# Are universities reducing the number of Physics PhD students they take on?

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Those figures are average, at least in high energy.
I know, I was saying they are low looking from a general perspective on salaries.

What I also don't understand is how 25 years ago, it was understood that getting a faculty job after a PhD was the exception and not the rule, but somehow people seem surprised by that today.
Part of it might be a change in the way students are being advised? Certainly, none of the professor I talked to about the decision to go to grad school even mentioned the difficulty of finding work doing physics after the phd.

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As twofish said (quite well)- to act as if we are in the middle of a 50-year old employment aberration...
Twofish? More like fiftyfish.

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Part of it might be a change in the way students are being advised? Certainly, none of the professor I talked to about the decision to go to grad school even mentioned the difficulty of finding work doing physics after the phd.
Well, what would cause that change? Remember, we're moving farther away from the last big expansion.

If you don't mind, PM me with the name if your school; I might want to chat with some faculty I know about this.

Finally, did you really think a system where a professor cranks out 10 students, who each get jobs cranking out 10 students, and so on was sustainable? We weren't advised that this was a possibility, but my class would have laughed at any professor that tried to tell us that. In my cohort, the expectation was that we would go on to industry.

I don't guess you've ever actually been to the neighborhoods in these cities where you could get a house for under $300k? The big problem with places with very cheap houses is: cheap houses -> low tax base -> awful schools -> private schools. If you don't mind, PM me with the name if your school; I might want to chat with some faculty I know about this. Should talk to the National Science Foundation http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2003/nsb0369/nsb0369.pdf The names of the people involved are on page iii Quoting: The Federal Government and its agencies must step forward to ensure the adequacy of the US science and engineering workforce. All stakeholders must mobilize and initiate efforts that increase the number of US citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers. Read page 21...... ---- Although there has been considerable debate over the last decade about the overproduction of PhD scientists and engineers in certain fields, it is beyond dispute that society is – and will become even more – dependent on science and technology. Future progress and world leadership depend on a steady stream of scientific discoveries and developments that, in turn, depend on a cadre of individuals with a high level of scientific training and education. (.....) A number of factors will contribute to growth in the need for US personnel with advanced S&E degrees in the next few decades. These factors include accelerating retirements,41 greater competition internationally for S&E talent, and national security concerns that may both affect access and attraction of foreign students and scholars to the United States and raise the demand for US citizens in national security-related areas. --------- Also see..... http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2002/095.html [Broken] We can go back to the 1990's for more of this non-sense. One HUGE problem with these sorts of studies is that no one on the board seems to be a post-doc. In any event, the myth of a scientist shortage isn't this "rogue myth", it's something systemic that involves the NSF and AIP. Finally, did you really think a system where a professor cranks out 10 students, who each get jobs cranking out 10 students, and so on was sustainable? No, but if you asked the faculty about it you get two answers: 1) that there would be a large number of openings once the Sputnik generation retires, and 2) the market is tough, but good people can get jobs. Since you are talking to people that have been consistently at the top 10% of what they have been doing since kindergarten, this gets taken the wrong way. We weren't advised that this was a possibility, but my class would have laughed at any professor that tried to tell us that. In my cohort, the expectation was that we would go on to industry. My reaction to a lot of what I was told was "this is bull****" but I think I'm a bit more cynical than the average Ph.D. student. Even I was surprised that the shortage started in 1970. Until a few years ago, I assumed that it started in 1985. "It's like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You're happy to get your stereo back, but it's sad to find out your grandmother is a thief." -- Michael Nesmith Last edited by a moderator: Well, what would cause that change? Remember, we're moving farther away from the last big expansion. I honestly don't know, it was a totally open conjecture. I can say that my experience can't be that unique, most of my cohort in grad school expressed surprise at job prospects after grad school (usually sometime around second year as they started seeing older students finish up). Finally, did you really think a system where a professor cranks out 10 students, who each get jobs cranking out 10 students, and so on was sustainable? Of course not- but a system where a professor cranks out 8 students, of which 1 gets that research university position everyone wants, 3 or 4 go to liberal arts colleges, 1 or 2 into national labs, and another 2 or 3 into industry seemed somewhat steady-state. One terrible assumption I made was overestimating the job market at liberal arts colleges. Yes, there are a lot of them, but they need very few physics faculty. Part of this probably underscores a lack of knowledge on the prof. side- I doubt many research university advisors know anything about the liberal arts college market or the relevant industry markets (as an extreme example of out-of-touch-with-industry, when I told my advisor I probably didn't want a postdoc, he shifted me to a project that involved working with a piece of fortran 77 code, to 'make me more employable'.) We weren't advised that this was a possibility, but my class would have laughed at any professor that tried to tell us that. In my cohort, the expectation was that we would go on to industry. I don't understand why anyone who thinks they are going to go into industry would study high energy physics, or any kind of theory. For those fields, getting a job in industry means leaving physics. If everyone thought they were going into industry, the semi-conductor condensed matter groups (both experimental and computational) would be over-run with people, and no one would