# The Real Science Gap

by twofish-quant
Tags: real, science
P: 163
 Quote by ParticleGrl If your interest is experiment, great. If its in theory, don't pick your specialty solely on interest.
You can pick your specialty based on interest, but you have to be prepared for the consequences. So yes, it shouldn't be based solely on interest. But I don't think anyone was really saying that it should.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl Increasingly, this isn't true- more and more people are being forced into less traditional work (finance, insurance,etc).
Well.....

The part that's annoying to me is that this isn't a new thing. Physics Ph.D.'s have been forced to look for non-academic jobs since the *early-1970's*. The current situation with physics Ph.D.'s is hardly a new thing.

 The issue is that getting a phd isn't actually doing anything for a lot of people's careers.
In my case it is, because I absolutely could not do the work that I'm doing without having gotten a Ph.d.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl I assumed that with a phd in theoretical physics I could find technical work (maybe computer simulations, modeling,etc) related to physics somewhere. Increasingly, this isn't true- more and more people are being forced into less traditional work (finance, insurance,etc).
This isn't true. The number of Ph.D.'s that go into academia has been roughly constant since the early 1970's. The only time in which the "traditional job" really was "traditional" was a very brief time in the 1960's. It really surprised me when I found this out.

Investment banks hire physics Ph.D.'s to run computer simulations and modelling and to do technical work. I don't spend my days talking to clients or trading. I'm not good at it, and I don't particularly like that sort of work.

I spend most of my day writing C++ code modelling financial markets, which uses roughly the same equations and techniques (and in some situations exactly the same equations and techniques) that get used in radiation hydrodynamics.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl 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'm one of them. If someone offered me a job as a tenured research professor, I'd take it. On the other hand, I should have enough money so that within the next few years, I'll be the functional equivalent of a tenured research professor. At some point, I'll have enough money to self-fund my research.
Mentor
P: 14,459
 Quote by twofish-quant The part that's annoying to me is that this isn't a new thing. Physics Ph.D.'s have been forced to look for non-academic jobs since the *early-1970's*. The current situation with physics Ph.D.'s is hardly a new thing.
Why is that annoying? Classic language departments only crank out about as many PhDs as academia can bear because that is about the only place a person with a PhD in classic languages can find a job. Physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science, and math departments crank out a lot more PhDs than academia can bear because our modern technological society needs those PhDs out in industry.
P: 6,863
 Quote by D H Sample bias, false expectations, and, I suspect, more than a bit of hubris.
It's mostly brainwashing. Since I've been brainwashed into thinking that the research professor is the top of human achievement, that still sticks, even after several years of un-brainwashing myself.

The other issue is that I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or not that you have so many physics Ph.D.'s working for investment banks. There is part of me that thinks that I'd be doing "greater good" if I was doing global climate simulations or designing electric cars. Then again maybe not.

 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?
Nothing really. The trouble is all that brainwashing that there is something wrong with that. Also a lot of brainwashing isn't explicit messages. You can *say* that there isn't anything wrong with not being an academic, but talk is cheap. What tends to happen is that people that are in positions of power in academia are academics, and until that changes, it will be sending out those messages.

 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?
In finance this isn't a problem because every physics or math Ph.D. that I know of would be willing to jump if there were something attractive. It's not necessarily a bad thing. If people wanted to be here out of love, there wouldn't be such high salaries.

As far a secretly looking down on people that work in industry. There is still this annoying voice that I've been able to manage, but I haven't been able to get rid of that says that I'm doing something wrong.

 I suspect these employment issues are limited to the most theoretical of theoretical physicists.
I don't think so. Also I don't think that there really is an employment problem among theoretical physicists. It's more of a psychological problem. There's plenty of good stuff out there, but you have to get around some of the psychological barriers.

 Hint: It's not because industry wants more cosmologists. High-tech industry wants cosmologists about as much as they want cosmeticians.
Depends on the industry. If you've done massive cluster N-body simulations of the early universe, then we need to talk. Finance wants astrophysicists. The reason you have so many theoretical physicists working on Wall Street is that it so happens that the skills that you need as a theoretician is *precisely* the skill that you need for one of the jobs in finance.

 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.
Not sure that I agree with this.

 Business schools are now starting to teach the kinds of mathematics that is needed in order to be a quant.
Which is useful for a certain type of job, but not the type of job that they hire physics and math Ph.D.'s for.

I can open up a textbook in financial engineering and quantitative finance. About 80% of the equations any book that was written in 2005 are *WRONG*. If you read any intro financial textbook, you'll read about the Black-Scholes equation. What they won't mention is that equation is *WRONG* and has been wrong since 1987.

So where can you find a textbook that lists the correct equations? You can't. Even if one magically appeared today, it will be out of date in three to six months. And that's assuming that we understand the markets. There are some things that people don't quite completely understand about the markets. Also different markets can be very different. What equations that work for trading Chinese steel companies won't work for trading Mexican petrochemical companies (and there are people that know scary amounts of stuff about these details).

So who do you call, if you have billions of dollars at risk on some mathematical system that no one completely understands.

Hmmmmmm......

Sounds like a cool theoretical research job for someone that has experience in mathematical model of complex system. Wonder who would be good at that..... Hmmmmm.....

 This will eventually dry up the demand for physicists and astronomers to serve as quants.
One other thing is that we are talking about tiny number of jobs, maybe a few hundred a year.
P: 6,863
 Quote by Diracula 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?
Perhaps, but then you run into the problem with of bad information. People assume for example that computational cosmology is useless for getting a job in industry, when people with that sort of skill is something that investment banks are looking for.
P: 6,863
 Quote by gbeagle 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!).
1) Because for some things they can't.

2) Because people in application development still make decent amounts of money. I know of Ph.D.'s that do work that *could* be done by someone with a bachelors, and they get paid about the same as a bachelors, but it's still decent money.
P: 6,863
 Quote by D H 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. And they still do. It's just that people are a lot quieter about making large sums of money so as not to attract lynch mobs. A fresh out of school Ph.D. is likely to get a total comp of$150K/year. With three years of experience you get to VP level, and the comp there is about $250K/year. It tends to stabilize after that unless you get into management level, and the salaries there are scary. The cool thing about finance is that people with physics Ph.D.'s are much more likely to get into some sort of middle management role than in other industries. P: 6,863  Quote by D H There is no way the technical world can compete with that on a salary basis. The really cool thing is that the people that I know that are making$1M are doing technical things. The thing about finance is that if you have a physics Ph.D., there are very strong odds that you aren't going to be a stock trader, but rather a glorified computer programmer.

Also there's no need to compete on the basis of salary. The people that I know that make \$1M would have given that up if they could do something in academia.
P: 6,863
 Quote by D H Why is that annoying? Classic language departments only crank out about as many PhDs as academia can bear because that is about the only place a person with a PhD in classic languages can find a job. Physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science, and math departments crank out a lot more PhDs than academia can bear because our modern technological society needs those PhDs out in industry.
It's annoying to be lied to by people that you trust. To quote Mike Nesmith....

Mentor
P: 14,459
 Quote by twofish-quant It's annoying to be lied to by people that you trust.
As you have noted, this situation has been well known for decades. So who is doing the lying here? It appears to me that part of the blame lies with the students themselves for choosing to go into what they perceive as a sexy field rather than looking toward the long-term. You want to have your cake and eat it too.
P: 6,863
 Quote by D H As you have noted, this situation has been well known for decades.
It's been known to teachers. Less known to students, and I refer you to the constant stream of reports talking about a shortage of scientists in the 1990's.

Also it *wasn't* well known to me. I didn't quite realize that the fact that most physicists don't go into academia since the 1970's until a few years ago, when this book came out

http://web.mit.edu/dikaiser/www/CWB.html

In the 1990's, I *assumed* that the lack of jobs was a recent thing, and I was rather surprised that it wasn't. It's funny that among the pages of pages of NSF reports never mentioned any of this.

Also, I'm using the word *liar* deliberately. There are people that you can excuse on the basis of lack of knowledge, but if lack of knowledge becomes a defense, then this encourages people in power to be idiots.

 So who is doing the lying here? It appears to me that part of the blame lies with the students themselves for choosing to go into what they perceive as a sexy field rather than looking toward the long-term.
I don't think it is unreasonable for students to rely on teachers for this sort of information, since students are students and teachers are ummmm.... teachers. If someone gets ripped off by a con artist or used car salesman, then well maybe I should blame the buyer, but if tenured faculty expect more respect from me than I would give a used car salesman, then they have to accept some responsibility, and if they don't, they we really start having to ask questions about why they have their job security.

Also it's the job of a teacher to recognize the consequences of what they are teaching, and to realize that teachers teach more than facts, but also by example, they teach a way of looking at the world.

