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PhDemography for Theory-US and Canada physics departments

  1. Sep 25, 2008 #1


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    PhDemography for Theory--US and Canada physics departments

    Steve Hsu, a physicist at Oregon State,
    has a link to this interesting collection of charts.
    New faculty hires by US and Canadian physics departments, by year, and by category, of hep-theoretical physicists. And by institution of origin (most hires go to PhDs from Princeton, Harvard, UC Berkeley, MIT,...)


    the data was compiled by Erich Poppitz, a theoretical physicist at University of Toronto.

    The charts allow one to plot the decline of string, which in absence of hard data has, in my experience, been denied or minimized by devotes.
    For example it gives the first time faculty hires by year 1996 thru 2008
    and it also gives the PERCENTAGE of those hires for string and nonstring hep-theory

    So one can see that for the five years 1999 thru 2003 about HALF of hep-theory jobs went to stringfolks---the average percentage was 46.4 percent.
    And then in the subsequent five years 2004 thru 2008 the average percentage was only 23.6 percent.

    the nonstring hep-theory categories include phenomenology and cosmology, both of which I believe have experienced some growth.

    2003 was a kind of turning point, that was the year Leonard Susskind posted The Anthropic Landscape of String Theory, seemingly in response to concerns about non-predictivity, the KKLT paper's finding some 10^500 different vacua, an almost infinite range of different versions of physics. It had been hoped that a single unique version of physics would be forth-coming, needing only one or a small number of experimentally determined parameters in order to make predictions and to explain why the world is the way it is. Susskind called on fellow physicists to give up on that program and accept the world as an accident. There was disillusionment and, in effect, string stock went down.

    After 2003 the rate of citations to string papers declined. The researchers themselves found less that they considered valuable or important in the current output by other researchers, so they tended not to cite recent work.

    I would conjecture that disillusionment and the drop in citations to current papers helped to trigger the drop in string faculty hiring that has occurred since 2003.

    But we don't actually know the causes. We just know that according to Erich Poppitz' figures the number of faculty hires going to string has dropped sharply in the past five years.

    There is also the HEPAP report from summer 2007 that surveyed the planned faculty hiring for the next five years thru 2012. The advisory panel to government funding agencies polled US university physics departments regarding their projected makeup by category. As I recall it showed a continued decline in string and a corresponding increase in cosmology.

    Overall jobs in theory are tight but appear not to be getting worse. If anyone is curious they can look at Poppitz charts. He has one that lumps all categories together and gives some numbers.

    In the 1999 thru 2003, first time faculty totaled 100.
    In 2004 thru 2008, first time faculty hires totaled 108.
    So things have been steady in HEP-theory faculty openings. Or even improving slightly.
    (not that it's good---it's highly competitive and many leave academia---but at least by this measure it is not getting worse.)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2008
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