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Is it worth being a scientist these days

  1. Dec 16, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone, I've always wondered what it would like to be a biochemist or physicist, since both fields have fascinated me ever since i was 7. 5 years later, after seeing numerous post on this forum and about 4 others i've began to question my desire to be a scientist. I'd like to hear some people about their end of this problem with discouraging young and upcoming scientists' (in about a couple years or so). Please no arguments about "scientist rarely do it for the money", because i know about that but the community is disrupting that balance, so please state your honest opinions.

    thanks in advance.

    this is mostly for a career project... and i want an answer
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2012 #2
    i am entering university next fall so i don't have enough knowledge yet but i have a few things i can say.

    1. what does 'is it worth it' mean? everyone has different values in life so this is a very hard question to answer. A lot of people will say its not worth it because of all the time and effort you have to put in without a lot of money to show for it in the end. while you can work for those 10 years and be making money and gaining experience.
    On the other hand, a lot of people don't need a lot of money and it is worth it for them just to get that education and slave away until they can land a permanent position which again isnt a guarantee. They do it for passion. the discovery. the thrill of knowing something that most of the world does not

    i know you clarified that you know the whole passion vs money thing. but what i am trying to get at is that money IS a big decision maker for the majority of people. When its time to make a decision, everyone will always ask themselves, " Will I be happy doing this?" ,"Will I make enough to live?" i don't think scientists are the type to ask themselves "will this make me rich?", This is something a "non-scientist" would ask themselves, which brings me back to the type of people who would think it is not worth it to become a scientist.

    2. it is very tough. not everyone is willing to work hard each and everyday. theres so many things they would rather be doing then to spend half of their lives in school. we only get to live for a small amount of time and most people just dont want to study. so for them no its not worth it.

    you see your question like almost everything in life is subjective. Since you are doing this for a project. i suggest you try to put yourself in other people's shoes and try to explore other views. And maybe this will help you out in the future when look for a job or deciding on a degree.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2012
  4. Dec 16, 2012 #3
    Thank you for your input. what i mean by worth it i mean would i regret becoming a scientist after finding there are no positions after going through 10+ years of schooling and if there are enough jobs for scientists
  5. Dec 16, 2012 #4

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    Schooling won't guarantee you a job in ANY field. That's just how it is.
  6. Dec 16, 2012 #5
    Would you?

    Again, this is very subjective.
    For me personally, After i am done with physics or geology(i plan on eventually getting a phd in one of the two, not sure what i want to get into yet) if i do not end up with a job related to those areas, i would still think it was worth it. Why? because i don't see it as time wasted. my values, and my views on life is extremely different than others(definitely won't get into it). and if there ARE enough jobs for scientists, then great nothing will change. But regardless of the outcome, i will enjoy my time studying and learning. That's just my views.

    Also, i do believe that even if there are enough jobs for scientists, more people will definitely pursue this path. BUT i do not think it will make a huge difference simply because what i said before about how people don't want to spend half their lives in school, or to them science is boring. Plus, its extremely difficult! just because the job prospects are good does not necessarily mean more people will go into the field. Everyone knows that being an Engineer, or a Doctor or Dentist are very employable with extremely well pay. But yet, the majority of people would rather be doing other things that require less work. This is just how our society works nowadays. People are lazy, and do not want to go through all that hard work. The truth is... anyone can become anything they want. Seriously! all it takes is dedication and hardwork. Two things which are lacking these days.[correction] not these days, but always have been lacking
  7. Dec 16, 2012 #6
    To the original poster, most science phds I know were unable to get jobs in science and feel like they would have been better served studying engineering. After a physics phd, I did a stint in the service industry before I found more gainful employment. I'm currently employed with a consulting company doing analytics stuff, before that I was doing similar work for an insurance company.

    Most scientists in the country are graduate students whose careers in science will not last for very long after finishing their phd. It might be best to think of science less as a career and more as time away from a career/the real world.

