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What the the most realistic and practical ways for a PhD in physics who has left the fold to return to a career of research in physics? The traditional employer of choice, universities won't hire such people. What alternative career choices are there for someone without an impressive track record so far? Are there alternative forms of support, or part time careers earning just enough money to get by while not interfering with research?

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What sort of physics? –  Mitchell Porter Nov 6 '11 at 8:36
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3 Answers

I think you need to ask yourself: "What's in it for them?"

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+1 for marketing basics. Practically everything in life depends on figuring out what you can do for others that they would think of as a benefit. Figuring out who "they" is can be an interesting mind-expanding adventure. –  DarenW Nov 7 '11 at 8:32
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My suggestion would be to look at teaching positions (lecturer) and see if anybody at that institution would be willing to collaborate with you on a project. Of course it goes without saying that you should not expect any form of monetary compensation for the collaboration.

Edit: Just to clarify, you will have a paying job as a lecturer, working on research is something you may be able to do on the side with another faculty member.

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-1:why would anyone work without compensation? It is absurd. –  Ron Maimon Nov 6 '11 at 20:46
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I meant he should get in as a lecturer and collaborate on the side to get a foot in the door. The only absurdness I see is the level of hostility on these boards. Ridiculous. –  Antillar Maximus Nov 6 '11 at 21:24
    
Oh--- sorry--- I thought you meant he should be a slave to a research professor (possibly you!) And I got a little outraged. Edit the answer a little, to make it clear that he can do teaching and unpaid collaboration on the side, and I'll get rid of the downvote. –  Ron Maimon Nov 6 '11 at 21:35
    
I am neither a professor nor a teacher. –  Antillar Maximus Nov 6 '11 at 22:37
    
+1 There are some departments who will take in adjunct lecturers to meet class demand. Private universities may also be more willing to take someone with a mostly exclusive teaching function. As a PhD, that's a point to your favor b/c of accreditation needs and the possibility of becoming a full professor since you do want to do research. I'm sure your resume has strong points, so shop around and network, there's no reason you can't build a track into the job you want. –  AlanSE Nov 7 '11 at 2:34
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You may find interesting the thread here Is it possible to work on physics independently outside academia?.

You do not elucidate whether the other fold was connected to physics, or family obligations. In any case you could start applying to small/liberal-arts colleges for an associated lecturer post; once this is attained, depending on your physics interests you could try finding a collaborator on a research project of interest from an other bigger institute, and take it from there.

If you had good rapport with your thesis supervisor or a professor from your graduate work, you could state your intent to come back to physics research and ask for their advice.

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