Getting a job at a government lab

creepypasta13
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Joined: Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:41 pm

Getting a job at a government lab

Postby creepypasta13 » Mon Mar 14, 2011 2:53 am

So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?

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midwestphysics
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:19 am

You're not likely to get this question answered, at least not completely. Most people here are either applying to or are in graduate school. They haven't reached that point.

That being said, on your first question, the main advantages of reputation concerning grad school are top notch research, and the ability to not only make connections but the right connections. In your case however, if you’re thinking industry, you need to pick schools that are connected to the parts of industry you're looking at. The school may not be a big name, but if they work with the people you want to work for then you'll basically be spending 4-8 years training yourself to work for them. Think about it, which would you pick; someone from Harvard with perhaps some clue about what you're doing, or someone from say Vanderbilt who has spent the last 5+ years becoming an expert in exactly what you need and doing exactly what you do? It's a no brainer, experience trumps prestige every time when it comes to industry.

Edit: It's been said before, but I'll say it once more. This is just like the finance questions; sure a physicist every now and then can get scooped up to do a finance job on Wall Street. However, if that's your goal then get a degree in finance. If your goal is to build bombs, or weapons development, etc, comp astro would not be my first choice. In fact physics would not be my first choice, I'd go engineering myself. However, if physics is the path for you, applied or even maybe CMP is the way to go.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby InquilineKea » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:32 am

Hm, have you tried this question on Physics Forums? Or maybe Science Careers? (on AAAS)

negru
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby negru » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:35 am

creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:40 am

negru wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.


:lol: The ultimate double negative post.

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 14, 2011 6:32 am

creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


I have a few friends who have ended up in government labs, and they did it by working on projects that involved them being around government labs.

At ANL, for instance, there are two ways to end up with a job. The first is to do your grad work for an advisor who has collaborators at ANL, and spend your summers at ANL, and perform some function for the group that nobody else wants/knows how to do. Then when you graduate they'll give you the job. The second is to get a postdoc at a national lab, which pays a little better than in academia. The problem is at ANL the ratio between people given postdocs and postdocs who are then offered long-term positions is pretty unfriendly.

There's actually a third option (get tenure track at a research university and move to the lab to retire). This is probably not what you meant, though...

Oh, also, the cliche at a government lab is to get a job, you have to specialize and monopolize a niche. So find something few physicists do well, and get really good at it. That's different than in academia, where getting a job means being prolific.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby HappyQuark » Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:38 am

negru wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.


Geez, you could at least pretend that your trying to be original. I already did the multi-negative post back in October of 2010.

viewtopic.php?f=23&t=3407

Your game is weak and your execution is sloppy.

ol
Posts: 57
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby ol » Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:59 am

negru wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.
Really, negru, what is your problem? Do you say stuff like this to people's faces? How 'bout professors' faces?

The rest of you can take shots at me all you want. I stand by what I say.

Creepypasta, to answer your questions:
Everything that you would need to get a faculty job you would need to a get a gov-lab job. This includes going to a good school, getting published. Doing a postdoc at a lab would not hurt you for a faculty job later on. It's basically like academia, but without the teaching.

Just look at the gov-lab jobs listed here, and the people who filled them. They went to good astro schools, had publications, etc. http://www.astrobetter.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Rumor+Mill
Last edited by ol on Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

negru
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby negru » Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:08 am

HappyQuark wrote:
negru wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer
1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?
2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?
3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?
5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?
6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?


1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.


Geez, you could at least pretend that your trying to be original. I already did the multi-negative post back in October of 2010.

viewtopic.php?f=23&t=3407

Your game is weak and your execution is sloppy.

well i was quoted more often than you were so it looks like i win

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:14 am

ol wrote:Creepypasta, to answer your questions:
Everything that you would need to get a faculty job you would need to a get a gov-lab job. This includes going to a good school, getting published. Doing a postdoc at a lab would not hurt you for a faculty job later on. It's basically like academia, but without the teaching.