    But that doesn't mean you shouldn't play the odds- get a medical school degree in the US and you are almost certain to be able to become a doctor. Same with an engineering degree,etc.

    Whereas getting a phd or a law degree and you most likely will not continue in your field- we should be upfront with students entering these schools "the majority of our graduates leave X shortly after finishing their degree" should be part of the sales pitch.

    I don't think you've yet encountered the real world. Most people who get phds in the sciences are very dedicated, and worked very hard, and ended up outside of science. You should only pursue a phd if you are fine with dedicating many years to your life, working hard, etc, and then ending up outside of science due to factors totally outside your control. Things like the funding climate, etc can have more impact on your career than anything you have control over.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2012
  8. Dec 17, 2012 #7
    I think this is quite correct. The advice in my (old) field - philosophy - on this matter is always this: if you cannot imagine being happy doing anything else then pursue philosophy as a career. Otherwise, don't.

    SHORT ADVICE: There is nothing wrong with, and much to be said for, going to uni for 3 or 4 years doing something you love until you're 21/22, surrounded by peers who share your passion, learning from experts, and getting an education, as opposed to a vocational training. But that is a lot different to 7 to 10 years of the above until you're 25/28.

    LONG ADVICE: I did my undergraduate and my MA in philosophy with a single-minded determination to get a PhD in it and then a uni job. I knew the low chance of a permanent job, the low pay, the lost-earnings while studying, the total lack of respect from everyone outside the field etc. and didn't care.

    By the time I finished my MA I was 27 and something happened: I suddenly realised that all that stuff that had driven me before was far less important. Now I cared much more about a stable, long-term relationship, getting on the property ladder, a pension, having disposable income etc. They will weigh much more heavily at the age you begin looking for work after your PhD than when you decide to start it.

    Anecdotally, a woman I know did one undergraduate in business and went straight to work in business. She enjoys her job but probably does not identify with it as a 'marketing manager' the way you might as a 'scientist'. She was on £100 000 a year for a while. She took a job with a 50% pay cut so she could spend the time writing a novel. That 50% wage cut still meant she earned more than most workers in the UK. She is 33. And now back in a job paying £75 000.

    Contra a friend who did his undergraduate and master's degree in literature and writing. He has written a novel and is trying to rewrite it after review to get it published. Writing is his identity and life. He earns £15 000 in a temporary job that he absolutely detests, and gets no benefits of any kind, and is, like all the temps there, subject to instant dismissal with no reason needed. He tells me daily he hates his life. The only thing that makes it more bearable is saying how 'ignorant' corporate types are and how he has not 'sold out' etc.

    You judge which life you'd rather have.

    So, although not quite feasible to earn lots, save, then take time out to 'do science', unlike writing a book, the point is - although I except this anecdote is likely to be a rarity: you can do a job that is quite enjoyable, even if it is not your calling, and still find time to pursue things you love. It's not either/or.
  9. Dec 17, 2012 #8
    I think this depends on what you get your phd in, you did particle theory so it stands to reason funding would kill alot of your potential academic or research jobs, this did not seem to hold true with the plasma physicists I met and spoke with over the weekend. Their experimental skills seemed to serve well keeping them employed whether that be fusion, diagnostics, or even device fabrication; so they're still working on science or a closely related engineering topic. I'm just an undergrad mind you but it seemed the more applied or experimental your research is the more transferable your skills are to other fields which helps land science and engineering jobs.
  10. Dec 17, 2012 #9
    So, to be clear here, 100% of the people you met who currently work as scientists. . . currently work as scientists?

    Did you also take the time to meet the people who got similar degrees and do not work as scientists?

    What exactly is your anecdote measuring?
  11. Dec 17, 2012 #10
    For the record, 0% of the people I meet who work at insurance companies and got scientific degrees work in science.

