Letter to the Editor
At this past March American Physical Society meeting in Los Angeles, a very well planned and executed program was presented under the title: “How to Get a Job”. The very large audience in attendance was predominantly comprised of graduate students in the process of completing their Ph.D. programs. Getting a job was their next career task…and the excellent speakers at this session provided a broad range of ideas for how to begin their quest.
As I looked back at my own three decades of hiring physicist colleagues who provide the backbone and substance of my company, I realized that I (like virtually all other employers) begin with a review of the applicant’s previous experience as exemplified in their publications. I must admit that I am somewhat prejudiced in this regard, having written a brief article for Physics Today several years ago. That article, “Too Many Authors, Too Few Creators”1, cited (complained about) the increasing number of coauthors appearing on published articles. Basically, the number of authors per paper has been increasing steadily with each passing decade. Virtually no paper nowadays is written by a single author. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps as a consequence, the number of journals has increased explosively, from 74,000 in 1981 to 172,000 by 2003! Add to that, of the articles published from 2002 through 2006, only 40.6% were cited at least once in the 5 years following publication2. And, of those, probably the majority were self-citations.
But the glut of academic publishing (perhaps because of the academic mantra of “Publish or perish3!”) is not the focus of this brief article. However, it does suggest immediately a means to accelerate the chance that your job application will be noted and result in a high probability of an immediate interview: write and have accepted for publication a quality paper on which you are the only author. Hard to do during graduate work? Absolutely! Impossible? Not if you are a physicist with a broad understanding of science outside the area of your Ph.D.
Such a single author article could be on a whimsical subject4 that involves physics or even a brief fragment of your thesis work (provided your advisor is willing…very rarely possible).
So, start learning…fast. Then, in your spare time, begin zeroing in on your exceptional, single author paper…and an interview for a possible job.
Philip J. Wyatt
Wyatt Technology Corporation, Santa Barbara, California
- Wyatt, Philip J. “Too Many Authors, Too Few Creators” Physics Today 65,4, 9 (2012).
- Trimble, Stanley W., Grody, Wayne W., McKelvey, Bill, and Gad-el-Hak, Mohamed. Academic Questions 23, 269-271 (2010).
- Gad-el-Hak, Mohamed. Physics Today 57(3), 61 (2004).
- Wyatt, Philip J. “The taste of things to come” Applied Optics 21, 2471-2472 (1982).