Just look at the gov-lab jobs listed here, and the people who filled them. They went to good astro schools, had publications, etc. http://www.astrobetter.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Rumor+Mill


bfollinprm wrote:Oh, also, the cliche at a government lab is to get a job, you have to specialize and monopolize a niche. So find something few physicists do well, and get really good at it. That's different than in academia, where getting a job means being prolific.


It's easier to get a job in a government lab coming from a middle-range school than to get a job at an R1 research university. They'll care more about your particular skill set and less about the prestige you'd bring, since they don't have to attract grad students. Now, to get a big position (lab head, etc) you need to prove your weight as a fundraiser (which means getting big grants), and that's easier coming from a prestigious collaboration, since people will be more familiar with your work. If you just want to do physics there, its mostly about getting to know a long-running experimental set-up really well, and being an important part of the results pipeline.

Just to be clear, I'm only talking experiment. I don't know anything about theory.

creepypasta13 wrote:So as I'm still deciding where to attend for grad school, and am currently leaning towards a non-academic job after I finish my Phd, I hear that one nice option is to find a job at a government lab (Sandia, LLNL, ORNL, etc). Since I may do my research in computational astro, I've heard that Phd grads with that background can do stuff by building bombs. I had some questions about it that hopefully someone might be able to answer

1. Does pedigree of your grad school matter for finding these jobs? Eg. if they are looking for an astrophysicist, is it better to go to a school with a good astro reputation (schools like UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, Arizona, etc) or the overall reputation (Brown, etc)?

They'll care the most about the reputation of your thesis adviser, not the school.

2. If you do a postdoc there, will you be at a disadvantage when looking for academic faculty positions later compared to those who did their postdocs at a university?

Maybe. You'll definitely (a) get paid more, and (b) have a better chance of getting a permanent position there.

3. If you want a career at a govt lab, is it even necessary to do a postdoc?
Almost certainly, though I bet there are exceptions. And no if you want to work as a tech/support staff, but I'm guessing you don't.

4. If you do a postdoc at a govt lab, can you stay there to get a permanent position or do you have to leave after 2 yrs?

You can stay, but be prepared to be kicked out. They normally fill open positions with either their postdocs or established faculty who are "retiring" to the lab. But number of positions<<number of postdocs.

5. I heard the hours are much less than in academia. So how many hours to postdocs there work instead of the 80 hr weeks?

40. Governments are sticklers about time-sheets, and they don't want to pay you overtime.

6. How competitive are positions there? Is having lots of publications helpful?
As competitive as an R1 job, but the requirements are different. Being prolific is less important than being well-versed in something important to the lab. In academia, they hire you to set up and run a lab. At a government lab, they're hiring people to work in a lab defined by the DOE's mission.

ol
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby ol » Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:51 am

With all due respect, he asked about astrophysics jobs, not physics ones.

You need to come from a good astro school. I'm in an astro program right now; several astrophysicists said that. If you look at the people employed as astrophysicists at these labs, they went to places like Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, etc, or a physics department with a strong astro group. For example, of the people I worked with at JPL, half went to Berkeley, and half went to Caltech.

Astro is a very tight-nit community, as there are only 6000-7000 astronomers/astrophysicists in the country. People get jobs partly based on who they know. And most astronomers have heard of most other astronomers. Half of the astro jobs in the US are in gov-labs and observatories, not in universities.

I just don't see how going to some place like Brown is better than going to a good astro school like Hawaii, etc.

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:16 pm

ol wrote:With all due respect, he asked about astrophysics jobs, not physics ones.



True. But the OP has said elsewhere that he/she has applied to physics programs, so I was responding to that. I'm in computational astro as well, but I won't have an astronomy degree, and might not end up working in astronomy. I think the OP is in a similar situation, so I responded accordingly.

ol
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby ol » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:22 pm

bfollinprm wrote:
ol wrote:With all due respect, he asked about astrophysics jobs, not physics ones.



