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Programs Physics PhD Worthless ?

  1. Apr 17, 2004 #1
    Physics PhD "Worthless"?

    Could it be true that a physics PhD, from a respected university, and held by someone who has published mightily in the past, has been offered tenure (and turned it down) at a very large university, and who was in on one of the big, big discoveries of the past 20 years, can really turn out to be "worthless"? How can that be?

    My son's dad says that there are only two places in the entire world he could work, because he is so, so, so specialized and so high up, that he could never work anywhere else...so he's moving to Australia without a job (he has enough points to get in), get on the dole, and play his saxophone for tips while learning to program. So no more child support...

    He does things with lasers, things with spectrometers, finding out with lasers what is in smoke or breath, for example, and looks at things in frozen aragon matrices. That's all I can recall.

    Is a PhD really of so little value? Are grad students being led to study things that they can't use in the real world to support themselves? I'm appalled.

    Could he be mistaken? He IS the one in the field. I'm left out of it all now...but it seems so strange...then again, no one we went thru grad school with is working in the field now...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 17, 2004 #2


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    Here in the Netherlands people with an academic degree, and especially with a Ph.D. have a harder time finding a job than someone in the same field with a college degree.
  4. Apr 17, 2004 #3
    A PhD is what you make it out to be. If you studied only one specific area and only want to study in that one specific area, then Yes your options are probably limited. But, the great thing with an education, if you do it right, doors never close if your willing to change and learn a little more. If I needed a job I would look at the world of engineering. The dumbest Physics PhD could easily get a decent job as an engineer, you just have to be able to sell yourself.

    Last edited: Apr 17, 2004
  5. Apr 17, 2004 #4
    It's true that having a more advanced degree can deny you a job under some conditions: if it's something that a person with a lesser degree could do, and you want to be paid according to the degree you have.

    You can do lots of stuff. An advanced physics degree is some evidence of being trainable in a technical field. From the comment about turning down tenure, it sounds like he doesn't want his University job, but there are other universities, the private sector and government. There are lots of ways to apply gained knowledge and experience. If he still wants to work in his chosen field, he is artificially narrowing the field. "Can't get a job" isn't the same thing as "won't get a job outside my field."

    Also, if he was "big" in a major advance in the last 20 years, it seems that his experience would be valuable. If the big advance didn't spawn further research and industrial applications, it either couldn't have been that big, or more likely he is exhibiting inflexibility in his choice of what jobs he will do.
  6. Apr 17, 2004 #5


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    Sounds like he's going through a mid-life crisis? Turning down the position at the University and deciding to go playing around in Australia is no excuse for reducing child support. Check with your attorney, you may be pleasantly surprised.

    A lot of people I work with have their PhD's in one field or another but do what I do instead because of the money they can make. So there are a lot of high paying positions he could get if he was willing.
  7. Apr 18, 2004 #6
    LOL Evo, he's been having some sort of "midlife" crisis since we met! But I think you're right, he's trying to escape life's responsibilities...I feel sorry for him, really...he's shaming himself, letting himself down, too.

    Every time I get a bead on him, he takes off to another country. It makes it very difficult to pin him down legally. You cannot believe the amount he owes us. That's why I resort to chunking rocks at him and whatever his latest youth-endowing vehicle is.

    Well, I won't bother trying to tell him that he could go on and turn his mind to something else. I figured he was telling me a bunch of nonsense. :eek:

    Thx for the input folks.
  8. Apr 18, 2004 #7


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    Holly, it's good that you can maintain a sense of humor. I hope some day you and your son get what is owed, but sounds like your ex is totally irresponsible.

    My ex is extremely well off, but he refuses to help our kids with college, he might have to cut down on his lavish spending sprees and vacations. Poor thing.

