# is academia a scam?

by gravenewworld
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P: 2,280
 Quote by atyy Really? You were so confident of staying in academia that you don't need a PhD? A PhD is really only for those who leave academia - otherwise, how are they going to find jobs after being low paid workers for 5 years?
A PhD in Economics is highly in demand. I can type in any job search engine "PhD Economics", and there will be MANY MANY MANY job postings requiring one. Both Industry, and Academia. Thus, I am not worried. In fact, I have already applied to several jobs, and I am just waiting for job offers.
P: 6,863
 Quote by logarithmic It seems that everyone who starts a PhD wants to be an academic. Clearly this is not possible nor sustainable.
I think it is as long as you define "academic" in ways that doesn't include being a full time researcher exclusively paid for the job.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl Lets say we got rid of "phd" as a degree, and a graduate student was simply a low paid (relative to other bachelors degree holders) scientific researcher- would people still do it? Does the distinction of "phd" have any value for researchers outside their field?
It does for me. In my family, getting a doctorate degree is rite of passage akin to getting married or having kids. This started in the 18th century, where passing the Chinese Imperial Examinations meant that you were "upper class", and the social meaning of that got transferred to getting a Ph.D.

One thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of people descended from Eastern European Jews in the astronomy department, and I suspect that there is a similar cultural meaning.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl I'm willing to be most science majors took at least one or two econ classes in college.
One thing about classes is that they can be useless. One problem with economics classes is that they there is an effort to make economics work like physics, which is bad in a lot of ways. You can go through an intro physics class with the belief that what you are being taught isn't totally wrong, but there is no such guarantee with an economics class.

 Anyway, the reason why the analogy is bad is that law makers set the scientific and industrial policy for the nation. Politicians ARE involved in scientific policy, but scientists aren't usually particularly involved in making laws. I'd suggest that scientists who go into policy should certainly know something about politics- and I'm willing to bet they do.
One of the reasons I think my Ph.D. education was excellent was that I got a lot of training in the politics of science. A lot of times, you found yourself in a lunch time discussion about the latest goings-on in Washington, and from time to time we'd have speakers from the NSF or NASA talk about things.

The scientists that I knew were *very* heavily involved in making laws and getting funding. One of the big issues that I remember was the effort to get NASA to send up another space shuttle mission to repair Hubble, and AAS was very heavily involved there.

The other thing is that I went to a big public university, and the interaction between the department, the university, and the state legislature was something that was just part of the background.
P: 6,863
 Quote by Pyrrhus A PhD in Economics is highly in demand. I can type in any job search engine "PhD Economics", and there will be MANY MANY MANY job postings requiring one. Both Industry, and Academia. Thus, I am not worried. In fact, I have already applied to several jobs, and I am just waiting for job offers.
But there is a catch. It's harder to get into a Ph.D. economics program than it is to get into a Ph.D. physics program, and much, much harder to get funding.
P: 6,863
 Quote by ParticleGrl What does it mean for "the cutting edge" to get diffused? i.e. I used to do work in quantum field theory, now I work for an insurance company. I don't really use anything I learned in graduate school (my work now appears to be 90% sql/c#, 10% undergrad statistics). Similarly, a friend of mine did a phd in math (algebraic geometry) and he is now (after a two year associates) a nurse, etc.
I had a job in which I wasn't using much of what I was doing in graduate school, but in the end I was going crazy so I quit and found another job. The one big catch was that I had to move to New York City.

What finally did it for me was that I found out that an "old college rival" of mine had just been named a dean of a major university, and at that point I knew that I'd either mentally explode in a bad way or mentally explode in a good way, and exploding in a good way meant going to NYC. NYC is one of the most insane places on the planet, and I had to go there to keep my sanity.

 For most physicists, though, not getting an academic job means leaving the field entirely- how does this diffuse anything?
We are looking at different parts of the elephant, but physics is diffusing pretty heavily into high finance. Also one thing that is cool about NYC is that you end up with very different people colliding with each other, and that produces all sorts of crazy interactions.

