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Other Is it worth it to become a scientist?

  • Thread starter Pi Pie
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Hello, everyone.

I'm a Physics undergraduate, I study in a highly acclaimed university (According to QS ranking and others) and I'm currently on the second year (3rd semester). Also I'm new here, just joined Physics Forums.

My goal is to become a theoretical physicist or a cosmologist, but I've been dealing with some... "fundamental" problems concerning my career choice.

I recently been doing some research on the internet and found results which spooked the hell out of me. According to many sources, becoming a scientist nowadays is definitely not a worthy thing. And I'm not saying this with regards to the financial part, I'm talking about all the extremely difficult challenges you must face if you want to work as researcher, such as applying for a decent scholarship.

According to some statistical data I have found somewhere (I haven't verified wether the data is accurate or not), only 5% of german physics PhD's actually manage to work on pure physics research field (You know, playing with particle accelerators, solving nature's greatest puzzles, reasoning over the Grand Unified Theory, lecturing on universities, that kind of stuff). Other 10% work for private companies (Which is definitely NOT what I intend to do) and the remaining 85% either abandon their fields (Which means throwing away 10 or more years of studying), become high school teachers (For lack of a better option) or try opening up their own businesses.

So the main question is, am I getting into a blackhole of almost garanteed unemployment as a "reward" for studying 10 years or more?
 

lekh2003

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According to some statistical data I have found somewhere (I haven't verified wether the data is accurate or not), only 5% of german physics PhD's actually manage to work on pure physics research field (You know, playing with particle accelerators, solving nature's greatest puzzles, reasoning over the Grand Unified Theory, lecturing on universities, that kind of stuff). Other 10% work for private companies (Which is definitely NOT what I intend to do) and the remaining 85% either abandon their fields (Which means throwing away 10 or more years of studying), become high school teachers (For lack of a better option) or try opening up their own businesses.
These statistics are scary predicaments about the field of physics. How true are statistics like these (in the opinion of some of the more experienced members)?
 

Orodruin

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The academic path is indeed a rough one and there is generally an overproduction of PhDs in relation to what is needed for academic staff. Keep in mind that to keep the number of academic staff constant, each professor should train on average one PhD student (their replacement) and many train tens of students over their carreers.

There are several hurdles to overcome in order to find a permanent job in academic research:
  • Finding a PhD position. This is already a difficult task for many. Many people compete already for these positions and by no means is there a guarantee to find one, let alone one in your preferred area of interest.
  • Finding postdocs. So you graduated and got your PhD. In most fields you will typically be required to do a number of postdocs at different universities or research institutes before people will seriously consider you for a more permanent position. Apart from looking for a new job every two or three years, the bottleneck is already starting to tighten here. There is absolutely no guarantee to find a postdoc just because you got a PhD and there are often hundreds of applicants for the positions.
  • Finding a tenure track position. The bottleneck is now really tight. You will be competing with other people who have been through the same thing as you with regards to postdocs etc. and you really need to show your worth during the postdocs to stand a chance. And you better pray to a higher power that there will be a suitable tenure track position with your research profile fits.
  • Becoming tenured. In many cases holding a tenure track position is no guarantee for tenure. This depends on the tenure track implementation where you are.
With the above in mind, many people will be in their fourties before ther have a shot at tenure - if they ever get one.

I am not trying to discourage you, but I think it is healthy to know more or less what you are getting into. There is certainly a chance of ”success” and if you are committed it helps.
 

jtbell

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The academic path is indeed a rough one and there is generally an overproduction of PhDs in relation to what is needed for academic staff. Keep in mind that to keep the number of academic staff constant, each professor should train on average one PhD student (their replacement) and many train tens of students over their carreers.
At any point in time, there may be some fields which are in fact growing, and have new positions available over and above those created by retirement or death. Such fields probably tend to be in "applied" areas.

Physics students need to have or gain skills that are useful outside of academic research, so they can take jobs outside of academia if they don't "make it." They should also, IMO, have the attitude that if they don't end up in physics research as a career, their physics/PhD studies were nevertheless an interesting time in their life and they are glad to have done it anyway; otherwise they're likely to become bitter and consider themselves to be failures.
 
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only 5% of german physics PhD's actually manage to work on pure physics research field (You know, playing with particle accelerators?
That's not bad when you consider that in the whole world there are just ten or so major accelerator projects. I think CERN employs a 1000 or so (Including project managers. maintenance staff, and etc)
 

ZapperZ

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That's not bad when you consider that in the whole world there are just ten or so major accelerator projects. I think CERN employs a 1000 or so (Including project managers. maintenance staff, and etc)
I need to correct the terminology here. The "ten or so" that you are referring to are not "major accelerator projects", but rather particle colliders/high energy physics projects.