If I get in front of some eight year olds and I'm giddy about astrophysics and the universe, I have to realize that that has consequences, and if I light a fire in someone, they I'm responsible for some of the consequences of that.

 You want to have your cake and eat it too.
I want teachers to accept some basic responsibility for what they teach. Also my cake is being eaten by someone else.

Also, part of how I got around the brainwashing is that I got rid of this "blame the victim" crap. The reason that people lie about this is that it gets cheap labor to keep the system working. If people didn't believe that they would be tenured faculty in the end, there would be more protest and it would be harder to keep the system running.

If I accept all of what I've been taught, then I would end up depressed and hating myself for being a failure. Since there is nothing wrong with me, all of that depression and hatred becomes anger and bitterness, and that's not a bad thing since anger at least gets you up in the morning.

Part of the reason, that I got into finance is that I figured out that a lot of the world revolves around money, and it won't be long before I have enough money to "do something interesting" to the system that I hate.

As far as Ph.D.'s go, there really isn't an employment problem. It's a psychology problem, and I dealt with the psychology issue by getting angry.
 Mentor P: 15,613 Twofish, again, I think you are letting your bitterness get away from you. I got my PhD's in the 90's. Nobody was telling me that academic jobs were "better" or even the norm. I also looked around to see where the graduates were going, and discovered that most were going into industry. So who exactly is lying? I would think that anyone smart enough to get a PhD could figure out that if each professor creates 10 new professors who create 10 new professors and so on and so on it won't be long before we are hip-deep in physics professors. So even if there is lying going on (and I have seen no evidence that there is) a PhD student should be immune to this kind of nonsense. The fact of the matter is that the fraction of jobs where you get to decide what to work on as opposed to someone else getting to decide what you get to work on is small. People who get PhD's in physics are used to being the smartest person in the room, and conclude "the odds are low, but they don't apply to me - I will beat the odds".
P: 163
 Quote by Vanadium 50 Nobody was telling me that academic jobs were "better" or even the norm. I also looked around to see where the graduates were going, and discovered that most were going into industry.
I also don't remember ever being told that academic jobs were better. In fact, the prevailing view was that those who stayed in academia were those who couldn't find real jobs.
P: 6,863
 Quote by Vanadium 50 Nobody was telling me that academic jobs were "better" or even the norm. I also looked around to see where the graduates were going, and discovered that most were going into industry. So who exactly is lying?
Well, one thing that you find in working in the financial industry is that people end up being very skilled liars. One problem with lying is that if you have one person responsible for the lie, then that one person feels guilty, and you have an obvious person to blame.

So you end up with systems that lie, in which it's cleverly set up so that no one has to accept responsibility or feel guilty.

Let's say you want to sell sub-prime mortgages to people. You want their money, but you don't want the guilt. So one person just shows pictures of white picket fences and houses, one person talks to the person at the bank. In the end the sucker signs the papers, gets into a ton of debt, people collect their fees, and when it all falls apart, then everyone can say "who me? I didn't do anything."

But the cool thing is that you get money, without the guilt. After all, no one person convinced the sucker to hand over their wallet, but you get the money the same.

 I would think that anyone smart enough to get a PhD could figure out that if each professor creates 10 new professors who create 10 new professors and so on and so on it won't be long before we are hip-deep in physics professors.
That's an easy one. Like Las Vegas and stock scams, you can get around that by thinking that you are smarter/luckier/better than the other losers. You are in the middle of an obvious housing bubble, but the person at the bank convinces you that you are "special" and that you'll get out before it all comes crashing down.

 People who get PhD's in physics are used to being the smartest person in the room, and conclude "the odds are low, but they don't apply to me - I will beat the odds".
Sure, and if we were talking about used cars salesman or people peddling life insurance, and you insist on buying a car that you can't afford or buying life insurance that doesn't make sense, then we'd expect that used car salesman to take advantage of one's ignorance.

But I'm old fashioned and silly since I thought that professors had a higher standard of morality and duty to their students.
P: 6,863
 Quote by caffenta I also don't remember ever being told that academic jobs were better.
I was, but fortunately for me, I didn't really believe much of what I was told.
P: 6,863
 Quote by Vanadium 50 Twofish, again, I think you are letting your bitterness get away from you.
But that's a little scary if you think about it. Things turned out for me as well as they possibly could have, and I'm still incredibly bitter and angry. One wonders what happens to someone that ended up with a less good career path.

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