Why are there so few physics majors?

 Quote by ParticleGrl The thing thats really frustrating is that the bogus idea that we have a shortage makes the job search harder! For several non-technical jobs, the opening question is "how do I know you won't jump ship for the first job in physics that comes along?"
And the problem is that the real answer at least for me is "I would in a heartbeat."

This issue doesn't come up in Ph.D. heavy fields like finance, because if the interviewer is a physics Ph.D., they wouldn't be surprised or upset that you'd jump ship in a heartbeat, because *they'd* do exactly the same thing. Also in finance, corporate loyalty isn't very highly valued, so people think you are weird if you *don't* jump ship at a better offer. It comes at a cost, since the company doesn't expect loyalty from you, you don't expect loyalty from them, so they'll push you out the plane the millisecond you become a liability.

 I'm not suggesting the person on the street is stupid because they didn't actively study science. I'm suggesting that being able to think rationally about numbers/basic concepts in science is a more useful skill to teach to the average person than highschool level physics.
Then you have to ask the question, why? If it turns out that teaching science *doesn't* generate individual wealth, then why learn anything? You might argue that science is good for society, but if science creates a lot of wealth, and it none of that goes to scientists, then it's logical for someone to decide to become a non-scientist, let science generate the wealth, and then live off the fat.

The people on the other side of the interview table. They aren't scientifically literate, and they decide whether or not you get the job. You can get an MBA or a job in HR, and know *nothing at all* about science. If an HR person or MBA at an interview thinks that the universe is 6000 years old, I'm not going to challenge them.

What I'm saying is that the lies that the NSF tells grad students and post-docs have even more nasty effects. If it turns out that the NSF gets caught in lying about the employment prospects for learning science in graduate school, then why should anyone believe them when they say it's good for high school students and elementary school students to learn science. Just teach them English, basic math, and football so that they can become managers and HR people and order the scientists around.

One thing that was extremely depressing working at University of Phoenix is how *basic* the science and math was. People need to learn algebra and the type of astronomy that my kids can learn in the library. The most depressing thing about that was that *it made sense* why they did that. They basically just teach the minimum amount of science and math to keep their accreditation, and if they could dispense with that, they would.

 It teaches everyone else practically nothing. How many people's only memory of highschool science is that they hated it?
Strange. I have *excellent* memories of my high school science classes. The more I get into these sorts of conversations, the more thankful I am that I had excellent teachers. One thing about me in high school, is that I did the "bright Asian future scientist" thing. Westinghouse science talent search. Science fairs. I remember meeting Edward Teller, Marvin Minsky, Jane Goodall, Ed Asner, and Sandra Day O'Connor at American Academy of Achievement (http://www.achievement.org/). I got to meet President Reagan and Nobel Prize winners brainwashing me into thinking that science was the future, and that *I* was the future. For someone in high school, this was all really heady stuff. When you are 19 and you find yourself sitting in the White House Rose Garden, and the President of the United States tells you that *you are the future, you are important, you are a future scientist that will change the world* that changes you.

And then at some point in my life, it all ended. The cheering ended, the prizes stopped, and then I was in the garbage heap, just looking for a job just like everyone else, and you get cold looks with people treating you like a rejected failure, that also changes you.

 We have the wrong focus- we paradoxically train too many scientists and have a largely scientifically illiterate populace.
But maybe it's better for the masses to be scientifically illiterate. It the masses actually could think, they would be harder to control. Maybe we want passive people, watching TV, working as corporate cogs, until they wear out, so that we can get a new cheap batch of labor. Maybe it's better for people not to think, because thinking is too painful.

Do I really believe this? I don't know. The problem is that I was brainwashed from birth until about age 20 into thinking that science was cool. That science would bring peace and prosperity, and that I would join the scientific elite and be the next Nobel prize winner. Seriously. When I went to Washington for Westinghouse, you meet Congressmen and Nobel prize winners, and they were telling us that we would one day be one of them. They were telling *me* that someday, I would be one of them.

So at the end of all this.... I find myself struggling to find work, and wondering what ever happened to my Nobel Prize. I couldn't help get the feeling that I had been lied to, and if they lied to me about this, then what else did they lie to me about. I really don't know.

