is academia a scam?


by gravenewworld
Tags: academia, scam
twofish-quant
twofish-quant is offline
#109
Feb29-12, 12:09 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by Mute View Post
If university administrations could get away with eliminating tenure without increasing salaries or foreign hirings and still have quality candidates, why haven't they tried?
Because most university administrators come from the tenured faculty, and political power in most universities is in the hands of the faculty committees who are composed of tenured faculty. The other thing is that professors aren't line workers, and if they get pushed too hard, they will strike, and get the President removed.

In the case of public universities, you have some power in the hands of politicians, and at least in Texas, there's been a major war on tenure, which Governor Perry (fortunately) has been losing.

Also *new* universities have effectively gotten rid of tenure. Witness University of Phoenix, that has a ton of adjuncts, and a very, very few permanent faculty.
twofish-quant
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#110
Feb29-12, 12:15 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by deRham View Post
I suppose it comes down to a judgment call; it will certainly become just as hard to get for those remaining. However, I'm hardly proposing that every last person in the planet should have a faculty position.
I don't think it would be bad. Everybody has something to teach, and everybody has something to learn.

Personally, I think that the world would end up better off if instead of graduating 1000 physics Ph.D.'s/year it was graduating 100,000. Part of what I've been trying to figure out is what that sort of world would look like.

I think the problem is when people show themselves very capable of handling the pace, rigor, etc and still have an absurdly low chance at continuing their research. It's hard to deny that's wasteful.
It really depends on what else they end up doing. It's worked out pretty well for me.
atyy
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#111
Feb29-12, 12:27 AM
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Isn't it a good thing that most PhDs don't stay in academia? What good is it to society if they stay in the ivory tower? I think as long as students get realistic career advice, they won't be so bitter. (But really, are most bitter about academia because of bad career advising, or because of unfair treatment?)

Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
To be fair, this seems to be largely because they didn't know
If they didn't know, they should have said they didn't know. They must have at least known how many students they had, and how many they knew and didn't know about. So they probably knew they didn't know, in which case they were fabricating numbers.
chill_factor
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#112
Feb29-12, 12:36 AM
P: 887
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Or research technical fields.

A lot of the barriers turn out to be psychological. There is part of me that says "finance.... eehhhhhhwww", but after a lot of effort, I've managed to get that part of me to shut up.

Now getting around psychological barriers turns out to not be the easiest thing in the world, since you are going against decades of socialization. But it's doable, and changing the way that you look at the world is easier than changing the global economic and political system, and in a lot of situations, it's not as if you have much of a choice.
what if your math is anywhere from horrible to average? how is finance even remotely an option for those in experimental fields?

i do not think this is just a psychological barrier. sorry. most people in experimental aspects of biomedical engineering, materials science, condensed matter physics and chemistry would not be able to go to finance because they do not know enough math and programming.
twofish-quant
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#113
Feb29-12, 12:37 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
The hope is that the extra postdocs, because they are well-trained scientists, keep productivity in the lab up and reduce the need for students.
The trouble is that this starts looking a lot like how business and law schools work, and to me it seems that the cure is worse than the disease. Personally, I think that we are going the wrong way when we start talking about *reducing* the number of physics Ph.D.'s. We really should be talking about *vastly increasing* the number of physics Ph.D.'s.

There's an old joke. A genie shows up and tells a farmer that he can wish for anything. "My neighbor has a cow and I don't, I want you to kill his cow." If we are going to do fundamental social engineering, it would be better to increase demand than reduce supply.

The implicit assumption I made when I heard "PhDs in physics enter industry" was that phds in physics enter industry TO DO PHYSICS.
If the problem is definitions, then just tell my boss to change my business card to read "econophysicist." As far as I'm concerned, I'm doing physics.

The political bodies fund physics to get research done, not to produce physicists for the finance industry.
You know you have a good system when good things happen even though people didn't intend for it to happen. I need to point out that I don't sell insurance. I'm actually doing pretty cool physics research. My one big annoyance is that I can't publicly tell anyone exactly what I'm doing without getting into trouble with my boss and the SEC.

