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The Real Science Gap

by twofish-quant
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twofish-quant
#55
Feb28-11, 09:46 AM
P: 6,863
Least anyone thinks I'm delusional.

An Emerging and Critical Problem of the Science and Engineering Labor Force
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0407/

Neuroscience for Kids
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/short.html

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org...09845991966162

And here is a paper from *1959* talking about how the then claimed shortages are false

http://www.jstor.org/pss/1883726
Vanadium 50
#56
Feb28-11, 09:55 AM
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Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
But I'm old fashioned and silly since I thought that professors had a higher standard of morality and duty to their students.
Name two professors who have (recently - Sputnik doesn't count) told that to their students and a reference that one can look up.
Vanadium 50
#57
Feb28-11, 09:56 AM
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That NSB report says "the number of jobs in the U.S. economy that require science and engineering training will grow". It does not say, "get a PhD in physics and you are likely to get a professorship".
D H
#58
Feb28-11, 10:48 AM
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Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Least anyone thinks I'm delusional.

An Emerging and Critical Problem of the Science and Engineering Labor Force
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0407/

Neuroscience for Kids
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/short.html

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org...09845991966162
All of the above directly contradict the article (IMO, terrible article) cited in the original post, which opened with
It’s not insufficient schooling or a shortage of scientists. It’s a lack of job opportunities. Americans need the reasonable hope that spending their youth preparing to do science will provide a satisfactory career.
While some of the points raised in that article are valid, that intro paragraph completely invalidated the entire article to me. They authors drove that invalidation home when they narrowly defined scientists as people who work in universities and national labs. What about industry and government?

The reason those schools can train more scientists than are needed to sustain academia is because industry, and benefactors who went into industry, give huge endowments to schools to pump out people with advanced degrees in technical fields. There is a problem here in physics. Physics departments for the most part don't know (and don't appear to care) why they are getting all that money, and both students and teachers in some fields in physics very much look down on those who go into industry.

This perception is not nearly so strong in chemistry, biotech, and engineering. Those schools work in close collaboration with industry. Students in those fields who get a job in industry as opposed to academia are not looked down upon by their peers.


And here is a paper from *1959* talking about how the then claimed shortages are false http://www.jstor.org/pss/1883726
Thank goodness President Kennedy paid no attention to those idiots. Thanks to the programs started by the Kennedy administration, I had the opportunity to study, as a high school student, non-Euclidean geometry between my freshman and sophomore years in one NSF-sponsored summer program and then to study digital electronics and nuclear physics between my junior and senior years in another NSF-sponsored summer program. These programs still exist, but not nearly to the extent they did in the 1960s to mid 1970s.
FroChro
#59
Feb28-11, 11:11 AM
P: 59
Quote Quote by D H View Post
All of the above directly contradict the article (IMO, terrible article) cited in the original post, which opened with
Itís not insufficient schooling or a shortage of scientists. Itís a lack of job opportunities. Americans need the reasonable hope that spending their youth preparing to do science will provide a satisfactory career.
Well, I may be wrong, but it seems to me that that "contradiction" was exactly the point of the post.
ParticleGrl
#60
Feb28-11, 11:15 AM
P: 685
Quote Quote by D H View Post
Which poster, ParticleGrl?
Diracula, who was the poster G01 was quoting.

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.
But we are also cranking out more phds than industry can bear! In my experience, with few exceptions, theorists simply aren't getting jobs in the technical world. Yes, we can command high salaries in other fields, but we want to be doing some physics- its why we got the degree.

Its not the lure of high salaries drawing theorists into finance, its the lack of other work.

As you have noted, this situation has been well known for decades. So who is doing the lying here?
It isn't being publicized- its a lie by omission. In the climate I grew up in, everyone said America was facing a scientist and mathematician shortage. Look at the recent State of the Union address- it was all about America losing its competitiveness because of a lack of STEM graduates. Most of my undergraduate students who asked about my career options were surprised- they still bought the myth of the shortage and they'd been physics majors for 4 years.

My own advisor (not out of malice, but of ignorance) was confident that a transition out of academia to the technical world would be easy. "There are lots of technical jobs out there that need theorists." I bought it. As an academic particle physicist, I have no contact with technical industry, so no one can point out the incorrectness.