"Accelerator projects" are plenty. Every single synchrotron facility on earth is a "major accelerator project". Every single spallation neutron source on earth is a "major accelerator project". Every single FEL light source is a "major accelerator project". Particle accelerators are not just for high energy physics or nuclear physics (RHIC). Less than 5% of particle accelerators are in such areas.

Zz.
 
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mkaku.org/home/articles/so-you-want-to-become-a-physicist/
Refer to this....
 
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Thank you very much, everyone. I considered moving to applied and computational mathematics and after that I'm going to pursue a master's degree in the same field.

Now there might be a little problem... I'm already 25. By the time I start the undergraduate course I'll be 26, and if all ends meet, I'll be around 31 or 32 years old when I'm done with the master's degree, and summing a total of zero professional experience. The question is, will I be too old for industry?
 

symbolipoint

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If you are worried about being too old for industry, consider getting some kind of job, related to science or technology before you graduate with undergraduate degree; and choose courses which could make you practical for industry. Also, ask yourself if becoming some kind of technician or engineer is a better choice for you.
 
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If you are worried about being too old for industry, consider getting some kind of job, related to science or technology before you graduate with undergraduate degree; and choose courses which could make you practical for industry. Also, ask yourself if becoming some kind of technician or engineer is a better choice for you.
I do not intend to become an engineer or a technician. Also I don't wanna drop out of my Uni, which is ranked number 121 on QS' 1000 world top universites, and it wasn't easy to get here at all. And finally, considering an internal transfer from physics to applied and computational mathematics is pretty easy in my Uni, I have enough reasons to apply for it.

Honestly, I'm feeling lost. I mean, it's great that I'm studying at a top university and all that, but I'm starting to think I'm too old for both the industry and the academic fields.
 

symbolipoint

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Thank you very much, everyone. I considered moving to applied and computational mathematics and after that I'm going to pursue a master's degree in the same field.

Now there might be a little problem... I'm already 25. By the time I start the undergraduate course I'll be 26, and if all ends meet, I'll be around 31 or 32 years old when I'm done with the master's degree, and summing a total of zero professional experience. The question is, will I be too old for industry?
That is why I gave posting #9:

If you are worried about being too old for industry, consider getting some kind of job, related to science or technology before you graduate with undergraduate degree; and choose courses which could make you practical for industry. Also, ask yourself if becoming some kind of technician or engineer is a better choice for you.
Maybe you can make your way to Phd, and maybe not. Think what you can learn which will make you practical to be hired, even if in industry or business. Look for whatever experience you can find as a hired employee, even if as some kind of technical worker or as technician. A job might give you better sense of direction.
 
(I'm still a student so I'm no expert on career advice/academia.) If you decide to continue with your education, could you work in the field over the summer? It'd give you a better sense of direction. I also don't think 32 is very old. I've heard that many people choose to wait to go to graduate school anyway, and I don't see how your age could be any significant disadvantage as long as you have relevant experience.
 

Choppy

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Now there might be a little problem... I'm already 25. By the time I start the undergraduate course I'll be 26, and if all ends meet, I'll be around 31 or 32 years old when I'm done with the master's degree, and summing a total of zero professional experience. The question is, will I be too old for industry?
No.

Sometimes people confuse challenges that come with a particular situation with it being a lost cause. Just because there may be some minor challenges with your situation, doesn't mean that it's not worth doing.

What you really need to do is assess those challenges as realistically as possible, develop a plan for dealing with them, and make a decision.

For someone in your position, thinking about starting university at 25, the real hard challenges are likely to involve the stage of life that you're at. Consider that for most people, once they get into their early thirties, that's that stage of life where they're committing to a long term relationship (marriage), having children, buying a house and taking on a mortgage, etc. Being in school at this stage of life can be more complicated than when you're in your early twenties and the biggest non-academic problem you have is learning how to cook for yourself.

Then, I suspect what's worrying you is age discrimination. I'm sure this exists, but this is not such a powerful thing that is should detract anyone who's older from pursuing what they want to do education-wise. Think of your situation this way. You might have a slightly lower probability of getting a job than the average graduate. But without that education, that probability would be a lot closer to zero. On top of that, sometimes you can use age and maturity to your advantage. Employers may sometimes favour older candidates because they have more life experience and tend to be more focussed on the long term game. Younger people tend to be more mobile and so you may present less of a flight risk.
 

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