jump to navigation

Tenure and Physics March 21, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Tenure, university.

One one of my lasts posts about computers and HEP, Kevin left a comment.

After reading your blog (and enjoying it of course) for over two years now, I feel you have discussed a lot of issues in programming, ROOT, C++ vs other languages, computers and other things that are tools to do science but which are not themselves science (or at least not physics). I ask because a physics colleague of mine has recently been warned that he is doing too much methods development (and publishing on these developments).

This is a scary situation. My own tenure decision occurred while the Tevatron was struggling to get itself up off the ground. As a result the physics topics I’d been talking about when I got hired at UW were nowhere near being finished. It was a close scrape (at least, that was how I felt). I had physics in my pocket, but much of it was not yet published. UW, which has had some ridiculously good table-top experimenters – holds everyone to a rather high standard. And even under the best of circumstances a HEP person is already at a disadvantages when those standards are applied.

That said, here is my advice. You have to have the physics results. Most big research universities think developing a new method is cool — especially if it will let you do a whole new set of physics results in the future — but the method itself or the sake of the method isn’t all that interesting. The physics results and potential to do physics results is. I have seen people in HEP, for example, get overly involved in the methods development and lose track of the physics side of things. It does hurt them – and this chestnut is true outside of HEP as well.

Now, it would appear that your colleague is not in particle physics but is in table top physics (or similar). One thing that goes into a tenure judgement is expected performance in their field. For example, a theorist is expected to have n-papers per year (I’m not kidding; I’ve heard this said), a table top experimenter isn’t expected to do much their first two years as they build up their lab, but then a good paper every 6 months or so (depending on the challenge they’re facing, of course). In that sense, the tenure decision depends on what subfield you are working in.

Finally, if only one colleague has made this criticism well, it may be that it can be ignored. 🙂 The first thing to do is ask others in the same sub-field (who have tenure, preferably) if enough work is being done. Often departments will have a formal review process – make sure to have frank discussions during that review process. Make sure to have tenured friends in the faculty that can report on discussions that happen in closed meetings. Finally, look one can look at other people at other institutions in the same field — especially the ones that are perceived as “hot shots.” What are they doing differently? Sometimes it is just a matter of a high wattage bulb burning brightly, other times you can see strategic decisions they made – copy them!! I guess most of this is common sense, but it never hurts to repeat it!

More tomorrow on Kevin’s comment.



1. carlbrannen - March 21, 2008

I realize that there isn’t a lot of people reading what you write, but please swap
loose -> lose,
their a -> they’re
so that your next reader isn’t left with a bad taste in his head. And I admit I do the same thing, that is, I don’t check my posts for grammar either. Maybe if someone complains I’ll start.

And I ended up having a gall bladder pulled at a hospital in Bellevue, Washington and stayed there overnight. Sure enough, it was better than the hotels I stay in, other than the bloody bandages. Maybe the narcotics put a bit of a gloss on it, but I thought the view from the window was magnificent.

2. gordonwatts - March 21, 2008

Ouch! Not a lot of readers?! Thanks, Carl! And thanks for the corrections. I write this at full speed and often don’t do a careful proofread unless I’m really worried. I’ll get those correctoins in.

The second half of this comment may have been meant for a previous post…

3. gordonwatts - March 21, 2008

And Carl — i’m sorry to hear about the operation. That sucks! My experience at the UW hospitals has been similar, though there haven’t been bloody bandages… yet. 😦

4. girldetective - March 22, 2008

“I realize that there isn’t a lot of people reading what you write”

Hey, most of us are lurkers, is all. (And it’s “aren’t.”) 🙂

5. gordonwatts - March 22, 2008

girldetective – thanks for the support! And I’m also happy for Carl’s support – he has been a long time commenter here!

6. carlbrannen - March 23, 2008

Gordon, yes the comment was for the previous post; I combined them into one cause I hate writing too many comments on people’s blogs.

Having the gall bladder out was a good thing and no big deal. I was driving 18 hours later. It turns out that if you don’t eat big fatty meals every now and then, your gall bladder never empties out and the stuff in there can solidify. Eventually, this really hurts. After they take it out, you’ll have trouble digesting lots of fat at one time. So when the tribe finds a beached whale you probably shouldn’t chow down 10 pounds of blubber like everyone else. And maybe you should restrict your marrow consumption to no more than one mastodon leg bone per sitting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: