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The Real Science Gap

by twofish-quant
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D H
#19
Feb26-11, 01:35 PM
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Emphasis mine:
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I've talked to roughly a dozen phd physicists working in insurance and finance, and they all say that if a stable research job magically fell into their lap they would take it, even with the massive paycut. I admit its anecdotal (and a massive sample bias, as its all students of collaborators), but I think a lot of theory phds in particular find out there is really no industry demand, and the national labs are just as competitive as the universities.
Sample bias, false expectations, and, I suspect, more than a bit of hubris. Those stable research jobs are small in number. What's wrong with looking a bit further afield, such as a stable non-research but physics-oriented job, and what's wrong with looking a bit harder than having the job magically fall into their laps?

I have interviewed several PhDs who seek work with my employer. Mostly they're aerospace engineers; only one or two physics PhDs, but similar issues arises with aerospace PhDs. One of the things I look for when interviewing freshly-minted PhDs is an attitude against working in industry. Are they going to jump ship as soon as one of those rare jobs in academia shows up because academia is where they really want to be? Do they secretly look down on those who work in industry? Even when they lie ("I'm just not interested in a career in academia") it is still fairly easy to ferret out such individuals.

I suspect these employment issues are limited to the most theoretical of theoretical physicists. This complaint comes up regularly at PhysicsForums, but very rarely from experimentalists or solid state physicists. Part of the problem here is that what is important to academia and to freshly-minted PhDs with an academic mindset isn't quite so important elsewhere. Physics departments need to pay a bit more attention to the reason they are getting a lot more endowments and grants than are archaeology departments. Hint: It's not because industry wants more cosmologists. High-tech industry wants cosmologists about as much as they want cosmeticians.

Fortunately, for now, finance and insurance have come to the rescue with over-the-top salaries magically plopped into the laps of those misguided students. Don't look for this trend to continue. Business schools are now starting to teach the kinds of mathematics that is needed in order to be a quant. This will eventually dry up the demand for physicists and astronomers to serve as quants.
DrummingAtom
#20
Feb26-11, 03:15 PM
P: 661
These articles only focus on academia, why? As soon as industry was brought up it immediately goes right back to academia. It's telling the same story over and over..

Why is industry always looked down upon for R&D from the academics? Is industry R&D research lame in comparison to academia research? Is it better because academics can choose their research more freely?

I just get a bad feeling in my stomach about these type of articles because I know there's all these bright eyed PhD's thinking that they will get a research position in academia and do their "own" research. I have several friends that are in PhD programs thinking this exact same thing and when I ask them about industry research they shake their head in disgust.

I, personally, thought this way too until I found out that I'm the type of person that given any problem will still enjoy to "research" it myself. It doesn't matter how mundane the problem either, if I don't know the answer myself then I want to think of way to get it. To me, this is real research. I know, I know true "research" doesn't have any type of answer in existence yet.

I'll give the Leibniz and Newton story because it describes how I feel about this more. Even though both of these men discovered calculus at the same time, they probably didn't do it at the exact same time. Meaning that there was an answer somewhere in the world relative to one of them but still pushed through and discovered it on their own. Wouldn't this be described as real research? Or did only one of them actually do research and the other worked on a mundane problem that was already discovered?

The type of people that go into research for fame and prestige make me sick. They just sound like a bunch of kids that if they don't get their way (type of research) then they'll whine. I hear it all the time on this forum, "I want to do string theory and solve what Einstein was working on!" Any problem is interesting in it's own way, it doesn't have to be string theory.

Can someone explain to me why so many PhD's want to go into academia when it's industry that has the money for R&D?

http://www.census.gov/compendia/stat...es/11s0801.pdf
ParticleGrl
#21
Feb26-11, 03:28 PM
P: 685
Quote Quote by D H View Post
Sample bias, false expectations, and, I suspect, more than a bit of hubris. Those stable research jobs are small in number. What's wrong with looking a bit further afield, such as a stable non-research but physics-oriented job, and what's wrong with looking a bit harder than having the job magically fall into their laps?
What is a non-research/development but physics oriented job?

Also, the reason the job would have to magically fall into their laps is that the people I talked to gave up on research work when they moved into finance. My point was that (anecdotally) lots of people in finance would prefer to be working doing physics. When they failed to find jobs in physics, they moved into finance. The higher salary wasn't a drawing point, it was a consolation prize.

High-tech industry wants cosmologists about as much as they want cosmeticians.
And thats generally my point- fairly large fields of theoretical physics have no industry demand. Cosmology, particle theory, string theory, quantum foundations, the pen-and-paper condensed matter theorists, etc. I'd be willing to bet similar problems plague high-energy experimentalists, and thats a huge group.

