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Burton DeWilde | USLHC | USA

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Conference-going for the almost-graduated

I’m currently writing you from Atlanta, GA, where I’ve been attending the APS April Meeting on particle, nuclear, and astro physics (this year’s theme is “100 Years of Cosmic Ray Physics”). Officially I’m here to give a talk on my thesis research (the leptoquark search I’ve been alluding to for some time but still haven’t fully explained — patience, it’s coming!), but really I’m here to network and interact with other physicists re: getting a job post-PhD.

Self-promotion comes naturally to some people… Not me. I prefer to casually undersell, which is a bit of a problem given that resumes are crafted to formally oversell a person. Still working on my elevator pitch.

At any rate, the conference has provided a number of opportunities for an almost-graduated job-hunter to explore interesting intellectual avenues and make connections with advice-givers and potential employers. I was fortunate to attend a panel discussion held specifically for grad students on the topic of careers, networking, and carrying out a job search. In addition to providing an occasion for free food, the panel also imparted some very useful wisdom:

  • Create individualized resumes and cover letters for each position you apply to. Whoever reads your application will know if you’ve done your homework or, alternatively, if you’re trying to catch a bunch of different fish with the same net. Heads-up: Most fish will slip through.
  • Communication is essential. You can’t expect employers to infer why it is that they should hire you, you have to tell them, in clear, understandable terms.
  • Networking is also essential. People often get jobs because they “know somebody who knows somebody,” so it is beneficial to your job search to talk about your qualifications and what you’re looking for with as many people as possible. If that sounds obnoxious, well… indeed it is, but don’t let that stop you! :)
  • Maintain interests and passions outside of those in your particular sub-field. Physicsts are “all-arounders” that perform well in a variety of tasks; a surprisingly large fraction of physics PhDs get jobs totally unrelated to their thesis research or, in fact, physics. Being well-rounded is a strength to be valued and emphasized.

Tonight is the last night of the conference. Earlier today I nailed my talk, even getting a couple general laughs from a room full of physicists (not easy!) so now I just have to find myself an interested future employer or somebody who knows him. I’ll be in the hotel bar, working on my pitch and resumes — let’s chat!

— Burton

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