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Endurance->permanent academia position?

by Arsenic&Lace
Tags: academia, position
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chill_factor
#19
Dec23-12, 07:33 PM
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Quote Quote by atyy View Post
Perhaps the question is one of honest advertising - whether the system makes it known that pursuing a career in science is more like pursuing a career in music than on engineering. (I think the odds in music are much worse, but just to continue the analogy.)
Many physicists think that the only real science is theoretical cosmology or particle physics. That is a pretty damn big limit on what is science.
ParticleGrl
#20
Dec23-12, 08:29 PM
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Many physicists think that the only real science is theoretical cosmology or particle physics. That is a pretty damn big limit on what is science.
I don't know anyone in a phd program who thinks that. A lot of undergrads do, but 4 years with nary a particle particle physics class tends to dissuade them. And condensed matter theorists seem to fair about as well as particle theorists in the job market.

Experimentalists might have more jobs available, but there are also a lot more of them (some labs at my undergrad had 12-13 gradstudents AT A TIME), so its not clear to me how that scales. Most experimentalists I know left STEM after the phd + a postdoc or so, just like most theorists.
chill_factor
#21
Dec23-12, 10:05 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I don't know anyone in a phd program who thinks that. A lot of undergrads do, but 4 years with nary a particle particle physics class tends to dissuade them. And condensed matter theorists seem to fair about as well as particle theorists in the job market.

Experimentalists might have more jobs available, but there are also a lot more of them (some labs at my undergrad had 12-13 gradstudents AT A TIME), so its not clear to me how that scales. Most experimentalists I know left STEM after the phd + a postdoc or so, just like most theorists.
From the alumni reports at my particular undergrad institution the experimental groups in optics and condensed matter are doing fine in terms of landing STEM jobs with the title "____ engineer".

It is true though that the physics curriculum and research interests, especially at the grad level, is not so good in terms of preparing people for jobs. The amount of professors doing fundamental studies on materials that may be forever inapplicable to any technological advancement is staggering. Indeed, many professors actively resist putting a more applied spin on their research; hell, that's what my professor does.

Until that changes, the employment situation will not change.
Vanadium 50
#22
Dec23-12, 10:53 PM
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Quote Quote by atyy View Post
It isn't necessarily. In the NFL and musician cases, the limited number of jobs is well known to all entering the system.
It's certainly known to graduate students - and if it's not, it should be. If you want to be a scientist, you should understand the exponential growth argument and be able to asses whether an order of magnitude increase every 30 years is reasonable. You should also be able to observe and compare the average number of graduates in your department per year with the average number of faculty hires per year.

And it's not a "limited number of jobs" - it's a limited number of jobs as a professor at a research university. Every student I have worked who wanted one had no trouble getting an industrial job (the exception was one who wanted to become a stay-at-home mom and did). Like I said, telecommunications seems to be gobbling them up as fast as they can.

You should have no illusions about this - the reason HEP is funded is not because Congress has a deep-seated interest in the Higgs Boson and electroweak symmetry breaking. It's because CEO's trek up The Hill to say "keep the flow of scientists coming". Discovery of the Higgs Boson was a fortunate byproduct of creating better antenna designers for Motorola and better lightning specialists for Boeing.
Rika
#23
Dec24-12, 04:53 AM
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I think you should be happy - physics is non practical, academic degree and yet there are industry jobs conncected with physics (even if they are engineering positions).

Literature or archerology students (even musicians) don't have this kind of luxury.
atyy
#24
Dec24-12, 09:19 AM
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Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
Every student I have worked who wanted one had no trouble getting an industrial job (the exception was one who wanted to become a stay-at-home mom and did). Like I said, telecommunications seems to be gobbling them up as fast as they can.
Do you think this is true of physics PhDs in general, or do your students have better industry contacts through you? Also - even if anecdotally - was the situation during the recession any different?
Dr Transport
#25
Dec24-12, 10:05 AM
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Quote Quote by Arsenic&Lace View Post
Fascinating! What are the odds of obtaining stable, middle class employment with a physics PhD?

Pretty high, all of my friends have gotten stable jobs in industry as PhD physicists whether they be experimentalists or theoreticians.


Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
You should have no illusions about this - the reason HEP is funded is not because Congress has a deep-seated interest in the Higgs Boson and electroweak symmetry breaking. It's because CEO's trek up The Hill to say "keep the flow of scientists coming". Discovery of the Higgs Boson was a fortunate byproduct of creating better antenna designers for Motorola and better lightning specialists for Boeing.
Well put, industry capitalizes on basic physics knowledge, fleshes out the issues with manufacturing and turns that into a profit margin. Think about this, for every paper published in The Applied Physics Journal, there is on the order of 2-3 internal documents written by scientists and engineers in industry trying to exploit that phenomenon.
Vanadium 50
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Dec24-12, 10:51 AM
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Quote Quote by atyy View Post
Do you think this is true of physics PhDs in general, or do your students have better industry contacts through you?
I think it's true for experimental HENP. Can't say about other subfields, although the lore is that the situation is even better for those in condensed matter.
bcrowell
#27
Dec24-12, 02:03 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
What are the odds you use any physics in your career? Probably very low, though it probably depends on your phd specialty.
I don't think this is quite right. What's low is the probability of getting a permanent job doing fundamental research in physics. I was in a group of four friends who were physics majors at Berkeley in the 80's. All four of us went on to get PhD's. None of us got a permanent job doing fundamental research in physics. However, two of us have jobs where we use our physics every day: I'm a community college physics teacher, and one of my friends runs a small aerospace engineering firm. A third member of the group has worked in the semiconductor industry in the past, and in that job he certainly used his physics. (The company went out of business, and he now works in finance.) The fourth guy works at google, and AFAIK doesn't use any physics in his work.
ParticleGrl
#28
Dec24-12, 02:36 PM
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I don't think this is quite right. What's low is the probability of getting a permanent job doing fundamental research in physics. I was in a group of four friends who were physics majors at Berkeley in the 80's
Even in your list, only half of the phds use their physics (assuming finance and google don't). And thats a group that was looking for jobs during the best job market in recent American history (mid 90s).

My experience is probably colored by the fact that my cohort finished their phds around 2008, when things headed south economically.

Of the five physics majors from undergrad (early 2000s) I've kept in touch with, all did phds at good schools, two did postdocs, only 1 is still doing anything related to physics (highschool physics and bio teacher). Of my phd cohort, its all over the board, but the ones who still do physics studied silicon in grad school and work in the semi-conductor industry.

The plurality of my phd cohort seems to be doing statistical/big data type work. After that, there is some finance, some IT, some programming,etc. The people who come close to using their physics seem to be doing patent law and grant review.

Maybe the moral of the story is that when times are good (the 90s job market), and engineers are scarce physicists are decent utility players so they'll get hired into some engineering spots. When the job market is worse, and there are engineers available, no one wants a physicist.
Arsenic&Lace
#29
Dec24-12, 09:23 PM
P: 310
Bottom line for me is that I won't starve if I get my PhD in physics.

I'm still going to try the whole research faculty route though, maybe I'll be the lucky one :/

It's sad too, I just seriously got into research and I love it!
StatGuy2000
#30
Dec25-12, 04:29 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post

The plurality of my phd cohort seems to be doing statistical/big data type work. After that, there is some finance, some IT, some programming,etc. The people who come close to using their physics seem to be doing patent law and grant review.
ParticleGrl, you had mentioned (both in this thread and in another thread where I had asked what happened to the physics PhD students you knew personally) that the plurality of your PhD cohort were working on statistical or big data type work. I am curious as to whether their working in this field depended to any great degree on their area of specialty.

One reason I'm asking this is that there are a number of research areas in physics which have embraced "big data", such as experimental particle physics or astronomy (Jerry Friedman, a renowned statistics professor at Stanford specializing in machine learning, was originally a particle physicist). So conceivably a physics PhD student specializing in such areas will have developed an appreciation for and understanding of large-scale inference without spending a great deal of time retraining themselves to work in big data type work.

(I know you mentioned in your case that you spent some time retooling your skill set while working as a bartender).

Another reason I'm asking is that in discussions that I've followed with other statisticians, there is much lamenting the perceived lack of understanding or appreciation of statistics on the part of physicists. See, for example, the following amusing comment on the blog from physicist-turned-statistician Cosma Shalizi, currently a professor at CMU.

http://masi.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crsh...eblog/297.html
ParticleGrl
#31
Dec25-12, 06:02 PM
P: 686
ParticleGrl, you had mentioned (both in this thread and in another thread where I had asked what happened to the physics PhD students you knew personally) that the plurality of your PhD cohort were working on statistical or big data type work. I am curious as to whether their working in this field depended to any great degree on their area of specialty.
It doesn't appear to be the case- I know a biophysicist, a particle theorist (me), an applied math guy who studied stochastic diff-eq who all retrained, as well as some HEP experiment guys. However, by the time we talk about physics phds who are doing big data, people I know get small quickly.