I also find it fascinating that finance and insurance are willing to give these people time to learn the ropes, while traditional technical employers are not.
gbeagle
#22
Feb26-11, 05:16 PM
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Quote Quote by D H View Post
I suspect these employment issues are limited to the most theoretical of theoretical physicists. This complaint comes up regularly at PhysicsForums, but very rarely from experimentalists or solid state physicists. Part of the problem here is that what is important to academia and to freshly-minted PhDs with an academic mindset isn't quite so important elsewhere. Physics departments need to pay a bit more attention to the reason they are getting a lot more endowments and grants than are archaeology departments. Hint: It's not because industry wants more cosmologists. High-tech industry wants cosmologists about as much as they want cosmeticians.
High energy experiment can also be somewhat of a mixed bag depending on what other skills you pick up along the way. It's not like the high-tech industry cares how much of the parameter space of the MSSM has been ruled out. At least that is what I've seen from other hep grad students at my school that have graduated ahead of me (that didn't go the post-doc route). From what I've experienced as part of the big particle physics collaborations, you can be unlucky in the experience you get. If you're not smart about it and only have a laser focus on your physics analysis and don't do much detector hardware development work (say you do your authorship qualification work on the software side of things), then all you come out with in terms of directly marketable skills are programming and statistics. Not sure why a software developer would hire a PhD to write code that some B.S. could write for cheaper (and probably do a better job too!).

Though to be honest I am not even sure if you are that much better off in hep if you've done a lot of detector work. Wouldn't one just be competing against EEs and solid-state physicists that can do the same things, but better? I guess I'll find out soon enough...

Now on the other hand the solid-state/condensed matter students I know seem to have much easier (though not necessarily easy) time finding jobs compared to the hep students, but maybe that is just an effect of going to a university in a county adjacent to Santa Clara county plus a not too large sample size.
Diracula
#23
Feb26-11, 06:00 PM
P: 108
Is it a fair assessment that doing a PhD is absolutely terrible if your only goal is to work in academia (aside perhaps for some areas in business, maybe others; definitely not physics), but it's ok if you also would like to work in industry or government AS LONG AS you pick the right area of specialization? But there are some subjects and areas of specialization that you can do your PhD in that are completely useless for career prospects unless you happen to be in the top X% (where X is small) of candidates in both networking/connections and ability?

From all my readings on the career path for physics PhDs and thinking about it this is what I am taking away from these debates. Either be Ed Witten'esque or choose a specialty not (solely) on interest but on demand. Unless you are ok with spending 6 years getting paid garbage to get a degree (that granted, is in an area you really like), but at the end of it you will only be able to get the same job that you could get with your BS (roughly). And it may be even more difficult to get that same job because you're now viewed as an academic who is settling for an industry job rather than a fresh graduate eager to work in industry.

Fair summary?
epenguin
#24
Feb26-11, 08:25 PM
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Quote Quote by odinsthunder View Post
The EU is the world's dominate power, it's just not offical yet.

... is slowly coalescing its military. If you didn't know, the British and French armed forces are now under joint command, it doesn't take a genius to extrapolate where this is heading.
Don't believe it. Do you know the name of either the EU President or the equivalent of Foreign Minister? Thought not, but if you do you're doing better than most Europeans. Those who do know know that these personages are a joke.

Yet the EU does have a lot of power. But it is not, and is not going to be, power like the USA has. It is soft power. The main power it has towards its exterior is and has been for decades is due to the desire of its neighbours to be admitted into it. Thus it is short range, to the East and South.

Sure, China, India etc. etc. need to cultivate good relations with it but Europe needs that just as much. It is influential without being dominant in things like WTO. But no one is frightened of it. Look at its utter failure to achieve anything on the Iran nuclear issue. Nor will it budge China or even Israel on anything they care about and consider matters exclusively of their own.

Even if and where the EU were that much of a world power this is not and is not going to be military. The European populations have less than no desire or stomach for it. Half of the governments were against the Iraq war, and probably more than half the population of the only serious participant, Britain. Most of the countries have gone for very secondary roles in Afghanistan, if you listen to their politicians at home they are mostly anxious to reassure their publics that their troops are not there to fight and will not be there for long. In the half-exception, Britain, it is unpopular and not understood. The military prospects you allude to are also a joke, in fact now a farce. Britain has ordered an aircraft carrier which might be ready for I think it is 2025 or something like that, but there won't be any aircraft to put on it!

