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Getting Started in Academia

Many PhD students automatically drift toward the academic lifestyle and consider it to be the natural end-point of the doctorate. But that is generally a very bad way to begin.

The PhD can be the opening for many engaging and interesting careers. Some of the resources on the Career Service page may be useful to you as you think about careers outside of academia. An academic career is one of the most consuming (in terms of time, energy and talent) options open to you. And the rewards of such a choice are seldom what we might expect.

Colleges and universities expect research, teaching and community services in varying proportions depending on the history and mission of the school and the department. At a major research university you will most likely find the emphasis is on research. But even here there is a greater expectation of being effective in the classroom and of being able to reach out to students in ways that may lie outside our education and expectations.

You might think that a small state school with heavy teaching loads would only expect teaching. But again even these with no, or little, history of undergraduate research are now expecting faculty to engage undergraduates in research and to generate additional funding from grants.

And even the faculty at liberal arts college, where a balance of teaching and research has been the norm, find themselves being torn and worn down as the expectations of excellence in both teaching and research begin to combine too often in a very imperfect storm.

The rewards of the academic lifestyle are difficult to quantify. Being able to pursure research ... working with students as they start the study of physics ... these are your primary rewards.

And at many places the tenure process makes the time between asking the questions -

Am I good at this? Is this what I want?

and getting an answer a very long one.

So think carefully about your choices. Ask your faculty and your friends, go to conferences and talk to faculty at all stages of their careers in different kinds of settings. And if you decide that you want this because you have both the desire and the talent for this lifestyle ... buena suerte.

How do I find a position?

How do I prepare to teach?

How do I involve undergraduates in research?

How do I think about the tenure process?