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Cosmology: a good career choice?

by jon_pan
Tags: career, choice, cosmology
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arunma
#37
Jun28-09, 09:14 PM
P: 908
Quote Quote by Catherwood View Post
(with a good specialization, choose carefully) is very employable.
Could I ask you to expand on this a bit? I'm a PhD student in particle astrophysics, and every couple of days I wonder if I should have done condensed matter for employability reasons (I'm third year, so it's a bit too late to switch). Am I right to be concerned? Should I switch to a different field for my postdoc in order to maximize employability, and if so, what field should I go into?

I'm also interested to know what industry jobs I could get that involve doing physics. Everyone says that physics PhDs get jobs somewhere or another, but I'd prefer not to be some programmer or financial analyst. Any suggestions would be helpful.
Locrian
#38
Jul2-09, 12:04 PM
P: 1,737
Quote Quote by arunma View Post
Could I ask you to expand on this a bit? I'm a PhD student in particle astrophysics, and every couple of days I wonder if I should have done condensed matter for employability reasons (I'm third year, so it's a bit too late to switch). Am I right to be concerned?
Absolutely. That entire area is a career deathtrap. That doesn't mean you won't be one of the lucky ones to make it through it good shape; just be aware of your odds and maximize your available options.

Should I switch to a different field for my postdoc in order to maximize employability, and if so, what field should I go into?
It was my experience that, if employability over a broad area is your goal, following the industry funding is a reasonable route. Follow the money back to defense or technology firms and you have the potential for some useful networking. However, I don't have any broad statistics or good studies demonstrating that; just a few years of experience and lots of personal research.

I'm also interested to know what industry jobs I could get that involve doing physics. Everyone says that physics PhDs get jobs somewhere or another, but I'd prefer not to be some programmer or financial analyst. Any suggestions would be helpful.
That's really the rub, isn't it? I've been reading this forum for years, and you can go back as far as you want and find threads that go something like this:

Newtoforums: So what can one do with a degree in physics?
Randomposter: All kinds of stuff that isn't physics! Awesome, isn't it?
That being said, I generally feel that, if one specializes carefully (there's that helpful phrase again. . .), one has a reasonable chance of getting a job in industry doing something that is roughly phsyicsish. At least, that was my feeling in early 2008. I'm a little unsure what the market is like now (but have my worries).
Locrian
#39
Jul2-09, 02:14 PM
P: 1,737
Quote Quote by sin2beta View Post
in school just take the first two actuarial exams, you at least won't have to worry about unemployment.
While I think sin2beta has some good advice, I'd like to temper their optimism just a touch. sin2beta had no trouble getting a "finance/actuarial" (I'm not sure what that means - was it a job as a student actuary or not?) job offer. Neither did I. The problem is that we're probably outliers.

Over the past year almost everyone else entering the actuarial field has had trouble getting those offers, including career changers from math & science backgrounds. The actuarial job outlook got very ugly in late 2008, but has improved considerably for everyone except new hires. It's my impression things have only marginally improved for those entering the field and that the qualifications expected are rising. One actuarial exam used to get you in the door; now two and an internship are more standard, and three + may be standard soon.

That's not a reason not to knock out those tests. I do agree that having options is good, especially in the current economic climate. However in the end you'll only have so much time and energy in your job search, and I'm not convinced you will be able to really put forth a strong effort looking for both physics and actuarial work. The standard advice to entry level actuaries is to send out 100+ resumes and spend a great deal of time networking. That advice isn't that different than for science; doing both will be hard.

I'd also like to note that I've looked through a lot of quant job offers (and never applied to any of them; I made a decision at some point to go actuarial instead, for better or worse). If you graduated from a good university with good grades, they probably aren't looking for you - they are looking for top students form top schools, most of the time.

What I'm trying to get across is that while keeping options open is wise, this impression that is often given in this forum that you can always just slip into banking/finance/insurance if physics doesn't work out is, to most students most of the time, misleading.
Amanheis
#40
Jul2-09, 05:35 PM
P: 66
To me it is really surprising and discouraging to read this thread. And I just talked to my advisor today who is a professor in astrophysics, and I mentionend this exact problem, since I saw the thread a few days ago. And he said that physicists are always very employable, just because of their problem solving strategies that they acquired during their PhD or whatever.
I'm interested in cosmology or something similar as well, but I woudln't mind doing something other than physics later on. Priorities have shifted, and if I get a decent offer for a stable job instead an underpayed, limited postdoc position, I'd gladly take it.
And I always hear that physicists are wanted. Career deathtrap? This confuses me. I can even back it up, at least in germany the unemployment rate amongst physicist in 2008 was roughly 2% (compare to regular unemployment rate of 8.5%). And it's going down.

http://www.dpg-physik.de/pdf/arbeitsmarkt_2008.pdf

The plot shows the absolute unemployment rate, green is the total. So the 2% are exactly the cosmologists? And why should it be that different in the USA? Some official numbers would be interesting.
Locrian
#41
Jul3-09, 06:04 PM
P: 1,737
Well your priorities are different - you are arguing that things are ok, so long as you're employed. And I'd certainly agree that things could be worse.

