Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

BiomedOldTimer
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Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby BiomedOldTimer » Wed Feb 09, 2011 10:53 pm

I have the goal of going for a PhD Physics after 20 years of working in industry with the goal of landing a Physics Teaching Position and perform BioMedical Device Research.

I have a BA Physics (GPA 3.0) and MS Electrical Engineering (GPA 3.6) that are both 20 years old.

The Unusual: I am 46 years old and have 20+ Years in BioMedical Device Industry!
(Patient Monitors, Cardiac Radio Frequency Ablation Catheters and InfraRed Medical Devices)
I led product development teams & developed the product specifications for new products. I coordinated research efforts (animal and human) of both the internal company engineers and MDs from though-leading institutions worldwide, assisting on-site during animal and human trials.

I was looking for feedback on if my background is good enough to get into programs at:
University of PA ??even with great Physics GRE??, Drexel? or Temple?
I'm not sure how strongly my 20 years of industry experience will help.

I'ld love to go to Princeton as they have a phenominal Infra-Red Research faciltiy and I have experience in IR,
but the 3.0 in Undergrad will kill that dream!
Could getting an Adjunct teaching position at my local community college for a year help??

Is it feasible to search in only the southeastern PA and Southern NJ for a Teaching Position? Or do people nearly always need to relocate? Do schools take their own students as Asst Professors?

Would getting a PhD from Temple hurt my salary potential rather than U of PA .. or even Drexel?
… or does it restrict where I could get a job because it is not such a well known program??

It is scary to give up a 100K+ job & get a PhD .. only to find out later that I cannot find a job in my geographic region!

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:00 am

BiomedOldTimer wrote:I was looking for feedback on if my background is good enough to get into programs at:
University of PA ??even with great Physics GRE??, Drexel? or Temple?
I'm not sure how strongly my 20 years of industry experience will help.


I would be surprised if you can't get an acceptance from University of PA, as long as you do fairly well on the PGRE. By fairly well I mean definitely shooting for over a 700 (which isn't too high). As far as the other schools, you shouldn't have any trouble as long as you give them a compelling reason why you're wanting to get a PhD.

BiomedOldTimer wrote:Could getting an Adjunct teaching position at my local community college for a year help??


I highly doubt this will help you much. Even if it does, I highly doubt it's worth the time and effort, unless of course it is something you want to do. As far as the application goes, I doubt it makes the difference between getting accepted and not.

BiomedOldTimer wrote:Is it feasible to search in only the southeastern PA and Southern NJ for a Teaching Position? Or do people nearly always need to relocate? Do schools take their own students as Asst Professors?


Considering this forum is focused on preparing for the PGRE and the application process to physics graduate school, I doubt there are many people on here who know how to answer this question.

BiomedOldTimer wrote:Would getting a PhD from Temple hurt my salary potential rather than U of PA .. or even Drexel?
… or does it restrict where I could get a job because it is not such a well known program??


My answer to this has little backing. However, I believe that if you receive a degree from school X, you'll be able to teach at school X and schools below the caliber of school X. Now of course, there are many exceptions to this rule and nothing is guaranteed, it is just something I have noticed when looking at professors at schools.

BiomedOldTimer wrote:It is scary to give up a 100K+ job & get a PhD .. only to find out later that I cannot find a job in my geographic region!


I wouldn't go back to school if I was making 100K+ a year unless my job made me miserable, which I highly doubt yours does considering you want to do research in a similar area.

-Riley

BiomedOldTimer
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby BiomedOldTimer » Mon Feb 14, 2011 5:27 pm

Yes, one would think that if your doing cool research in industry and making big bucks, that you wouldn't leave that for a PhD.

However, the reality of the last 10 years is that there are fewer and fewer medical device start-ups that are able to make it long term. The dot com bust and housing bubble killed those who could not get funding (worked for 2 of those). And if the start-up is truely successful, they are gobbled up by a bigger company ... which lays off the managers as well as all the peons (worked for one of these).

The moral of the story for those seeking biomedical device industry ... work for one of the bigger fishes if you can!

