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Supporting the careers of physics postdocs

By Margaret Harris

If you want to pursue a career in physics, it might help if you like to move around. Last week’s Facebook poll asked what steps you had taken in order to pursue your career in physics, and the most popular responses – by, ahem, a country mile – involved moving to a new location. A lot of those moves involved significant distances, too, with 38% of the 110 poll respondents having moved more than 500 miles at least once in their career, while 13% had moved a shorter distance.

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The most popular non-geographic change, according to the poll, was switching to a different field of research: 19% of respondents had done this. Changing sectors – the example given was moving from academia to industry – was much less popular among poll respondents, with only a handful (5%) having made this type of move.

Respondents who picked the last two options in the poll – “two of the above” and “three or more of the above” – are harder to categorize because there is obviously going to be some overlap. Nevertheless, the 8% of respondents who picked “three or more” must have moved locations, too, and it seems likely that at least some of the 16% who selected “two of the above” will have done so as well. The total figure, then, is around two-thirds, give or take a few per cent.

In retrospect, I wish I had included a “none of the above” option in the poll. I suspect there aren’t many professional physicists out there who have stayed in one location, field and sector for their entire careers, but you never know. If you are one of them, please accept my apologies for not giving you the option of saying so.

This week’s poll is a bit more abstract, and like the poll we presented two weeks ago about choosing a postdoctoral position, it focuses on early-career researchers.

Which of the following actions would be most helpful to physics postdocs?

Better advice on career options outside academia
More training in transferrable skills
Longer-term contracts (e.g. three years rather than one)
Creating more mid-level “permanent postdoc” jobs
Improved support for postdocs with spouses and families

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response or give us more suggestions by posting a comment below the poll or by e-mailing us at

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