Its soft power is very positive - it democratised South Europe and then East Europe, though in the latter no doubt American hard power was also essential. If soft power is all you need we should be OK.
caffenta
#25
Feb26-11, 10:19 PM
P: 163
Quote Quote by D H View Post
Quants get six figure incomes, easily, oftentimes well into six figures, and it doesn't take years to reach those extremely high salaries. Physicists working as physicists won't see that kind of money, ever (Another option is to get into upper management or own ones own company, but the technical people who do that are no longer doing technical work, either.)
These wild generalizations are completely ridiculous. In another post, you make a statement that implies a contradiction:

I suspect these employment issues are limited to the most theoretical of theoretical physicists. This complaint comes up regularly at PhysicsForums, but very rarely from experimentalists or solid state physicists.
It's not unusual for experimental solid-state physicists to violate your first statement while doing technical work.
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I also find it fascinating that finance and insurance are willing to give these people time to learn the ropes, while traditional technical employers are not.
It's not really that complicated: traditional technical employers have a huge pool of people with the exact skills they are looking for. So why should they waste their time with someone who does not? Hiring a freshly graduated PhD is expensive and therefore a risk. Hiring a freshly graduated PhD with no experimental skills is even riskier. PhDs with an experimental background have already acquired a lot of the skills they will need. Theorists have not, unless their research was in a very similar field. In that case, a theorist might find a job developing models for numerical simulations.
D H
#26
Feb27-11, 03:11 AM
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Quote Quote by caffenta View Post
These wild generalizations are completely ridiculous.
You're right. Even some post docs can make huge salaries. This site, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/news/c...rm=&sort=&ord=, reports that George H. Miller, a "Post-Doctoral Research Physicist" has a salary of $293,250 and total compensation of $296,520. So sometimes life as a post-doc can be pretty good.

Does Dr. Miller do any physics? I suspect not much. He is too busy riding herd over a 1.5 billion dollar budget and 7000 employees. Being the post-doc who happens to be the director of one of the top national labs helps boost the salary just a bit. Be the director of a smaller, less prestigious research organization and you'll still get a fairly nice salary. For example, the Director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity has a salary of $188,453 (http://www.texastribune.org/library/...cobson/682252/).

In a sense those salaries are low. $300K for directing a $1.5 billion / 7000 employee operation? Industry isn't quite that stark, put even there compensation for doing technical work is fairly flat. A typical salary range in industry for a freshout with an advanced degree in a technical field is $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the degree, field, and industry. Call it $75,000. Unless you move well into the ranks of upper management or break out on your own, that person's salary at retirement (adjusted for inflation) will be about double, maybe triple that starting salary. As an exemplar, salary.com reports $156,498 as the 90th percentile salary for "Physicist V" (their highest category for physicists).

Quants don't work in our egalitarian technical world. They work in the dog-eat-dog financial world. Back in the heady days before the collapse quants bragged about making a lot more than $300K.


In another post, you make a statement that implies a contradiction:
Quote Quote by D H View Post
I suspect these employment issues are limited to the most theoretical of theoretical physicists. This complaint comes up regularly at PhysicsForums, but very rarely from experimentalists or solid state physicists.
It's not unusual for experimental solid-state physicists to violate your first statement while doing technical work.
What first statement, and what contradiction?

Are you saying that there are some experimental solid-state physicists who make more than $250K as a physicist (as opposed to being the director of some solid state physics organization)?
caffenta
#27
Feb27-11, 04:13 AM
P: 163
Quote Quote by D H View Post
As an exemplar, salary.com reports $156,498 as the 90th percentile salary for "Physicist V" (their highest category for physicists).
Last time I checked, $150K was a 6-figure income. Is it not? Or has the definition of 6 figures changed due to inflation?

I don't pay any attention to salary statistics. They are completely baseless for higher-level positions. Where do the numbers come from? I would never release my salary to any statistics collection agency, or anyone else for that matter (well, the IRS, but they don't have my job description). Neither would my employer; they would be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to salary negotiations.

The point is that physicists can make 6 figures and still do physics if they are in the right field. You don't have to be a department director for that. That doesn't mean that all physicists will do so, by no means. People just need to realize what their field is worth and decide what's important to them. Not everybody wants to make $300K/year. I don't. My current salary range is fine for me. More money would only mean more responsibility. (I hope my boss is not reading this )

EDIT: by the way, many physicists take engineering positions but they still do applied physics, so that's another reason why salary statistics are completely baseless.
D H
#28
Feb27-11, 04:57 AM
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Quote Quote by caffenta View Post
Last time I checked, $150K was a 6-figure income. Is it not? Or has the definition of 6 figures changed due to inflation?
Oh, please. All that just because you misread something I posted?


I don't pay any attention to salary statistics. They are completely baseless for higher-level positions. Where do the numbers come from?
From your employer.

I would never release my salary to any statistics collection agency, or anyone else for that matter (well, the IRS, but they don't have my job description).
You don't have to do that. Your employer probably does it for you. Not your name tied to your salary, but your job classification tied to your salary. Giving out that information, along with money, is the subscription fee to a corporate salary survey service.