For me, I really want to teach at university level.
Always did, but got sidetracked by earning the $$ and traveling the world.

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twistor
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby twistor » Mon Feb 14, 2011 6:55 pm

It is scary to give up a 100K+ job & get a PhD .. only to find out later that I cannot find a job in my geographic region!
I have the goal of going for a PhD Physics after 20 years of working in industry with the goal of landing a Physics Teaching Position and perform BioMedical Device Research.

I have a BA Physics (GPA 3.0) and MS Electrical Engineering (GPA 3.6) that are both 20 years old.

The Unusual: I am 46 years old and have 20+ Years in BioMedical Device Industry!
(Patient Monitors, Cardiac Radio Frequency Ablation Catheters and InfraRed Medical Devices)
I led product development teams & developed the product specifications for new products. I coordinated research efforts (animal and human) of both the internal company engineers and MDs from though-leading institutions worldwide, assisting on-site during animal and human trials.

I was looking for feedback on if my background is good enough to get into programs at:
University of PA ??even with great Physics GRE??, Drexel? or Temple?
I'm not sure how strongly my 20 years of industry experience will help.

I'ld love to go to Princeton as they have a phenominal Infra-Red Research faciltiy and I have experience in IR,
but the 3.0 in Undergrad will kill that dream!
Could getting an Adjunct teaching position at my local community college for a year help??

Is it feasible to search in only the southeastern PA and Southern NJ for a Teaching Position? Or do people nearly always need to relocate? Do schools take their own students as Asst Professors?

Would getting a PhD from Temple hurt my salary potential rather than U of PA .. or even Drexel?
… or does it restrict where I could get a job because it is not such a well known program??

It is scary to give up a 100K+ job & get a PhD .. only to find out later that I cannot find a job in my geographic region!


You sound like a bright person. There is nothing wrong with having an interest in physics, and I never want to tell someone it's too late, but in your case I do think it's a bit fanciful. You're considering giving up the kind of well-paying job most physics students only dream about at a point in time in your life when you should be considering your future retirement. You probably have the wherewithal to afford just about any graduate program you want, regardless of the funding, but consider whether it's worth giving up your highly paid job for the next 5 years or more to pursue this interest. There are alternatives such as self-study that do not require going to school full time. You will then have to compete for a post-doc, which will probably require a move, and there's still no guaruntee you'll have a full-time research/teaching job when that's over with. Unless you truly hate your job I'd reconsider.

I think your research experience will work toward your benefit if you decide to purse this path, however if I were you I'd stick with what I have.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Feb 14, 2011 8:15 pm

twistor wrote:if you decide to purse this path


Wonderful play on words. =P

-Riley

Goran15
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby Goran15 » Mon Feb 14, 2011 8:44 pm

adding to what twistor said:

..............
I wrote a long response but never mind. Go buy a sports car and deal with your mid life crisis that way :D

But if you persist in doing a PhD there is a simple way to test yourself. Get a 990 on PGRE. No it's not because it's some perfect test of your abilities (actually it's crap) but it's been 20 years since you took classes. Now if you can force yourself to study everything again (+ some more material needed) and study long enough to get 990 then you are ready.

p.s. I presume you're married so i skipped the "also get used to someone barking orders at you" part :D

kapil_ds
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby kapil_ds » Mon Feb 14, 2011 9:32 pm

BiomedOldTimer wrote:
However, the reality of the last 10 years is that there are fewer and fewer medical device start-ups that are able to make it long term. The dot com bust and housing bubble killed those who could not get funding (worked for 2 of those). And if the start-up is truly successful, they are gobbled up by a bigger company ... which lays off the managers as well as all the peons (worked for one of these).


Sounds familiar to me though I have been on the supply chain software side. In the last 5 years, I have worked for 2 start-ups and a large company. One start-up got bought, other went bankrupt and the large company first got spun off and is now getting acquired. 'Cutting your way to growth' and 'shipping everything to India and China' passes for strategy these days. Makes me laugh. (and yes, this is coming from an Indian).

