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Is the Job Market Getting *WORSE* for PhDs?

  1. Aug 18, 2011 #1
    A lot of my friends in defense have been telling me that programs have either been cut harshly or been told they're on the same operating budget. Seeing as defense seems to be one of the largest areas we go into, this is very unsettling. Private companies seem to be about the same as far as success rates.

    It seems that somehow, things are actually getting worse for us, and no one who has the power to do anything about it gives a ****.
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  3. Aug 18, 2011 #2


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    It could get a lot worse after November, assuming you're in the US. If the congressional budget-cutting committee doesn't reach a consensus plan or if congress fails to enact it, then this will trigger substantial automatic cuts to defense - I believe on the order of $500 billion, but I'm not sure over how many years that will be spread. This outcome seems not unlikely considering the polarized situation in Washington.
  4. Aug 18, 2011 #3
    I only graduated four years ago but it does seem to me the job situation is getting worse in some of the traditional avenues of employment for physics PhD's: defense, national labs, and academia.

    I don't have any numbers to back me up but I see three reasons in my field jobs are drying up: state budgets seem to be uniformly awful which means fewer faculty jobs right now, facilities in my field are shutting down and the academic jobs associated with those facilities have gone away, some cutbacks at the national labs/defense.

    So I feel pretty bad for some of the postdocs and graduate students I work with and hope my pessimism isn't an actual reflection of reality.
  5. Aug 18, 2011 #4
    I'm extremely pessimistic about the US job market for Ph.D.'s in the short term.

    Right now, the only real advice I can give is to prepare for things to get really bad for the next few years, and then do whatever you can to make sure that the bad spell lasts for only a few years.
  6. Aug 19, 2011 #5


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    The US job market is getting worse for EVERYBODY, not just any one specialty but what are you going to do, study to be a shoe salesman? There are no guarantees in any field so you might as well be unemployed for a while in a field you love. :smile:
  7. Aug 20, 2011 #6
    It seems absolute crap for people here in the UK, too.
  8. Aug 20, 2011 #7
    I don't have several years to give....
  9. Aug 21, 2011 #8
    Has there been time when job market grew too much for PhDs ?
  10. Aug 21, 2011 #9
    A rather brief period between 1957 and 1965.
  11. Aug 22, 2011 #10
    So, how do you pay rent when that's the case?

    Is the job market getting worse for everyone equally? How can we tell if it's getting worse are a higher or lower rate for PhD's than everyone else?
  12. Aug 23, 2011 #11
    You get whatever job you can, and in some extreme cases, you move in with your parents.

    I don't think so. Something that people have mentioned and seems to be accurate is that this recession is hitting mid-level and entry-level jobs particularly hard.

    Ask around.
  13. Aug 23, 2011 #12
    If its hitting entry-level and mid-level jobs , what ISN'T getting hit hard?

    As long as the United States government has a vested interest in sticking its nose in other countries affairs, there will always be demand for scientists and technicians in the defense industry, or what Eisenhower referred to as the military industrial complex. And given the historical trends of US Foreign Policy, I see no reason why the US government will cease its continued meddling in other countries affairs for the foreseeable future. So while the recession is hitting everyone pretty hard, and even lowly entry level positions provided by temp/hiring agencies that offer contract/temporary terms of employment with no benefits, there is still a need to find ways to kill people more efficiently and in ways so as to minimize harm to American military personnel. And to be honest, given the rate at which schools are churning out PhDs, I don't think there are near enough jobs for PhDs especially when you are competing with people here on H1B visas. If I were to advise anyone I would say stay away from PhD programs and Law School, especially Law School.

    Google the documentary WHY WE FIGHT and you will understand that our way of conducting ourselves globally has become so routine that no one even bothers to protest questionable military action.
  14. Aug 24, 2011 #13


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    Good advice here is to be FLEXIBLE. Have you consider jobs outside your field?
  15. Aug 24, 2011 #14
    This certainly isn't helping me. I've applied for quite a few postdoc positions now, most of which have been outside my own field. A lot of the time, I don't even get an interview and the places suggest they've had more qualified applicants. I've applied for jobs outside academia, too, where I've got some (i.e. not a large amount) relevant experience. They too end up saying the same thing: they want people with more experience. What then are you supposed to do?
  16. Aug 24, 2011 #15
    Low level jobs and jobs for experienced people are getting hit less hard.

    I do.

    Bin Laden is dead. The US is trying to get out of Iran and Afghanistan as quickly as possible. You could imagine a cold war with China, but getting hostile with someone that you owe money to is not a good way of boosting the economy. The neo-conservatives have self-destructed, and there is a strong hint of isolationism among the Tea Party.

    Also, I find it interesting to talk with British and French people about this. When you talk with Americans, you get the attitude that "the US should and will be on top forever." When I talk to people from Britain and France, the attitude seems to be "we got sick of our empires and trust me eventually you will get sick and tired of yours."

    You really aren't. One of the consequences of the bad economy in the US is that every Chinese or Indian Ph.d. that I know has got plane tickets home. One problem that the US has is that since it is the world's most powerful country, people can be shockingly unfamiliar with what is going on in the rest of the world.

    In China, the recession ended two years ago. If you have a physics Ph.D. you can get a job that pays a competitive international salary, and the standard of living in the major cities is more or less the same as the US. I hear things are similar in India.

    Different era. We won that one. Also Bin-Laden is dead.

    The way that the empires ended in Britain and to some degree France was not through protest but through exhaustion, and I'm seeing the same thing happen with the US.
  17. Aug 24, 2011 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    Please confine discussions of Politics and World Affairs to that section. Thank you.
  18. Aug 24, 2011 #17
    Those are the only kinds of jobs I'm considering.
  19. Aug 24, 2011 #18


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    Are there conferences or job fairs/career expos you could go to? One of the most underrated and important skills of being a graduate student is to NETWORK. I've connected in several conferences with many prospective employers, and I've been offered jobs or internships or promises to follow up. Conferences are not just to talk about research.
  20. Aug 24, 2011 #19
    Also one thing about networking is that you have to realize that 99% of the people that you shake hands with are not going to lead to direct employment, and one of the things that I skills I had to learn was not to get my hopes up, and to not get too depressed.

    One thing that you can get which is extremely useful by networking is information. For example, if you have a peer group and all of them are getting jobs and you aren't, then that means that you are doing something wrong. If you have a peer group and none of them are getting decent jobs, then that may mean that you are doing everything right and it's just that things suck.

    The psychological difficulty of "how not to go crazy while being unemployed" is something that doesn't get talked enough about, and it's extremely important. One thing that helped me a lot was "negative thinking." Telling myself that life stinks actually made it easier for me to go out and keep doing interviews and moving ahead.

    Something else that helped was thinking of an interview as a "show." I'm feeling rotten, depressed, anger, and miserable, but when I go into the interview room, I'm playing the role of "Dr. Ideal Job Seeker". I'll put on the smile and positive attitude like I put on the suit, go in and give a great acting job.

    I've done the same thing, but one problem is that you often need to spend money to get to a conference, and that's hard to do if you are unemployed.
  21. Aug 26, 2011 #20
    I do not wish to sound ungrateful for the advice, but I have literally applied to over 400 jobs, and have gotten past first round screening maybe 3 or 4 times. The long of the short of it is most industries are (pick one or more):

    -Lying about job opportunities, and job postings are just to save face.
    -Have no interest in hiring anyone mildly outside of EXACTLY what they post.
    -Have no motive to do anything but sit on their hand for months at a time in every step of a hiring process.
    -Unable to do a whole lot because they don't even know their future budget.
    -Are able to be EXTREMELY selective, because of the market.
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