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Article: The academic pyramid

  1. Nov 1, 2012 #1
    I read this article in my latest physicsworld (a publication of the institute of physics), thought it's quite relevant to many of the discussions here. If you're a IOP member you can read it here: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/indepth/2012/oct/04/the-academic-pyramid

    Here's what the rest of you will see.
    However a picture is worth a thousand words and the article is summed up by this image: http://imgur.com/8SOJX

    Caption: Transition points in typical academic scientific careers following a PhD. Based on data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Research Base Funders Forum and the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s annual “Destinations of leavers from higher education” survey. (Courtesy: Reused from The Scientific Century: Securing our Future Prosperity, by permission of the Royal Society).

    It goes on to say:
    So there you go 0.45% chance of becoming a professor...
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2012 #2
    I also saw this article and thought it was a good read. Can you refresh my memory - does the total represent PhD holders or graduate degree holders?

    I'm in for the ride to do research a few years then go into industry (If I make the grade). Sounds altogether agreeable if you ask me.
  4. Nov 1, 2012 #3
    Under 17% of physics phds seem to be able to go into industry research, according to the article (17% were non-university research, which includes national/govt labs I think). Combining the other science positions, that's something like a 1/5 chance of a career in science at all (and that includes things like science writing). And its not about making the grade, its about making the grade AND being lucky. You can't really predict what industries will be wanting people at the end of your phd.
  5. Nov 1, 2012 #4
    I'm not sure if you are joking or not but I will assume the latter. The data does not imply that there is a .45% chance of becoming a professor, that is a big misinterpretation. 53% enter careers outside of academia even before going into early career research (which I assume refers to masters & PhD research). Even then, you don't know how much of the remaining percentage attempted to become a professor.

    The meaningful conclusion that you can extrapolate out of this, however, is that out of X amount of people, there are .45X amount of jobs available for a professor position.
  6. Nov 1, 2012 #5
    Near as I can tell from the article, its postdoc research, not masters and phd research. The whole starting sample is people with phds. 47% get postdocs or an industry position, 53% leave science all together(some forced out by inability to land a postdoc/lack of industrial research, some leave voluntarily).

    I think its fair to assume most phds want to be professors, but not all. The worse number for me is that more than half of phds leave science right away (myself included). The median phd never has a career in science.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
  7. Nov 1, 2012 #6
    Oh the whole starting sample is people with PhDs? I don't have access to the article so I just relied on the image supplied for my information.

    Edit: Just realized that you can register for free to gain access to the article. ^.^
  8. Nov 1, 2012 #7
    I politely submit that you can make decent predictions if you snoop around enough.

    In any case, can anyone tell me whether "careers outside of science" includes engineering? Many of the people I've met who have studied physics have been perfectly content to become engineers rather than pure researchers. Others I've known have gladly "jumped ship" to start careers in finance or software development where they've made simoleons hand-over-fist. So, while I appreciate the post, I think the situation may not be so grim, that is, unless people here have their hearts set on being professors.
  9. Nov 1, 2012 #8
    I submit that 6+ (length of phd) years is a long time to make a forward prediction, especially in high tech areas.

    Its not entirely clear from the article, but my initial impression is that they aren't included as 'outside of science', and that the industrial research percentages includes engineering positions.

    Also, from my personal sample of anecdotal evidence (people I know who came through the phd program with me) its pretty difficult to convince an engineering company to hire you if your degree is physics. There are enough qualified engineers that they don't have to go outside the narrow qualifications. But all of my experience has been since 2008- maybe its different when unemployment isn't quite so high.

    In my experience, most people who 'jumped ship' were not glad to do so- they couldn't figure out any way to make a career in physics work, so they bounced in to something they felt comfortable with. I'm pretty sure everyone I know with a physics phd working in software, insurance,etc would take a large paycut for the opportunity to have a stable job in science. I know I would. However, they won't give up stability (they wanted a more traditional family/life-work balance than science could give).
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
  10. Nov 1, 2012 #9
    I believe engineering jobs are included. That's because at the graduate level many engineering jobs are research based and many research science jobs have strong engineering tendencies. Developing a new optical sensor for biomolecules... engineering or science? Developing new imaging software for scanning probe microscopes... engineering or science?

    The problem with engineering is that there's not many "open ended" RD engineer jobs that just give you a technological problem and ask your group to solve it at the lowest cost. There's stuff like regulatory compliance, knowing which parts and which suppliers are good/bad, etc. which you get when you're in the field and is simply not possible to learn in either a lab or a classroom since its not a technical thing.
  11. Nov 1, 2012 #10
    You mean included as part of the industry/research jobs, and NOT lumped in with the 'outside of science' category?
  12. Nov 2, 2012 #11
    yes. outside of science would probably be things like insurance, finance and probably IT too.
  13. Nov 4, 2012 #12
    I agree completely.

    I certainly wasn’t happy about leaving physics, but at first I did find the challenge of learning to be a software developer to be very invigorating. On the whole, I’d gladly take a substantial pay cut to be back in physics.
  14. Nov 7, 2012 #13
    One of the students in my research group recently got an engineering position completely unrelated to his research and he definitely knows zero about engineering or the physics it involves - this suggests to me they were not able to find a qualified engineer.

    2 of my engineering friends confirmed to me companies in the UK find very hard to find engineers, which might explain the above.

    Maybe 2008 was different, and maybe the UK is different though
  15. Nov 9, 2012 #14


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    ParticleGrl, among the 53% of physics PhDs who leave science altogether, you included those who worked in finance, insurance (like yourself) or work in software development. But depending on the specifics of the job, wouldn't a career in software development be counted as "science-related"? After all, companies that develop medical imaging or remote sensing software often hire those with an applied math or physics background (based on people I know), and I would consider such work to be science-related.
  16. Nov 9, 2012 #15
    I think it's pretty obvious to never count on becoming a professor but I do think that picking your adviser can determine whether you end up staying in a field related to science. I've posted this quite a bit but it's easy to see the track record of certain professors. If they have industry contacts and their former students get jobs then you're chances go up getting something related to them. If not.. then get ready to run on the post-doc treadmill or grab a ticket in the unemployment line. The students that are dead set on professorship aren't setting themselves up for success; the skills that a professor needs are drastically different than what industry needs.

    Also, there's too much entitlement involved with becoming a professor. I constantly hear those "brilliant" students that think they're smart enough to beat the odds of becoming a professor. Then they cry when they don't get their way. A goal is one thing but every goal should have a backup plan.
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