True. But the OP has said elsewhere that he/she has applied to physics programs, so I was responding to that. I'm in computational astro as well, but I won't have an astronomy degree, and might not end up working in astronomy. I think the OP is in a similar situation, so I responded accordingly.
OK. For the same schools I listed, a physics degree is fine. But some school ranked 30 (and maybe even 20) and below probably won't cut it.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:39 pm

ol wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:
ol wrote:With all due respect, he asked about astrophysics jobs, not physics ones.



True. But the OP has said elsewhere that he/she has applied to physics programs, so I was responding to that. I'm in computational astro as well, but I won't have an astronomy degree, and might not end up working in astronomy. I think the OP is in a similar situation, so I responded accordingly.
OK. For the same schools I listed, a physics degree is fine. But some school ranked 30 (and maybe even 20) and below probably won't cut it.


Wow, you couldn't be more wrong. You know why JPL is half Berkeley and half Caltech, because the people at berkeley and the people at Caltech are the majority of those who work with JPL. If you spend 6 years doing comp astro at a top school, doing research on god knows what, you’re at a disadvantage to the person who went to a 30+ school who has spent the last 6 years working on the exact projects and for the exact people in the place they're looking to get into. If you want to know what school to go to based on where you want to work, find out what school they do the most work with. A big name school can definitely get you in the door, but if you've been working on their projects for years you are already in the door and well established.

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:49 pm

ol wrote:For the same schools I listed, a physics degree is fine. But some school ranked 30 (and maybe even 20) and below probably won't cut it.


In general, for a job at a national lab, I know that's not the case; I know people working at national labs that went to William and Mary and GA Tech, and no-name schools in the UK. But they were supported by a DOE grant in grad school, and essentially just kept working on the same project when they moved to the lab.

For astronomy proper you might be right, but computational astrophysics and astronomy are not really the same thing. I know astrophysics, and physics proper (experiment only), and I can't be arsed to check anything else.

creepypasta13
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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby creepypasta13 » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:35 pm

midwestphysics wrote:If your goal is to build bombs, or weapons development, etc, comp astro would not be my first choice. In fact physics would not be my first choice, I'd go engineering myself. However, if physics is the path for you, applied or even maybe CMP is the way to go.


I want to do my phD in physics, and I know the possibility of getting a professorship is slim, so working in a govt lab sounds like the next best option. Working on bombs is one thing they do that sounds interesting, and I hear that the skills astrophysicists have are useful for that. I'm not really interested in working in the semiconductor industry.


negru wrote:
1. Not having a pedigree does not help.
2. It's not impossible for a postdoc at govnmt lab to not give you an advantage. but don't rely on this
3. Not doing a postdoc will not necessarily give you an advantage. neither will doing one. best to stay away from this one
4. It is not always completely impossible to not get a perm position, but often that is not the case. try to think ahead
5. Generally it is more or less hours. though usually it is indeed up to 80h/w or more, depending on how much needs to be done.
6. Not having any publications will definitely not be helpful. but it's not always better to have not published and perished, than to have ever published at all. this is very important.

I hope this answers your questions.


you forgot to say 'I don't hope this doesn't answer your questions'

bfollinprm wrote:
I have a few friends who have ended up in government labs, and they did it by working on projects that involved them being around government labs.

At ANL, for instance, there are two ways to end up with a job. The first is to do your grad work for an advisor who has collaborators at ANL, and spend your summers at ANL, and perform some function for the group that nobody else wants/knows how to do. Then when you graduate they'll give you the job. The second is to get a postdoc at a national lab, which pays a little better than in academia. The problem is at ANL the ratio between people given postdocs and postdocs who are then offered long-term positions is pretty unfriendly.



