interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks

I am about to graduate – what on earth do I do now? 10 things you can do NOW to get a job and move your career forward

physics todayOur post on “Inside Look into the MedPhys Match: Part II” will be available in the coming weeks, but we wanted to share with you this important and exciting webinar that will take place on April 30th from 2:00-3:00 PM EDT. You can register by going to this link:

Free Webinar on 10 Things You Can Do NOW to Get a Job 

About this webinar:

Whether you started career planning and job searching a year ago, a month ago or today, there are a few things you can do to get the ball rolling to land a job you enjoy.

  • Number 1: Don’t Panic! It’s never too late to launch a thoughtful strategy designed to land you employment.
  • Number 2: Know you are valuable in myriad industries and ecosystems. In this webinar, you will learn specific tasks you can do RIGHT NOW to get a job and advance in your career. You will emerge with a solid and strategic plan that you can adapt at any stage of your career, but is especially valuable for those who are about to graduate or finish their postdoc and haven’t lined up a position yet.
  • And perhaps equally important, you will leave the webinar feeling more confident and excited about what your near (and far) future holds for you.

About Your Presenter:
Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, science journalist, science and engineering careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. Her new book, Networking for Nerds, will be published by Wiley in 2015. As President of Quantum Success Solutions, she has been advising scientists and engineers about their careers for over 15 years. She has given over 600 workshops and seminars for clients in the US, Europe and Mexico, and is the author of over 200 articles pertaining to science, engineering, science careers and business in such publications as Science, Nature, World Economic Forum, Smithsonian, Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, & COSMOS. As a science careers journalist, Levine constantly researches employment trends in STEM fields and delivers up-to-date vital information about STEM career issues from interviews with hiring managers, decision-makers and recruiters in myriad industries. Levine has also served as a Contributor to National Geographic and currently pens the career columns for Physics Today and APS News.

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interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks, residencies

Interviews with AAPM’s student volunteers

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

Over the past few years, students have really expanded their presence in AAPM. What was once the Student Physicist Association Subcommittee has expanded and been reorganized as the Students and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC). Members of the STSC took the initiative to form a new working group, WG for Promoting Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics (WGNCMP).  The Working Group on Student and Trainee Research (WGSTR) has also welcomed student involvement. Both of these working groups offer students the opportunity to shape career opportunities for current and future trainees in medical physics.

In this post, we have interview two students involved in these working groups:

Sean Tanny, WGNCMP Co-Chair and founding member; and Chris Peeler, WGSTR founding member

Q1: Could you tell us about your WG? What does the group hope to acheive?

Sean, WGNCMP:

The Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics is doing exactly what our name says, promoting non-clinical careers for medical physicists. What we have seen since the ABR 2014 initiative is that there are so many students competing for a very limited number of residency slots. This issue was anticipated, but no real solution has been put forward in an organized sense. What we are charged with is to explore what the potential options are for students who don’t want to get railroaded into being a purely clinical physicist.
A few of our current goals include:

  • assessing student awareness of these career options.
  • investigate the effort of interest of CAMPEP Medical Physics Education Program Directors in providing training specifically for people who want to work outside the clinic.
  • present a white paper for Medical Physics to help inform students already within the field.
  • reach out to students beyond medical physics, particularly undergraduates who may be considering a career in medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

The primary focus of our group is to initiate or promote activities aimed at enhancing and broadening pre-doctoral research conducted by students and trainees. It is also our intention to act as a platform to connect students and trainees that share interest in research-related topics in medical physics. To achieve this we are actively working to gather feedback from students and transmit that information to AAPM so that it may be used to better diversify research-oriented education and training in the field of medical physics.
A few of our goals include:

  • a travel grant program designed to help fund student travel to meetings not associated with AAPM or even medical physics specifically, in order to broaden the scientific approach in medical physics research.
  • a regular symposium at the AAPM Annual Meeting at which scientists who have had successful careers focused on research describe how they got their start and how they built their career. Both the travel grants and the symposium should make their debut in 2015.
  • encourage an on-going student dialogue regarding research-oriented education. The first major action in this effort will be our hosting of a student luncheon at the 2015 AAPM Annual Meeting, where we can present efforts within AAPM to foster research and students can discuss ideas.

