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More lives ruined by physics PhD than heroin - how true is this?

by jeebs
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jeebs
#1
Dec23-10, 08:28 AM
P: 326
I've been looking into going for some sort of physics PhD since I will graduate my undergraduate physics degree in 2011. However, one of the first things that comes up on google when you search is this link:
http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html

It talks about it being a disastrous choice to study physics further, and I wondered if anyone who knows what they are talking about agrees with this. I notice that this article is from 1999 and is in the USA, whereas I am from present day England, so am I right in hoping that what it says does not apply to me?

I keep getting emails from universities advertising that they have physics PhD courses. Is this a sign that it is actually worth pursuing?
Or is it that people are aware of it being a bad decision so they need to advertise as there is less demand for places?

Also, are some areas of physics more exclusive or hard to succeed in than others (I'm thinking of trying to go the nuclear fusion or particle physics route by the way)?
Do you regret any physics PhD decision you made?
Do you think, even if it will be tough for me, I should go for the PhD anyway because I have no interest in having any career outside of physics?
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Vanadium 50
#2
Dec23-10, 08:55 AM
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About once a month someone discovers this 11 year old web site and posts it here as if it were breaking news. A search can find thread after thread after thread.

I don't think that there is the evil intent that the author ascribes to physics departments. However, a PhD is not a guarantee of a career as a professor. Anyone who thinks that a professor can have 5 grad students who all become professors and each take on 5 more students who become professors and so on ad infinitum is an idiot, plain and simple.

The problem arises when each of the 5 students thinks "I'm smart - I've been getting good grades my whole life. The odds don't apply to me." There are two problems with that:
  • The other four students can say the same thing.
  • A degree is never, ever a guarantee of a successful career in your chosen field.
Dickfore
#3
Dec23-10, 09:19 AM
P: 3,014
The author of the website is right. Physics PhD is a terrible way to become rich.

jeebs
#4
Dec23-10, 10:44 AM
P: 326
More lives ruined by physics PhD than heroin - how true is this?

i dont care about being rich, I care about being able to do something I enjoy as a 40 or 50 year worker. The way I see it is, I can either finish my education at the end of this academic year, go home and work a string of mundane jobs that will never satisfy me, or I can try and carry on learning physics. There's still so much in physics that I don't know about, and I've worked too hard up till now to just pack it all in.
D H
#5
Dec23-10, 01:27 PM
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P: 15,170
Quote Quote by jeebs View Post
i dont care about being rich, I care about being able to do something I enjoy as a 40 or 50 year worker. The way I see it is, I can either finish my education at the end of this academic year, go home and work a string of mundane jobs that will never satisfy me, or I can try and carry on learning physics. There's still so much in physics that I don't know about, and I've worked too hard up till now to just pack it all in.
Then go for the PhD. One mundane reason is that now is a very bad time to be looking for a job as a freshout. You would be competing against a lot of unemployed but very employable people with considerable experience.

A less mundane reason: If you don't go for it while you are young you most likely never will. It is very hard to get a PhD working full-time and going to school part-time. It will be an opportunity lost.

A much less mundane reason: Just because the odds of a physics PhD eventually getting a tenured position in a top college are rather remote does not mean that getting that PhD is futile. With a PhD you can still get a job teaching at a lesser college. Or you can get a job doing research outside of academia. There are plenty of high tech organizations and companies that place a considerable premium on PhDs. Or you get could a job elsewhere that still taxes your skills.

You can always find articles that say that getting a PhD is worthless. IMO, these people have a twisted way of looking at life. The fact is that unemployment amongst people with a PhD in a technical field is usually lower, often significantly lower, than is unemployment amongst people who only have a bachelors or masters degree in a technical field. Job satisfaction is also typically higher amongst people with a PhD compared to those without.
MathematicalPhysicist
#6
Dec23-10, 02:06 PM
P: 3,243
Quote Quote by jeebs View Post
There's still so much in physics that I don't know about, and I've worked too hard up till now to just pack it all in.
And you can keep learning physics and maths for the rest of your life regardless of you doing a PhD or not.
jeebs
#7
Dec23-10, 04:53 PM
P: 326
Yeah in theory there's nothing stopping me from learning physics in my spare time, but I'd much rather be getting paid for it and be getting an official qualification/real experience into the deal.

D H 's response sounds encouraging. I think I will send off a PhD application or two in the coming weeks.
Does anyone have any good reason why I shouldn't apply for particle or fusion physics?
Dr Lots-o'watts
#8
Dec23-10, 05:15 PM
P: 674
There is no reason not to apply, but you have to ask yourself where you would like to be in 5-10 years, once the PhD is over. If you are willing to do a few post-docs afterwards, teach, supervise students, publish your results, regularly apply for funding, and enjoy it, it's for you. Research can be enjoyable, but there is an underlying reality that has to be dealt with. Personnally, I shunned particle physics and fusion partly because of the uncertainty of where I'd end up, geographically, once it's over.
DrummingAtom
#9
Dec23-10, 05:30 PM
P: 661
jeebs, take the advice in that article very seriously. It's the absolute truth. Here's one of the guys Katz is talking about. Save yourself while you can.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/rav...d-physic,1145/
MathematicalPhysicist
#10
Dec24-10, 05:00 AM
P: 3,243
Quote Quote by DrummingAtom View Post
jeebs, take the advice in that article very seriously. It's the absolute truth. Here's one of the guys Katz is talking about. Save yourself while you can.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/rav...d-physic,1145/
[:-D]
Hillarious.
Reshma
#11
Dec24-10, 05:14 AM
P: 777
Quote Quote by DrummingAtom View Post
jeebs, take the advice in that article very seriously. It's the absolute truth. Here's one of the guys Katz is talking about. Save yourself while you can.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/rav...d-physic,1145/
An absolute truth with an anecdotal example.

@jeebs
To enjoy studying physics and being a successful researcher in physics may not be the same thing. However, I will strongly encourage you to consider graduate studies in physics if you are doing well in your undergraduate studies in physics. Try to get some research experiences in the areas of physics that you are interested in. Later you can be your own judge whether a research career in Physics is what you want in the years to come.
jeebs
#12
Dec24-10, 10:55 AM
P: 326
Quote Quote by Dr Lots-o'watts View Post
If you are willing to do a few post-docs afterwards, teach, supervise students, publish your results, regularly apply for funding, and enjoy it, it's for you.
That actually sounds great apart from the teaching. I would much rather do that than be working in some boring normal office job somewhere.
mal4mac
#13
Dec24-10, 11:37 AM
P: 1,129
I worked a string of what you might consider mundane jobs after dropping out of my physics PhD, some of them were, actually far from mundane, and the most interesting ones had nothing to do with physics...

Physics is a lot easier to give up than heroin because its not physically addictive, and you quickly realise its just one more mental game you can get wrapped up in - and that's the important thing - doing something that gets you totally involved - and that can be music, programming, fiction writing, hundred of other non physics things... even some that pay!


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