  12. Dec 17, 2012 #11


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    I think the short answer that you (and Locrian) are giving to the OP is that pursuing a graduate degree in science (or at least a theoretical physics PhD, your chosen area of study) is simply not worth it as far as careers are concerned. i.e. physics degrees are for suckers.
  13. Dec 17, 2012 #12
    I wanted to be a scientist my whole life. I just wasnt smart enough or good enough to make it all the way. There are very, very few jobs doing 'science'. Very few. Getting one is similar to getting a music recording contract or a pro athlete contract. Its just not going to happen for the vast majority of people who attempt it. Most people who get PhDs never do science professionally after graduating and most people with science BS degrees dont do anything even technical, engineering or science related at all.
  14. Dec 17, 2012 #13
    Dude but science is not music or sport. To tell you the truth - I belive that music and sport is more "fair' career than science. Because - do you honestly belive that people from top schools with many papers published under their belt were "not good enough"?

    Science is very very ugly in matter of talent/luck ratio. You may be talented, intelligent, hard-working and so on and waste your whole life because you won't be lucky enough to make a breakthrough.

    In sports or music your individual abilities are very important. But science is a teamwork. Because of that you are dommed to be "member of 1000 people science team". So all glory is for da boss. Think about postdocs as ghostwriters.

    You shouldn't compare science to music or sport. Because nature of careers in those fields are fundamentally different.
  15. Dec 17, 2012 #14
    You shouldn't be patronizing. I do compare them because I believe the comparison is apt. Yes, all careers are different at some fundamental level. That doesn't negate a comparison...
  16. Dec 17, 2012 #15


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    It's great work, if you can get it.

    Science, by its very nature, involves stepping into the unknown. There is no guarantee that you will be successful with an investigation. Sometimes you pursue what seems like a great idea at the time only to fall on your face and get a null result. Sometimes some curious little behavior that you didn't really think was all that important can turn out to be a game changer. In a lot of ways the career of a scientist parallels this.

    Getting a PhD is a lot of work. It requires a lot of time investment, and has a high opportunity cost. And it won't work for you once you have it. Some people get lucky, work on something that turns out to be a hot topic years down the road and have a relatively easy time finding a job. Others find that their PhD thesis is really a dead end, or the topic has become obsolete.

    But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, if you look at the available data, people with PhDs in scinence (particularly in physics) tend to do quite well in the workforce wherever they end up.

    Second, you have to be aware of selection bias when reading internet forums. People who are generally happy with their career choices tend not to post often about how great their lives are.

    Third, an education itself has value. It can present you with opportunities (other than just financial) that you wouldn't otherwise have had. It can also give you a unique perspective on and understanding of the world. So can "life experience" of course. But working through a PhD is a rather intense "life experience."
  17. Dec 17, 2012 #16
    there are very few in physics but there are other sciences out there, physicists just don't want to admit it =). You can definitely get a job in science with a PhD in science if your PhD was Analytical Chemistry. Does that information help anyone here in any way... no because everyone here wants to do theoretical physics.
  18. Dec 17, 2012 #17


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  19. Dec 17, 2012 #18


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    I suppose I should clarify my response here. I personally do not necessarily believe that a physics degree is worthless (disclaimer: I do not come from a physics background myself -- as my handle makes clear, I'm a statistician).

    As others have pointed out, there is an issue of selection bias, as those who are satisfied with their career choices are unlikely to be posting here in this forum. And at least anecdotally, the people that I know personally who have studied physics have done rather well for themselves career-wise (one of my good friends studied physics in undergrad, pursued a PhD in applied math, and is now working as a bioinformatics researcher at a major teaching hospital here in Canada). And studying physics, or any science program for that matter, has intrinsic value in itself in terms of gaining a better understanding of the way the world works at a much deeper level than perhaps any other way.

    That being said, if your sole concern is whether studying science will lead to a lucrative career -- well, there's no guarantee of that. And there is a greater probability that a degree in engineering (depending on what field of engineering) or medicine will lead to a path to secure employment.

    So is studying science really worth it? There is no simple answer about this.
  20. Dec 17, 2012 #19
  21. Dec 17, 2012 #20


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    Also, medicine and engineering involve science, so it doesn't seem that studying them means not studying science.
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