But it's cool.

If everyone (including your professors) tells you what a great career path science is, why wouldn't you believe them?
A lot depends on what you consider a "great career." I've had a great career so far, and it doesn't look like its going to stop anytime soon. Some of it is personal. For me "adventure" is more important than money, and it's been a wild and interesting adventure so far.

If I wanted a "connect the dots" life, I wouldn't have gone physics.

If everyone says there is a huge shortage of American scientists, why wouldn't you believe them?
I think that people stopped talking about a shortage of American scientists around 2005. Also, none of my professors talked a lot about the shortage of scientists, because they came from the generation that was screwed over in the physics crash of the 1970's.

You look around and say "well, not everyone gets to be a professor, but surely all these physicists go on to work as industrial physicists of some kind."
And physics Ph.D.'s that work in investment banks are industrial physicists.
twofish-quant
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#114
Feb29-12, 12:42 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by chill_factor View Post
what if your math is anywhere from horrible to average? how is finance even remotely an option for those in experimental fields?
It depends on the meaning of average. If your math skills are "average or somewhat below average for a Ph.D." that's not a problem. Also people from experimental fields usually have lots of experience in computer programming, instrument design and statistics which is very, very useful in algorithmic trading.

There are some issues with finance:

1) People in finance are extremely closed lipped about what they are doing. Part of this is cultural (i.e. would you put your money in a bank that gives out account numbers to anyone that asks) some of it legal. For example, if you are working on an algorithm for a new financial product, even *hinting* that you are about to market the product will get a ton of lawyers, regulators, and compliance people on your case.

2) It changes from month to month. Asking someone about the employment situation is like asking about the weather.

3) The only near absolute requirement for physics Ph.D. finance is that you have to be winning to move to NYC, London, or some city in Asia.
ParticleGrl
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#115
Feb29-12, 12:43 AM
P: 669
Quote Quote by atyy View Post
Isn't it a good thing that most PhDs don't stay in academia? What good is it to society if they stay in the ivory tower?
That implies its better for society to have trained physicists doing something other are than physics. That isn't obvious to me. Isn't it better for physicists to be doing physics/engineering and laying the ground work for tomorrow's ipads than for them to be doing jobs that require no knowledge of physics?

Sure, a physicist can learn to do data mining or finance, but what does society gain from paying to teach someone physics, only for them to leave and teach themselves some other field? Sure, a physicist can learn finance or data mining, but what does society gain from the superfluous training? They could have totally skipped the learn physics step.
atyy
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#116
Feb29-12, 12:51 AM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
That implies its better for society to have trained physicists doing something other are than physics. That isn't obvious to me. Isn't it better for physicists to be doing physics/engineering and laying the ground work for tomorrow's ipads than for them to be doing jobs that require no knowledge of physics?

Sure, a physicist can learn to do data mining or finance, but what does society gain from paying to teach someone physics, only for them to leave and teach themselves some other field? Sure, a physicist can learn finance or data mining, but what does society gain from the superfluous training? They could have totally skipped the learn physics step.
It's not superfluous - it's basic facts about the universe that everyone should know - just like knowing the sun goes round the earth;) - ok, maybe not now, but in 20-30 years. By the same token, I assume that by now, physicists all know about the double helix and action potentials, which 60 years ago was cutting edge biology.
chill_factor
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#117
Feb29-12, 12:52 AM
P: 887
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
It depends on the meaning of average. If your math skills are "average or somewhat below average for a Ph.D." that's not a problem. Also people from experimental fields usually have lots of experience in computer programming, instrument design and statistics which is very, very useful in algorithmic trading.

There are some issues with finance:

1) People in finance are extremely closed lipped about what they are doing. Part of this is cultural (i.e. would you put your money in a bank that gives out account numbers to anyone that asks) some of it legal. For example, if you are working on an algorithm for a new financial product, even *hinting* that you are about to market the product will get a ton of lawyers, regulators, and compliance people on your case.

2) It changes from month to month. Asking someone about the employment situation is like asking about the weather.