    Let me know where your ex is and I'll be glad to lop a few large rocks at him. :tongue:
  9. Apr 18, 2004 #8
    The more and more I hear these types of things (ie "you're a physics major? you'll never get a job"), the more I become afraid that I am a physics major. I love physics but I don't want to spend 12 years of my life studying it and then end up having to be a high school teacher or a waiter because I can't find a job (not that there's anything wrong with these jobs, I just don't want to do them) :/
  10. Apr 18, 2004 #9
    A PhD isn't necessarily a ticket to super-high salaries. It's more likely a ticket to interesting work. You may have to look in other-than-traditional places (i.e. most PhD's don't go on to teach in a university). You probably aren't going to make what a lawyer or MBA makes, but if you are an experimentalist you'll get the chance to play with really expensive toys.

    If you want to chase $$$ go to law school and become a patent attorney after you've finished your physics degree.
  11. Apr 18, 2004 #10
    I think it depends on what subject that PhD is in. Some PhD's are more specialized than others. A degree in Business may be more useful than a degree in History.

    You may want to check the US Government's Occupation handbook for more information.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2017
  12. Apr 18, 2004 #11
    According to the site I linked too:

    "Median annual earnings of physicists were $85,020 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $66,680 and $107,410. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,350, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $129,250.

    Median annual earnings of astronomers were $81,690 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $53,390 and $106,230; the lowest 10 percent, less than $40,140, and the highest 10 percent more than $126,320.

    According to a 2003 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, the average annual starting salary offer to physics doctoral degree candidates was $55,485.

    The American Institute of Physics reported a median annual salary of $95,000 in 2002 for its full time members with Ph.D.’s (excluding those in postdoctoral positions); the median was $87,000 for those with master’s degrees, and $78,000 for bachelor’s degree holders. Those working in temporary postdoctoral positions earned significantly less.

    The average annual salary for physicists employed by the Federal Government was $95,685 in 2003; for astronomy and space scientists, it was $100,591."
  13. Apr 18, 2004 #12
    It's not about money, it's about work.. I don't care if I only make $50k/year working as physicist at NASA. What I don't want is to get my PhD and work $50k/year as a clerk at a store. That's what i'm afraid of, not the money. If I want money, I can always start a business :tongue:
  14. Apr 18, 2004 #13


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    Exactly, money is secondary. It's doing what you love that counts. You can't put a price on that.
  15. Nov 4, 2004 #14
    What types of PhD's are there relating to Physics anyway?
  16. Nov 6, 2004 #15
    Can you get 50k a year working as a clerk in a store?
  17. Nov 7, 2004 #16
    I just want to know besides research what are the other factors which matter much in getting a job. I guess following are a few:

    1.Who your phd advisor is (& how resourceful he is!)
    2.How you interact with other people
    3.What your race and nationality is
    4.How compromising you are
    5.Last but not least how many options you can try for
  18. Jul 6, 2010 #17
    Re: Physics PhD "Worthless"?

    I think people wouldn't try so hard to flee the country to avoid child support if the amounts to be paid were truly reasonable (I know everyone on the other side of the debate already thinks it is) and also if there were better ways for men to control whether or not they have kids. It's too easy for a woman to sabotage the contraception or for an accident to happen and then the man is stuck paying hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a scary possibility. (In reply to all the stuff about this guy fleeing to Australia etc.)
  19. Jul 6, 2010 #18


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    Re: Physics PhD "Worthless"?

    Unfortunately, you are replying to a thread that had its last activity in 2004!

    Not sure of the record for necroposting, but this has got to be right up there.

  20. Jul 6, 2010 #19
    Re: Physics PhD "Worthless"?

    A PhD likely certifies you for a lot of the interesting research-type positions. If received in a quantitative field, then it's probably likely you can find work (that requires strong research skills) in a variety of fields. EVEN in academia, you may very well not choose to make shifts in what you research specifically - the degree promises you have high level of training to find your way. Also keep in mind, you learn lots and lots of stuff while you research - both highly specialized and more general things.
  21. Jul 6, 2010 #20
    Re: Physics PhD "Worthless"?

    And yes, I have confirmed from numerous folks that the chance of getting your dream academic position is very low, even if you're smart, because so are several others trying for the position. If you are the next phenomenon of the world, then probably you'll have no trouble finding a position at the topmost universities, because everyone wants you, but even most highly celebrated candidates aren't that by definition.
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