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Did it used to be easier to get a PH.D?

  1. Oct 30, 2013 #1
    Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s was it easier to get a PHD in theoretical physics than it is today?
    Thank you
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 30, 2013 #2


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    No, but it might have taken less time in the 1960's. There was a severe over-production of physics PhDs (and many other areas besides physics) by the late '60s, resulting in many people unable to get jobs, etc.

    Prior to that time there was a rapid boom in the college education field, meaning that there was a great need for new assistant professors; but suddenly the shortage of candidates was replaced by a surplus - in great part due to a deceleration in the growth of college education.
  4. Oct 30, 2013 #3
    So would you say that it is still possible to get a PhD in physics in four years?
  5. Oct 30, 2013 #4
    Probably not if you want a good postdoc afterwards/a career in physics. You will be competing with people who spent 6-7 years in their phd program, and have the papers to show for it.
  6. Oct 30, 2013 #5


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    You would have to be very productive, and also pick a good dissertation topic first time. Out of my cohort I only know two who finished in under five years.
  7. Oct 30, 2013 #6
    Oh, I thought the faster you completed your PhD the better.
  8. Oct 30, 2013 #7


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    Why do you say this? Is this true for experimental particle physics?

    I've not noticed any such problem ...
  9. Oct 30, 2013 #8


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    In the US, the average time in grad school (masters and PhD work) is about 7.5 years according to the APS statistics I saw a few years ago. I know one person who finished in 4 years. I know many who took 10 or more years. I was average. It's not a race, and finishing in fewer years does not mean you're better, did better research, or are more likely to get a job or postdoc.
  10. Oct 31, 2013 #9
    Why does it take too much time ? I think generally we have 2 years for a master and the next 3 years for a PhD if the candidate wants to continue. There are totally only around 5 years to get both degrees.
    I think it was easy to get a PhD in the past until people set up more rules to control the process
  11. Oct 31, 2013 #10


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    Keep in mind that in the US, people generally enter a Ph.D. program immediately after the bachelor's degree. Even though they don't do a M.S. degree separately, they still spend a couple of years on M.S. level coursework, in addition to the time spent on actual research.

    I took 7 years myself (1975-82), in experimental HEP. From what I remember about my fellow grad students, I think 6-7 years was typical at that time, in that field at least.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  12. Oct 31, 2013 #11
    I say it because it was definitely noticeable while I was in gradschool. Most theorists had at least one first author paper by the end of their fourth or fifth year, but stayed around another two or three years to get two or three more so that they'd be competitive on the job market. No one cared how long it took to complete your phd, they cared about the papers you had published. I know condensed matter experiment people in similar situations.

    Experimental particle physics is a weird beast though, as everyone ends up on all the experiment's papers, so I guess people's reputations must be decided via talks and other avenues.

    That said, nearly everyone I know who did experimental particle physics at Fermilab ended up taking a job for an insurance company after postdocing. Its a rough market right now, at least in the US.
  13. Oct 31, 2013 #12
    Insurance company? With a PHD in physics.
  14. Oct 31, 2013 #13
    Particle girl, if you do not mind me asking, which grad school did you attend?
  15. Oct 31, 2013 #14
    Its quite common. Other common jobs are finance companies, software companies, etc. There just aren't enough jobs in science for everyone who gets a science phd.
  16. Oct 31, 2013 #15


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    I think there needs to be a distinction between finishing one's PhD in 4 years, versus being able to seek employment as a postdoc after finishing one's PhD in 4 years (as opposed to finishing one's PhD in > 4 years, however long that may be).

    I can't say much about theoretical physics, but in many other fields (including math and statistics), it's quite common for PhD students to complete their studies in 4 or 5 years. In fact, from what I have heard (at least for graduate programs in statistics at a number of different schools), students are only guaranteed funding within a 4 year period and must seek to apply for further funding to continue their PhD.

    I am also not aware of statistics PhD students having really any more advantage as far as postdoc or tenure track opportunities are concerned after pursuing their studies past 4-5 years. Things may be different for math PhDs.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  17. Oct 31, 2013 #16


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    To an extent I think you'd be comparing apples and oranges.

    The questions and problems people were working on were different, as were the tools and resources available.

    For example, when I was un undergrad in the mid-90's the internet was only just becoming popular as a resource to the general public. Prior to this, if you needed any information, you had to go looking in the library. I can imagine that just to look up some really basic information that now takes only a minute or two with Google could take hours.

    On the other hand, there was a lot less information to sort through.
  18. Oct 31, 2013 #17
    Pigeonhole principle => Not all physics phDs work in physics
  19. Oct 31, 2013 #18
    I know that physics PhDs don't all work in physics, but I never heard any of them working at an insurance company. How would a PhD in physics be useful at an insurance company?
  20. Oct 31, 2013 #19
    Insurance companies have large collections of data, and accurately modelling that data can be very profitable.
  21. Oct 31, 2013 #20
    how much would one make a year doing that?
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