In any case, if we aren't going to figure out what to do with future scientists, it's better not to expose them to these ideas. It will seriously screw them up.

Recognitions:
 Quote by twofish-quant Or biology, or economics, or law.
Biology has good job prospects? What are you reading? Is it propaganda propagated by biologists?

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-1-...163026283.html

Incidentally, while I can't confirm that biology has good job prospects, I can say that we (or at least I) appreciate how much biology depends on physics, so if for nothing else, I'd like more physicists (and engineers, whom I think of as physicists).

BTW, do you know of Douglas Prasher? He had an idea that revolutionised biology, but was unable to remain in academia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Prasher
http://gfp.conncoll.edu/prasher.html

Recognitions:
 Quote by atyy The Numbers That Really Intrigue Physics Majors The median annual income for a physicist is $94,240. The middle 50% earn between$72,910 and $117,080. The lowest ten percent earned less than$52,070, and the highest ten percent earn $143,570. The average starting salary offer to Physics doctoral degree candidates is$52,460.
 Quote by ParticleGrl And here we have an excellent example of how to mislead with numbers. Every single one of these numbers is totally irrelevant to a physics major with no intention of getting a phd in physics- why? Because physics bachelors don't work as physicists! Its not only irrelevant, its misleading. This seems to suggest that study physics -> work in physics is as normal as something like study engineering -> work in engineering. Now, for those who DO plan on going to graduate school, many of these still aren't relevant. Many phd holding physicists are never able to get a job as a physicist! The number that is of some relevance is the average starting salary offer to physics doctoral degree candidates. The average starting salary for an bachelors engineer is between 50 and 60k, depending on the type of engineering. So an engineer makes as much with 4 years of school as a phd physicist does with 10. Of course, an engineer with an extra 6 years of experience is probably making between 70-80k. By the time the physicist has gotten his job offer, he could have saved an extra 240k had he been an engineer. Even after he gets hired with his phd he is making 20k-30k a year less than he would have been with an engineering degree.
Would something like this be less misleading http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp? Unless the numbers aren't accurate, it seems physics majors actually do really well! (Conflict of interest declaration: I'm a biologist.)

 Quote by atyy Would something like this be less misleading http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp? Unless the numbers aren't accurate, it seems physics majors actually do really well! (Conflict of interest declaration: I'm a biologist.)
It depends on the question being asked- I don't think anyone asserts that physics majors don't do well at the jobs they eventually land- after all, physics majors are hard workers, of above average intelligence,etc. These are valued anywhere.

My assertion, however, is that most science and engineering majors WANT A JOB IN SCIENCE OR ENGINEERING. Those starting salary numbers tell us nothing about that. If you want a job in science or engineering, you are much better off with the engineering degree than the physics degree.

There is a bit of a mislead at the top- "lucrative career exist for the history majors out there, too, they are just harder to find. " Physics majors (and perhaps other science majors) are competing for the same pool of jobs, they are just outcompeting them. Thats different than science majors having the door opened to the engineering/tech job market. The average physics major is more likely to be able to program a computer than the average french major, but thats not because of the major.

Recognitions:
 Quote by ParticleGrl It depends on the question being asked- I don't think anyone asserts that physics majors don't do well at the jobs they eventually land- after all, physics majors are hard workers, of above average intelligence,etc. These are valued anywhere. My assertion, however, is that most science and engineering majors WANT A JOB IN SCIENCE OR ENGINEERING. Those starting salary numbers tell us nothing about that. If you want a job in science or engineering, you are much better off with the engineering degree than the physics degree. There is a bit of a mislead at the top- "lucrative career exist for the history majors out there, too, they are just harder to find. " Physics majors (and perhaps other science majors) are competing for the same pool of jobs, they are just outcompeting them. Thats different than science majors having the door opened to the engineering/tech job market. The average physics major is more likely to be able to program a computer than the average french major, but thats not because of the major.
I see. Actually, my impression from the sidelines was that it was well understood that physics majors don't end up in jobs that use physics directly. Most of the engineers I know started out pretty close to the hands on and design bits then seem to move to managerial positions. Perhaps that's undesirable, but my gut feeling hasn't been that that was bad, except in the case of school teachers having to move to management to get a better salary. I suppose some of it is also a matter of perspective - two-fish seems to consider finance a branch of physics, while you don't.