For the first, what about just applying for the summer internships (without considering your advisor's collaborators)? When I just finished my undergrad, I got an offer at a lab for the SULI program but couldn't go due to a family emergency and am now ineligible since I graduated. Are these internships much harder to get for grad students? Will getting one increase your chances of getting a permanet position or postdoc there in the future?

bfollinprm wrote:It's easier to get a job in a government lab coming from a middle-range school than to get a job at an R1 research university. They'll care more about your particular skill set and less about the prestige you'd bring, since they don't have to attract grad students. Now, to get a big position (lab head, etc) you need to prove your weight as a fundraiser (which means getting big grants), and that's easier coming from a prestigious collaboration, since people will be more familiar with your work. If you just want to do physics there, its mostly about getting to know a long-running experimental set-up really well, and being an important part of the results pipeline.


what if I do my disseration in comp astro but I look for a position at the govt labs doing something different, say CMP theory or building bombs. Then its easier to get the job from a middle-range school?

ol wrote:With all due respect, he asked about astrophysics jobs, not physics ones.

You need to come from a good astro school. I'm in an astro program right now; several astrophysicists said that. If you look at the people employed as astrophysicists at these labs, they went to places like Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, etc, or a physics department with a strong astro group. For example, of the people I worked with at JPL, half went to Berkeley, and half went to Caltech.

Astro is a very tight-nit community, as there are only 6000-7000 astronomers/astrophysicists in the country. People get jobs partly based on who they know. And most astronomers have heard of most other astronomers. Half of the astro jobs in the US are in gov-labs and observatories, not in universities.

I just don't see how going to some place like Brown is better than going to a good astro school like Hawaii, etc.


Well I meant both astro and physics. I'm just more likely to choose astro but may switch to physics. As for getting nonacadmemic jobs, say at JPL, how helpful would it be to work with a young professor who's recent grads only went for academic postdocs, and none went for the govt labs? He's at a school like Hawaii (good in astro, not great overall)[/quote]

True. But the OP has said elsewhere that he/she has applied to physics programs, so I was responding to that. I'm in computational astro as well, but I won't have an astronomy degree, and might not end up working in astronomy. I think the OP is in a similar situation, so I responded accordingly.


thats correct.

bfollinprm wrote:
In general, for a job at a national lab, I know that's not the case; I know people working at national labs that went to William and Mary and GA Tech, and no-name schools in the UK. But they were supported by a DOE grant in grad school, and essentially just kept working on the same project when they moved to the lab.

For astronomy proper you might be right, but computational astrophysics and astronomy are not really the same thing. I know astrophysics, and physics proper (experiment only), and I can't be arsed to check anything else.

midwestphysics wrote:Wow, you couldn't be more wrong. You know why JPL is half Berkeley and half Caltech, because the people at berkeley and the people at Caltech are the majority of those who work with JPL. If you spend 6 years doing comp astro at a top school, doing research on god knows what, you’re at a disadvantage to the person who went to a 30+ school who has spent the last 6 years working on the exact projects and for the exact people in the place they're looking to get into. If you want to know what school to go to based on where you want to work, find out what school they do the most work with. A big name school can definitely get you in the door, but if you've been working on their projects for years you are already in the door and well established.


Well none of the professors I'm considering working for right now are working on the exact projects that are being done in govt labs. So thats why I'm wondering if going to a school like Hawaii (good at astro) is better than going to a school like Michigan (not great at astro but good overall rep), especially if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:52 pm

creepypasta13 wrote:Well none of the professors I'm considering working for right now are working on the exact projects that are being done in govt labs. So thats why I'm wondering if going to a school like Hawaii (good at astro) is better than going to a school like Michigan (not great at astro but good overall rep)


If you aren't dead-set on astronomy (hardcore astronomy)--I'd pick Michigan. It's better overall, which is good for choice, and is more likely to have people working at labs (I know a good percentage of faculty there do).