The other thing is that I don't think I have really "left the field". I'm still on good terms with my adviser and his research network, and I'll find my way back.
P: 8,005
 Quote by twofish-quant The other thing is that I don't think I have really "left the field". I'm still on good terms with my adviser and his research network, and I'll find my way back.
That's great! I thought it a rule of thumb that students don't get along with their advisors (maybe reading too much PhD comics:)
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P: 2,280
 Quote by twofish-quant But there is a catch. It's harder to get into a Ph.D. economics program than it is to get into a Ph.D. physics program, and much, much harder to get funding.
YES, and YES. I guess that's how they fixed the issue in economics... It's hard to get in, and even harder to get funding. Frankly, I think a BS in Math/Physics/Engineering should be able to get in Econ Grad school. However, I've seen Econ minors, and Double Math and Econ as graduate students. This may make it harder for future BS Math/Physics/Engineering to get into Econ Grad School. I guess times are changing as students are deciding to abandon dreams in PhD in Physics. I think in a way is sad as research in physics is the reason we have many of our current technological advances. Is USA going to stagnate?
P: 146
 Quote by Pyrrhus YES, and YES. I guess that's how they fixed the issue in economics... It's hard to get in, and even harder to get funding. Frankly, I think a BS in Math/Physics/Engineering should be able to get in Econ Grad school. However, I've seen Econ minors, and Double Math and Econ as graduate students. This may make it harder for future BS Math/Physics/Engineering to get into Econ Grad School. I guess times are changing as students are deciding to abandon dreams in PhD in Physics. I think in a way is sad as research in physics is the reason we have many of our current technological advances. Is USA going to stagnate?
Is it not obvious that we've been stagnating for the last 12 years? Not that nothing has been accomplished but... the pace of accomplishments has definitely slowed down. That's why there's so much nostalgia for the fashion and pop culture of previous decades.
P: 6,863
 Quote by Pyrrhus YES, and YES. I guess that's how they fixed the issue in economics... It's hard to get in, and even harder to get funding.
And the problem is that it's so hard to get in that it kills research. If you want to make it in economics, the last thing that you want is to come up with a new or original idea or anything that's the slightest bit risky or controversial.

One problem that I have with economics academics is that I don't think that anyone outside of economics really reads any of the research gets published in the economics journals, outside of some of the more technical econometric stuff. Getting published in the right journals is critical for getting tenure track, but it's not useful for that much else.

Also the status hierarchy is different in economics and physics. In physics, if a tenured Harvard professor gives a talk, and some random person without a Ph.D., says "this is total non-sense" then that person is going to be seen as a crank. In economics, you could have a tenured professor from the London School of Economics or University of Chicago give a talk and if a trader or hedge fund manager or Fortune 500 CEO who dropped out of college says "this is total non-sense" then more likely then not it's going to be the professor that is seen as the crank.

The flip side of this is that because industry has higher status than academia, the universities have to put together extremely attractive packages to compensate.

 I guess times are changing as students are deciding to abandon dreams in PhD in Physics. I think in a way is sad as research in physics is the reason we have many of our current technological advances. Is USA going to stagnate?
Hard to say. I've learned not to say "X is going to happen" but rather "Assuming that X is the case, then Y will happen, so I should do Z."
P: 6,863
 Quote by pi-r8 Is it not obvious that we've been stagnating for the last 12 years? Not that nothing has been accomplished but... the pace of accomplishments has definitely slowed down. That's why there's so much nostalgia for the fashion and pop culture of previous decades.
On the other hand grew up in the 1970's when much the same sort of thing happened. This may be a long cycle. Or not. It's hard to tell.

The other question is whether this "stagnation" is just the inevitable consequence of history. The United States was the "only nation standing" in 1945 and 1991 and as time passes, US relative power is going to definitely decline.

The other thing is that the world looks really, really different if you look at it from somewhere else. If you talk to someone that is British, French, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, or Canadian, they are going to have a *vastly* different view on things than talking to an American.
P: 6,863
 Quote by atyy Now what is the reason for maintaining cutting edge "esoteric" research in particle physics when there are tons of important problems that can be solved by existing technology if social organization permits?
During the Cold War, the reason that lots of money went into basic physics research was "I don't know what we'll find, but we'll all be waving red flags and holding pictures of Lenin if the Russians find it first." We got the internet out of that. For that matter, the World Wide Web was invented in CERN.

What I'd like to see is "friendly competition" between national governments. Basically the Cold War II without the threat of nuclear annihilation and without anyone getting killed. So someone shows up in Washington asking for money to research electric cars, and if the answer is no, they look at the next flight to Beijing, Moscow, Dubai, Brussels, or New Delhi.