be getting string theory phds. Last edited: I can say that my experience can't be that unique, most of my cohort in grad school expressed surprise at job prospects after grad school (usually sometime around second year as they started seeing older students finish up). I think that much of the problem is that if you don't get an academic job, then you just "fade away." I was actually rather shocked when I learned that the job imbalance started in the 1970's, since most of the physics Ph.D.'s that graduated in the 1970's and 1980's worked in academia. Now obviously there is a massive selection effect here, but it's not obvious when you are in the middle of the situation. One thing that I find interesting is that none of the reports in the 1990's mentioned this glut of physics Ph.D.'s. One terrible assumption I made was overestimating the job market at liberal arts colleges. Yes, there are a lot of them, but they need very few physics faculty. Also what physics teaching that they do need doesn't have to be done by Ph.D.'s. There are a ton of jobs in community colleges, but the skills and expectations that people have are quite different. I remember my first mid-term teacher evaluation at the University of Phoenix in which the students were *SCATHING* at that fact that I couldn't shut up about quantum mechanics. It turns out that most of them weren't at all interested in QM. the relevant industry markets (as an extreme example of out-of-touch-with-industry, when I told my advisor I probably didn't want a postdoc, he shifted me to a project that involved working with a piece of fortran 77 code, to 'make me more employable'.) It depends. I got my first job because there was some Fortran 77 code that needed to be babysat. I don't understand why anyone who thinks they are going to go into industry would study high energy physics, or any kind of theory. For those fields, getting a job in industry means leaving physics. Well for me, I got my Ph.D. because I wanted a Ph.D. You can extend this further, if your goal is to make the most money with the least effort, then there is no reason to study physics or engineering at all. Most people don't. There is a reason why there are 100x more MBA's than physics Ph.D.'s. Also physics is a state of mind. I don't think that I've left physics. Now, you might think I've left physics, but I've had enough experience not caring what other people think to not care what other people think. :-) :-) :-) :-) If everyone thought they were going into industry, the semi-conductor condensed matter groups (both experimental and computational) would be over-run with people, and no one would be getting string theory phds. That's one of the problems with trying to out-guess the market. If everyone thought that number X would win the lottery, everyone would choose number X, and no one would win. Maybe it's better instead of trying to outguess the market to just do what you find fun. Vanadium 50 Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Education Advisor 2019 Award I don't understand why anyone who thinks they are going to go into industry would study high energy physics, or any kind of theory. For those fields, getting a job in industry means leaving physics. If everyone thought they were going into industry, the semi-conductor condensed matter groups (both experimental and computational) would be over-run with people, and no one would be getting string theory phds. Twofish has a good answer. But also remember that to get a job doing exactly what you studied in college - undergrad or graduate - is also the exception, not the norm. You get a major in Russian Literature, and you might find yourself working in HR, or marketing, or (as a friend of mine did) as a translator for the NHL. "Industry" is not a giant silicon lab at Intel. Some places people went: one does sales for high-end one-of-a-kind test instruments. One works for Boeing on a troubleshooting team. One works for DIA. One works doing government relations for a university. One does medical imaging software. A couple are in finance and oil. And one decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Andy Resnick Science Advisor Education Advisor Twofish? More like fiftyfish. Oops- my apologies. The 60's, especially the early 60's, were the post Sputnik period. One of the exceptions I mentioned. But holy smokes - it was 50 years ago. What I don't understand is the perception that somehow that is what's normal and we're somehow in the middle of a 50 year aberration. What I also don't understand is how 25 years ago, it was understood that getting a faculty job after a PhD was the exception and not the rule, but somehow people seem surprised by that today. I also suggest you take a look at assistant professor salaries today. They are much better than a postdoc's. State schools often publish their salaries online so you can see. (And remember to multiply by 11/9ths) You can't find a house for less than$300,000 in California?
If you mean a home with at least two bedrooms--we have a kid, after all--within a one hour commute of our university, and in a decent neighborhood, then I'm not so sure. If the nearby school is sketchy, then we'll need to net (i.e., after taxes) an extra $30K/year to pay for private school. There are decent jobs in Texas, Washington state, and New York. House prices in Texas are decent. House prices in Washington state are less insane. House prices in NYC are totally insane, but so are salaries. But we would both have to get jobs in those places before we could move. We've applied; no offers have come through. So we're still hanging out in California. And if you are really adventurous the are lots of jobs in Asia. I wouldn't hesitate to leave the U.S.; however, I'm married to someone who has zero desire to be an expat and apparently possesses zero ability to acquire new languages. This is the market telling you that you should get out of academia. One of the nice things about leaving academia is that suddenly a lot of hand cuffs get removed. Something that you really, really need ask yourself as why is academia so important that you are willing to make your life miserable to stay in it. Academia isn't important to me, as I've already pointed out, but it's important to my spouse. If everyone thought they were going into industry, the semi-conductor condensed matter groups (both experimental and computational) would be over-run with people, and no one would be getting string theory phds. \chuckle I have a friend who is getting his PhD in string theory, as well as his brother! Two string theorists from one family! If you mean a home with at least two bedrooms--we have a kid, after all--within a one hour commute of our university, and in a decent neighborhood, then I'm not so sure. If the nearby school is sketchy, then we'll need to net (i.e., after taxes) an extra$30K/year to pay for private school.
Hey Geezer,

