Thursday, August 2, 2007

Physics Jobs - Part 3 (Types of Jobs)

My apologies for the delay, but I have struggled with how to organize this part of the series (preparing for a tenure track job) because there are two very different parts to it. I've decided to separate them.

The issue I've found to be problematic is that there are many different types of institutions with tenure-track jobs available to a person with a PhD in physics, and even some open to someone with an MS. They are so different, particularly as regards the standards for tenure (addressed in part 4), that we need to get these definitions straight.

These definitions are also crucial to understanding the data in the previous article, about demand for physicists in academia.

Types of Institutions

Community Colleges:
These are teaching faculty positions. Publications and research play no role in tenure decisions, only teaching. Research related to teaching is encouraged and useful, but it will not result in tenure being granted if you are a poor teacher. Apart from the usual service duties, the assignment is 100% teaching. As an example, I spend 10 hours per week in a classroom (two calc-based physics classes) and 6 hours per week teaching labs. Some of our labs are taught by adjuncts, who I supervise. I teach a gen-ed class in the summer. The trig-based class is taught by another faculty member. I'll discuss this category of jobs in Part 5. Types of classes taught vary widely depending on the nature of your main transfer school.

Four-year (BS only) Universities:
These are teaching and research positions, often with an emphasis on involving undergraduates in research. Teaching here includes upper division "majors" classes as well as introductory classes, but the majors classes are small. (At the smaller programs, they might be taught every other year just to get 5 students enrolled, but I have seen some outstanding PhD students come from such schools.) Most of the load is in service courses to the rest of the college. Quality teaching is essential for tenure at these schools, but research cannot be neglected. However, the standards for research are not what they are at top-quartile PhD institutions. Because this group includes mid-size state universities and small liberal-arts colleges, there is a lot of diversity. One thing to watch for are the larger, upwardly mobile institutions that want an "R1" faculty member while offering low-rent facilities and support. Conditions may be more predictable at the liberal arts schools.

Universities offering an MS degree:
This small group is a hybrid. Research and small grants are essential to provide appropriate training for students doing an MS thesis, but undergrad teaching cannot be neglected. Some of these schools are trying to move up into the bottom-feeder PhD category, and those will place much greater emphasis on research and grant funding in their tenure decision (much like the bottom half of the PhD departments). A good friend works at one of these, but I won't talk about them in part 4 of this series because they make up such a small group of jobs.

Universities offering a PhD degree:
There is a wider spectrum here than you might imagine, since fully half of physics PhD's are granted by the top 35 universities. Those, or the next group of 37, are the ones you probably know about. Only 25% of PhD holders got degrees from the 110 universities that make up the majority of "research" universities, so most persons getting a PhD are unaware of what those other programs are like or the pressures they operate under - yet these offer 40% of the jobs (about 2000 of 5000) at this level. It is common to hear people refer to the top half of these schools as "R1" institutions. This is the name given to a Carnegie classification that has been renamed "very high research activity". (Details are at the Carnegie Foundation web site, although you might want to read the Wikipeida summary as well.) Faculty at the top schools publish twice as many papers per year as faculty at the bottom schools, and their papers get cited three times as often as those from the lower group. Tenure decisions are made based on research productivity, grant funding, and the national and international reputation of that research. The table below gives you some idea of what is going on across this group of schools.

Summary Table

Data for the PhD-granting institutions is from the National Research Council study published by the National Academy of Sciences. See below for source links. Othere entries are deduced from the AIP data cited in my previous article. Only 146 of the 183 "PhD granting" institutions identified by the AIP are ranked by the NRC study, so I also include an entry for them with values deduced from the (rounded) AIP tables. I put a non-zero value in the PhD column because I know of at least one school not in the group of 146 that does grant 1 or 2 PhD's every year.