 The reason is that knowledge not maintained is knowledge lost. And yes, even biology (my field) benefits from the overarching framework of high energy physics. Of course, it doesn't have to be the bulk of physics research - and it isn't - but a critical number of workers has to be maintained.
True but those workers don't have to be in the United States, and around 1990, the US Congress made the decision that as far as HEP goes, they wouldn't be when they zeroed out funding for the supercollider.
P: 6,863
 Quote by deRham The reason this is hardly outrageous to me is that it's already the case at some places.
On the other hand, is it a good thing? We are talking about changing the system, so the fact that the system is already a certain way doesn't mean that you should keep it that way.

 What I hope for is that people end up where they should. I agree that those individuals who are kidding themselves about being suited for a relatively narrow research career (i.e. they just won't have the energy/interest to push themselves to publish lots of technical stuff in the narrow area) should be sent elsewhere.
But is that a good thing? One thing about physics is that the reason that physics gets the money is that the generals and CEO want better bombs and toasters. One of the *good* things about this is that in order to get what the generals and CEO's want, you *can't* be narrowly focused on a small technical research area. You *have* to think broadly about what you are doing and to function in an environment where you have to think politically and philosophically.

The problem with "sending people elsewhere" is that it totally guts the research effort and undermines the political point of the exercise. Also, "where is elsewhere?"

 Hopefully, a majority of those who really enjoy and excel at the kind of work academia demands are not pushed out simply because the system doesn't allow for much of a middle ground.
But what if you are flexible? Tell me what I should enjoy.
P: 6,863
 Quote by HowardVAgnew Academic institutions are privileged corporations. They are largely exempted from repaying customers when their actions or inactions result in their failure to provide what they promise in their advertising.
Have you talked to a lawyer? Lawyers are good at sending out "nasty-grams" that can handle these sorts of situations. One trick that large corporations do is that they make you think that you have a lot less power than you really do.

Also UoP is a cash cow because the can issue a piece of paper that (supposedly) gets you a job. When I taught there I got $1000/month. There were 15 students paying$1000/month. About 40% of the money went into advertising and 10% went to pay instructors. You can see this from their older annual reports (pre-2007), although the newer ones have changed the categories so that it's much less obvious that this is what is going on.

Now, in a pure market, you could pay me the \$800/month, I could teach you exactly the same Algebra I course, and we'd both be better off, but the problem is that you don't get that piece of paper that entitles you to a loan or a job.

It gets worse. Knowledge is created by social networks, and UoP tries very hard to keep those networks from forming, because if the students and the teachers were to talk to each other rather than going through the administration, you could have some sort of revolt.

Also, the UoP business model is different from the Harvard/MIT business model. The Harvard/MIT business model is to take young people, brainwash them, then have them infiltrate the power elite so that they can direct money and power back at Harvard and MIT. This works pretty well for the "secret agent" since UoP doesn't care what happens once they get your check, whereas Harvard and MIT really care that if you become President of a major superpower or win the Nobel prize.

 Einstein himself, studying time and relativity, remarked that no force in the universe is as powerful as compound interest, and I think that justifies ringing the alarm when the cost of tuition increases more quickly than the extra income provided by a degree.
Those aren't the relevant numbers. Education provides huge productivity benefits, so as long as the productivity increase is more than the cost, there is some wealth around that can be used. The question is how this wealth flows.

 I can only see a tiny minority of people -- corporate executives administering universities and already wealthy investors reciving dividends -- benefit from this cancer.
Karl Marx figured this out about 130 years ago, but people figured out ways around this.

The thing about education is that it can be frightfully cheap. Here is a list of books to read. Read them. Education is so cheap that you have to go through a lot of effort to figure out how to charge for it.
P: 4,570
 Quote by twofish-quant What I'd like to see is "friendly competition" between national governments. Basically the Cold War II without the threat of nuclear annihilation and without anyone getting killed. So someone shows up in Washington asking for money to research electric cars, and if the answer is no, they look at the next flight to Beijing, Moscow, Dubai, Brussels, or New Delhi.
The sentiment and the idea is great, but personally I'd rather private institutions do this sort of thing, or rather a movement towards private institutions do the majority of this kind of thing.

We are seeing this kind of thing anyway but its usually more of an engineering aspect and not a 'discovery' scientific aspect in the way that the payoff is not at all guaranteed and the risk high.

But when I here of say a private company building a quantum computer and selling it to places like Lockheed Martin and a major university, I get the sense that this kind of thing will expand a great deal in the future and if we ever retain some kind of fair competitive capitalistic system, then this kind of thing will be 'the model' as opposed to just 'a model'.