There is a serious moral hazard in the existing advising system- the scientists that students have the most contact with are academic, and the academic scientists NEED talented graduate students to stay afloat.

That NSB report says "the number of jobs in the U.S. economy that require science and engineering training will grow". It does not say, "get a PhD in physics and you are likely to get a professorship".
But it does imply "get a PhD in physics and you are likely to get some technical work." For a large chunk of physicists, this isn't true- we are cranking out more phds than industry can bear. The APS's own data suggests that pre-recession 17% or more of recent phds are underemployed, and thats likely to skew low due to the nature of the way surveys are done.

The chemistry societies are all worried that (due to the contraction of pharma), there graduates aren't getting work.
DaleSpam
#61
Feb28-11, 11:28 AM
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From this discussion it seems to me like the markets are working. We don't really need more physics professors, and there is a relatively large supply of people applying for such jobs, so those jobs are poorly paid. We do need more financial analysts with a physics background, and there is a relatively small supply of people applying for such jobs, so those jobs are highly paid. Sounds like a functioning free-market to me.

The cultural and psychological environment mentioned by twofish quant is an important factor that contributes to the current supply and demand situation. Changing that would change the market, but is that necessary or even beneficial?
kanato
#62
Feb28-11, 01:14 PM
P: 416
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
It isn't being publicized- its a lie by omission. In the climate I grew up in, everyone said America was facing a scientist and mathematician shortage.
...
My own advisor (not out of malice, but of ignorance) was confident that a transition out of academia to the technical world would be easy. "There are lots of technical jobs out there that need theorists." I bought it. As an academic particle physicist, I have no contact with technical industry, so no one can point out the incorrectness.
Even as a theoretical condensed matter physicist, I have few industry contacts. Most of them are physics PhD's who now have jobs as software engineers and don't do any physics. Those are the jobs I'm applying for now. And yeah, they're not unemployed, but I could have had a job as an SE after my bachelor's degree was done. More than once during my PhD I had a friend from undergrad call up and offer me a job as a software engineer. The PhD adds some extra experience in that field to my resume, although it's much less than I would have had if I had worked as an SE for those years. Someone with a PhD in theoretical physics going into software engineering is the definitive example of underemployment for physicists IMO.

Like particlegrl, I was fed the same lines and I believed them. People kept telling me how versatile my degree would be, because "I could learn anything." Probably true, but most technical positions in industry want specific skills, and can find individuals that already have skill sets that better match the job descriptions. There are not many jobs out there in industry doing density functional theory calculations.

Quote Quote by DaleSpam View Post
The cultural and psychological environment mentioned by twofish quant is an important factor that contributes to the current supply and demand situation. Changing that would change the market, but is that necessary or even beneficial?
Changing the system from something that is built upon dishonestly attracting individuals would be ethical. Would changing the system to just be upfront and honest about job prospects cause it to collapse? If so, are you happy being part of that system? I wouldn't be.

Here's another thing to think about. Many of the people who are grad students and postdocs in physics are foreigners. They have an easy time getting a visa but an even harder a time getting a job since industry doesn't usually want to sponsor visas. So after they live here for a few years becoming highly skilled in their fields, they end up leaving back to their home countries for permanent positions. It seems to me like a rather short-sighted way to use US tax dollars is to bring in foreigners, train them for a few years, then send them home, all just to get a few research papers published while they are here.
D H
#63
Feb28-11, 01:40 PM
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Quote Quote by kanato View Post
Someone with a PhD in theoretical physics going into software engineering is the definitive example of underemployment for physicists IMO.
That is exactly the "looking down one's nose upon industry" attitude that I have been talking about. This same attitude does not apply in other fields. I very recently interviewed a PhD aerospace engineer who was (rightfully so) quite proud of his abilities to work adeptly in the scientific/mathematical modeling, software engineering, and analysis worlds. This is not something the typical aerospace engineer armed only with a BS can do. This is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. It is not beneath you.

