Jennifer Hodgdon's Leaving Physics Pages

After I made the decision to leave the world of academic physics research, I got many requests from friends and friends of friends for advice on how to do it and what to expect. After also giving talks at both my undergraduate and graduate institutions of higher learning about my experiences, it became obvious to me that many other people were having the same questions, in this era of lessened government funding and fewer academic jobs. So, I decided to create this web site, containing what I think of as my standard answers to the standard questions, in the hopes that others may find it useful. Note that this is based solely on my own experiences and opinions, as well as my views on my friends' and other correspondents' experiences, so don't take any of it as Truth. Also note that I left physics after earning a PhD and doing a couple of years of post-doctoral research, and if you're at a different stage, some of this may not be applicable to you at all. If you have any suggestions or comments or further questions after reading through this site, please contact me, and I'll try to either answer them directly or incorporate them into the web site or both. Or you can leave a comment.

The Standard Questions fall into three categories, and I have given each its own page:

I have also created a fourth page, with Questions and Answers not included in the other pages.

Note that I have not attempted to answer the questions "Should I leave academic physics?" or "Why should I leave academic physics?" -- these are not questions that I can answer for anyone else. This is a site for those who have already answered the first in the affirmative, and who have a strong sense of their answer to the second. But here are a couple of reasons I know of why people have left academic physics:

  • Until about 1/2 way through grad school or post doc, most PhD candidates do not really know what being a prof. is like, and when they find out, they decide they'd rather do something else (long long years of post-docs and tenure track before having any kind of job security, not really liking the research and funding process, etc.)
  • Many more PhDs graduating each year than open faculty positions, so finding a post-doc and/or job is difficult
  • "2-body" problem -- as a physicist, given the limited job market, you have to go where the jobs are, and it may be impossible to reconcile that with a spouse/partner's career, or other geographic preferences

Comments

very interesting

I've graduated master cource of theoretical physics but I was totally suspicious about my future career. That was two years ago.

I found a good job offer at an industrial company to live on. Now I am working as a programmer but I find it as a bit boring.

I will read your blog all.

Thank you,

Junji from Tokyo

Oh, I found surprisingly that our names are similar

That's interesting, our names are so similar. I was in your situation. I am also a graduate student in physics, wondering whether academic life is good or not. I also worrying if I work in an industrial company as a programmer as you are, I may feel boring as you do.
And I also enjoy reading Jennifer' page

2-body problem

Dear Jennifer,

first of all I would like to congratulate you for your website. The topic of leaving academia is sometimes regarded as "taboo", especially among our colleagues, and the lack of information out there is astonishing.

I would like to ask you for more insight about the so-called "2 body problem". I myself am married to a Chemical Engineer who right now has a relatively good position in wastewater treatment. In your Q&As section you enumerate a handful of changes in career, including even moving to a different state in the other side of the country! I would like to know how you dealt with your family needs (if you did).

Please forgive me if I'm getting too close to your personal life. In case you know the experience of other fellows, it would as good do the job.

I'm especially concerned about this issue mostly for one reason. I don't know whether you are aware, but the situation in Europe is becoming tougher and tougher every day, especially in southern countries such as Spain, where I live. Finding a job is becoming more and more difficult, even being highly qualified, and most of them include country moving, which makes the "2-body problem" even harder.

Thank you very much for your feedback and congratulations again for your web!

Best regards,
Bruno

No good suggestions...

Unfortunately, I don't think I have any good suggestions for how to deal with the "two-body problem". Independent of career field, it is always going to be a process of finding the best thing for the couple or family, which isn't necessarily going to be optimal for either person independently. I don't think there are any easy solutions, and certainly with today's difficult economy world-wide, it becomes that much harder for either person to find a rewarding job, much less to find two rewarding jobs in the same locale.

All I can do is wish you luck!
--Jennifer