In 2004, I graduated with a master's degree in physics and then moved to a prestigious school to earn a Ph.D. in same. After peregrinating for about 4 years, it was clear that I was experiencing burn-out. In 2009, I was asked to leave for poor academic performance and absenteeism. After a few months of odd jobs (typing/clerking) within two years, I went on the federal disability rolls and am now attempting to return to work.

While on rolls, I tried to get a job as a research technician in a lab nearby, but I haven't seen much interest--and many want prospective students who are interested in a Ph.D! IT has been very difficult: several applications, one or two interviews, and no offers. Others (including physics people) have suggested getting a job in my field, but I haven't gotten any interviews.

Given the stigma of a 4-year period of disability, how can I go about getting a job in my field?

  • 2
    I cannot point out an exact duplicate, but I suggest you read all other questions about resume gaps on this site.
    – user8036
    Sep 11 '15 at 8:14
  • 1
    You might want to move your question to the Academia community as there may be more folks with this type of academic background and experience who could weigh in.
    – A.S
    Sep 11 '15 at 15:16
  • While you clearly have a good vocabulary, using terms like peregrinating in interviews will turn off most interviewers. Try to stick to words in common usage or you will appear to be a bad fit.
    – HLGEM
    Sep 11 '15 at 21:52
  • After 4 years out of job, as a HR, I would question what you are able to do at all. You should have something to show, even if it's just a project you did in your personal time. Alternatively, Ph.D. often sounds better than industrie is willing to pay for. But due it carries some kind of prestige, this is a good base working as freelancer.
    – jawo
    Sep 14 '15 at 12:28

A couple notes:

"IT has been very difficult: Several applications, one or two interviews, and no offers."

  1. I would not call this "very difficult," but "barely testing the waters," based on tracking a couple peers' job searches. A full-scale job search might normally involve several dozen applications and a handful of interviews, a couple near-offers, and finally a solid offer (on paper). So, my first recommendation is to adjust your expectations. Perhaps your geographic area affords only a few opportunities -- then expand your search beyond it and look in neighboring counties and states. Sometimes it seems that circumstances are forcing you to stay in an area with limited opportunities. But such appeals to circumstances don't help to get a job. So I would suggest to adopt a fresh perspective, re-evaluate your job search constraints, practices and assumptions and try to do things differently, pursuing a larger pool of opportunities.

  2. You might benefit from formalizing / consolidating your 'odd jobs.' One way to do this is to setup a formal structure for a small business, such as sole proprietorship or LLC (should be quite affordable and easy paperwork-wise). This would allow you to produce a more coherent account of your experience over the past few years, within an overarching framework of operating your own consulting business. On your CV you can call yourself "Owner", "Director," or "Consultant," then list the title of your business and years during which you did the work. (Even if the business was formed only recently - if you get questions from HR about this, tell the truth, i.e. that you have informally engaged in similar projects for a longer period but have only recently formalized the structure. No shame in that.)

  3. Fundamentally, it sounds like the challenge is two-fold: not just finding a job, but (and more importantly) understanding what you want to do and where you want to end up in 5 and 10 years -- so clarifying your goals, and sketching a strategy (or several parallel options) for achieving the goal. A careful self-reflection might save you a lot of unnecessary busywork, by focusing your efforts toward specific ends. Good luck!

  • I have seen job searches that required several hundred applications. Depends on your field, the competition and your qualifications and your interview skills.
    – HLGEM
    Sep 11 '15 at 21:27

I can't comment on how to find jobs in the physics field - only on employment in general.

With a big unemployment gap, people are going to wonder if you are employable or not. Whatever your academic credentials, they'll wonder if you have the "soft skills" (communication, teamwork, discipline, etc) to be a good employee.

I also suspect that you haven't kept your professional network as active as you could have, if you've been on disability for years. That doesn't do you any favours looking for work.

A way to alleviate both of these problems is to look for volunteer work. It gets you recent work experience, and it's much easier to snap up a volunteer gig than to snap up a job. Even if the gig isn't all that related (or at all related) to your preferred industry, it'll help show that you are capable of working and it'll give you useful references. Work at several places if your schedule permits it to cast a wider net.

And while you're there, spread the word out that you're looking for work - perhaps you'll get some leads.


Fair warning before you read this, this will not be a pleasant read. You have a bad situation. It is best to face that.

I don't see anything in your question that would lead me to want to interview you for any job. You are out of date in your field (and I think most jobs in Physics require that PhD that you appear to have dropped out of) and it sounds as if the most pertinent work experience you have is as a clerk. And you had some type of medical problem that made that job go away too. And you don't even appear to know what field you want to work in.

Your problem is that you are basically entry-level and you are too old for entry level. You are 11 years past your Master's degree (I am making the assumption from what you wrote that you did not finish the PhD.) and have no accomplishments to show for it. You don't have a 4 year gap, you have an 11 year gap. This is not something most employers are going to find impressive. You are well past the "just graduated from college" age and you have no work experience so no proof that you can do a job or will be able to stick out past the first problem (and all jobs eventually have problems). Your competition for every job will be people who are graduating this year and they will have the edge on you virtually 100% of the time.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but the work world is harsh.

I think your personal best bet is to make your own job by starting a business. As a business owner, no one is going to ask about or are about the gap, all they care about is if you can deliver the promised product or service. Start thinking about what kind of a business you could run and then talk to the good folks at the Small Business Administration (if you are in the US) about how to put together a business plan and how to get funding etc.

If you choose to continue to look for an employer instead, you need to treat that job search as your full-time job. You need to spend at least 40 hours a week at it. You will probably need to spend months at it and make hundreds of applications and likely the job you find will not be a very good one because you don't have anything that the better employers will want. (I know this is a bitter pill for someone who got accepted at a prestigious university.) If you get that job, then you need, above all else, to stick it out for at least a year and preferably longer. With your history, you simply can't afford a short-term job no matter how bad the job you get is.

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