Honestly, government labs really aren't a fall-back plan for anyone outside of nuclear or HEP. There's other physics being done, but it's with specific collaborations. If you don't work in those collaborations, you might have trouble jumping right in, but you could end up with a postdoc there. The best bet would be to try to hitch up with a dark energy guy interested in WFIRST (long-term), or someone interested in HERSCHEL (short-term). It's where the money is.


creepypasta13 wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:I have a few friends who have ended up in government labs, and they did it by working on projects that involved them being around government labs.

What about just applying for the summer internships (without considering your advisor's collaborators)? When I just finished my undergrad, I got an offer at a lab for the SULI program. Are these internships much harder to get for grad students? Will getting one increase your chances of getting a permanet position or postdoc there in the future?


Yes, that would help. But only if you kept working on them.
creepypasta13 wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:It's easier to get a job in a government lab coming from a middle-range school than to get a job at an R1 research university. They'll care more about your particular skill set and less about the prestige you'd bring, since they don't have to attract grad students. Now, to get a big position (lab head, etc) you need to prove your weight as a fundraiser (which means getting big grants), and that's easier coming from a prestigious collaboration, since people will be more familiar with your work. If you just want to do physics there, its mostly about getting to know a long-running experimental set-up really well, and being an important part of the results pipeline.



what if I do my disseration in comp astro but I look for a position at the govt labs doing something different, say CMP theory or building bombs. Then its easier to get the job from a middle-range school?


You can't switch like that very easily regardless of where you end up. Also, comp. astro has the most in common with particle physics (large data sets, difficult signals). You'll likely end up doing several postdocs if you try to switch into anything after you get your PhD.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby creepypasta13 » Mon Mar 14, 2011 5:15 pm

If you aren't dead-set on astronomy (hardcore astronomy)--I'd pick Michigan. It's better overall, which is good for choice, and is more likely to have people working at labs (I know a good percentage of faculty there do).

Honestly, government labs really aren't a fall-back plan for anyone outside of nuclear or HEP. There's other physics being done, but it's with specific collaborations. If you don't work in those collaborations, you might have trouble jumping right in, but you could end up with a postdoc there. The best bet would be to try to hitch up with a dark energy guy interested in WFIRST (long-term), or someone interested in HERSCHEL (short-term). It's where the money is.


well the school I was referring to is similar but not Michigan, but I odn't know if they have lots of people working at labs. I just thought that building bombs at the labs was a good fallback option since an astrophysics phD told me that he knew plenty astrophysicists who got hired to build bombs at the labs

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:50 pm

creepypasta13 wrote:well the school I was referring to is similar but not Michigan, but I odn't know if they have lots of people working at labs. I just thought that building bombs at the labs was a good fallback option since an astrophysics phD told me that he knew plenty astrophysicists who got hired to build bombs at the labs


Yeah, they pretty much tell you that to sell you. As picky as professors and schools are with selecting students, as soon as they do pick them they turn into mortgage brokers from the mid-2000's. "Yeah, take the smart arm loan you'll save so much money. Sure it balloons in 5 years but you can sell by then." or in our case, "Sure, go into astro, you can always build bombs." The truth about bombs, especially the big and bad ones, is that what makes them so difficult to make is not the physics but the engineering. Once the physics was figured out it all came down to engineering, the physics doesn’t change, the way we engineer it does. So, given that logic there are far more engineering spots than physics ones. Don't get me wrong, you can work for the government doing that, but it's very limited there too.

This prof may not be an adcom, but, if he likes you he'll tell you whatever to make sure you’re not scared off by the job prospects.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby creepypasta13 » Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:43 pm

midwestphysics wrote:Yeah, they pretty much tell you that to sell you. As picky as professors and schools are with selecting students, as soon as they do pick them they turn into mortgage brokers from the mid-2000's. "Yeah, take the smart arm loan you'll save so much money. Sure it balloons in 5 years but you can sell by then." or in our case, "Sure, go into astro, you can always build bombs." The truth about bombs, especially the big and bad ones, is that what makes them so difficult to make is not the physics but the engineering. Once the physics was figured out it all came down to engineering, the physics doesn’t change, the way we engineer it does. So, given that logic there are far more engineering spots than physics ones. Don't get me wrong, you can work for the government doing that, but it's very limited there too.