Q2: What inspired you to found this WG?

Sean, WGNCMP:

There was some talk within the Students and Trainees Subcommittee when I was first joining on about trying to explore some non-clinical options to see if there’s a potential to ease some of the strain on the residency process. John Ready and I were teamed together for two to three months, conducting interviews with non-clinical physicists, collecting data from the AAPM membership, and came back to the Subcommittee and said that we thought there was enough here to form a working group. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress, thanks in no small part to the help from Alison Roth, Katherine Dextraze, and Anna Rodrigues.

I think the thing that is particularly inspiring from a project like this is that we have the privilege to reach out to so many outstanding physicists who are working to improve all the pieces that go into clinical medical physics. We’re looking at how non-clinical physicists fit within the AAPM as their careers progress and it can be a little varied. But there’s not a systematic way that the AAPM treats non-clinical physicists different from clinical ones, at least not in the data we’ve collected. Personally, I think for non-clinical careers to be more approachable as someone entering the field, we need to work with the ABR to establish a way for those forgoing board certification immediately, but actively working in medical physics, to have a path that allows them to transition back into the clinic without having to start back at square one.

Chris, WGSTR:

In light of the ABR 2014 initiative, it has become apparent to us and even to many among the AAPM leadership that most of the effort in medical physics education program design has been focused on fulfilling the topic requirements set forth by the ABR. Most of these are clinically-oriented requirements with less scientific depth which has resulted in programs that in many cases cover the required subjects with little to no effort placed on the introduction of new topics that will move the field forward.
The initial catalyst that eventually led to the creation of our group actually occurred in 2013, when I invited Robert Jeraj from the University of Wisconsin to speak the student in my program. Knowing that he was a co-chair of the Working Group on Future Research and Academic Medical Physics (also known as FUTURE), I requested his talk focus on his thoughts on the future of education and research in our field. In a better fashion than I ever could have expected, his presentation, or discussion rather, really got our students talking! Dr. Jeraj was equally ecstatic about the discussion because upon his return to Wisconsin he put me in touch with a student from their medical physics program, Stephanie Harmon. Dr. Jeraj suggested that we hold an informal gathering at the AAPM meeting that year in which we would bring together students from our programs to continue our discussion of research and research-oriented education.

Following the meeting at AAPM, we began a conversation with a representative from the program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Clemens Grassberger. Stephanie, Clemens, and I continued our collaboration throughout the following year, and at the 2014 AAPM Annual Meeting, we were invited to attend the FUTURE meeting. During this meeting, the group made the decision to form a student working group dedicated to continuing our efforts related to student research and education. I’ve related this story to you because I believe it is a great example of what students can achieve if we’re willing to simply express our heartfelt opinions. If you see a deficiency in our field, don’t be afraid to suggest a solution or to even go further and do something about it.

Q3: Have you released reports from your WG?

Sean, WGNCMP:

No official reports yet. We have published a brief article in the AAPM Newsletter and have submitted some of our work for presentation at various meetings. We are currently working on producing a white paper for Medical Physics and also an outreach article for Physics Today. I think that it’s important that we try and reach students who are still in their formative process of deciding what medical physics is going to be for them.

 Chris, WGSTR:

Our working group was only officially approved in 2015, so we have not yet had the opportunity to release any reports. It is our intention to gather statistics related to student research and also courses offered across different graduate education programs and to present this information on the AAPM website.

Q4: Why do you feel that student involvement is important in AAPM?

Sean, WGNCMP:

Two reasons:
1) We need to advocate for ourselves as students. No one else will do this for you. If there’s something you see that you think can be done better, speak up. I’ve worked a lot with Chris Peeler over the last couple months, and what is great about that group is that it truly was student-driven. It started as a group of students who wanted to interact and review what everyone was researching, and found that it was so very beneficial for everyone, so they started a group to promote student research interests. That’s a powerful example of what student involvement can do.
2) We are the future of the organization. How do you learn to do something? You do it! Without that practice and experience, it’s a bumpy road to figure out how to work within the framework of such a complex organization. There are so many different subcommittees, different councils, etc. Learning how to create meaningful change is an important step in being able to pick up the torch when it comes time.