Here's another thing to think about. Many of the people who are grad students and postdocs in physics are foreigners. They have an easy time getting a visa but an even harder a time getting a job since industry doesn't usually want to sponsor visas. So after they live here for a few years becoming highly skilled in their fields, they end up leaving back to their home countries for permanent positions. It seems to me like a rather short-sighted way to use US tax dollars is to bring in foreigners, train them for a few years, then send them home, all just to get a few research papers published while they are here.
This a very recent, post-9/11 turn of events. A lot of those industry jobs are now closed to foreigners because of ITAR restrictions. My current and former employers used to employ quite a few foreigners with advanced degrees and student visas. They sponsored their H1-B visas and even their permanent residency and citizenship applications. No more. There isn't enough non-ITAR restricted work to justify having someone onboard with only an student visa on hand.
Ryker
#64
Feb28-11, 01:51 PM
P: 1,088
Quote Quote by kanato View Post
People kept telling me how versatile my degree would be, because "I could learn anything."
Yeah, that's probably the biggest ******** statement there is. Don't get me wrong, I'm now a second degree first-year Physics student, and I do hope that there is some versatility to my degree, but I don't think saying one "could learn anything" describes a Physics major any more than it does your average Arts major. I come here and sometimes see people asking such ridiculous questions that are so out of step with reality that I really have a hard time imagining any of my previous fellow students (I guess you could consider my first degree falling under Arts) would be so confused. So I don't really think this "look at me and look at what I've learned during my undergrad" is something that the employers buy in. I can always hope I'm wrong, though, as it would certainly benefit me when I'll be looking for a job
kanato
#65
Feb28-11, 03:10 PM
P: 416
Quote Quote by D H View Post
That is exactly the "looking down one's nose upon industry" attitude that I have been talking about. This same attitude does not apply in other fields. I very recently interviewed a PhD aerospace engineer who was (rightfully so) quite proud of his abilities to work adeptly in the scientific/mathematical modeling, software engineering, and analysis worlds. This is not something the typical aerospace engineer armed only with a BS can do. This is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. It is not beneath you.
A software engineering position which utilizes scientific/mathematical modeling would be a great position for someone like me... I'd *love* to have something like that. Hell, I'd be happy to do tech support answering the phones and helping grandmas write email to their grandchildren if I could do some kind of mathematical modeling on the job. And it doesn't have to be physics, it could be any science, or economics, or other kinds of data. The vast majority of software engineering positions that I'm finding are not like that though. They're web development jobs, database admins, applications developers, iPhone developers, etc.

And I'm not saying it's beneath me, I'm saying I had the necessary skills before I got a PhD. The skills I developed during my PhD are minimally applicable. As far as career development goes, the PhD in theoretical physics is good for going into academics, or a small handful of industry jobs that require those specific skills (like quants). Beyond that, the opportunity cost of the skills and career development forgone to spend the time getting the PhD catches up.

But the situation could be better. I've never heard of anyone in physics being encouraged to develop other skills that might be helpful for career development. I've definitely heard cases where established physicists were actively discouraging young physicists from having other interests, because having other interests interferes with their research output.

Oh and you've got me pegged wrong. I'm not "looking down [my] nose upon industry," I'm irritated at how when I was considering going to grad school I was told that it would be a good choice, a versatile degree, etc. And now what I'm seeing is it's much less useful for transitioning to industry than spending that time getting a PhD in EE, or working in industry getting experience. If anything I'm looking down my nose upon the academy because of what I perceive as a complete disconnect from the real world. Especially since the production of PhD's is so much higher than academic jobs available, I feel that they should take more responsibility in helping students transition to industry.
kanato
#66
Feb28-11, 03:12 PM
P: 416
Quote Quote by Ryker View Post
Yeah, that's probably the biggest ******** statement there is. Don't get me wrong, I'm now a second degree first-year Physics student, and I do hope that there is some versatility to my degree, but I don't think saying one "could learn anything" describes a Physics major any more than it does your average Arts major. I come here and sometimes see people asking such ridiculous questions that are so out of step with reality that I really have a hard time imagining any of my previous fellow students (I guess you could consider my first degree falling under Arts) would be so confused. So I don't really think this "look at me and look at what I've learned during my undergrad" is something that the employers buy in. I can always hope I'm wrong, though, as it would certainly benefit me when I'll be looking for a job
I think for the most part they mean, if you can learn physics then you are smart enough to learn any other technical field. I think that's true, but there's a often overlooked caveat that employers would often rather not spend the extra time training someone without the specific experience they're looking for, even if they're really smart, particularly in the current market situation.
D H
#67
Feb28-11, 06:15 PM
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Quote Quote by kanato View Post
The vast majority of software engineering positions that I'm finding are not like that though. They're web development jobs, database admins, applications developers, iPhone developers, etc.
You're looking in the wrong place.