 Quote by atyy Biology has good job prospects? What are you reading? Is it propaganda propagated by biologists?
Heh, heh, heh.

Come to think of it I hear a lot of gashing of teeth from lawyers.

Also, one thing that's been on my mind is that last year was a *horrible* year for banks. I'm hoping that this year will be better, but anyone that was doing physics Ph.D. to get a high paying job as a quant had better have a backup plan. And I'm annoyed because my "let's make a ton of money on Wall Street and retire to study supernova" plan is looking shaky right now.

Maybe we are all screwed. :-) :-) :-)

That actually makes me feel better. If we are all screwed no matter what we did, then I'm glad I spent ten years of my life doing what I loved and ended up with very little debt, and the person that majored in Art History is looking pretty smart right now. :-) :-) :-)

 Quote by atyy Would something like this be less misleading http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp? Unless the numbers aren't accurate, it seems physics majors actually do really well! (Conflict of interest declaration: I'm a biologist.)
Numbers like these are *amazingly* misleading. I can tell you first hand that starting salaries for physics Ph.D.'s in finance have gone sharply downward in the last three years, and while it's still a good gig, any statistics for 2007 are useless in 2011, and any statistics even if accurate in 2011 are useless in 2016. The hiring situation is such that information from Q1/2011 turns out to be useless for Q3/2011.

I can think of three ways off the top of my head in which the world could blow up financially (Greek default, China slowdown, another debt showdown in the US) in 2012 which would render 2011 stats useless. Conversely, I can think of three good scenarios (reverse those three situations) which would also render these stats useless.

One thing is that I'm pretty convinced that the idea of thinking in terms of majors is bad and the wrong question. Rather than asking "which major is better" I think the better question is why we are thinking about majors at all.

Someone wrote me e-mail asking why I was being so pessimistic and cynical. And part of it is that if after going through all of the crap that i've gone through that I still believe in science, that's hardly a cynical idea.

 Quote by atyy I see. Actually, my impression from the sidelines was that it was well understood that physics majors don't end up in jobs that use physics directly
1) I don't know if this is true at the age that matters. One reason I mentioned my story is that it's a story about how I was brainwashed. Since the Intel STS still exists and science fairs are still around, I presume that high school students are being taught the same things I was. Would be interested in talking with the Intel STS winners. A lot of the "I want to be a physicist" stuff happens at childhood, so figuring out what elementary school teachers are telling their students is important there.

2) There's also the question of whether the system stinks. One thing that I'm getting is that the system is so screwed up that you are doomed no matter what you do, at which point the only way of winning is to question the system. So if physics majors don't end up in jobs that use physics. *is this a good thing?*

3) Also one of the points I was making was that you get into a nasty situation if you take things to their logical conclusions. If Reagan should have told me "don't go into physics, just learn football" then you have to ask "where does it stop?" Should we be teaching science at all? My answer is *of course* but I want people to think about the question. If the justification for physics is economic, then what happens if physics is a money losing. If physics really does generate wealth, then the whole system is screwed up, and we have to start asking deeper questions.

 Perhaps that's undesirable, but my gut feeling hasn't been that that was bad, except in the case of school teachers having to move to management to get a better salary.
People put up with a lot. One thing that got me through both graduate school and work is that I can basically convince myself that the situation "really isn't that bad" but that means that I have a lot of frustration and anger that has to go somewhere. Something that you find is to have a functioning workplace, you have to have a lot of emotional self-control, and if you are profoundly dissatisfied with your situation you have to repress this, and not scream at your boss.

This is something that everyone technical I know has to do and with the rare exception (perhaps Google) there is *profound* bitterness among the technical people at the managers that run things. This comes out in things like Dilbert. You also see this in academia with Piled higher and deeper.

So people put up with a lot if they have no choice, but sense my damn physics training comes in, I have to start asking "is there a better way?"

 I suppose some of it is also a matter of perspective - two-fish seems to consider finance a branch of physics, while you don't.
It's because I'm self-delusional.