This prof may not be an adcom, but, if he likes you he'll tell you whatever to make sure you’re not scared off by the job prospects.


hes not a prof. He got his phD and now works in wall street. He encourages physics phDs to look for nonacademic jobs since the academic job market is so fierce and competitive.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby grae313 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:44 am

creepypasta13 wrote:if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs


Why do you want to build bombs? :?

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:49 am

grae313 wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs


Why do you want to build bombs? :?


Pesky groundhogs, obviously.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:09 pm

grae313 wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs


Why do you want to build bombs? :?


:D I can understand his/her interest, it is fulfilling to build something but it's exhilarating to blow it up, there he’ll/she'll get to do both. That's just human nature; we're far more destructive than constructive. Why do you think sex on TV is so taboo but violence is not nearly as much?

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:16 pm

midwestphysics wrote:
grae313 wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs


Why do you want to build bombs? :?


:D I can understand his/her interest, it is fulfilling to build something but it's exhilarating to blow it up, there he’ll/she'll get to do both. That's just human nature; we're far more destructive than constructive. Why do you think sex on TV is so taboo but violence is not nearly as much?


The republican party.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:20 pm

bfollinprm wrote:The republican party.


:lol: very true! Meanwhile Europe, and even Canada laugh at us uptight Americans for it.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby grae313 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:53 pm

midwestphysics wrote:
grae313 wrote:
creepypasta13 wrote:if I want to do something that uses the skills in astro (CFD, fluids, etc) but is for something not astro-related, like building bombs


Why do you want to build bombs? :?


:D I can understand his/her interest, it is fulfilling to build something but it's exhilarating to blow it up, there he’ll/she'll get to do both. That's just human nature; we're far more destructive than constructive. Why do you think sex on TV is so taboo but violence is not nearly as much?


I'm all for blowing *** up because *** smells bad and things look sweet when they are blowing up... but you have to know that the bombs you build are likely to kill innocent people. To claim that it's not your fault because you just build them and someone else drops them is morally negligent.

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 16, 2011 1:23 pm

grae313 wrote:I'm all for blowing *** up because *** smells bad and things look sweet when they are blowing up... but you have to know that the bombs you build are likely to kill innocent people. To claim that it's not your fault because you just build them and someone else drops them is morally negligent.


I don't mean to take sides, but I'd imagine the skills a computational astro guy would use in bomb building would be to work on explosion simulations to better predict/shape the force profile of the load. This kind of work is likely to lower the loss of innocent life; assuming the bombs would be dropped anyway. If smart people had stayed away from weapons-making war wouldn't have gone away; we've come quite a way from the 100-years war in terms of affecting civilians.

There is of course the other side of the coin--if war were less high-tech, it might be a little more personal and less people would rashly jump towards it. It's a terrible thing, and not many people seem to understand that (I imagine the average 12th century peasant had no trouble understanding the costs of war).

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Re: Getting a job at a government lab

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Mar 16, 2011 5:53 pm

grae313 wrote:I'm all for blowing *** up because *** smells bad and things look sweet when they are blowing up... but you have to know that the bombs you build are likely to kill innocent people. To claim that it's not your fault because you just build them and someone else drops them is morally negligent.


I couldn't agree more, it is morally negligent to deny responsibly. Then again you could also be the kind of person who accepts responsibility, and just doesn't give a ****. Your whole argument is predicated on the idea that the person building this bomb actually cares about collateral damage or to the same level as you do. If you're building something that’s entire purpose is killing people, it comes down to personal belief as to whether or not you care it if it does more damage than intended. I'm not saying this is how I feel, but there are definitely those that couldn't care less.




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