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 Post subject: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:50 am 
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Hello,

Does anyone know anything about studying PhD physics education? Is anyone doing it? Academic suicide? Respectable? Good option?

I am a happy research oriented physics undergraduate. I have been working the past two and half years in a soft matter lab at a top twenty school, my thesis is on diluted magnetic semiconductors.

This summer, in addition to labwork, I randomly got a part-time job preparing an electronics lab and grading experimental results at a private high school. I enjoyed explaining physics concepts to high schoolers during the setup. But, what got me excited most was that I got to teach five lessons to them. It was really fun.

It got me thinking. Why such a good experience? Perhaps because I went back to basics: I got to solve physics problems, impact ambitious kids, and wow them with anecdotes about my research.

Anyhow, I already sent away applications to do CME to six schools. However, I am strongly considering sending applications to departments dedicatd to "physics education."

Anyone know anything about career prospects? Strong field?

Because I want to do research--and I want a Ph.D--I am happy in CME. I doubt that I want to stop research and become a high school teacher. At first glance my response is no. Nevertheless, I want to learn more about this phys-education. Perhaps do research in it. Take gradute classes in it. Perhaps change departments (is this a "physics" thing or an "education" thing?). Any help let me know.

The grad students in the lab don't know much about it, but they think Maryland U does it, Colorado U, and the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory does it (lab does not offer a degree).

Thanks for reading.

-SF


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:33 am 
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I only know one guy with physics education phd -- I think he got his degree from NC state (their website certainly lists physics education). He was the director of undergraduate labs at my undergrad institution, and he reworked a lot of the labs to make them more understandable/less tedious (he did a good job). He also ended up hanging around our labs a fair amount and answering general course questions. I think he left for a similar position in NY. Anyhow, just one thing you can do with such a degree.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:50 pm 
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I applied to Washington and Maryland listing physics education as one of my interests. For some reason I got the impression that Washington was the "best" (or most well known) for physics education, but that may not be the case. Physics education at some schools gives a PhD in physics, although at others it's a PhD in education. If I recall correctly, the above schools are physics PhDs.

Personally, I haven't decided if I want to really focus on physics education. For one thing, it's a tiny tiny field-- UW only has 3 professors who do physics education research, and I think the same number of grad students. For another, and this is just my personal opinion, I feel like getting a PhD in physics by doing physics education research is a little like cheating. I have no idea what the research would entail, but it doesn't seem... for lack of a better word... difficult enough to earn a physics phd.

Now, I'm not trying to discourage you at all. I think this article could help, at least more than I can. I'm glad someone else is interested in physics education-- I was starting to think I was the only one...


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 19, 2009 7:44 am 
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Thanks for both replies! The article is very interesting. I surfed around for a few hours and came across an article about a Nobel laureate who switched his research to physics education following his prize in Bose-Einstein condensation. He put much of his prize money instead into education and was then offered an additional $10.2 million by the universities of Colorado and British Columbia to develop their physics learning programs. Holy moly, who gets 10 million dollar grants? Who gets that? :shock: Maybe in one generation kids in those two colleges will be their societies science leaders. Anyhow, thanks for the info. I will send applications to those programs incase the "bug" doesn't go away. Perhaps I can also learn why the Singaporean, Korean, and Japanese, kids always beat our asses in international physics olympiads and in other math and science assessments.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 19, 2009 11:32 pm 
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Hi,

When I was a Sophomore, I attended Univ. Massachusetts Amherst for a year and worked with the Physics Education Research Group headed by Dr. Bill Gerace. It was wonderful, and the research is super interesting! The graduate students do indeed get a Ph.D in physics, they take the same courses as the other grad students, the difference is in the research. The cool thing is, they approached doing research on education as a physicist would, not someone who studied education. There is a huge difference. Check out http://srri.umass.edu/perg to see the research they are performing. Both Ian Beatty and Professor Gerace are fantastic, and it was the friendliest most productive lab I've ever seen. A side note: they used to rag on the U.Washington physics education program as putting "bandaids" on problems instead of looking for deeper causes.

I hope it helps.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2009 9:04 pm 
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Oh excellent, that gives me a lot of hope! Except for the ragging on UW part. :D
By any chance, does anyone happen to know which schools are "the best" in physics education? I've seen lists of schools that have physics education research, but never anything actually commenting on the strength of the program...


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2011 5:28 pm 
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I know this post is from two years ago but I am interested in physics education and its hard to find information and figured someone else might get good info from a search. I went to undergrad in physics at Florida International University and we had an excellent physics education program. http://perg.fiu.edu/ It a growing group of really great intelligent people.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 1:59 pm 
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Someone at my school got is PhD in physics education and now runs a federally-funded center for education in one of our science departments on campus. The department gave him a tenure track position and he is working his way through to becoming a full professor. And this is a good department. Anything is definitely doable. If you want to study physics education, go for it!


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2011 3:05 am 
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Hi, thanks for both responses and the information. I dug around at compadre.org and now do graduate physics education.