Since I would cut off my left leg for a job in physics, if I'm unable to convince myself that what I'm doing isn't something "like physics" then I'll go insane. Since definitions are definitions, I'll just redefine things so that I don't go insane, and it helps a lot because the people that I work with have a lot of the same motivations, so we can create our own social reality. The people that I work with are either science/engineering types with the same sorts of psychological issues, or sales people/lawyer types, who are used to redefining things to keep people happy.

If people in this group say "you aren't *really* doing physics" then I don't care. If my boss says "you aren't *really* doing physics" then I have a problem, but since my boss figures out that letting me think I'm doing physics makes him money, he isn't going to contradict my version of reality (particularly since a lot of my bosses have Ph.D.'s too).

But then this brings up the question of *why* I would cut off my left leg for physics, which goes back to things that I was taught growing up.

Recognitions:
 Quote by twofish-quant 2) There's also the question of whether the system stinks. One thing that I'm getting is that the system is so screwed up that you are doomed no matter what you do, at which point the only way of winning is to question the system. So if physics majors don't end up in jobs that use physics. *is this a good thing?* 3) Also one of the points I was making was that you get into a nasty situation if you take things to their logical conclusions. If Reagan should have told me "don't go into physics, just learn football" then you have to ask "where does it stop?" Should we be teaching science at all? My answer is *of course* but I want people to think about the question. If the justification for physics is economic, then what happens if physics is a money losing. If physics really does generate wealth, then the whole system is screwed up, and we have to start asking deeper questions. People put up with a lot. One thing that got me through both graduate school and work is that I can basically convince myself that the situation "really isn't that bad" but that means that I have a lot of frustration and anger that has to go somewhere. Something that you find is to have a functioning workplace, you have to have a lot of emotional self-control, and if you are profoundly dissatisfied with your situation you have to repress this, and not scream at your boss. This is something that everyone technical I know has to do and with the rare exception (perhaps Google) there is *profound* bitterness among the technical people at the managers that run things. This comes out in things like Dilbert. You also see this in academia with Piled higher and deeper.
But in fact that seems to be arguing for physics majors not to use physics directly, at least in conjunction with another idea you've expressed "Politics is a skill". So really I don't think anyone is going to grudge higher pay to a good manager (good from the point of view of shareholders and employees; also I suppose one aspect of being a good manager is to be able to set appropriate pay scales). What we want is managers and politicians who understand physics and technology and society, since all elements are needed. (It does bug me that Saint Jobs seems to show that maybe bad managers are needed - but maybe that's just the media - and Wozniak's incredibly sincere tribute still sounds in my head). Anyway, the engineers seem to have incorporated more social skills into their curricula over time, compared to the scientists.

Maybe like the Jesuits - everyone a priest, but each with their own specialty - but in reverse - everyone a physicist, but each their own "normal" lives.

 Quote by twofish-quant It's because I'm self-delusional. Since I would cut off my left leg for a job in physics, if I'm unable to convince myself that what I'm doing isn't something "like physics" then I'll go insane. Since definitions are definitions, I'll just redefine things so that I don't go insane, and it helps a lot because the people that I work with have a lot of the same motivations, so we can create our own social reality. The people that I work with are either science/engineering types with the same sorts of psychological issues, or sales people/lawyer types, who are used to redefining things to keep people happy. If people in this group say "you aren't *really* doing physics" then I don't care. If my boss says "you aren't *really* doing physics" then I have a problem, but since my boss figures out that letting me think I'm doing physics makes him money, he isn't going to contradict my version of reality (particularly since a lot of my bosses have Ph.D.'s too). But then this brings up the question of *why* I would cut off my left leg for physics, which goes back to things that I was taught growing up.
I don't think you are delusional. Perhaps there is only one discipline - statistics or machine learning - which consists of two subdisciplines - mathematics, the study of possible patterns or what's learnable - and physics, the determination or learning from data of which patterns occur. Also, statistics requires a "multiple comparisons" correction for independent hypotheses (the HEP guys seem to call this the "look elsewhere effect"), and the way to guard against that is of course to make your hypotheses less and less independent, or more and more unified, which is of course, physics.
 Why are there so few physics majors? Because it's easier to get a job with an engineering degree.

