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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CAMPEP, clinical medical physics, DMP, medical physics, non-clinical tracks

Degrees in Medical Physics

The DMP is a much-discussed topic in medical physics, offering a clinically-focused degree with guaranteed residency.

Which path do I take?

However, not all programs offer the DMP and students may have a tough time determining which degree is best for their intended careers. Here, we’ve broken down the path for each of the degrees offered in medical physics and which individuals might be interested in each degree.

MS: The Master’s

The MS offers the shortest time-to-degree, but securing a clinical position will still require a residency afterwards. The MS is still a competitive degree, however, residency positions have been harder to come by due to competition from PhD graduates. Due to this competition, there are concerns that schools will transition to offering the DMP in place of the MS.

For: Individuals who want to pursue clinical, regulatory, or consulting careers with little or no interest in research.

Time to Completion: 1.5 years (no thesis) – 2.5 years (with thesis)

Checklist:

  • Meet all CAMPEP pre-requisites (physics minor)
  • Complete all core CAMPEP-required coursework (23+ hours)
  • Complete Clinical Rotations
  • Complete Special Project or Research Thesis (includes publication)
  • Complete ABR Part I Certification (optional)

Estimated Cost: $15,000 – $40,000+ annually (includes basic living expenses)

Certain MS programs offer a partial stipend, while others require tuition and living expenses to be covered by the student. Fellowships may also be available for a research-based MS through the external sources, such as the NSF.

Note: For a clinical position, residency will be required for ABR part II certification after receiving the MS. However, many MS graduates pursue fulfilling careers outside of the clinic.

DMP: The Professional Doctorate

The DMP has been likened to other professional degrees, where the title ‘Doctor’ is awarded without an MD or PhD. Some medical physicists feel that this title will grant them more respect in their clinical roles. The DMP offers training that is commensurate with the MS+2-year residency and, in the final year of the DMP, students will have the opportunity to work in a physics practice. To date, Vanderbilt University offers the only CAMPEP-accredited DMP program, however, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has proposed adding the DMP to their current educational program.

For: Individuals who want to pursue clinically-focused careers. Includes 24-month residency experience.

Time to Completion: 4 years

Checklist:

  •  Meet all CAMPEP pre-requisites (physics minor)
  •  Complete all core Medical Physics coursework (23+ hours)
  •  Complete Research Project (includes publication/presentation at AAPM)
  •  Complete ABR Part I Certification
  •  Complete 24-month clinical training (takes place of residency)
  •  Serve in community physics practice (year 4)

Estimated Cost: $15,000 – $60,000+ annually (includes basic living expenses) for years 1-3. Year 4 may be covered by the physics practice that hires you.

The DMP will require tuition and living expenses to be covered by the student for years 1-3 and possible year 4 of the program. Teaching and lab assistantships may become available, offering a partial stipend through the institution.

Note: The DMP guarantees a residency-type position. After graduation, you will be prepared for a junior clinical physicist position and well on your way to ABR part II certification.

PhD: The Research Degree

The Ph.D. in medical physics still stands as the research-focused degree, but offers diverse career paths. Certification is not necessarily required for a medical physics Ph.D. to have a successful career, unlike for the DMP.

For: Individuals who want to pursue academic research and teaching, industry research, or are interested in a joint appointment that includes clinical, research, and possibly teaching duties.

Time to Completion: 5+ years

Checklist:

  •  Meet all CAMPEP pre-requisites (physics minor)
  •  Complete all core Medical Physics coursework (23+ hours)
  •  Complete Clinical Rotations
  •  Complete ABR Part I Certification (optional)
  •  Pass Qualifying Exams and/or Present Research Proposal
  •  Complete Dissertation (includes publication)

Estimated Cost: $0 annually

Ph.D. students are typically awarded stipends or fellowships that cover tuition, fees, and basic living expenses. These stipends may range from $13,000 – $29,000 depending on the program and perceived cost of living. Students may be expected to find funding on their own, through fellowships from the AAPMNSF, or NIH.

Note: For clinical positions, residency will still be required after Ph.D. to become ABR Part II certified. Hybrid resident/post-doc positions may become available for graduates who are interested in the joint role as clinical physicist and researcher.

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medical physics, non-clinical tracks, professionalism

Interviews with Non-Clinical Medical Physicists

In the field of medical physics, it might seem that a clinical position is the only option. However, medical physicists play significant roles outside of the hospital. Along with an excellent understanding of radiation physics, medical physics training provides one with the ability to analyze systems and provide effective troubleshooting, which is why a medical physicist can be successful in many fields.