Chris, WGSTR:

As in any scientific field, the future of the field will rest on the students and trainees of today. These are the future scientists that will serve on the larger committees and boards of AAPM. Initiating student involvement early on will provide for smoother transitions later as the students and trainees will already be familiar with the operation of the organization. More importantly, it is the students and trainees who directly feel the impact of education or training-related decisions from AAPM so it is vital for that perspective to be considered when such decisions are made. One of the best ways to foster that involvement is to have students and trainees be tied into the organizational structure of AAPM. Students are fortunate to have a clear voice within AAPM thanks to many well-established groups; however, in our case we felt there was a gap in representation for those interested in fostering research-related personal development throughout their graduate career and extending into all professional, academic, and industrial career pathways.

Q5: Do you feel that students could derive personal/professional benefits from being involved in AAPM?

Sean, WGNCMP:

By being involved in AAPM, students can create meaningful change with their organization and potentially impact the training and career opportunities that current and future trainees. In my experience in particular, I have establish strong connections the physicists through out our field – at major vendors, such as Varian; within federal regulatory bodies; in the clinic; and in research. The connections contribute the research that my group is doing and also may impact my personal career later on down the line. The personal benefit of AAPM involvement is the satisfaction of addressing important issues and the professional benefit is certainly creating an all-star network of physicists in all branches of medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

If our working group’s experience is an indication of how one could derive personal or professional benefits from being involved in AAPM, then the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Being involved provides direct opportunities to interact with leaders in the field and gives you an chance to show them what you can bring to the table. Depending on the direction you decide to take your career after graduate school, the type of experience you can acquire through such involvement could be incredibly valuable. A large part of achieving success in medical physics hinges on the development of a person’s soft skills, such as communication, organization, presentation skills, and professional interaction with others in the field. Involvement in AAPM provides an excellent setting to develop in all of these skill areas.

Volunteer work is absolutely necessary to keep AAPM up and running. In same newsletter that showcased the work of WG NCMP, John Hazle commended the volunteers of AAPM and called for physicists to dedicate themselves to this great professional organization. The working groups that we have showcased here are perfect examples of how our students’ passion is moving our discipline forward. If you are interested in contributing your time to AAPM, please feel free to contact any student volunteers through the AAPM Committee Tree.

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clinical medical physics, DMP, interviews, residencies

Interviews with Recent Medical Physics Graduates Pursuing Clinical Careers

Prospective students interested in medical physics have a variety of degree paths available, as well as areas of clinical certification, such as nuclear medicine, imaging, and therapy. To help educate and advise students interested in clinical medical physics, we have interviewed four former students and one student very close to graduation, all of whom have secured residency positions in either imaging or therapy. We’ve included a DMP, two MS, and two PhDs and asked them about the benefits of their degree path and how their degree and residency has helped them further their careers. All of the interviewees have graduated from CAMPEP-accredited programs across the country, including schools in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and other states.

Q1. What is your educational background (i.e. DMP, MS, or PhD)?

DMP:

DMP program.

MS-therapy:

Master’s degree, therapy focus.

MS-imaging:

Master’s degree, imaging focus.

PhD-therapy:

PhD, therapy focus.

PhD-imaging:

PhD, imaging focus.

Q2. What inspired you to follow your particular area of study within the field of medical physics?

DMP:

I began developing a strong predilection for applied branches of math and physics early in my education. When I discovered  therapeutic medical physics, it seemed to me to be the perfect extreme of applied science. The field has an amazing capacity for affording  human impact, practice of the scientific process, and many, many challenges.

MS-therapy:

I chose therapeutic medical physics because of the workplace conditions, the gratification/importance, job supply, variety of duties,  and compensation (and in that order)

MS-imaging:

I knew I wanted to do Chemistry or Physics in college. I found out about medical physics at LSU and looked into it. When I realized they  got to work with all the imaging modalities, I realized this had the potential to be a great career. I was always fascinated with MRI as a kid after  having a few scans at a young age.