Look instead at developers of scientific software packages, the developers of scientific and medical instruments, at biotech companies, aerospace companies, and weapons manufacturers (particularly, things that go BOOM). Those companies need engineers and physicists. While you can't compete with the typical computer science major when it comes to web development and databases, the typical computer science major can't compete with you when it comes to scientific software.

But the situation could be better. I've never heard of anyone in physics being encouraged to develop other skills that might be helpful for career development. I've definitely heard cases where established physicists were actively discouraging young physicists from having other interests, because having other interests interferes with their research output.
I know first-hand that some advisors can be complete jerks. However, a lot more are just clueless about what is valuable outside of academia. ("Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.")


This issue often does come up here at PhysicsForums, particularly from those who go into the deepest of theoretical physics. It doesn't come up nearly so often with other physicists, and hardly ever from engineers. Most of our members who are in a graduate engineering program tend to vanish after four years or so. No complaints, they just vanish. It's as if they got an overly demanding job in industry. Perhaps physics departments need take a lead from engineering departments rather than classics languages departments.
DaleSpam
#68
Feb28-11, 06:20 PM
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Quote Quote by kanato View Post
Changing the system from something that is built upon dishonestly attracting individuals would be ethical. Would changing the system to just be upfront and honest about job prospects cause it to collapse? If so, are you happy being part of that system? I wouldn't be.
I think this is an inaccurate portrayl. Even before I picked a field, let alone an advisor, I examined and thought about the job prospects and that was a factor in my choice. It is not as though the information were unavailable or even difficult to obtain. If a person makes a critical life choice like their field of study out of ignorance or whim then it is not really "the system" that is at fault if it turns out to be a suboptimal choice.

Now, there may be a few dishonest people in the system, and there are certainly many ignorant or biased people, and those people may even hold positions of power within the system. But the system itself is fundamentally not capable of hiding information about job prospects. If an individual enters the system without that knowledge then that individual made an important choice rather carelessly.

Quote Quote by kanato View Post
Here's another thing to think about. Many of the people who are grad students and postdocs in physics are foreigners. They have an easy time getting a visa but an even harder a time getting a job since industry doesn't usually want to sponsor visas. So after they live here for a few years becoming highly skilled in their fields, they end up leaving back to their home countries for permanent positions. It seems to me like a rather short-sighted way to use US tax dollars is to bring in foreigners, train them for a few years, then send them home, all just to get a few research papers published while they are here.
I don't know the statistics, but anecdotally my company sponsors visas and green-cards quite often, including several I have hired and others that I didn't hire but are on my team. The cost of sponsoring a visa is relatively minor if the employee is worth it.
twofish-quant
#69
Feb28-11, 06:45 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
That NSB report says "the number of jobs in the U.S. economy that require science and engineering training will grow". It does not say, "get a PhD in physics and you are likely to get a professorship".
Again, I've dealt with enough liars in finance that this just doesn't hold water. This is liar trick #344. You have a written contract that explicit states X but implies Y, and then you have a nice person that reassures you that Y is true. Then when things blow up, the liar collects the money, and then says you have no proof that anyone ever offered Y.

It's a cool trick. It's cool enough so that people have spent decades figuring laws around this, and they still don't completely work.

Look, if you ask people when they first get interested in science, it's usually around age eight or nine, and at that age, kids really can't make these sorts of fine distinctions.

The thing that I can't figure out is why people keep defending things. You can argue that this is the best people could think of, and that's fine, but sometimes people can think of better things.

One thing that helped me a lot was when I gave myself "permission to be angry and bitter."
DaleSpam
#70
Feb28-11, 07:06 PM
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Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
if you ask people when they first get interested in science, it's usually around age eight or nine, and at that age, kids really can't make these sorts of fine distinctions.
I agree completely with this. We definitely should stop admitting 8 and 9 year olds into physics PhD programs since they are incapable of making these fine distinctions.
twofish-quant
#71
Feb28-11, 07:20 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
But we are also cranking out more phds than industry can bear!
Personally, I don't think we are. The US puts out 1000 new Ph.D.'s per year. If you ask a caterer to host a party for a 1000 people, they won't break a sweat wrong.

