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Is it difficult for blacks to have success in physics?

  1. Feb 17, 2013 #1
    As a black male who is going to college and has desired to be physicist most of his life, this question is important. My question is not about how intelligent blacks are, but rather is someone who is black at a disadvantage or advantage in terms of the job market, interships etc?
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2013 #2
    We're in the 21st century, so I'm gonna go with "no".
  4. Feb 17, 2013 #3
    It doesn't matter what color you are, it's difficult for anyone to have success in physics. There's just not many jobs available for actual physicists. I read from your other posts that you're still in high school so don't fret it yet. Get good grades, learn everything you can, and try to get research experience asap.
  5. Feb 17, 2013 #4


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    A person's ethnic background makes no difference to me in my interviewing and hiring of candidates.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  6. Feb 17, 2013 #5
    Look up Robert McNair.
  7. Feb 17, 2013 #6
    You're at a certain advantage as far as scholarships go.

    Don't let your race have anything to do with how you study, how you choose colleges, grad schools, classes, friends, etc. Physics is hard enough without adding a meaningless complication to it.
  8. Feb 17, 2013 #7


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    I think this position is a bit naive. Racism is still a real problem in the US. I would hope that in general, physicists, being well educated, would be less prone to bigotry than the population in general. But then I thought similarly when I entered grad school twenty years ago. At the time, some, if I recall correctly, American Physical Society members were trying to have gay people banned from a meeting. When one of the other grad students mentioned this, I frankly didn't believe him, but he showed me letters published in response to the proposal. One of them was as bigoted as anything I'd ever read. It was a real eye-opener for me. Although they might be very well educated, some of these guys could be incredibly stupid.

    That said, I do still think racism is probably less prevalent among physicists than the public in general, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's non-existent.
  9. Feb 17, 2013 #8


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    What makes it difficult for minorities in physics is the lack of mentorship many experience. Since most of the physics faculty at college and universities consists of white men, it might be harder for minorities to relate to their professors since they may have different experiences in various ways. However, things are definitely changing and there are many programs and opportunities that encourage diversity in the field. I think having a great mentor can make a huge difference. An alumni of my school who was the only African American and only female physics student in her year said that our department head (who also happens to be the only African American in the department), was a great role model for her. She has been very successful and is now getting a PhD at a top graduate school.
  10. Feb 17, 2013 #9
    I think you will have an advantage, all other things being equal.
  11. Feb 17, 2013 #10
    Pretty sure being racist has nothing to do with your intelligence.
  12. Feb 17, 2013 #11

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    I have heard the argument "your mentor has to look like you" in various forms, and I think it does the student a disservice.

    FWIW, my unofficial mentor (I got my PhD long before such people were assigned) did not look like me, and this worked out better than the alternatives.
  13. Feb 17, 2013 #12
    Oodles of Asian students don't seem to have trouble being mentored by whites.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2013
  14. Feb 17, 2013 #13
    I'm not sure about Physics specifically but in the Physical Sciences at my school there are a ton more opportunities (in the way of scholarships, REU's, honors programs etc) for minorities than there are for a typical middle class white. Even though College is so damn expensive that the playing field is pretty much level unless you are actually rich, IOW middle class people can't afford to pay out of pocket for school anymore than a completely poor person.

    I don't want to get on a soapbox or seem racist or jaded but I know lots of kids who did paid summer internships in top-notch labs/schools (Harvard etc) or were in Honors programs which were geared specifically toward minorities or women etc, without really having much in the way of grades, knowledge or motivation/desire (NB for that last part, I'm not generalizing, this has been my experience with the handful of people I've met at my school in my life, YMMV).

    Point is, from where I stand, being a minority actually gets you a leg up as an undergrad, which really sets the foundation of what opportunities are available to you as a Grad student or Physical Scientist.

    So don't worry about it, just let your passion and drive guide you. The rest kinda tends to fall into place (I had to learn that the hard way).
  15. Feb 17, 2013 #14
    The amount of graduating PhDs and Professors of asian descent is significantly closer to being comparable to caucasian than any other group.

    for every 1 combined (hispanic/black/other) PhD
    there are 3 asian PhDs
    and 5 caucasian phDs.

    ie only 1.66 times more caucasian than asian but 5 times more for other groups.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2013
  16. Feb 17, 2013 #15
    Blacks have a natural ability of being very creative and original thinkers.

    However if you can focus hard in your studies, and be patient,... you'll eventually get to a point where you can use your creativity. The original thoughts you come up with will most definitely help you become very successful.

    The only problem you may face (along with other minorities), is those idiotic Affirmative action policies that colleges implement. Your classmates will think you didn't get into the program on your own merit.

    So try not to rely on these policies and get into whatever program with hard work. Then in class just work hard and no one will have those thoughts.

    Also there are some very famous black scientists: Neil Tyson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson) and Lonnie George Johnson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Johnson_(inventor)).
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2013
  17. Feb 18, 2013 #16
    I can't vouch for how true that is, but you may actually have a slightly easier time in getting into some top colleges because you are a minority.

    Good luck. I'll echo what others said and tell you that you shouldn't let your race, or how you look for that matter, get in the way of your goals.
  18. Feb 18, 2013 #17


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    Cleaned up and closed. Obviously this isn't a topic most members can handle appropriately.
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