If you work in the Bay Area or in LA (I live or have lived in both places) I can give you some hints on where to look to find an affordable house. There are actually some areas in both regions where the price isn't so bad for what you get.

The big problem with places with very cheap houses is: cheap houses -> low tax base -> awful schools -> private schools.
And private schools cost about $30K/year in our area. Our daughter's preschool (5 days/week, 5 hours/day) is$975/month and that's a bargain where we live. That's $975/month after we've paid$2,000/month for rent. How many post docs can afford that?

But we would both have to get jobs in those places before we could move. We've applied; no offers have come through. So we're still hanging out in California.
Something that I did was a long distance commute. For about three years, I worked in NYC and then commuted to Texas on the weekends so that my wife could finish the Ph.D. Scary thing was that it was cheaper than moving everyone up to NYC.

One thing that you have to be aware of is to get anything, you actually have to actively and passionately want to get out of California. If your heart is still in California (and that's not a bad thing), it's unlikely that you'll be able to spend the energy to get out.

I wouldn't hesitate to leave the U.S.; however, I'm married to someone who has zero desire to be an expat and apparently possesses zero ability to acquire new languages.
You can get by with only English.

Academia isn't important to me, as I've already pointed out, but it's important to my spouse.
One thing that helped me a lot was that neither my wife (who also has a Ph.D.) or I really cared that much about getting an academic job. One of my main motivating factors for me to get my Ph.D. was that my father wasn't able to get his, so once I got the degree, I was "finished." My wife has a similar personal story.

I feel I'm stepping into a minefield...... But....

Something that you have to be aware of are some of the landmines up ahead. I really know of one recent couple that's been able to pull off a dual academic job, and both are graduates of big name schools, are in growing fields, and one is a dean of a major US university. In the other situations, someone usually has had to make a big sacrifice (i.e. living in different parts of the world) to get into academia. I've seen really bad situations in which one partner ends up with extremely unrealistic expectations, and as reality sets in, bad things happen. Person A wants academic position. Academic position doesn't happen. Person A blames spouse. Spouse resents being blamed.