I think though that this is one of the "gotcha" moments in a grad student's life. It's hard to be unemployed with a physics background, but actually getting a job someone would want is a different matter. One of my friends from grad school finished his PhD - a grand total of 11 years of education - so he could teach a couple of labs and maintain the educational equipment. I think it comes out to be about $12/hour or so.

His work has the depth, difficulty and pay of a retail store job. I'll be the first to admit he's unlikely to get fired, but I'm not going to be the one to tell him that.
creepypasta13
#42
Sep4-09, 03:32 PM
P: 375
Quote Quote by arunma View Post
Could I ask you to expand on this a bit? I'm a PhD student in particle astrophysics, and every couple of days I wonder if I should have done condensed matter for employability reasons (I'm third year, so it's a bit too late to switch). Am I right to be concerned? Should I switch to a different field for my postdoc in order to maximize employability, and if so, what field should I go into?

I'm also interested to know what industry jobs I could get that involve doing physics. Everyone says that physics PhDs get jobs somewhere or another, but I'd prefer not to be some programmer or financial analyst. Any suggestions would be helpful.
I was thinking the same thing, but wasn't too enthusiastic about Locrian's answer
Locrian
#43
Sep7-09, 08:19 PM
P: 1,737
Quote Quote by creepypasta13 View Post
I was thinking the same thing, but wasn't too enthusiastic about Locrian's answer
Have no fear - someone will eventually give you an answer you're more enthusiastic about ;)
Locrian
#44
Sep7-09, 08:21 PM
P: 1,737
On a side note, it's amusing looking back at spacetiger discussing quants earlier in the thread. At the time (2006) I didn't even know what one was. It doesn't appear he did, either.
mal4mac
#45
Sep8-09, 01:25 PM
P: 1,054
Quote Quote by ek View Post
I really don't know if it's a good career choice, but I would also like to be a cosmologist.

What is better than searching (and perhaps finding) for the answers to the most important questions?
Initially, finding out what *are* the most important questions?

So, perhaps, philosophy/positve psychology would be better subjects to study? At least initially? "How can I be happy?" is the most important question I can think of. And it has nothing, directly, to do with cosmology. "The How of Happiness" by Sonya Lyubomirsky suggests that any significant project chosen for its intrinsic interest to you is a likely path to happiness. So studying cosmology, mathematics or literature might work, depending on your interests. So might building a sailboat or learning Spanish.

Whatever floats your boat...
Sankaku
#46
Sep8-09, 05:36 PM
P: 714
One of my favorites :-)
http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Insecur.../dp/0394704681
comp_math
#47
Sep9-09, 08:02 PM
P: 94
Quote Quote by jon_pan View Post
i find the study of cosmology very fascinating and now contemplating to study it. But is it a wise choice?

I mean, how practical is cosmology in everyday life? not that i really need it to be, i'm more than satisfied to have answers i've always been pondering about.

and is employment hard to find?
While I encourage people to study things that fascinate them, I must tell you this - finding a subject fascinating doesn't mean that you will like studying it. To study cosmology, you first need to know all your physics, math, chemistry, etc. If you seriously want to do cosmology for a living, you need a PhD. Employment is hard to find because cosmology requires one to have access to expensive facilities (if you are doing experimental work) to do serious work - you need some good connections. Good luck.
mal4mac
#48
Sep12-09, 07:58 AM
P: 1,054
Quote Quote by arunma View Post
I'm also interested to know what industry jobs I could get that involve doing physics. Everyone says that physics PhDs get jobs somewhere or another, but I'd prefer not to be some programmer...
You will not be saying that when you are queuing at the soup kitchen...
Entropee
#49
Sep16-09, 11:54 AM
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Entropee's Avatar
P: 133
What I'm about to say just screams "CLICHE", I don't know about you guys but I'm not 100% sure Ill be alive in the next year, month, week, day, etc. Don't spend even a second getting a degree in engineering if you want to do cosmology, who cares if finding a cosmology related job is hard? Lifes too short to not enjoy what your doing, regardless of the consequences.
MPWoods
#50
Sep20-09, 07:23 AM
P: 1
Hi, i am about to enter yr 12. I have done accelerated 2u math and i will do 4u next year. I have always loved physics and i was wondering if i should do cosmology. i am very good at the maths side of physics, but am not very good at writing essays. Is cosmology more mathematical or theoretical. from what i have heard it sounds really interesting, but i do not want it to turn out to be a subject like history.
BTW the subjects i am going to do are: 4U math, English, Physics, and either chemistry or cosmology....

