up in an advanced physics lab might be the very thing that gets you the job.
I repeated this theme in my idealized letter to the student "So I Am Your Academic Advisor"

Since you chose to work for me, you will be doing a lot of experimental work. Many of these are hands-on work that will involve learning, maintaining, and constructing vacuum systems. You will have to learn how various vacuum components work, how to handle them properly, how to assemble them, how to design and maintain such system. You may also end up learning several experimental technique, diagnostics, equipment, procedure, etc.. etc., some of which may not even be in your thesis. However, these are skills and knowledge that might land you a job. Your knowledge in many of these areas are relevant not only to a life in academic research, but also in many private, high-tech companies if you choose to pursue that line of employment.
So there you go! If you need any more convincing, this should do it.


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