3) The only near absolute requirement for physics Ph.D. finance is that you have to be winning to move to NYC, London, or some city in Asia.
A PHD in what? what if its not physics? what if its some other science or in engineering? and even if it is physics, there's alot of things different now.

i am working with a Physics grad student. He takes pictures with an AFM and measures DC conductivity. i'm responsible for device fabrication. These are commercial instruments. There's no need to design anything new with them, just know how to use them. i've never seen an experimentalist in materials science program much. everything is on commercial instruments. just know how to use them and interpret their results.

what statistics? we use excel and find mean, median, mode, standard dev and fit it to a curve. i don't think this is the type of statistics you had in mind, it certainly isn't enough for finance.
twofish-quant
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#118
Feb29-12, 12:59 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
Isn't it better for physicists to be doing physics/engineering and laying the ground work for tomorrow's ipads than for them to be doing jobs that require no knowledge of physics?
I think "keeping the world financial system from collapsing again" is socially useful, and trying to do that involves a ton of "econophysics." I know fairly senior people with physics/math Ph.D.'s that are involved in these sorts of "fate of the entire world" discussions.

Sure, a physicist can learn to do data mining or finance, but what does society gain from paying to teach someone physics, only for them to leave and teach themselves some other field?
Because everything in finance has already been written down in textbook, the typical physics Ph.D. can learn in about a month or so. The important stuff isn't in a textbook, because either it's "tacit unwritten knowledge" or its stuff that no one knows. Also the textbooks are often wrong.

So what you need is someone that is good at research and mathematical modelling. It also makes sense to train these people on "known unknowns." I can't train someone to do mathematical modelling of the world financial system of 2020 or even 2015, because I don't know what the problems are going to be. So have them work on black holes or stellar nucleosynthesis, so that they have the skills necessary to work on whatever comes up in 2020.

Sure, a physicist can learn finance or data mining, but what does society gain from the superfluous training? They could have totally skipped the learn physics step.
If investment banks didn't have to hire Ph.D.'s, they wouldn't. The have to so they do.
ParticleGrl
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#119
Feb29-12, 01:00 AM
P: 669
Quote Quote by atyy View Post
It's not superfluous - it's basic facts about the universe that everyone should know - just like knowing the sun goes round the earth;) - ok, maybe not now, but in 20-30 years. By the same token, I assume that by now, physicists all know about the double helix and action potentials, which 60 years ago was cutting edge biology.
I think you have an over-optimistic view of the speed of information propagation, at least in physics. Grab a dozen condensed matter physicists, and maybe 1 or 2 can describe the standard model, and that's decades old. Grab a few dozen college grads and ask them to describe general relativity and probably none can, and that's approaching a century old. You'd be lucky if half could get the laws of thermodynamics.

But what does society gain if the guy pricing financial derivatives once calculated a 2 loop diagram?
twofish-quant
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#120
Feb29-12, 01:05 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by chill_factor View Post
A PHD in what? what if its not physics? what if its some other science or in engineering? and even if it is physics, there's alot of things different now.
Whatever is fun.

i've never seen an experimentalist in materials science program much. everything is on commercial instruments. just know how to use them and interpret their results.
My background is astrophysics and everything you build for a telescope has to be pretty much custom manufactured.

what statistics? we use excel and find mean, median, mode, standard dev and fit it to a curve. i don't think this is the type of statistics you had in mind, it certainly isn't enough for finance.
In HEP and astrophysics, there is a ton of what is essentially pattern recognition and time series analysis, along with dealing with massive databases.
chill_factor
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#121
Feb29-12, 01:19 AM
P: 887
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Whatever is fun.



My background is astrophysics and everything you build for a telescope has to be pretty much custom manufactured.