 Quote by atyy Well, I suspect the communities could be much larger. I think the biggest revolution in recent years (computing and the internet) was driven by huge communities.
True, but most of them were doing things other than physics theory. There's a person that writes ad copy convincing people to get broadband, and then some person that stands at a street corner signing people up for broadband. They are part of the big community that is crucial for the revolution, but they aren't the theoreticians.

 Also, there can be huge advances on old, "well-understood" stuff - like Gabor and holography which only needed classical Maxwell's equations, or Poincare's work on the stability of the solar system which produced the qualitative theory of differential equations and was a forerunner of chaos.
But you still don't need that many people. That's really the problem here. The more breath taking the idea, the fewer jobs there are involved in creating the idea.

 That's interesting. At least in the US, shouldn't a labour law prevent this (the same way one isn't supposed to pay a foreigner less than an American)?
The US has very, very weak labor laws (people in other countries are shocked that most people in the US work without formal written contracts), however even this doesn't fix things. Germany has strong labor laws, but people use internships to get around them (so I've been told). It's has to do when economic reality meets bureaucracy. The people that make the decisions will set their own salaries so that they are decent, and if there is any grunt work to be done, they then hire "disposible people" to do it (i.e. graduate students, post-docs, interns).

I'm reminded of the movie Bladerunner in which the "replicant robots" are programmed with four year life spans so that they die before developing feelings. Post-docs are the same way. By the time you've figured out the university, your contract expires and you are replaced with someone new.

 Well, I don't mean fleeced in that way. Musicians are mostly poor, but the great musicians are respected for their creativity. Scientists are thought of in the same way too, but I suspect overly so.
I know people in the music industry, and it really doesn't work that way. The musician is probably one of the more disposible parts of the system.

Also, the problem with doing science is that you need time and money. It doesn't matter how good an observational astronomer you are, if you don't have access to a telescope, you can't do anything, and this focus on creativity creates a winner take all dynamic. You publish, you get a reputation, you get grant money, you publish more.

The starving musician might work, but the starving physicist won't.

 Now having said that, I'm confused whether physics PhDs should be paid well or not.
I'm more interested in *is* than *should*. Of course, I believe that physics Ph.D.'s should be paid a ton of money. This belief may have something to do with the fact that I'm a physics Ph.D. So saying that Ph.D.'s should be paid a lot is a no-brainer for me. Now the person whose wallet I have to grab to pay myself might have different ideas.

The hard part is to figure out how to make it happen.

 Quote by atyy So really I don't think anyone is going to grudge higher pay to a good manager (good from the point of view of shareholders and employees; also I suppose one aspect of being a good manager is to be able to set appropriate pay scales).
One aspect of being a good manager is that you can convince people to do stuff. Once you have that skill, you'll likely use it to convince people to give you their money. It's not surprising that people who have sales and marketing skills end up on top of most companies, because they are the people that figure out how to use psychology to get people to do things.

So you put people under mass hypnosis saying "you will like drinking this fizzy water" and then "you will like drinking this fizzy water and handing me lots of money for the privilege of drinking this."

 What we want is managers and politicians who understand physics and technology and society, since all elements are needed.
Who is "we"? From the point of the view of people running things it makes more sense to understand the minimum amount of physics and technology, and then pay experts in that area peanuts to get the information that they need. If anything goes wrong, then you have some underpaid scapegoats ready to feed to the wolves.

 I don't think you are delusional.
I think I am. Part of staying sane involves thinking that you are crazy.

 Also, statistics requires a "multiple comparisons" correction for independent hypotheses (the HEP guys seem to call this the "look elsewhere effect"), and the way to guard against that is of course to make your hypotheses less and less independent, or more and more unified, which is of course, physics.
Not sure that this is the situation. One thing that I've found is that different parts of physics involve different philosophical foundations. Whether they are all part of one giant unified foundation, I really don't know. In the case of astrophysics, you are often dealing with historical data and you are also often dealing with unique cases (i.e. how do you run statistics against the big bang?) You also cannot control the environment or do any reasonable experiments in which you influence what it is that you are trying to study.

It turns out that a lot of the philosophical issues in astrophysics turn out to be the same as those in finance. There was only one Big Bang. There is only one Supernova 1987A. There was only one Great Depression. You might find some similarities between 1987A and other supernova, but there are some things are are unique to 1987A, and stars are not like electrons.