please help me decide...
quantumkiko
#51
Sep20-09, 09:47 AM
P: 29
I think not having a PhD is not an end-of-it-all for those who love cosmology (or for other physics fields in general). I want to talk of two groups that people who have interest can mostly belong to:

The first group are those people who can be contented just to know the technical or mathematical details behind the scientific topics that interest them. Well of course, this still requires quite a lot of mathematical maturity on their part. But if you have a knack for knowing such things, then this requirement should somehow be already given. With this attitude, people in this group don't have to force themselves to pursue a PhD and publish or do original research. This way, they can be like watchers or spectators, while still keeping interest and fascination with the frontiers of scientific research. This group is the audience. For them, there is nothing wrong to feel secure in their own seats and be intellectually stimulated at the same time.

The second group are the actors. These are the active scientists, those who abide by the publish or perish motto. As an analogy, they are the ones who would go hours on end just to keep themselves in shape for the acting on stage. They would go for the gamble and would definitely go for a life in scientific research, even if there's a chance of not being financially contented. But they are the ones who will have their own body of research work, who will be blessed to have advisers who can lead the into making new discoveries.

If you are really interested in science, I think it really helps to reflect on what group you belong to. If you belong to the first group, then you don't need to feel bad by not pursuing a PhD. Live your life as you would financially want it while still keeping your interest in science. As was said by starfysmn, "don't be afraid to follow the money". On the other hand, as Entropee would say, "Life is too short to not enjoy what you're doing, regardless of the consequences."

I belong to the 1st group, and this only came upon me while reading this thread. Some (or maybe most of us?) want to belong to the 2nd group. In my opinion, the most important point of this thread is that we really have to be honest about our capacities. We have to admit if we're not as good as we think we are. But if we somehow are, then it's a wise decision to pursue a PhD. What are you waiting for? Go create the next revolution in physics.

Whichever group we belong to, we can still keep interested in science. And being interested, be an audience or an actor, is always a good thing. Isn't it?
Sankaku
#52
Sep20-09, 11:11 AM
P: 714
Quote Quote by MPWoods View Post
Is cosmology more mathematical or theoretical.
If it is a high-school course, make sure you know what kind of 'cosmology' it is:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_cosmology
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_cosmology

I can only think that, even if it is physical cosmology, at high-school it could only be a 'historical overview' type course. I could be wrong, though!
Locrian
#53
Sep20-09, 04:55 PM
P: 1,737
Quote Quote by Entropee View Post
What I'm about to say just screams "CLICHE", I don't know about you guys but I'm not 100% sure Ill be alive in the next year, month, week, day, etc. Don't spend even a second getting a degree in engineering if you want to do cosmology, who cares if finding a cosmology related job is hard? Lifes too short to not enjoy what your doing, regardless of the consequences.
So you have some terminal illness (or other serious difference in your force of mortality) that's going to knock you out before you hit the workforce and - for reasons that aren't apparent to me - want to spend your last remaining years studying in a school rather than out in the world doing something fun or useful or helpful or hurtful - or whatever. That's your choice and I'm glad you've made it and are sticking to it.

However the typical student entering college has an extremely high probability of being alive to graduate and find a job. They should weight their decision making with the appropriate probabilities, since not considering the consequences will probably have, well, negative consequences.

In short, the above advice is really, really bad advice for almost everyone.
Proletari@t
#54
Sep20-09, 06:25 PM
P: 2
This is a great thread with outstanding insight. Thank you all for your input. I had no idea there was so much dedication (and math!) required just to cut hair and make people pretty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmetology)!

But seriously... I just recently quit my relatively lucrative IT job to finish my undergrad and become a cosmologist so I could "ponder the mysteries of the universe." However, I received some sage advice from a working Astrophysicist at my school who said (and I paraphrase), "Go find something in Astro that you enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis and then ponder the mysteries of the universe in your free time."

I have thought long and hard about this advice she gave me, and I have realized that its some of the best advice one could possibly give an undergrad. Coming from working in corporate america for years, I realize the perils loving and industry and hating the details (or vice versa, for that matter). I am almost positive I will not be working in cosmology (or theory, for that matter) as my career, and I am still deciding what track to pursue. However, I now view her advice as a much-needed course correction that was necessary for me to realistically reach the goal of an Astro PhD.


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