Another reason I'm asking is that in discussions that I've followed with other statisticians, there is much lamenting the perceived lack of understanding or appreciation of statistics on the part of physicists. See, for example, the following amusing comment on the blog from physicist-turned-statistician Cosma Shalizi, currently a professor at CMU.
I would say that there is very little formal statistical training for physicists- everyone I've talked to, even HEP experiment have had to learn a great deal of the statistics as they go.
Locrian
#32
Dec26-12, 08:56 AM
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Quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics made so much more sense to me after the preliminary actuarial exams.
Vanadium 50
#33
Dec26-12, 12:01 PM
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It is true that formal statistics is not part of the standard physics curriculum, and it's also true that HEP has reinvented the wheel more than once (and often not a particularly round wheel at that). I had three courses in probability and statistics in college, which was enough to make me wince at the way statistics is handled.

That said, one of the secrets of industrial statistics is that the textbook is not of much help. If it's in the textbook, chances are it's already in SPSS or SAS and they don't need your help. I made a few extra grand moonlighting as a statistical consultant when I was a postdoc, and my bread and butter was figuring out and explaining what to do when the book doesn't say what to do.

Which is a lot like they way statistics is done in HEP.
ParticleGrl
#34
Dec26-12, 12:17 PM
P: 686
That said, one of the secrets of industrial statistics is that the textbook is not of much help. If it's in the textbook, chances are it's already in SPSS or SAS and they don't need your help. I made a few extra grand moonlighting as a statistical consultant when I was a postdoc, and my bread and butter was figuring out and explaining what to do when the book doesn't say what to do.
You would be surprised- in order to know what to do in SPSS or SAS, you have to know what a method is called and how it works, etc. Often having this sort of 'mental decoder ring' is quite valuable for smaller companies who don't have a lot of statisticians.

That said, because my statistics is so spotty (my self-study was and is heavy on machine learning and light on many other things), I've found myself reinventing the wheel on quite a number of occasions (I have a few functions I built in R that later turned out to be less-efficient clones of existing functions).
George Jones
#35
Dec26-12, 02:01 PM
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As a physics student, I took loads of (mainly pure) math courses that were not required, but I only took the one required statistics course.

Cosmologist/astronomer Peter Coles wrote some interesting things about statistics in his blog post
http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2012...o-astronomers/
StatGuy2000
#36
Dec26-12, 02:44 PM
P: 610
Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
It is true that formal statistics is not part of the standard physics curriculum, and it's also true that HEP has reinvented the wheel more than once (and often not a particularly round wheel at that). I had three courses in probability and statistics in college, which was enough to make me wince at the way statistics is handled.

That said, one of the secrets of industrial statistics is that the textbook is not of much help. If it's in the textbook, chances are it's already in SPSS or SAS and they don't need your help. I made a few extra grand moonlighting as a statistical consultant when I was a postdoc, and my bread and butter was figuring out and explaining what to do when the book doesn't say what to do.

Which is a lot like they way statistics is done in HEP.
First of all, I would disagree with your characterization above about statistics. In order for someone to apply a method built into SPSS or SAS, you need to know about the method, how to use, and most important of all, under what circumstances does it apply or not.
Part of the reason why one hears about "lies, damned lies, and statistics" is due to non-statisticians applying the wrong method blindly without understanding what circumstances
such methods would apply to e.g. blindly fitting linear regression without validating the model. These are things that a good statistics course -- in particular a good course on linear models/regression analysis or applied statistics -- should teach (and a good statistics textbook should cover).

Furthermore, the very fact that in HEP (as well as in other fields of physics) that there is a need to reinvent the wheel at least in terms of data analysis suggests to me that either more formal statistical training needs to be offered, or that there needs to be greater interdisciplinary participation between statisticians and research physicists (perhaps in the form of consulting, similar to what statisticians often provide to other faculty members in fields as diverse as medicine, biology, psychology, engineering, etc.)


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