So there is a good philosophical fit between astrophysics and some issues of economics.

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 Quote by ParticleGrl What I was trying to get at was what a shortage of scientists/engineers would look like. If there is a shortage that means that there ISN'T someone out there already trained- so you go with the generalist and train them for the specifics. It also means that the "selling point" we use to get people into physics is a problem- if no one wants a broad background, being a generalist is a kiss of death.
Hi ParticleGrl,

in middle Europe companies and authorities also declare "shortage" of whatever technical experts where there is none.

Here the trend is as follows: Especially larger corporations rather search for specialized freelancers that do not need to be trained and the market for freelancer agencies is booming. As I understood the job market and business models these freelancers in Europe are "more free" / entrepreneurial (re social insurance etc.) than are "temps" in the US.

Since freelancers are extremely flexible and willing to commute 100s of kilometers every Monday and Friday companies finally find one of those rare experts - this seems to be more effective than training experts inhouse.

So "shortage" simply justifies the replacment of permanent positions by freelancers.

It started out in IT, but the model has been transferred successfully to any engineering discipline. I have seen project requests for "freelance physicists", but those projects usually require very specific skills / experience in specific sectors and physicists compete more than ever with more specialized engineers.

 Quote by elkement Here the trend is as follows: Especially larger corporations rather search for specialized freelancers that do not need to be trained and the market for freelancer agencies is booming. As I understood the job market and business models these freelancers in Europe are "more free" / entrepreneurial (re social insurance etc.) than are "temps" in the US.

1) I can't find anyone in control that you can point to and say "stop this." What you'll find in large companies is that these sorts of decisions are decentralized so that there is no single person or small group of people from the CEO on down that can change this. This is where the "invisible hand" hits back.

2) It's also annoying because this is one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments. Way back in the 1990's, the idea was to encourage this sort of freelancing and labor flexibility on the theory that it makes the economy more efficient which would generate enough wealth to make everyone's dreams come true. If you lose one job, no problem, another one would turn up, and way back in 2000, that's really more or less what happened.

One of the things that upsets me is that way back in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, people really felt as if we were going to enter into a Golden Age of peace and prosperity, and it seemed to be working through out the 1990's and all the way up to the mid-2000's.

So what the heck went wrong????

 It started out in IT, but the model has been transferred successfully to any engineering discipline. I have seen project requests for "freelance physicists", but those projects usually require very specific skills / experience in specific sectors and physicists compete more than ever with more specialized engineers.
One thing that is happening is that I'm becoming increasingly convinced that we've managed to not merely create a "zero sum game" but a "negative sum game." You'd think that somewhere, someone would be taking all of this exploited wealth and laughing all, but my observation is that even people that are supposed to be in charge of the system are also terrified of losing their jobs. So it's not the 1% screwing over the 99%. I think we've created a system in which *everyone* manages to get screwed over.
 As a point of trivia, I'm a physics major at Western too. And apparently there has been a sharp uptick in the number of physics majors in recent years. Last year's graduating class was around 12 or 15 people. This year its around 30, and it has apparently stayed around that number. In fact, they just decided to scrap the sophomore atomic and nuclear physics lab that they started a few years ago because they don't have enough resources to provide that class to 30-something kids a year. Which makes me really angry and sad since I won't get to take it, but I suppose I'll have to deal. So whether it's that TV show or not, something caused a sharp influx of Physics students at Western.
 How come people who major in physics go into so many different job fields? My major is astrophysics, and I want to do nothing but independent research, working in labs, and being a scientist. Why go into another field of work? Why major in physics if you want to be an engineer?

 Quote by DeepSpace9 How come people who major in physics go into so many different job fields? My major is astrophysics, and I want to do nothing but independent research, working in labs, and being a scientist. Why go into another field of work? Why major in physics if you want to be an engineer?
There aren't enough pure physics research positions in the world for every single physics graduate. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that's just the way the world works. Supply and demand. There are many more positions in engineering to go around. Once you get outside the comfortable halls of academia, sometimes you have to take a job you weren't aspiring for in order to pay the bills.

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