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Decrease in the number of physics students

  1. May 30, 2005 #1
    One of the issuses adresed by the organising committee for the World year of Physics is the decrease in the number of physics students worldwide. (see www.wyp2005.org/overview.html)
    In my country India, a few people with post graduate degrees in Physics complete their Ph.D 's and pursue research but most of the students only have one option left, of becoming high school teachers. The salary for a high school teacher is very low, about $ 250 a month, while engineers and doctors get paid a lot more. So the general perception here is that doing a pure science course is a last resort option. (there are a very few exceptions of course)
    First of all, do you agree that there is a decrease in the number of physics students, and what do you think is the reason behind it in your country?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2005 #2
    Yeah in america and most of the western world their has been a decrease in physics degrees.while in america it is probaly do to both education standards and in my opinion.It is mostly because the average person thinks that physics is hard and also hard to get a job in they think that they won't work with people why you want that i don't know but it is a very bad thing in many countries such as america canada most european countries there are less and less being produced even japan and germany france and other major producers of engineers are having trouble. three reasons
    1. poor preparation in math and science
    2.poor image
    3.poor outlook (maybe)

    most people don't get adequate help or stimulation in science or math and hence think of it as hard or even impossible.this leds to a poor perception on the image of science and engineering careers.people think of "geeks" and antisocial people when they think science.people say "but I want to work with people".So they don't go into science.as well there is a poor perception of the outlook of the field this may be true.I think that with companies outsourcing into countires with a lower wage and such ,well it is just a common business plan.IBM CEOs say let's move your programmers to india where we get the work done at one third the price and they do it.
    of course.
    well we will see where that goes.
  4. Jun 1, 2005 #3
    Spot on with the math thing. Most of the people in my physics class (the ones who are taking it as a required course) look like murder witnesses when they see the instructor do some basic algebra. Not because it's hard, those people are in calculus classes, but because people are taught that it's supposed to be hard. They are afraid of it.

  5. Jun 1, 2005 #4
    I question what jobs are out there for physics graduates with simply a B.S degree? What I see are jobs that an engineer could do and probably do better at. Thats just what I have seen thus far.
  6. Jun 1, 2005 #5
    I definitely notice that physics is not a very popular choice, but I can't say whether or not it's declining. After the first two years of general courses, the classes I had were aimed directly toward physics students. The average class size was five students. (I was studying in a small, ~6000 student university in Canada)

    I think the problem (at least in my school) was that nobody really knows what they will be doing after they graduate. In many other fields you begin learning with a clear understanding of what you will be doing when you graduate. The only reason I took physics is because I liked calculus and physics classes in high school, I really had no idea what people trained in physics could do besides teach high school classes!

    When I finished my BSc I still had no idea what I wanted to do. So I switched to engineering and I'm in my last year of that program now. Too bad I still don't know what I want to do, grad school (Masters in Applied Science) or get a job in engineering.

    So I guess the biggest problem I see is that students coming out of high school just don't know what they are getting into when they choose physics and it might make a lot of them choose engineering.
  7. Jun 1, 2005 #6


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    If such a decline exists, I would be prone to blame, in addition to those things mentioned, the teaching. In my experience, physicists are too wrapped up in their own research and image to make any serious attempt to motivate and teach the students. The world needs more Richard Feynmans.
  8. Jun 1, 2005 #7


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    hell, not my professors.... or well.. 1 is kinda a jerk lol... but hes an astronomist ;). My professors will sit around with you and talk for like an hour about whatever if you want :D
  9. Jun 1, 2005 #8


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    That's interesting, because my experience is in the extreme opposite direction. My physics teachers have been mostly douches and my astronomy/astrophysics teachers have been mostly great. Very few people that I speak to have the opposite impression, but I'm sure there are exceptions. Where do you go to school?
  10. Jun 1, 2005 #9


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    California State University - Fresno

    Maybe its because its more of a teaching university. The guy... hes nice as hell and will answer anything, but hes busy a lot and demands an appointment if you want to talk to him off of his office hours.
  11. Jun 4, 2005 #10
    Most teachers say you have to get appointment outside of office hours if they're busy.

    I'm not worried about, nor surprised that there is a decline the the numbers of physics majors worldwide. THe numbers always vary, declining some years, rising others.
  12. Jun 7, 2005 #11
    Spot on, but what I have found at my university is that during classes, lecturers just rush through the material without explaining things in detail. But if you go and ask them after hours most of them will be happy to explain things... They are too caught up with their research to care I must agree.. You can tell by how prepared they are for the classes.. Some of my lecturers will just come in grab a piece of chalk and start writing away.. Others will have prepared ppt slides, or handout lecture notes... they're the ones that care..
  13. Jun 7, 2005 #12


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    I didn't really want to stick my nose into this, but just to make sure we dispell with some of the myth here, especially since no one is cited exact statistics but rather making anecdotal comments:

    1. The enrollment in physics classes for high school students have been increasing for the past several years!


    2. While the number of B.Sc in physics in US institutions was slowly declining in the early 90's, there has been a rebound in the number of B.Sc in physics since the late 90's. While the latest statistics only included 2001, there has been unofficial statistics that the trend has continued through 2003. No statistics of any kind has been published yet since then.


  14. Jun 7, 2005 #13
    Thank you for your commments everyone
    I'd just like to say that I started this thread as a result of something I read on the WYP website (www.wyp2005.org/overview.html). I also interviewed the director of Institute for Plasma Research(in Ahmedabad, India), Prof. P.K.Kaw, and asked him this. He said that IPR was facing this problem, because around 5 years ago, they used to recruit around 15 M.S. level students per year. The figure decreased to 5, 2 years ago and this year they had only one applicant. (and IPR is a very prestigious institute)
    According to him, other institutes are facing the same problem. And also, I have just finished high school, and I can see the career choices people around me are making. Pure science is very low on the priority list. So, though figures may suggest otherwise, I can say that atleast in India, the number of students opting for physics as a career is decreasing.
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