Here's one: http://www.erieri.com/
Note that their home page brags of data from "over 565,000 organizations".

Neither would my employer; they would be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to salary negotiations.
They would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn't do that. How else are they to know whether they are underpaying you (thereby risking you jump ship) or overpaying you (thereby wasting what could otherwise be profits)?

EDIT: by the way, many physicists take engineering positions but they still do applied physics, so that's another reason why salary statistics are completely baseless.
Salaries for similarly-degreed engineers and physicists are quite comparable, chemical engineers being a slight exception.
DaleSpam
#29
Feb27-11, 08:06 AM
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I can't speak to overall statistics, but my personal anectdotal experience is in line with what the article mentions. I did not even seriously consider an academic position because of the much larger entry-level salary offered by industry compared to an entry-level post-doc position.

I don't think that the limited number of academic positions is particularly a problem that needs to be fixed, just an expectation that needs to be managed.
ParticleGrl
#30
Feb27-11, 09:07 AM
P: 685
Quote Quote by DaleSpam View Post
I can't speak to overall statistics, but my personal anectdotal experience is in line with what the article mentions. I did not even seriously consider an academic position because of the much larger entry-level salary offered by industry compared to an entry-level post-doc position.

I don't think that the limited number of academic positions is particularly a problem that needs to be fixed, just an expectation that needs to be managed.
For the people whose field has no industrial demand, a lack of academic positions means a lack of in-the-field work.
DaleSpam
#31
Feb27-11, 09:14 AM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
For the people whose field has no industrial demand, a lack of academic positions means a lack of in-the-field work.
If a given field has no industrial demand then it seems unreasonable to expect good in-the-field work.

Again, I think it is a question of expectation management. If people going into the field expect that they will not get good in-the-field work then fewer people will go into the field and those that do will be the ones who will be satisfied with the available jobs.
Dr Transport
#32
Feb27-11, 10:01 AM
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Quote Quote by DaleSpam View Post
I don't think that the limited number of academic positions is particularly a problem that needs to be fixed, just an expectation that needs to be managed.
Most, not all, but most professors have not set foot outside academia, they have no basis to help their students towards an industrial setting. They do what they know, that is push the academic mind set of if you work hard enough, you'll get a tenured position. I will say this much, my adviser was a research professor, no tenure and had ~20 years experience in industry, he told me early on that the chances of my getting a tenure track position was small at best, so work on getting some experience and getting an industry job. That is the mindset that needs to be pushed, just look at the ads in Physics Today over the past 4-5 years, there was a dramatic downturn in ads for academic positions when the financial crisis was hitting rock bottom. I would hazard a guess that the academic community didn't start telling their students who were finishing up to look at industry.
G01
#33
Feb27-11, 10:38 AM
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Quote Quote by Diracula View Post
Either be Ed Witten'esque or choose a specialty not (solely) on interest but on demand. ...Fair summary?
There are those of us, as unbelievable as it may seem, who find work in laser lab doing spectroscopy more fulfilling than high energy theory or mathematical physics.

Personally, I like QFT, and want to learn as much about it as I can, but I find the prospect of spending my life calculating symmetry factors for Feynman diagrams and collision cross sections incredibly dull. However, the challenge of getting a 20fs long pulse of light out of a laser.... That is cool!
ParticleGrl
#34
Feb27-11, 11:48 AM
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Quote Quote by G01 View Post
There are those of us, as unbelievable as it may seem, who find work in laser lab doing spectroscopy more fulfilling than high energy theory or mathematical physics.
I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise. The poster was saying that HE (she?) finds theory more interesting. Unfortunately, theorist have a much harder time finding industry work. Hence, his(her?) comment- if you want to work in physics long term, you are much better off pursuing an experimental phd. Even better, get a masters in optics.

If your interest is experiment, great. If its in theory, don't pick your specialty solely on interest.
Brandon_R
#35
Feb27-11, 12:29 PM
P: 27
"No one designed the present system. It just happened"

nothing could be more truer.
D H
#36
Feb27-11, 04:24 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise. The poster was saying that HE (she?) finds theory more interesting.
Which poster, ParticleGrl? The original poster is twofish-quant, who (surprise!) is a quant, and one who has a PhD in physics. Per another post by twofish-quant, sky-high salaries in that world are the norm:
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Ph.d. astrophysicists are very commonly employed by Wall Street. Starting salary for an associate is $100K + $50K bonus. Someone with 3-5 years of experience at VP level can make $200K-$300K. I personally know of people with physics Ph.D.'s that make close to $1M/year.
There is no way the technical world can compete with that on a salary basis.


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