Physics PhD Crisis?

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  • #1
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Is there a good book or article on why the numbers of PhDs per capita in physics have been plummeting over the years? Thank you
 

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  • #2
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I don't have one but I can take a stab at it. Physics doesn't make you a whole lot of money. Having a PhD more likely limits the amount of jobs that you can attain. Either companies wont want to pay you the salary that a doctor deserves, or even if you would accept a lower salary they would think its likely that you would quit for a better job.

EDIT: A BSc in physics is too theoretical and specialized for most industry positions already, a PhD sounds like overkill to me. However, I used to work with a couple of Physics PhDs, and they are ridiculously knowledgeable and indispensable to the company.
 
  • #3
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From Lee Smolin's Physics Today article "http://physicstoday.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_58/iss_6/56_1.shtml" [Broken]," he notes that "The mechanisms we have constructed to ensure fairness and quality have the unintended side effect of putting people of unusual creativity and independence at a disadvantage." These disadvantages are:
  • Those who follow large well-supported research programs have lots of powerful senior scientists to promote their careers. Those who invent their own research programs usually lack such support and hence are often undervalued and underappreciated.
  • People with the uncanny ability to ask new questions or recognize unexamined assumptions, or who are able to take ideas from one field and apply them to another, are often at a disadvantage when the goal is to hire the best person in a given well-established area.
  • In the present system, scientists feel lots of pressure to follow established research programs led by powerful senior scientists. Those who choose to follow their own programs understand that their career prospects will be harmed. That there are still those with the courage to go their own way is underappreciated.
  • It is easy to write many papers when you continue to apply well-understood techniques. People who develop their own ideas have to work harder for each result, because they are simultaneously developing new ideas and the techniques to explore them. Hence they often publish fewer papers, and their papers are cited less frequently than those that contribute to something hundreds of people are doing.
His solutions are:
  • Young scientists should be hired and promoted based only on their ability, creativity, and independence, without regard to whether they contribute to any research programs established by older people.
  • To prevent overinvestment in speculative directions that may end up as dead ends, departments should ensure that different points of view about unsolved problems, and rival research programs, are represented on their faculties.
  • Scientists should be penalized for doing superficial work that ignores hard problems and rewarded for attacking the longstanding open conjectures, even if progress takes many years of hard work. More room could be made for people who think deeply and carefully about the really hard foundational issues.
  • Research groups should seek out people who pursue rival approaches, and include them as postdocs, students, and visitors. Conferences in one research program should be encouraged, by those funding them, to invite speakers from rival programs. Instructors should encourage students to learn about competing approaches to unsolved problems, so that the students are equipped to choose for themselves the most promising directions as their careers advance.
  • Funding agencies and foundations should take steps to see that at every level scientists are encouraged to freely explore and develop all viable proposals to solve deep and difficult problems. Funding should go to individual scientists for individual thought and not to research programs. A research program should not be allowed to become institutionally dominant until supported by convincing scientific proof of the usual kind. Before such proof is demonstrated, alternative and rival approaches should receive encouragement to ensure that the progress of science is not stalled by overinvestment in a direction that turns out to be wrong.
  • A foundation or agency could create a small number of Einstein fellowships, to go specifically to theorists under 40 who invent their own ideas and programs aimed at solving foundational problems in physics. As Einstein told us, to solve such problems requires concentration for years, regardless of fashion, so these fellowships should offer 10 years of support and go only to theorists whose work cannot be categorized as a contribution to an existing approach.
 
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  • #4
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Is there a good book or article on why the numbers of PhDs per capita in physics have been plummeting over the years? Thank you
I don't know if this is true. It's been going up and down over the last fifty years.
 
  • #5
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I don't have one but I can take a stab at it. Physics doesn't make you a whole lot of money.
I disagree with that. VP at a investment bank makes $250K/year. I know of a few people at the managing director level that make close to or perhaps more than $1M/year.
 
  • #6
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One problem is that I don't see that many Swiss Patent office jobs around. It's possible to get a nice job in industry, but employers expect you to work 50-60/hours week which means that there is no time to do anything outside of work.

People with the uncanny ability to ask new questions or recognize unexamined assumptions, or who are able to take ideas from one field and apply them to another, are often at a disadvantage when the goal is to hire the best person in a given well-established area.
People with the uncanny ability to ask new questions or recognized unexamined assumptions or who are able to take ideas from one field and apply them to another, end up asking themselves why the hell they want to work as a post-doc when they could be making five times as much money working elsewhere.

A foundation or agency could create a small number of Einstein fellowships, to go specifically to theorists under 40 who invent their own ideas and programs aimed at solving foundational problems in physics. As Einstein told us, to solve such problems requires concentration for years, regardless of fashion, so these fellowships should offer 10 years of support and go only to theorists whose work cannot be categorized as a contribution to an existing approach.
You can have people find their own jobs. The problem is not money but time. I've got more than enough money to set up a research program. The thing I don't have is time. My boss wants me to work on his problems, and I have to eat.
 
  • #7
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I disagree with that. VP at a investment bank makes $250K/year. I know of a few people at the managing director level that make close to or perhaps more than $1M/year.
I think he means doing actual physics doesn't make you alot of money, I know you say you think what you do in finance is physics but I would call it applied math rather than physics, at best econophysics.
 

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