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Careers in academia

Careers in academia are very rewarding. Below is information that will assist you in pursuing this career path.

A typical academic path starts with an undergraduate degree, followed by graduate studies (MSc and/or PhD). This is often followed by a postdoctoral research position. Depending on the area of physics, a researcher will need to have several postdoctoral positions before they are able to land a permanent job in academia, such as a tenure-track faculty position that may lead to becoming a professor.  

What is a postdoctoral researcher?

A postdoctoral researcher or postdoc is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their PhD. The ultimate goal of a postdoc is to pursue additional research, training, or teaching in order to have better skills to pursue a career in academia, research, or any other fields.

What does a professor do?

A professor does more than just research. For more information, take a look at the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program, a national movement to transform the way aspiring faculty members are prepared for their careers. Also, take a look at this article in the Blue Review by anthropologist John Ziker, which details the first stage of a study of faculty time allocation. 

Other jobs related to academia

Becoming a professor is not the only path related to academia. Other options include:

  • Lecturer at a liberal arts college
  • Research position at an academic lab
  • Science outreach at a university or institute
  • Hybrid teaching/research positions such as Perimeter's PSI Fellows

Academic research labs

  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (Chalk River, ON): nuclear science and technology research
  • SNOLAB (Sudbury, ON): underground laboratory (neutrino and dark matter physics)
  • TRIUMF (Vancouver, BC): Canada's particle accelerator centre
  • TQT (University of Waterloo): Aims to advance the use of quantum mechanics from laboratory to impactful devices

Where to find academic jobs?

There are a number of websites that post jobs. See, for example:

Often, however, your best resource will be your network/community. Make them aware that you are looking for jobs. Many jobs are advertised to colleagues via internal mailing lists. Physics communities tend to be very tight-knit and word-of-mouth is very powerful.

Attending conferences in your field is a great way to make yourself known to your community and to land your next job. Group leaders looking to hire postdocs use conferences as an opportunity to meet possible candidates. 

Useful books

A number of books have been written to help academics build a rewarding career. Some of these include:

  • A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter J. Feibelman
  • Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  • Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere by Alaina G. Levine
  • Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing by Robert Boice


  • From UC Berkeley's Career Center, The Hiring Process From the Other Side provides an in-depth look at the hiring process for academic roles, from navigating job announcements to negotiating an offer.
  • continuing series in which David D. Perlmutter explores all the things that can go wrong for candidates during the faculty job hunt.