On that note, we’ve briefly interviewed three medical physicists who have achieved success and satisfaction in entrepreneurship, in a state regulatory body, and in academia.

Question: Who is your current employer and what is your position?

Entrepreneur (Ent):

Mobius Medical Systems, LP, Founder.

Regulatory (Reg):

        Agreement State Radioactive Materials Program Manager

Academia (Aca):

I am a faculty member at an academic medical center. My primary responsibilities are research and teaching; I have a little bit of clinical responsibilities. I supervise graduate students and postdocs.

 QuestionWhat attracted you to your current position? What advantages have kept you in that role?

(Ent):

The ability to design products used at thousands of clinics, rather than a handful of clinics. I couldn’t get out now if I tried =).

(Reg):

At first, it was a matter of job availability. When I finished my masters in medical physics I was faced with a limited choice of accredited residencies.

Another thing that attracted me was the challenges involved. As an inspector you need to work with a wide variety of individuals ranging from construction personnel, to engineers, to doctors, and conventionally careered medical physicists. Working alongside this dynamic group to promote radiation safety and compliance is never the same and is always gratifying.

Regulators need to stay on top of the latest technologies to know what is being licensed and how it should be utilized. No two days have been the same for me since I started nearly a year ago now and I’ve learned a great deal beyond my medical physics and nuclear engineering backgrounds.

A major tradeoff though is that a clinical medical physicist will make more money; however, the lifestyle of being a state or federal employee will likely keep me in my role for some time to come.

(Aca):

There are many attractions – I get to work with incredibly bright and incredibly talented colleagues, postdocs and graduate students. We have a tremendous amount of autonomy in terms of the research that we perform and the specific topics that we investigate. The background that a medical physicist can provide in these research questions can be critical to successful research; the blend of basic understanding of the physical phenomena and the ability to interface with MDs is vital.

QuestionWhich other disciplines did you compete with for this position? What about your medical physics training gave you an advantage?

(Ent):

I only had to compete with my wife letting me start a business.

(Reg):

Most of the people that apply for state level radiation regulatory positions have a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering field. Rarely these individuals have a background specific to radiation. During my last hiring I interviewed for three positions and had about forty applicants. Of those, only two had some radiation training. Having a medical physics degree will put you at the top of the list under categories such as education and experience.

Though my program licenses all uses of radioactive material (industrial, academic, medical, etc), the vast majority of our licensees are medicals. A background in medical physics prepares you for understanding of the theory for most procedures in the field as well as the biological and safety effects that they may induce. This gives a vast advantage over someone else who has no prior knowledge of radiation use and effects. On average it takes about two years for an inspector to become trained and qualified, but I would suspect most people with a medical physics background would have dramatically reduced qualification times.

(Aca):

Sometimes we compete with biomedical engineers for these positions, but the advantage that medical physicists often have is their fundamental understanding of the underlying physics of the problem at hand – such as the physics of image formation processes (x-ray interactions with tissue, MR signal formation, etc.). Engineers sometimes have to treat the imaging device as a black box and just accept what comes out of it; while physicists can often times open the black box and try to manipulate or control what comes out of it.

QuestionHow can current medical physics students prepare for a position like yours?

(Ent):

I don’t recommend founding a new company, but in general those interested in product design should become familiar with programming (whether or not they will be a programmer) and really pay attention to how users interact with products (what confuses them, what they inherently understand, what their needs are, etc.).

(Reg):

My weakest knowledge area when starting with the state was the regulations, plain and simple. I was given a brief overview of some regulatory references during my education, but not near enough. I’m still learning some of the finer details to this day. I would recommend someone become very familiar with title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) which maintains all of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules.The rest of your training will set you up more than well enough for success.

(Aca):

Getting a PhD in medical physics is essentially required if you want to do research, but the biggest requirement is to keep asking questions. Be persistent (and sometimes stubborn) and don’t always accept the standard answers. It is ok to ask why we do things a certain way – and why not another way.

Next Post: DMP? Master’s? Ph.D? Which path should I take?

Although each path is dependent on one’s individual goals, many students worry about which degree will provide them with a competitive advantage. In our next post, we will present information and discuss the pros and cons of the Professional Doctorate in Medical Physics, Masters and Ph.D degrees.

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