Personally I see governments as a monopoly and monopolies have a bad track record in innovating and being forced to do the best job they can if they don't have to.
P: 669
 The sentiment and the idea is great, but personally I'd rather private institutions do this sort of thing, or rather a movement towards private institutions do the majority of this kind of thing.
I'm not sure that works. Back when AT&T was a huge monopoly, they were engaged in exactly this, and everyone benefited (though they were paying higher telecom costs than they otherwise would have been). However, as the market grew more competitive, Bell Labs was spun off, and then shifted from fundamental to applied research. Its now a shadow of its former self. Other industrial labs have gone the same way. As companies become more competitive, fundamental R&D shrinks.

I think one take-away of the last thirty or forty years is that markets aren't great at valuing scientific research (consider the number of innovators who died penniless). It seems like you need a large institution that can spend a lot of money without worrying about being able to monetize it. One potential cause is that innovations have a tendency to spread to lots of companies in industry, so there is a free-rider problem. The creator of a technology might not make the money, an imitator might get rich instead.
P: 4,570
 Quote by ParticleGrl I'm not sure that works. Back when AT&T was a huge monopoly, they were engaged in exactly this, and everyone benefited (though they were paying higher telecom costs than they otherwise would have been). However, as the market grew more competitive, Bell Labs was spun off, and then shifted from fundamental to applied research. Its now a shadow of its former self. Other industrial labs have gone the same way. As companies become more competitive, fundamental R&D shrinks. I think one take-away of the last thirty or forty years is that markets aren't great at valuing scientific research (consider the number of innovators who died penniless). It seems like you need a large institution that can spend a lot of money without worrying about being able to monetize it. One potential cause is that innovations have a tendency to spread to lots of companies in industry, so there is a free-rider problem. The creator of a technology might not make the money, an imitator might get rich instead.
Firstly for the imitator getting rich, that's going to be likely to happen if the creator was not a businessperson. If the creator has a desire to be acknowledged for his creation in a financial manner, then they have to understand that this requires understanding money, how people interact, how deals get made and so on. Unfortunately this is how humans interact and the social component that is often lacking in many inventors and scientists with regard to creating deals, shaking hands, playing rounds on the golf course and so on is required if this is the ultimate goal.

In short many scientists and inventors are not salesman or businessman and don't understand the game that is being played. If they want to play fine, but its a different game with different rules.

In terms of markets evaluating good research, you really have to define good. I actually agree with your sentiment in the way that good to a company is going to be something that ultimately benefits 'their bottom line' and often this can end up being contradictory in terms of benefit to humans in the long run.

For example it doesn't make sense for a business to develop a product that doubles the lifetime of an existing product because that means that the business can sell one item that lasts for twice as long which means they just lot a lot of potential sales in a specific time-frame. Sure it might help the planet, but it affects so called 'growth': its really screwed up I know.

The other thing that I think supports your argument is that when you privatize something, things are kept secret or things like patents enter the picture which funnily end up destroying innovation due to the draconian barbaric policies enforced by patent lawyer conglomerates for the big multinationals.

Having said the above, the one thing that a real sound capitalistic system provides is good to honest fair competition and this does have a habit of giving consumers a choice and forcing business to do what they need to do to keep up with the Jones' business. In the end it forces businesses to give the consumer a good deal which means businesses that don't give consumers what they want die and the ones that do keep going.

Just so you know, I am aware that it's not this easy when you have the Walmarts coming in, undercutting prices and forcing the local guys out of business and that because of this kind of thing the playing ground is not 'fair' in different ways, but capitalism as a tool does tend to create a lot of innovation and benefits for consumers in industries that have a lot of competition.

If somehow there was a way to merge these qualities together!

I know what I've said in many respects is highly idealized in certain respects, but there are benefits for privatization. But academia too has its place and purpose and it won't be disappearing anytime soon anyway.

Also for the ones who are not scammers (and even some that are!) investors will pump money into inventors if they are confident that it is worth pursuing so the idea of privatization is not really so far fetched for science.

Also there are people that are offering prize money for competitions for building better robots, more effecient cars and so on but it is acknowledged that this is not a 'mainstream' thing.
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 Quote by chiro The sentiment and the idea is great, but personally I'd rather private institutions do this sort of thing, or rather a movement towards private institutions do the majority of this kind of thing.
I don't care how the sausage gets made.

 Personally I see governments as a monopoly and monopolies have a bad track record in innovating and being forced to do the best job they can if they don't have to.
If you have competing national governments, then they aren't a monopoly anymore.

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