Something else that I've seen that ends up being nasty is intra-spousal academic jealousy. Person A is hyper-competitive and gets position. Person B isn't and gets less prestigious position. Person A and B have screaming fights.

Having lightning strike once is hard enough. Having it strike twice is even harder.

Getting a PHD in math and physics will present more job opportunities than an MBA because there are so few of them. The patience to get a PHD in a hard science will pay off immensely.

I have a friend who is getting his PhD in string theory, as well as his brother! Two string theorists from one family!
Not that unusual. Ph.D's tend to run in the family. Also Ph.D.'s tend to marry each other. There are about a half dozen astronomy/physics couples. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Wills, the Mihales, the Burbidges, the de Vaucouleurs, the Cochrans, the deWitts.

This actually makes it tougher/more traumatic to get out of academia. One weird thing about my life is that it wasn't until I was a freshman in college, that it suddenly dawned on me one day that not everyone gets summers off.

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This actually makes it tougher/more traumatic to get out of academia. One weird thing about my life is that it wasn't until I was a freshman in college, that it suddenly dawned on me one day that not everyone gets summers off.
Unless you're a euro... (http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/05/23/vacation.in.america/index.html?hpt=P1&iref=NS1)

After reading all this - how much of the end job selection is self-selection instead of 'settling'?

A Ph.D. graduates with tons of employable skills (see Physics PhDs in finance). Is that really a hard second choice for many or is the money just that good that it draws some from the 'core' research opportunities off the top so the academic situation isn't as dire as it seems? or is it that most Ph.D graduates try hard for years to get an academic position, fail and then start looking for other alternatives?

Getting a PHD in math and physics will present more job opportunities than an MBA because there are so few of them. The patience to get a PHD in a hard science will pay off immensely.
I pretty strongly disagree with that. I don't think it's a matter of this degree being more useful than that one. For example, you could ask whether I'd find it easier or harder to get a job with an MBA or a Ph.D., but for me the question doesn't make much sense because if I had gotten an MBA, I'd be someone else.

One thing thing that seems to be the case is that I don't know of many Ph.D.'s that are doing jobs that *require* a Ph.D. Most Ph.D.'s (including myself) end up doing things that don't absolutely require a Ph.D. So if you look at things this way, a physics Ph.D. certainly doesn't open too many doors.

Put another way, if you really want to get into finance and you don't care how, there are dozens of ways that less work and less effort than getting a physics Ph.D If my life revolved around finance, I would have never gotten a physics Ph.D. But my life revolves around physics, and finance is just a way of paying the bills.

The other thing is that to do well in the world of business, you have to learn MBA skills. Personally, I think that's cool, but that's me.

After reading all this - how much of the end job selection is self-selection instead of 'settling'?
Not very much. Think of it this way, it's called "work." If they didn't have to pay someone to do it, they wouldn't. One reason that post-docs make relatively little money is that they can get away with it, and still have the job done.

A Ph.D. graduates with tons of employable skills (see Physics PhDs in finance).
A Ph.D. also graduates with some major weaknesses. Something that helped me a lot was the fact that I'm somewhat cynical and a little arrogant, so sometimes I just do things my way. This helped me a lot because I would have been in serious trouble had I gone through the standard Ph.D. program.

Is that really a hard second choice for many or is the money just that good that it draws some from the 'core' research opportunities off the top so the academic situation isn't as dire as it seems?
If I thought that there was a reasonable chance of getting a "standard academic job" I wouldn't bother to have gone into finance. At some point reality sets in, and you figure out that you just ain't going to get a professorship.

I actually don't spend that much money.

Is it that most Ph.D graduates try hard for years to get an academic position, fail and then start looking for other alternatives?
I didn't try every hard to get a post-doc. It's actually rather harder to make a major change once you've gone through a few rounds of post-docs or are junior faculty, than if you leave with a fresh Ph.D.