University professors must typically have a doctoral degree, though some who work at community colleges may find a master's degree sufficient. Since theoretical physics is typically included in a higher-level program, it's unlikely the course would be taught at the community college level. Therefore, those wishing to become professors of theoretical physics should aim to earn a doctorate degree, as well as complete research in the field and get experience as a student teacher.
Complete a Doctoral Program
Students can complete a doctoral degree program that is designed specifically for theoretical physics, or they can choose a program that offers a multidisciplinary approach and focus their coursework and research on an aspect of theoretical physics. Students can expect to take coursework in theoretical physics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics and electromagnetism. Ph.D. candidates are also expected to conclude original research that advances knowledge in the field. Once students graduate, they can publish and promote this research in order to help land a job as a professor.
Though not required in a Ph.D. program, students who are interested in becoming professors of theoretical physics would benefit from receiving training in pedagogical methods. Pedagogy is the study of teaching styles and their effectiveness on different student populations. By studying pedagogy, students can learn about what teaching styles mesh with their own teaching philosophy and what tools might be most effective in the classroom. Students who study pedagogy show a commitment to teaching, which may make them more marketable in the job search for a professor position.
Work as a Student Teacher
Most doctoral programs place students as either research or teaching assistants. Those who are interested in becoming professors of theoretical physics should apply for a student teaching position if it's not automatically offered or required for the program. In some cases, student teachers are allowed to run their own classrooms, including making up the syllabus. This provides valuable training to become a professor after graduation. Those who wish to become professors of theoretical physics should apply for positions teaching physics or a branch of physics that is closely related to their field. They can also use the materials from their student-taught class in their application for a professor position later, which may improve their chances of getting the job.
University programs are often only as strong as the faculty they have on staff and the research they are producing. Students who wish to become professors of theoretical physics should start trying to publish their research long before they graduate from their doctoral program. Student papers and portions of a dissertation can be submitted to academic journals and conferences. Applicants to professor positions who have an established record of publications and conference presentations will have a better chance of landing the job.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Postsecondary Teachers
- European Organization for Nuclear Research: What Is a "Theoretical Physicist?"
- Physics Today: Careers in Theoretical Physics
- Amherst University: Info for Students Interested in Theoretical Physics
- The University of Chicago: Department of Physics: Theoretical Particle Physics
- Cornell University Department of Physics: Graduate Program
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