PhD-therapy:

A big reason I’ve pursued the therapy side of medical physics has been the clinical involvement. While it might be more reactive compared to the diagnostic side, the treatment process has always fascinated me. I enjoy the clinical responsibilities and the questions that are being asked in an effort to improve the standard of care for cancer patients.”

PhD-imaging:

As a physics undergraduate we had a seminar given by a diagnostic medical physicist on MRI. I also had a classmate that graduated before me who was studying diagnostic medical physics that helped me realize the great opportunities available in that field.

Q3. What is your current or intended career?

DMP:

Clinical Medical Physicist.

MS-therapy:

Current: therapy medical physics resident. Future: boarded clinical therapy physicist with perhaps AAPM aspirations.

MS-imaging:

My current title is Senior Radiological Physicist. My original title was just Radiological Physicist, but I was really a junior physicist.  Eventually I became the only diagnostic physicist for our healthcare organization for a little while. We recently hired someone above me  again. My intended career is to become board certified in Diagnostic and Nuclear Medicine Physics. I would like to continue to work for a  healthcare organization or university as opposed to having a consulting job.

PhD-therapy:

I’ll be finishing up my PhD work in the next couple of months and beginning a residency shortly afterward. Long term, I would like to  work at an academic center where I can find a balance of clinical responsibilities, research work, and involvement with educational activities.

PhD-imaging:

Imaging Physics Resident.

Q4. Were you interested in a residency position upon graduation? If so, what was your experience applying to residencies (and starting your residency)?

DMP:

While I was strongly interested in the additional experience that can be derived from a residency program, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a DMP program. This degree program allowed me to gain this experience without having to go through the residency application process.

MS-therapy:

Yes. Had on-site interviews with many academic centers, however, it was my impression that my MS degree was not competitive enough compared to PhDs. Eventually I was selected with my current residency….things have been excellent so far.

MS-imaging:

Yes, I was interested in a residency position. I interviewed for two residencies and got an invite to MD Anderson for a third. I got one of  the residencies I interviewed for. However, I decided to accept my current position. I knew a residency would have been a better educational  experience, but I was counting on having a good mentor at my first job. That was not the case and I have had to teach myself a lot and put in a  lot of effort to make sure I am going to be adequately prepared for the boards. It basically boiled down to salary and still being able to achieve  my goal of becoming board certified since I have had someone “supervising” me that is ABR certified.

PhD-therapy:

It’s been very interesting to see the development of residency programs, and more specifically their integration with the career paths  of recent graduates, over the course of my PhD work. When I first entered graduate school, I was aware of residency programs, but had no  intentions of doing one. Five years ago it was far more common for new graduates interested in clinical work to take Junior Physicist or  Assistant Professor positions right out of graduate school. Now, it is far different as all but a couple of this year’s graduates from our program,  myself included, have taken residency positions. With most of us having already passed Part 1 to the ABR’s initial certification exam, this was  more a result of the recognized benefit to getting a formal and more structured clinical training experience as well as market factors influenced  by the increasing number of residency graduates. With the ABR’s 2014 initiative now taking effect, soon all graduates interested in clinical  work will need to do residencies to obtain board certification.

The residency application process can be a lot of things, among them are stressful, fun, expensive, and fascinating. With so many more  graduates applying for residency positions (graduates still outnumber residency positions), spots have become very competitive. There are a  number of growing pains to be dealt with in the application process, and I expect that in the next couple years as the volume of applicants  remains high, a lot of those will be handled. Residencies are still relatively new to our field, and even though we’ve tried to base them  somewhat off of the physician model, there are differences in our professions that will necessitate adaptations.

PhD-imaging:

Yes. I only applied to one and was in the process of applying to another when I was accepted. It was not too difficult. The hardest part  was ensuring that I had all of the necessary information and paperwork (i.e. transcripts, reference letters, intent letter) sent in on time.

Q5. Did your program have any unique characteristics that you feel gave you a competitive advantage? How have those characteristics helped you in your career?

