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How many physicists has pessimism lost us?

  1. Jul 13, 2015 #1
    This is really more of a qualitative question than a quantitative one. There is a history of some very depressing stories told on these forums (which certainly many people find through Google) of Ph.D holders without that desired tenure-track job, maybe working part time in a field entirely unrelated to physics. The sad state of many Ph.D holders may be amplified in the fact that people who are in hard times are more likely to post on forums about it than people whose research programs are going great as TT faculty. So it's not necessarily true that Ph.D holders in STEM fields are in a bad position.

    However, there's doubtless more than a few people who have actually decided not to go into physics or math, for instance, solely because of these anecdotes they've read online. So, how many great physicists have we lost because of such negativity? Or would a great physicist go into physics anyway?

    I'll admit that when I was researching majors a couple of years ago, I wanted to major in physics, but was put off from it because of stories I heard from physics majors. Admittedly, I majored in a "safer" option (electrical engineering) and have found many interesting areas I enjoy just as much as physics in it (of course, I'm always on the lookout for physics-heavy areas of EE). So it's not necessarily a loss for me that I didn't major in physics, because I found that I had other interests that I didn't know about.

    To go off on a tangent, a lot of people come here with the mindset that they'll only be happy with physics, even though they don't actually know what physicists do on a day-to-day basis. I guess quantum [object] and relativistic [thingy] seem cooler than, say, op amps and transfer functions.

    Anyway. Thoughts? Experiences? Anyone switch from physics and regret it? Anyone "settled" for something more practical and ended up loving that even more?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2015 #2
    Very few of the grad students I went to school with regarded a tenure track faculty job as the only path to success.

    We loved our advisor and all the tenured faculty we worked with, but we did not desire to follow in that path.
  4. Jul 13, 2015 #3
    As well most of the science done in my field doesn't take place in academia.

    I suppose every science may have benefitted by the same logic...perhaps geology lost a great mind because someone chose physics instead. Perhaps some medical breakthrough in some specialty was delayed by some student pursuing a doctorate in physics instead of biology.
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