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Just How Impossible is Impossible?(Picking a subfield)

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lubuntu
#1
Nov23-10, 07:59 PM
P: 473
I recently reinvigorated my interest in the really sexy fundamental physics stuff that drew me to the field in the first place. Particularly high level theoretical stuff like quantum gravity and dark matter. I'm actually going to be doing some work on a dark matter experiment next semester so maybe that would give me some good background to go into graduate work in that sort of field.

Just how impossible is it to get involved in these fields in a meaningful way. I know the odds of getting a job doing physics at a research school are like 1/5 to 1/10, but does that paint the whole picture? Are those people actually actively trying as hard as possible to get jobs, or do they figure it is a hopeless cause and not apply?

Right now I feel like I'd only want to do physics as a career if I am in one of the really fundamental fields, how do people typically reconcile this and end up in something like condensed matter?

How are thing different in observational astronomy? If I ended up going that route?
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Vanadium 50
#2
Nov24-10, 12:32 AM
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There are only about a million threads on this already. This might be a good opportunity to start honing your research skills.
twofish-quant
#3
Nov24-10, 12:52 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by lubuntu View Post
Just how impossible is it to get involved in these fields in a meaningful way. I know the odds of getting a job doing physics at a research school are like 1/5 to 1/10, but does that paint the whole picture?
Note that's 1/5 to 1/10 once you finish the Ph.D. A pretty large fraction of people don't get their Ph.D. The reason you shouldn't let job prospects change your field very much is that doing something that you like makes it more likely that you finish the Ph.D.

Are those people actually actively trying as hard as possible to get jobs, or do they figure it is a hopeless cause and not apply?
A good number of people don't bother applying because it looks hopeless, but that's only going to be useful to you if you think that they are wrong about that.

Right now I feel like I'd only want to do physics as a career if I am in one of the really fundamental fields, how do people typically reconcile this and end up in something like condensed matter?
What makes string theory more "fundamental" than condensed matter? When people say string theory is more "fundamental" they are really making a philosophical statement about the nature of reality that is extremely dubious.

lubuntu
#4
Nov24-10, 08:44 AM
P: 473
Just How Impossible is Impossible?(Picking a subfield)

Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Note that's 1/5 to 1/10 once you finish the Ph.D. A pretty large fraction of people don't get their Ph.D. The reason you shouldn't let job prospects change your field very much is that doing something that you like makes it more likely that you finish the Ph.D
Is the difference is academic job prospects between fields very large compared to the number of applicants?

Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
A good number of people don't bother applying because it looks hopeless, but that's only going to be useful to you if you think that they are wrong about that.
I find that somewhat encouraging if only because it increases the odds. How do things change if you only consider say the top quartile of the Ph.D. granting schools? Is there anywhere that this data available?

Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
What makes string theory more "fundamental" than condensed matter? When people say string theory is more "fundamental" they are really making a philosophical statement about the nature of reality that is extremely dubious.
I don't want to work in string theory, but I get your point. Honestly, it comes down to personal opinion. At least at my current state of knowledge, I find myself thinking that certain topics are intrinsically more important than others. Not in the sense of individual theories but in the sense of the arena that they address. For instance- Large scale structure of the universe is more important than an interesting configuration of extremely cold helium atoms. At least today for me.

I'm making a possibly wrong assumption that most other prospective physicists feel the same. However, if at least some approximation they do- then how do they end up in these different more esoteric fields?

The school I am leaving has a pretty poor physics department- non-Ph.D. granting- where the mostly work on CM and Applied stuff. When I looked at the papers they have written it almost seems like the topics are so esoteric and niche that very few people would be interested in these things. If that make any sense...
eri
#5
Nov24-10, 09:50 PM
P: 976
Condensed matter and applied physics are very useful for finding jobs outside of academia - they're producing results people use all the time, like the optical properties of materials, conduction and resistive properties, temperature dependence, and more. Things like quantum mechanics, gravity research, etc are not very applicable outside of academia, which leaves you with the 1/5 - 1/10 chance of getting a job where you can use it, or switching fields to something more useful. Observational astronomy isn't useful outside of academics and national labs/NASA, so it's something you need to apply to something else to get an industry job.
twofish-quant
#6
Nov24-10, 10:32 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by lubuntu View Post
Is the difference is academic job prospects between fields very large compared to the number of applicants?
It's a difference between bad and totally horrible. In biophysics, I think about half of Ph.D.'s get some sort of academic position, whereas in HEP theory, the fraction is more like 1/30.

However, it's extremely dangerous to make career decisions based on these stats, because they all depend on funding which can change radically in one direction or another. The job market in 2015 is going to depend a lot on who wins the 2012 Presidential election for example.

Something to realize is that the cost of getting jobs for all of the 1000 physics Ph.D.'s that graduate in one year is $200 milllion which is something of a rounding error.

I find that somewhat encouraging if only because it increases the odds. How do things change if you only consider say the top quartile of the Ph.D. granting schools? Is there anywhere that this data available?
Be careful about this, if you are trying to convince yourself that you will get a job, then you will be able to do that at the cost of losing touch with reality. For example, if you find out that people studying field X from school Y all get jobs, you'll imagine yourself studying field X from school Y, and forget about the fact that you aren't likely to get into school X and field Y.

For example, if you get a Ph.D. in finance, you are pretty much guaranteed a high paying academic position, but it turns out that people are rather ruthless at the admissions stage.

Also, the data is available. If you go to the major big name universities, you can often find the names of recent graduates and where they work, and it would take you about an week or so to put together these statistics yourself. But the fact that you *can* figure this out on your own should tell you something about the job market. The fact that you can find the names of everyone that graduated with an HEP theory physics degree in one year and then track down where everyone works, should tell you that you aren't looking at a large market. When there are five jobs available and 20 applicants, you can find the names of all of them.

At least at my current state of knowledge, I find myself thinking that certain topics are intrinsically more important than others. Not in the sense of individual theories but in the sense of the arena that they address. For instance- Large scale structure of the universe is more important than an interesting configuration of extremely cold helium atoms. At least today for me.
I have the problem with the word "intrinsically." If you think that some bits of physics are more more interesting or important, that's fine. I think that pizza restaurants are more important than French restaurants since I like pizza. If you try to argue that its some universal law of the universe, then we have an argument.

The school I am leaving has a pretty poor physics department- non-Ph.D. granting- where the mostly work on CM and Applied stuff. When I looked at the papers they have written it almost seems like the topics are so esoteric and niche that very few people would be interested in these things. If that make any sense...
That's really true for any field of physics.


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