Twistor, Goran -
It's not always a question of money or uncertainty in business either. It's also a question of feeling fulfilled and doing what you think you should be doing. For me, I see this as a part of the quest for meaning in life.

But if you persist in doing a PhD there is a simple way to test yourself. Get a 990 on PGRE.

I am happy to say - already done that. Didn't get 990 but did reasonably well. :-)

kapil_ds
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Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 11:50 am

Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby kapil_ds » Mon Feb 14, 2011 10:30 pm

BiomedOldTimer wrote:I have the goal of going for a PhD Physics after 20 years of working in industry with the goal of landing a Physics Teaching Position and perform BioMedical Device Research.

I have a BA Physics (GPA 3.0) and MS Electrical Engineering (GPA 3.6) that are both 20 years old.

The Unusual: I am 46 years old and have 20+ Years in BioMedical Device Industry!
(Patient Monitors, Cardiac Radio Frequency Ablation Catheters and InfraRed Medical Devices)
I led product development teams & developed the product specifications for new products. I coordinated research efforts (animal and human) of both the internal company engineers and MDs from though-leading institutions worldwide, assisting on-site during animal and human trials.

I was looking for feedback on if my background is good enough to get into programs at:
University of PA ??even with great Physics GRE??, Drexel? or Temple?
I'm not sure how strongly my 20 years of industry experience will help.

I'ld love to go to Princeton as they have a phenominal Infra-Red Research faciltiy and I have experience in IR,
but the 3.0 in Undergrad will kill that dream!
Could getting an Adjunct teaching position at my local community college for a year help??

Is it feasible to search in only the southeastern PA and Southern NJ for a Teaching Position? Or do people nearly always need to relocate? Do schools take their own students as Asst Professors?

Would getting a PhD from Temple hurt my salary potential rather than U of PA .. or even Drexel?
… or does it restrict where I could get a job because it is not such a well known program??

It is scary to give up a 100K+ job & get a PhD .. only to find out later that I cannot find a job in my geographic region!


BiomedOldtimer -

Let me also take a shot at answering your original questions though I must say that my knowledge is very limited. From my limited experience applying this year, I would say

1. I think you can get admitted to all 3 of the schools you mentioned. (can't say about Princeton)
2. I think your 3.0 undergrad GPA doesn't really matter. It is very old. You have research/industry experience and you need to sell that.
3. Yes, you need a good PGRE score.

4. More important than 3 above, you need to identify which program is the best fit for you. In-fact, I would say that this is the most important part for you. The program with which your experience matches will admit you readily and may not even ask for a PGRE. Applied physics, medical physics and biophysics are areas closer to your background than pure physics.

5. Picking the right program is important for future job prospects also. From what I have read, experiment has more jobs than theory, Applied physics has more opportunities than pure physics and engineering has more jobs than physics. This seems true of faculty positions as well.

6. If I may say so, you are not likely to get a faculty position in a research oriented university. By the time you finish the phd and the postdocs (nearly 10 years), you won't have many years left and hence the research univs won't offer you a faculty position.

7. You might be able to get a position in the teaching oriented univs though. Your research experience and industry experience may help you here. Other forum members can probably comment more on this.
8. There are plenty of teaching oriented schools in PA, NJ area. That should help you in staying in this area.
9. Have back up plans ready. Though, with your experience, i am sure you can always go back to industry if needed.

Guys, correct me if I made some incorrect generalizations.

Kapil

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midwestphysics
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby midwestphysics » Tue Feb 15, 2011 12:06 am

I have to agree with Kapil on basically every point, but 4 and 6 are really important to note.

On point 4: I think because of your age and experience you're in a different position than anyone going the traditional route. A big part of you getting into top schools will be what you plan to specialize in. Unlike us youngsters out here you've been around the block so your goals, at least from a schools perspective, should be clearer as a veteran of the real world so be sure to show your intended direction as strongly as possible. More importantly though, your experience can make or break you. Working in the Biomed industry a biophysics specialty would make you a very attractive prospect. However, if you plan on let's say cosmology I don't see your extensive experience being all that helpful which takes a huge part of your upside way down.

