Leaving Physics

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.

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