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Mar7-12, 03:20 PM
P: 410
But is that a good thing? One thing about physics is that the reason that physics gets the money is that the generals and CEO want better bombs and toasters. One of the *good* things about this is that in order to get what the generals and CEO's want, you *can't* be narrowly focused on a small technical research area. You *have* to think broadly about what you are doing and to function in an environment where you have to think politically and philosophically.

The problem with "sending people elsewhere" is that it totally guts the research effort and undermines the political point of the exercise. Also, "where is elsewhere?"
Does string theory get funding from people who want better bombers and toasters?

One issue is that not everyone getting a math or physics PhD seems necessarily to have what the generals and CEOs want as priority, and you can try forcing them to by shoving them into a market, but that works for a limited number of people. Whereas a lot of smart people who actually could complete a math PhD if they wanted don't really care enough to research differential geometry, even if they learned some in college, and some of them end up in careers where they DO accomplish some things which seem to be in demand. The people who just don't find what the generals and CEOs want in their great interest will just end up competing with people without PhDs for basic jobs to make ends meet and try to find satisfaction in life outside their careers. That's not terrible, but it certainly doesn't put their creative energies to use much. Perhaps you hit a sweet spot in between :)

Well, I don't really mean send people elsewhere - more like it will naturally happen if they don't want to do what the research careers demand. The best that can be done is to try to keep around most of the people who would probably be more productive as academic researchers than anything else. That certainly is NOT everyone who is going for a PhD (some are invariably there more for some sense of prestige or out of confusion as to what else to do).

But what if you are flexible? Tell me what I should enjoy.
If you are flexible, why can't you enjoy the many things your flexibility takes you towards? If we're talking career, I'd say do the thing you enjoy at which you're also the most productive, at first naive approximation.