Job Prep

What I learned as a high school student:

  • How to write well
  • How to edit other peoples’ work
  • How to prioritize my time
  • How to interact with people
  • How to do basic calculus
  • How to solve a few well-known physics problems
  • Work ethic and responsibility

What I learned as an undergraduate in physics:

  • To start my homework the second it’s assigned
  • How to use basic matrices
  • How to solve a large variety of well-known physics problems
  • A tiny amount of lab work
  • How to oversee people working toward a common goal

What I learned as a graduate student in physics:

  • How to grade two hundred labs a week
  • How to solve more complex well-known physics problems
  • How to do tensor calculus
  • How to teach courses
  • How to carry out research

What physics professors do:

  • Propose and carry out research
  • Oversee graduate students
  • Run a lab
  • Write grants
  • Serve on committees
  • Design and teach courses
  • Write papers
  • Review papers

Conclusions:

  1. My high school education did as much to prepare me for a professorial job as my graduate and undergraduate education combined.
  2. I learned as many useful things outside of my coursework as I did inside.

Depth and breath of physics knowledge is a worthy prerequisite for being a professor. Unfortunately, it is a “necessary but not sufficient condition” for doing well as one. If we’re not preparing our physics majors to be professors, what are we preparing them for?

That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. If you can spot the job for which physics students are ideally prepared with their current curriculum, not counting electives, I’d love to hear what it is.

Not every physics major becomes a professor, nor should they. However, given that it’s the current “expected route” for which we prepare people, it may be worth considering a revision to the undergraduate and especially graduate-level curricula.

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About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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