DMP:

My program emphasized clinical experience and complete immersion within a working clinic with highly diverse applications, in  addition to a strong academic program, that allowed me, among other things, to start developing clinical intuition, confidence, and insight that  would have taken years to develop without this opportunity. This was a unique opportunity that is often under-afforded to students and one  that I consider invaluable to my education.

MS-therapy:

My residency has as preference for clinically oriented MS physicists and takes into account an individual’s “soft skills”. In that regard, I  believe my own set of interpersonal skills helped tremendously in being selected…and in acquiring a post-residency position.

MS-imaging:

If we are talking about Duke University’s Medical Physics program, then yes I believe so. I believe the fact we had a lot of different  opportunities in different areas (research to clinical in all areas of medical physics and some of the fields that cross paths like biomedical  engineering has helped me in becoming a well-rounded physicist.I also believe the fact we were forced to learn how to code has made a big  difference. Learning to write code, scripts, etc is an invaluable tool in the work place. A lot of the people I have worked with don’t have the experience or knowledge from their graduate degrees in that area.

PhD-therapy:

There are a lot of things that my program did well in preparing me to apply to residencies. The clinical rotations gave us great exposure to the clinic. Having a basic understanding of how the clinic operates and how its problems are handled compared to the research world is very valuable. Even if a program doesn’t have formalized clinical rotations, I highly recommend that students familiarize themselves with the roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the clinic. The experience helped me to be more conversational during interviews and gave me an added sense of confidence in handling the interview questions.

PhD-imaging:

Graduating from a CAMPEP accredited institution. That ensured that I had taken all of the required courses. I had a clinical rotation with a local consulting company during the summer of my last year. I really feel that this was a big help for me.

Q6. Which degree path would you recommend to prospective students interested in the field of medical physics?

DMP:

I believe that depends a great deal on how you see yourself wanting to spend your days following your education. Different paths available to us in this career carry with them the opportunities to explore different niches within the profession that exist among the commonalities. My advice for prospective students, though, in response to this question would be to seek out professionals with a variety of backgrounds as you explore your interest in this field. Shadow them, if you can, observe their interactions with those around them, note their focuses, and ask them how their educational decisions facilitated them attaining their positions. If different aspects of the profession pique your interest above others, then this realization will go a long way to answering this question for yourself.

MS-therapy:

In light of current trends, I would probably recommend in the following order: DMP, PhD, and MS (and for only a few select MS programs with a history successful job placement).

MS-imaging:

There isn’t much of a choice anymore if you are looking to become board certified. You need to complete a CAMPEP Master’s and residency program (or DMP, if those programs take off). If your goal is strictly research, PhD is probably the best path.

PhD-therapy:

This is a tricky question as I would argue it depends most on the goals of the individual. While PhD graduates have been more competitive at placing in residencies (whether it is right, wrong, or how to address it is a whole separate discussion), the research training is largely unnecessary for those that want only clinical responsibilities. An MS or DMP might be a more efficient means for those students. I think it is important for prospective students to evaluate their goals and familiarize themselves with the options in order to make the most informed decision possible.

PhD-imaging:

If you want to do research or any type of academic work, I would recommend going for a PhD. If not, a MS or DMP may suffice. The advice given to me when I was finishing my undergrad was the following: ‘If you are even thinking about getting a PhD, go straight for it, don’t bother doing a Master’s and then a PhD.’ I am glad that I took that path.

Q7. If you could go back and do it all again, would you still choose the same degree path?

DMP:

Emphatically, yes.

MS-therapy:

Yes. Definitely, but I love my MS program.

MS-imaging:

Yes, the only thing I may have changed is having a dual major as an undergraduate: Physics and Computer Science or Computer Engineering. I cannot stress the importance of knowing how to code and understanding how computers work. These are tools that if you aren’t going to work in the area of medical physics could prove very useful as skills for other well-paying jobs out there.

PhD-therapy:

Without a doubt!

PhD-imaging:

Yes. I have no regrets in going for a PhD. I am also grateful to have chosen to be in a residency program. A residency was not required for me, but I am grateful for the extra training that has been given to me to further prepare me to be able to independently practice as an imaging physicist.

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