If you can't think of a way of hiring 1000/year new people, then something is seriously wrong. Consider that the US puts out 100,000 new MBA's a year, and I think the world would be better if we could figure out a way of using 100,000 new Ph.D.'s a year.

In my experience, with few exceptions, theorists simply aren't getting jobs in the technical world.
My experience is different. Ph.D's are getting jobs, but it's a really, really painful process. The trouble isn't employment. The trouble is psychological. To get myself to the point where I could be an effective person in industry, I had to work past *decades* of conditioning. When you have an elementary school science teacher that encourages students to study science, it's all part of the system.

The weird thing is that it could have been a lot easier. Getting a Ph.D. is hard and painful, but you get a lot of psychological support telling you that it's OK to be feeling what you are feeling. When you are doing a Ph.D., you have awful days when you wonder whether it's worth it, and part of the reason that advisers are important is so that you have something that can say "yeah, I've had those days too."

What's hard about getting a technical position is that people suddenly get totally unsympathetic for reasons that I don't completely understand. It's somehow "OK" and "normal" to be depressed when the experiment has go haywire and you have to spend three months to totally rewrite your dissertation, but when you get angry and bitter, then you are an idiot. It's *YOUR* fault for not reading the instructions, sucker.

Getting to the point when I no longer really believed that took a few years. Everything that people are telling me right now is a thousand times more effective when I tell myself those things. And while it is a "bad thing" to punch someone else in the face to tell them to shut up, it's not a bad thing to punch that little voice in your head to get it to shut up. Took a few years.

Yes, we can command high salaries in other fields, but we want to be doing some physics- its why we got the degree.
One thing I like about finance, is that it's really the closest thing to theoretical physics that I could find. Also, the reasons that I got into finance are more than money. I literally make a lot more money than I know what to do with, so I just put everything into a bank, and I should be able to within ten years or so, just do whatever I want with my money.

The thing that I like about finance is that there is a lot less hypocrisy. Basically, people are exploiting you so that they can make totally insane amounts of money, but people aren't shy about admitting that. No one is pretending that they are doing anything for your good, and I find that refreshing.

Its not the lure of high salaries drawing theorists into finance, its the lack of other work.
Exactly. Which worries me. I don't worry for me. I worry for society, since I wonder if working in an investment bank is actually the most socially productive work that I can do.

The weird thing is that if someone wanted me to work at a national lab to build electric cars for free for a few months, I could do it. Money is not the problem. The problems are elsewhere.

The other thing that worries me is that mono-cultures are bad. It's a bad thing if graduating Ph.D.'s all do one thing, whatever that one thing is.

In the climate I grew up in, everyone said America was facing a scientist and mathematician shortage. Look at the recent State of the Union address- it was all about America losing its competitiveness because of a lack of STEM graduates. Most of my undergraduate students who asked about my career options were surprised- they still bought the myth of the shortage and they'd been physics majors for 4 years.
And what makes me bitter and angry is that I still believe.

Personally, I think that the US and the world would be better off if you had more physics Ph.D.'s. The fact that Ph.D.'s have difficulty getting into industry is a problem with the educational system, and it's something that I'm trying to help fix. The reason that I'm trying to fix the problem is that I'm going out and brainwashing the next generation of kids that they should go into science, but the difference is that I'm trying to be honest that there is stuff that I haven't figured out.

My own advisor (not out of malice, but of ignorance) was confident that a transition out of academia to the technical world would be easy. "There are lots of technical jobs out there that need theorists." I bought it.
There are but........

Also the transition from academia into the technical world was *PAINFUL* for me. Again the problem isn't that the jobs weren't there, but changing my mindset was a horrendously difficult process. Take someone age 25 that was brought up to be a devout Catholic since age 5 and then suddenly tell them that they have to convert to Islam.

There were a lot of things that helped me. But I had to fight the system to do certain things.

But it does imply "get a PhD in physics and you are likely to get some technical work."
You are, but.........

In my case, the catch was that I had to move to NYC. I tried for two years to avoid moving, but finally I got the hint and moved.
D H
#72
Feb28-11, 07:35 PM
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