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Can you do research in your spare time?

  1. Nov 11, 2013 #1
    I'm in year 12 and I will be studying math and physics next year. I love physics and I'm hoping to do a PhD in the future. Let's say I make it that far, the job prospects are terrible. If I end up having to get a job in finance or something, will I be able to do research in my spare time? You don't need any equipment or anything for theoretical physics (which is the field I'm interested in), so will I have the time to publish any decent papers? I'm just being realistic because I know I probably won't end up with a job in academia, but I still want to do what I love :P
     
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  3. Nov 11, 2013 #2
    It currently seems unlikely. Even if you are able to manage a full time job on top of research (which is a full time job in and of itself) both parts of your life will suffer.

    Doing research may seem straightforward, but often you run into roadblocks that can suspend progress for long periods of time, even with the resources that universities offer. Having such difficulties on your own may prove insurmountable, as you will have no resources to reach out to. In addition, doing research requires access to scientific journals, which currently cost a lot of money. Even with the arXiv and recent pushes by the government to make scientific papers available to the general public without a pay wall, most journals are very weary of authors outside of academia.

    Overall, while it is possible to successfully conduct research on your own (assuming you are able to overcome the immense difficulty in doing so, while balancing a full time job), it is unlikely that your papers would ever be published based on the current research climate. If that climate changes, it may be more possible, but I cannot see anyone being a successful researcher without the support offered by an academic environment.
     
  4. Nov 11, 2013 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    You do realize that there is more to a research position than writing papers: there is also reading papers. Even doing research full-time, it's hard to keep up. I can't imagine keeping up with a busy field part-time.
     
  5. Nov 11, 2013 #4

    StatGuy2000

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    Vanadium 50, Sentin3l, what both of you are saying is that once someone who graduates with a PhD in physics leaves the academic world (postdoc, tenure-track positions) or a similar research environment and works in, say, finance, software or insurance (common employers of physics PhDs according to the claims of a number of posters in Physics Forums) then it is essentially impossible for these people to continue to be involved in physics research at any meaningful level.

    Am I correct about this?
     
  6. Nov 11, 2013 #5

    Choppy

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    It's not impossible, just not probable.

    There are examples of amateur astronomers, for example, who have made significant contributions to that field.

    But remember that by the time most people finish a PhD, they're entering their thirties. So you're talking about establishing a career, settling down with a partner, having kids, etc. - all of which are major time commitments. In order to be an active and effective researcher you need to put a lot of time in, even as a theorist. Of course, you can do this. You can put off other priorities in your life in order to pursue some ideas that interest you. But this obviously requires a lot of sacrifice and remember it's for research. Research is often a "one step up, two steps back" kind of process and it can be extremely discouraging to do this night after night, seeing no results that are worth reporting. It's hard enough for those who are lucky enough to do this professionally.
     
  7. Nov 11, 2013 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    You might take a look at some high impact journals and see how many people are publishing outside of the university/national lab/industrial lab framework. That will demonstrate exactly how hard it is to make an impact part-time.
     
  8. Nov 11, 2013 #7
    Thats a biased sample because there are people doing what would fit into publishable work but ends up being proprietary and stays within the company (PhDs who end up in other settings) or just doesnt get written up because the metric of productivity outside of the settings given is not "papers written". An example would be something like monte carlo decryption which spent some time unpublished despite being applied by statisticians doing consulting work until a university settings researcher published it as an application of MCMC. Simply it is a biased sample because publishable work can be done but not written up and in industries that do not use "papers published" as an important metric there isnt any incentive to publish such work.

    People tend not to publish after because they develop other interests. If you are doing experiment though you are not likely to find the resources to conduct an experiment. You cant "do it all" so if you have a job your main time expense is your work then theoretically you could choose keeping up and collaborating with researchers where you expend the rest of your time and have no life outside of both. Or you could take up something more relaxing when you are not working. The choice is obvious to most people as to what to do with their free time.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2013
  9. Nov 11, 2013 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    The OP didn't ask about industrial research being published or not published. He asked about "spare time". The number of papers (or lack thereof) published by people in their spare time should say something.
     
  10. Nov 11, 2013 #9
    That is missing the point that "doing research in your spare time" is not the same as "publishing papers in your spare time". Outside of academia and national lab settings you arent incentivized to publish the work you do by making an important metric in your career the "papers" you publish which is clearly going to lead to smaller motivation to publish work that could be publishable.

