Why is physicist Donna Strickland not a full professor?

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Dr. Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. She invented “chirped pulse amplification” for lasers while getting her PhD under Gérard Mourou, in 1985, when she was 26 years old.

According to Google Scholar she has 94 publications. She has been a fellow at the Optical Society, spent the early nineties as a member of Princeton’s Advanced Technology Center for Photonics and Opto-electronic Materials. She has publications in English and French. She’s a fellow of The Optical Society, and she currently chairs its presidential advisory committee. According to the Canadian Association of Physicists, she is a recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Premier’s Research Excellence Award, and a Cottrell Scholars Award. She is currently supervising Jeremy Kelly-Massicotte’s MSc and Zujun Xu’s PhD, and JiangFan Xia’s Post Doctoral Fellowship. She’s head of the Ultrafast Laser Group.

In other words, she has done a lot of stuff. Enough stuff that she should probably be a full professor.

So, it seems surprising that she doesn’t have a full professorship.

Is it a problem with the process of obtaining a professorship?

Here are two people who are full professors in the University of Waterloo, in Strickland’s own physics and astronomy department: Dr. Kostadinka Bizheva and Dr. Melanie Campbell. Of them, Dr. Bizheva has a similar record to Dr. Strickland’s, while Dr. Campbell’s is honestly frightening in how impressive it is.

What is different about them?

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Is it even strange to have a nobel laureate in physics not have a full professorship?

Here’s a list of the last 20 years of nobel laureates

1998 –

Robert B. Laughlin – Physics Professor at Stanford

Horst Ludwig Störmer – Emeritus Professor at Columbia

Daniel Chee Tsui – Research Professor at Boston University, previously Electrical Engineering Professor at Princeton University. He did his nobel-prize winning work in 1982, shortly before receiving his first professorship.

“for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations”

1999 –

Gerard ‘t Hooft – Professor at Utrecht University

Martinus J. G. Veltman – Professor at Utrecht University

“for elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics”

2000 –

Zhores Alferov – Honourary Professor award (Also, note: look into him) 

Herbert Kroemer – Professor of Electrical and Computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara

“for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and optoelectronics”

Jack St. Clair Kilby – Not a professor. Not even a PhD. Got a Master’s in 1950 on electrical engineering and worked on TI in 1958 designing those calculators every highschooler hates.

“for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit”

2001 –

Eric Allin Cornell – Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder

Carl Wieman – Professor of Physics and Education at Stanford

Wolfgang Ketterle – Professor of Physics at MIT

“for the achievement of Bose–Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates”

2002 –

Raymond Davis Jr. – Research Professor at the University of Pennsylvania

Masatoshi Koshiba – Emeritus Professor of University of Tokyo.

“for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos”

Riccardo Giacconi – Professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. <–Dates curious, before or after nobel prize?

“for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources”

2003 –

Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov – ? Unclear, seems not

Vitaly Ginzburg – Same here, it seems to be a Russian thing to work for the Soviet and Russian Academy of Sciences instead of for a university

Anthony James Leggett – Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids”

2004 –

David Gross – Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara.

Hugh David Politzer – Professor of Theoretical Physics at CalTech

Frank Wilczek – Professor of Physics at MIT

“for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction”

2005 –

Roy J. Glauber –  Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard University and Adjunct Professor of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona.

“for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence”

John L. Hall – Seems to not be a professor, just a lecturer?

Theodor W. Hänsch –  Professor of experimental physics and laser spectroscopy at the LMU

“for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique”

2006 –

John C. Mather – Unclear. Article only lists until post-doc, and then private research

George Fitzgerald Smoot III – Physics Professor at UC Berkeley (note his name is amazing, also he was on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader)

“for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation”

2007 –

Peter Grünberg – Unclear. Referred to as “professor” but no specifics in cursory reading

Albert Fert – Emeritus professor at Université Paris-Sud

“for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance”

2008 –

Toshihide Maskawa – Special Professor at Nagoya University, and Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University

Makoto Kobayashi – Professor at Kyoto University

“for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature”

Yoichiro Nambu – Professor at the University of Chicago

“for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics”

2009 –

Charles K. Kao – Professor of Electronics at CUHK;

“for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor”

Willard Boyle – No professorship?

George E. Smith – no professorship? Seems to have been work for Bell Labs for both of them

“for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”

2010 –

Andre Geim –  Regius Professor of Physics and Royal Society Research Professor at the Manchester Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology.

Konstantin Novoselov – Langworthy Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester

“for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”

2011 –

Adam Riess –  Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University

Brian Schmidt –  formerly Distinguished Professor at the Australian National University

Saul Perlmutter –  Professor of Physics at UC, Berkeley.

“for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”

2012 –

David J. Wineland – ?

Serge Haroche – Professor at the Collège de France

“for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.”

2013 –

François Englert – Professor emeritus at the Université libre de Bruxelles

Peter Higgs –  Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh.

“for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”

2014 –

Isamu Akasaki –  Professor Emeritus of Nagoya University

Hiroshi Amano – Professor at Nagoya University

Shuji Nakamura – Professor of Materials at the UC Santa Barbara,

“for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”

2015 –

Arthur B. McDonald – Professor Emeritus of Queen’s University

Takaaki Kajita – Professor at the University of Tokyo

“for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”

2016 –

David J. Thouless – Professor of Applied Science at Yale

Duncan Haldane – Professor of Physics at Princeton

J. Michael Kosterlitz – Professor of physics at Brown

“for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”

2017 –

Barry Barish – He is a Linde Professor of Physics, emeritus at California Institute of Technology.

Kip Thorne –  Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology

Rainer Weiss –  Professor of physics emeritus at MIT

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”

2018 –

Arthur Ashkin – PhD, but no professorship(?)

Gérard Mourou – Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan

Donna Strickland – Associate Professor

“for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics”


After doing this, there is a note I must make: Why do so many nobel laureates have multiple synchronous professorships?

(Also, note to future editors, there is another Donna Strickland who teaches at the University of Missouri and is also an associate professor. She teaches English though. There is also a Donna Strickland that passed away at age 72. Also one about a Principal Product Marketing Manager at SAS. It’s a surprisingly common name)

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