Why Teach?

Choosing a Career

When you were deciding where to go to college, you probably considered cost, the size of the school, its location, its reputation, and many other factors.

Career choice is harder, because careers generally last for a much longer time, and so must be compatible with both short and longer term personal and professional goals.  You have to decide what is important to you now, and to forecast how that might change as your career progresses. 

Most people today have two or more careers during their working life.  Some will move from job to job, gaining skills and self knowledge, before finally settling on a career for the long-term. Some spend a few years after college teaching  or doing research or national service, and then move on to the private sector or to graduate/professional school. Some leave private sector careers in mid-life to teach, serve in government, or to pursue self-employment.  

Consider each of the following criteria for choosing a career.  Rate the importance of each one to you – at this point in your life – on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (very important). 

Then ask yourself: how are these ratings likely to change in 5 years? 10 years? In 30 years?

Career choice criteria:

Job availability

  • ratio of available candidates to job openings
  • stable or cyclical

Total compensation and benefits

  • Salary
  • Pension benefits
  • Health care benefits
  • Holidays and vacation time

Job character

  • Job security
  • Interesting work
  • Challenging work
  • Creative work
  • Meaningful / significant work
  • Independence / control over work
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Opportunities to learn and to share knowledge with others
  • People oriented or object-oriented

Interaction with personal life

  • Job location – being able to choose where you will work
  • Job mobility - being able to move to a new location
  • Compatibility with having a family
  • Work hours and hours per week
  • Job status / community respect
  • Flexible hours


The American Physical Society has an excellent webpage  on physics careers.


Cornell students can take advantage of excellent career counseling services at the Career Center.