    This means taking number of papers published in a journal by non academics is a biased metric for determining the amount of people outside of academia doing publishable work.
     
  11. Nov 11, 2013 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    I think the case can be made that research that isn't published might as well not have been done.
     
  12. Nov 11, 2013 #11
    The example I gave on MC decryption proves otherwise because unpublished research occasionally becomes published in journals. People will also write up such things internally only to later publish it when it becomes clear they should. Clearly the argument that unpublished research not being having any especially when you restrict publishing to journals is not a compelling argument.

    Add to this that sometimes unpublished work leads to skills that become useful in published work.

    Saying unpublished work might as not have been done is like telling a basketball player that basketball games that arent recorded might as well not have been played when clearly just the act of doing is a benefit.
     
  13. Nov 12, 2013 #12
    try ur best to stay in an academic environment.
     
  14. Nov 12, 2013 #13
    Thanks for all the advice guys :) I've still got a long way to go anyway, so I shouldn't be too concerned at the moment. Even if I won't end up doing research in the long term, I'm still going to study physics for the fun of it.
     
  15. Nov 12, 2013 #14

    ZapperZ

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    We ARE discussing about publishing on physics topics, aren't we? Please note that the OP explicitly specified about PUBLISHING, as in .... "so will I have the time to publish any decent papers?... " Whether what didn't get published counts or not is irrelevant to the original question.

    Secondly, what Vanadium said is relevant. One can simply do one's own legwork and figure out how many physics papers in Science, Nature, PRL, etc. are published by independent researchers who are already working outside of physics. This is the most direct statistics one can obtain.

    Thirdly, since when do we advice someone to do something because such-and-such can happen, but only on very rare occasions? Sure, it is possible for a broken vase to spontaneously assemble itself into its original shape when I throw it onto the floor, but I'll be darn if I want to base my life on that happening! Saying that doing something like this is possible while neglecting how unlikely it is is utterly irresponsible. You might as well tell someone to cross a busy street without looking both ways because there's a possibility he/she won't get run over by a car. You just don't advice someone to pursue something when the chances of that happening is extremely small.

    Zz.
     
  16. Nov 12, 2013 #15
    In my personal view, research is done not only for self-interest, but also for the advancement of the field. Research that is done but not published is good and all, but if no one else knows about it, how much good will it do?

    While like myself and other said, doing research on your own IS plausible. BUT the time commitment required and the reluctance for journals to publish from non-academic sources makes it VERY unlikely. The OP here has clearly stated that they were interested in publishing papers as well as researching for interest, so the discussion is therefore on research and publishing, not on research alone.
     
  17. Nov 12, 2013 #16
    This would be entirely correct if in the preceding sentence in the OP which was not quoted he had asked a more general question about research in general.
    The other two points are exactly the points I already have covered in mentioning that doing any research would take all your free time which means nobody is likely to do it because they left academia with the intention of getting away from academia or the doors of academia where shut in which case one is likely not going to want to contribute to it especially in your free time. These reasons alone would likely account for why the journals arent flooding with papers from PhDs outside of academia. It would also complicate the simplification no papers in journals by non academic phDs is mostly a result of such phDs not being able to do publishable work. One of the points of a phD is to teach you to be self sufficient at doing publishable work.
     
  18. Nov 12, 2013 #17
    Trying to publish as a sole author in a journal as a non academic would be going about publishing as a non academic totally wrong.

    If you completed a phD you should be able to at least know one professor which you can email or call to be able to introduce you to someone or act as someone you could collaborate with even if just for publishing purposes. If you have a phD and dont know even a single professor or ex classmate who is now a professor you can communicate with then I am confused as to how you could get a phD without developing a relationship with at least your advisor.
     
  19. Nov 12, 2013 #18
    Well, Albert Einstein did it, that ought to tell you something about where the bar is set for individuals outside academia.

    He also had a cushy job; I think it would be impossible to be a full time engineer or something of that order and actually manage to publish something even slightly significant.

    Given that the volume of physics students entering the field is increasing and the number of positions is not, it will be interesting to see if anybody breaks the mold or if the system changes in the coming decades. As it stands, being an academic is a full time job, and having two full time jobs is impossible.
     
  20. Nov 12, 2013 #19
    Lets extrapolate from Einstein.
     
  21. Nov 12, 2013 #20
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