In HEP and astrophysics, there is a ton of what is essentially pattern recognition and time series analysis, along with dealing with massive databases.
we have a totally different background then. that is why we have communication problems.

in materials science, almost everything is commercial and there's rarely statistics beyond excel. everything can be done on excel and mathematica. you don't need too much math.
deRham
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#122
Feb29-12, 01:32 AM
P: 412
I don't think it would be bad. Everybody has something to teach, and everybody has something to learn.
Yeah, I guess I should revise to say: I am not proposing every physics (or for that matter mathematics) PhD be given a faculty position in which the goal is to produce as much physics as possible (there may be other faculty positions to better suit them; heck, I may decide that one of these other positions better suits me some day, but of course, under the current system, that won't mean I'll even have a reasonable choice). Many will decide it simply isn't what they want to do, and the pace expected is not healthy for everyone. But I would definitely say (as I think many have probably said) that the current system seems to have certain obvious (yet still difficult to push for) avenues to encourage people who probably would do well for themselves in such a career.

It really depends on what else they end up doing. It's worked out pretty well for me.
Somehow, I get the feeling you're the odd one out :) I do not deny that doing a physics or math PhD is a tremendously enriching thing, but the question is how good the second or third or whatever next best thing to the ideal faculty position the given individual obtains. I find that for whatever reason (maybe just lack of the right knowledge), the option a lot of people end up with is far enough from ideal that I'd call the current system wasteful.
deRham
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#123
Feb29-12, 02:09 AM
P: 412
Once you have a department that is mostly long term researcher, then the next question is why those people aren't on the major committees and in administration. Once you put those people in positions of power, then the question comes up as to why the tenured professors have tenure.
There would definitely be more tenure-track researchers under my vision. In effect, you seem to suggest the middle will question who's at top. I say as someone at the bottom that I question who is in the middle.

I think my belief stems from the fact that there are definitely a few absurdly strong leaders in any field, whose tenure I simply couldn't question, simply because I could never claim to want to work alongside them at that level.

Effectively, I'd rather have more people actually doing research than worry about long-term researchers bickering about not having tenure. The reason I don't like the current system is that I find even at the graduate level, whoever made the cut went through a really strict screening process, and I'm sure the same holds for the next stage. I found there is a high level of randomness in this process except for a few truly stars who became virtually unquestioned authorities in their areas.
chill_factor
chill_factor is offline
#124
Feb29-12, 03:18 AM
P: 887
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
I think you have an over-optimistic view of the speed of information propagation, at least in physics. Grab a dozen condensed matter physicists, and maybe 1 or 2 can describe the standard model, and that's decades old. Grab a few dozen college grads and ask them to describe general relativity and probably none can, and that's approaching a century old. You'd be lucky if half could get the laws of thermodynamics.

But what does society gain if the guy pricing financial derivatives once calculated a 2 loop diagram?
condensed matter guys don't need to know the standard model of particle theory though. they don't even need to know that nuclei are anything except tiny positive blobs most of the time. i think you're right on relativity (i know nothing about relativity, at least) but thermo is easy and everyone should get that.

i think that excitement vs. pay and ease of study vs. easy of employment both follow inverse laws.
twofish-quant
twofish-quant is offline
#125
Feb29-12, 05:45 AM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
But what does society gain if the guy pricing financial derivatives once calculated a 2 loop diagram?
Because anyone who has done a 2 loop diagram has experience dealing with path integrals.

If you take an interest rate curve and evolve it over time stochastically. You get very quickly into functional calculus and path integrals. Now add shocks, correlations, and defaults, you get into very complicated path integrals.

Now maybe there is a way of modelling interest rates without (implicitly) having a path integral, but it's going to take someone really good at modelling physical systems to work this all out. Hmmm..... I wonder were we can find those.

But wait there is more......

Once you've *finished* calculating the path integral, then you have to explain what you did to a regulator or manager that doesn't know what a 2 loop diagram is.
mal4mac
mal4mac is offline
#126
Feb29-12, 05:51 AM
P: 1,036
Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Yes and no. There is a balance here, because if you keep money and power *only* for your kids, then eventually people on the outside will form their own counter-elite and you lose...
Well it's not quite *only*. But 96% of stockbrokers from public schools is pretty blatant. So why haven't Brits developed a counter-elite? Please don't say not enough time! The British money & power elite has been going since 1066...


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