In our adviser's group research is demarcated into two main strands, physics education (e.g. formal learning; high school, college and graduate physics understanding) and science education (informal/free-choice learning; elementary and middle school science understanding; pubic understanding of science). For example, in our group and the first strand, one student pursues cognitive modeling about wave-particle duality (hardcore quantum mechanics pedagogy), another about attitudes of specific items in the history [and philosophy] of science in secondary physics, another about student understanding of reversible/irreversible thermal processes at a gifted science high school, and another about open-inquiry physics. In the second strand, science education, one student researches about 'science-museum fatigue', another about the implications of the middle-school 'integrated science' curriculum, another about elementary school-student understanding of the nature of science through stories, another analyzes physics textbooks to uncover "presentist" or "Whiggish" perspectives of science controversies (or lack there of), another about ethics in science, and another is attempting to quantify 'science-culture literacy' of certain cities in eastern Asia. Seminars are interesting yet bewildering. There is a tremendous amount for the physics students to absorb in history and philosophy of science, psychology, socio-cultural (sociology) studies, pedagogy (education), and other philosophy topics like epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics, in addition to all of the physics coursework taken. Worth-while yet at times really overwhelming. Nevertheless, we pick up a lot and I have learned a sizable minority of concepts about the human structure of physics, science instruction, 'constructivism', some cognition, and science's wider implication for 21st century literacy. Enter at your own risk. :)


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:17 am 
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I spent a little time looking into this because, like you, I love to teach (and, in fact, see myself more as a university lecturer someday as my focus than research). I ended up going against this route because a lot of physics education research is statistics and psychology regarding how people learn, and while I'm not disinterested I'd rather spend a few years doing the research thing.

Plus if you like to teach on the bright side you'll have no issues being a TA. :D


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2012 7:37 am 
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thank you for sharing, It is a great post.

Yaeger CPA Review


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2012 3:01 pm 
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Although my response to this topic is a bit late, perhaps someone who is also toying with the idea of education can benefit from my perspective. I left graduate school in 2007 to become a high school physics teacher (very diverse, approximately 2000 students). I have had this gig for four years now, and have not regretted leaving grad school for a day.

Prior to taking the job, my only experience as an educator would be as a TA for a lab class while an undergraduate - no education courses. I'm not sure they would have done me much good, as I think most of us are so used to dealing with strictly intellectual people that we lose touch with the more ordinary population. The day I started the job, I don't think a person could be any more nervous ... mainly because I had no idea what to expect. Over time, I found you just kind of learn on the fly - you just need to maintain a humbleness about you and a keep good sense of humor. There is never a dull moment in education ... every day brings something new.

I can elaborate on many things for anyone who is interested ... just send me a PM. I don't post much, but I do lurk (mainly for resources for my AP Physics C students - many of them want to become physics majors and I want to keep them competitive and be sure they are ready for college).


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2012 3:40 pm 
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Hey tnoviell, welcome back! We had so much fun in the golden age of the forum (2007-8) with RG et. al... I still remember your classic comment about windows breaking due to RG's extreme manhood. You must've deleted it but it will live forever in my head haha.

If your school offers AP physics C (which is a 2nd physics class right?), they'll be very well prepared for majoring in physics. My high school had AP physics B as a senior year option that very few people took... they actually canceled the course my year and only brought it back because a few of us complained. I never would've ended up majoring in that subject if I didn't have a class in it... kindof absurd how these things work out.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:42 pm 
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Thanks for the welcome back. How could anyone forget the legendary RG? ... I don't think I deleted the comment, it must live on somewhere or perhaps the thread itself was axed. Oh well.

My school doesn't officially offer AP Physics C, although I did pass the audit to do so. I offer it as an after school course for those super-driven students so that they are prepared to take the exam (free of charge, of course). Only a handful of students take it, but they all get 4's and 5's. AP Physics B is quite popular; anywhere from 30-50 students will take that each year.

I agree that those who take the Physics C course are in very good shape for college. I took only Honors Physics in high school, so when I started AP Physics C I was (pleasantly) surprised with the curriculum. Sometimes I think the Physics C curriculum is a bit easier than the Physics B in that there is far less material to cover for Physics C. I think that students who take both are actually at a huge advantage.


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 Post subject: Re: PhD in physics or physics education?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:07 am 
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I remember taking AP Physics C, and I only understood the concepts and not the math (was taking calculus along with it, but didn't have enough of a mathematical background to understand it til toward the second half).

It's really important to have a good physics teacher. I didn't like science or math when I was a kid because I thought of science as biology and chemistry. Basically, I had teachers where memorization was the ***, and even though I could memorize those things and ace the tests, it never made sense to me WHY I should do it. Thankfully, I somehow ended up choosing physics for science in 11th grade (I think I saw one of my friends doing hw for it and I thought it'd be a nice easy class... and it was, but in an interesting way), and that teacher (Mr. Cooley! Thanks!) and his methods got me to go from wanting to be a journalist and writer to wanting to become a physicist (though I would like to try and publish some short stories to get some side $$).


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