On point 6: Absolutely, a university that stresses teaching more would love you because you have so much experience. However, a research oriented department will just see you as someone ready for retirement at the point of hire and probably wouldn't give you much more than special lecture status if that, which will be just teaching anyways. So my guess in any case is that you'll be stuck teaching and trying to find time and resource for independent research. Still, that I'm sure has some upside somewhere, it can't be all bad.

BiomedOldTimer
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby BiomedOldTimer » Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:14 pm

Thanks for the replies, words of encouragement and food for thought. & I will study & take PGRE.

Yes, I would be quite happy at a "teaching school" rather than a "research university".
However, I fear going PhD BioPhysics, Applied Physics or Engineering can yield more lucrative positions; however, there will be far fewer positions available to apply for in acedemia (most of the colleges have pure Physics only). Also, BioPhysics means wildly different things at different schools. I suspect that for example getting a Physics PhD with a Biomedical or Applied emphasis (thesis) may allow you an easier time in obtaining a teaching position at a "Teaching School/College" much easier than a specialized PhD.

My hope is that my MS EE courses (solid state physics, math, etc) will credit me 1 or 2 years towards the PhD. So, I would need thesis work plus perhaps 7 or 8 courses. So, it may only be 3 years till working.
Do you folks think a post-doc is a necessity to being able to land a teaching position??

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midwestphysics
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby midwestphysics » Fri Feb 18, 2011 12:29 am

At the end of the day you need to do what you want to do and not think about fitting some mold. If you bust your butt and become an expert you'll be the mold so don't worry too much about positions. I can understand your approach to specialization, and if you like the idea of a teaching oriented university I think you've got a pretty good shot. Still, I don't think specialization really narrows your prospects as much as it might seem, granted some tend to lock you in more than others, for the most part what I tend to hear is key is whether you do experiment or theory. Oh, and to add to that my school offers a Medical Physics PhD and I know they would salivate over someone with your experience. On top of that, several of our Profs got their degree in medical physics, granted we still have the full stock of specialties teaching. As for postdoc's you're probably not going to find much help on here for that since pretty much everybody hasn't reached that point yet. I assume you have recommenders, ask them, mine always loved to talk about stuff like that and were very open to all kinds of questions.

Actually my favorite prof was really just a visiting assistant professor, and between him and the department chair I got to see how the totem pole worked a little bit. Just a suggestion, but maybe stop by your old school and talk to an established professor and either a new or visiting one to see the different perspectives. They might have some tips for you given your goals.

kapil_ds
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Re: Going Back for Physics PhD after 20 Years in BioMedical Indu

Postby kapil_ds » Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:23 pm

My wife is currently in the post doc/faculty job market (though not in physics) and my brother-in-law got a teaching oriented faculty position straight after completing his phd in engineering. Learning from their experiences and a couple of others, let me add a couple of thoughts.

1. Phd by its nature is a specialized degree. It doesn't matter whether you go to a pure physics program or an applied physics program, you will come out with a specialization in an area in which you did your thesis.
2. Usually when departments start searching for a faculty position, they typically have a very specific kind of candidate in mind. If your specialization (i.e. area of thesis and research agenda) matches their need, they will hire you otherwise they will not. In my opinion, your chances of getting a faculty position depend more on whether your specialization is in demand or not.
3. Even though every university may not have an engineering school, my perception is that engineering faculty positions are easier to get. The simple reason being that engineers gravitate to the industry and hence, not many engineering phds are available to fill the open faculty positions.

So, I would say that having the phd in physics instead of medical physics may not confer any additional advantage to you in job search.

My advice would be to get into a program which is the best fit with your background. Identify the program where you can use your experience and build upon it. It will make it much easier to get in (you most likely will not need the PGRE) and it will help you immensely in getting a job after the Phd. Like my brother-in-law, you might very well be able to get the teaching oriented faculty position without the post-doc.

Kapil




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