Theoretical Physics Job Opportunities
In general, how hard is it to get a job in theoretical physics at a major research institution or university? What sort of credentials are required?
I would assume a doctorate from someplace like Caltech or Princeton...
am I right?
Depends on what you mean by a job. There are quite a lot of
temporary jobs out there, for which all you need is a PhD
(by the way, Caltech and Princeton are great undergrad
institutions, but there are better places for graduate study
in physics). In order to get a permanent job at a research
institution or university you need:
2. Probably 4-6 years postdoctoral research experience
3. Probably 10-20 published papers (at least)
4. Evidence that you are able to obtain grant funding
5. Support of some prominent well-known person in your field.
The job situation is actually rather bleak - very few places
are hiring physicists right now, and a lot are cutting back
(through early retirement at universities, and outright firings
or job transfers to non-research positions at other places).
Note that teaching expertise is not a requirement...
Also note that your PhD does not have to be from a famous
school, although it certainly helps. More important than
where you went to school is what you are able to accomplish.
Theoretical physics is particularly tough subfield of physics
and here are a lot of good theorists out there who cannot get
research-level faculty appointments; at least that is what
they seem to be saying in Physics Today (the newsmagazine of
the American Physical Society).
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Update: June 2012