Dept class# Depts# FacultyCites/FacPhD/yr
PhD top354971.517.0
PhD 2nd373247.67.7
PhD 3rd372231.14.7
PhD 4th371423.92.2
unranked3618? ? 1?
MS only7210 ? 0
BS only5005 ? 0
2 year CC10701.2 ? 0

You can obtain a copy of Table L-7 in Excel format from this collection of tables in Appendix L. (Please note that this information is all copyright 1995 by the NAS and distributed by them for individual use. Explanations of the tables are in their $81 book.) If you are looking for tables in another format, for other research areas such as the humanities, or the tables that provide a summary across all research areas, start at the index of publicly available materials.

The data in the 1995 study reflect the situation in 1992-93. The previous study was published in 1982 (again based on surveys and data collected a few years earlier), so a new update is likely to appear in the next year or so.

Why the confusion?

I think this subject can confuse graduate students because it is rarely talked about by faculty. I only heard about it over beers with faculty while I was in graduate school, and became more aware of it when I was affiliated with an institution that was trying to move up in the ranks. It is also obscured by the fog of being in a school system that appears rather seamless to a student.

After 12+1 years of being taught by people with a BA degree (maybe a BS, MA, or MS in there somewhere), where the main difference from elementary to high school was the depth of expertise in certain areas, you probably figured that college teachers were pretty much the same thing but with even more knowledge and expertise. Odds are that you were in grad school before you began to realize that the job of a university professor is not teaching and that the real education of a graduate student does not take place in a classroom. That confusion about changing priorities is captured brilliantly in the Piled Higher and Deeper cartoons. Even then you may not realize that there are graduate programs and then there are Graduate Programs. I use the (outdated) term "R1" to describe that second group, the top tier of research universities.

Minimum requirements for a teaching job

I am at an institution accredited by SACS, but the standards are essentially the same in other regions of the country. (The regional structure is mostly just to deal with the numbers: there are 793 accredited colleges and universities in our region alone. That is a lot of work.) I'll use SACS because I am familiar with their organization and there is no point in linking to all of the others. The key document bit of information is their Principles of Accreditation.

The information on faculty credentials is in section 3.7 of the 2001 document, with the main information on page 25, which is page 29 of the pdf file. That same section is on page 13 of the 2007 document, page 16 of the pdf file, but the section on faculty credentials has been moved to a separate policy document. The current policy on credentials is linked from the bottom part of the page with all of SACS' policies.

Updated 2/05/2008:
There is a new Interim 2008 Edition where section 3.7 is found on page 16 of the document, page 20 of the pdf file, with the details about credentials still in a separate document (unchanged since December 2005) as noted above.

You must have an MS or PhD with 18 hours of graduate courses in the teaching discipline to teach any college course that can count towards a bachelor's degree. There are lower standards for "technical" courses that only count for an A.S. (workforce) degree, but those don't concern us here. For a physics job, the MS or PhD does not have to be in physics but the 18 graduate hours must be in physics. That is the minimum requirement for teaching at a CC or a BS-only college. An MS would be acceptable at other schools as long as that person did not teach graduate courses, but this is extremely rare.

You must have a PhD to teach graduate courses (meaning any course that can be counted for credit in an MS or PhD program). That is what makes a PhD the absolute minimum at most universities.

Links added Oct 2007

Chad Orzel wrote a very nice column on what they look for (or look to avoid) when hiring faculty at a small liberal arts college. I strongly recommend it as a detailed description of what they look for at a school in the BS category described above.

The topic of jobs in the "evergreen" disciplines (history and social science, humanities) and the reasons against going to grad school came up again in Dean Dad's blog, and that led me to some older articles of particular relevance in those fields. Since I sometimes send people in those areas to this blog entry, I thought I should add them here.

FYI, the "cycle of abuse" refers to faculty telling students that they really should enter or continue in grad school for selfish reasons: to have the warm bodies they need to keep their research funded and to publish more papers so they can get promoted or a bigger pay raise. Some will lie about job prospects just to keep students around, while others (like my major professor) will be quite up front about the lack of jobs from the first time they talk to you.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

It does seem that somewhere in grad school someone should have mentioned all this. I know it was quite the shock to be applying for jobs with little knowledge of all the ins and outs of certain programs and requirements and how different they were from school to school.