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Other Professors, students and careers

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Hello all,

I wonder how professors of some fields that have no demand in the job market deal with this fact with their students, especially if they ask?

Thanks
 

Choppy

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The job of professors in non-professional, academic fields is to educate the student in that field. This is not equivalent to preparing him or her for a specific vocation. Nor should it be.
 

symbolipoint

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Hello all,

I wonder how professors of some fields that have no demand in the job market deal with this fact with their students, especially if they ask?

Thanks
They have very, very few research students to advise and assist with their research area. A while later, they retire. Their research students may still find opportunities with this professor while doing research tasks, to have unexpected or unplanned experiences which may later become beneficial in find employment.
 

symbolipoint

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The job of professors in non-professional, academic fields is to educate the student in that field. This is not equivalent to preparing him or her for a specific vocation. Nor should it be.
Again, understand that ahead of time, a student does not know the exact, full set of experiences he will have. One or two of these experiences could be related to some employment position which you could later discuss at a job interview. These are not often things the student knows to plan ahead of time.
 

CrysPhys

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If you want a high probability of getting a job after completion of a doctoral program, you should get an MD, not a PhD. I tell undergrads considering a PhD in science and engineering that they should consider a PhD program to be an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. In the US at least, a grad school stint really is a job: for any grad school worth attending, you typically get full waiver of tuition and a stipend in the form of a teaching assistantship/research assistantship/fellowship/scholarship that is sufficient to cover your books, supplies, and living expenses. You can emerge with your PhD free of grad school debt. Contrast that with grads in humanities, med school, law school, business school ..... In return, you get formal academic training via coursework and formal research experience via your thesis program. And you get to pursue research of your choice for the sheer joy of it.

How relevant the PhD program is to future employment is a decision that the grad student needs to make ... or not make. For example, if you really want to pursue a dissertation on string theory, that's your choice, but you should be aware that only a few select elite will continue a career in string theory.

Here's a tale of two grad students I know. They were both grad students in materials science and engineering at the same university. Grad Student A did his thesis for an established prof heavily into applied engineering. The prof worked as a consultant for a major industrial corp and received grant money from the corp. Grad Student A's thesis addressed problems of interest to the corp; Grad Student A got a couple of summer internships working for the corp; Grad Student A had a job waiting for him at the corp upon completion of his PhD.

Grad Student B did his thesis for a prof who was into marine biology and was interested in the properties of compounds secreted by certain marine creatures. A new prof with seed money from the dept. No particular industrial leanings. Grad student B was intrigued by the research, completed his PhD, spent ~9 frustrating mos hunting for a job (fortunately was able to TA and continue research during the search), and eventually did find a job in industry (based on applicable skills learned and due to the strong reputation of the dept in materials science and engineering).
 
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...tell undergrads considering a PhD in science and engineering that they should consider a PhD program to be an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. ....
I received a full RA scholarship during my PhD, but that wasn't my goal from pursuing my PhD, and even then it wasn't enough because I was an international student at the time. I understand some people have interest in some subjects in themselves rather than the money and their future job, but I doubt most students fall in that category.

...How relevant the PhD program is to future employment is a decision that the grad student needs to make ... or not make. ....
I agree, but I think students need help from somewhere to make a wise decision. Maybe a PhD student will have some skills that can be used in other fields, but it's not always easy to go to other fields and compete with other PhD students who are specialized in that field. Also, undergrads probably won't have the skills that allow them to pursue other domains in the job market, which means they would have to spend more time and money to develop skills that enhance their chances in the market.
 
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The job of professors in non-professional, academic fields is to educate the student in that field. This is not equivalent to preparing him or her for a specific vocation. Nor should it be.
Being honest with a student about their career prospects in their field =/= preparation for a vocation. And they should be honest with the student about such things.
 

Choppy

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Being honest with a student about their career prospects in their field =/= preparation for a vocation. And they should be honest with the student about such things.
Of course professors need to be honest. I wasn't implying anything else.

The question was how they "deal with" the fact there is no demand in the job market for their specific field. "Dealing with it" implies that they need to take some sort of action to correct for it. In most cases they don't deal with it at all because that's not really their job.
 

Dr Transport

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If a professor has your best interests at heart, they will be up front with you and tell you that the possibility of going forward in your dissertation topic in the long term is minuscule.
 
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There is total dishonesty among departments on career prospects, they have a vested interest in maintaining a student body, fundamentally they are no different then for profit universities.

To be honest aid needs to be cut to programs without a track record of getting their students jobs, this would solve the problem.
 
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... they have a vested interest in maintaining a student body, fundamentally they are no different then for profit universities.
....
I was thinking the same, that being honest jeopardize the professors themselves of being out of business. But the question is: is it a moral obligation to educate students on their future opportunities, or at least give them the skills that they can use in the future, given that education isn't an end in itself? I asked this question because I think my field isn't in demand, and I was wondering how I could help students if I taught someday!! I would feel very conflicted.
 

StatGuy2000

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My suggestion to all, please ignore anything that Crek posts on this thread. His/her argument from the get go (as can be seen in all of his/her posts on PF up to this point) is that a physics degree (or a math degree) is worthless (which, at least at an empirical level is false).
 
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I don't think any degree is worthless per se, but there should be a match in my opinion between supply and demand. Otherwise, many students will suffer unemployment, while the job market will suffer from a shortage of local skills, which is a double hit to the economy. I'm not sure what role professors must play in this, but I think universities must cooperate with the government and the industry to provide some guidelines to future students. If students decide to pursue their fields based on guidelines, then we can say they are completely responsible for their choices. But with the lack of guidance, they are not the only party responsible.
 
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Andy Resnick

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I there should be a match in my opinion between supply and demand.
This is the model used for MDs: 'match day'. The annual number of residency slots is tightly regulated by professional associations The process is not without controversy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Resident_Matching_Program

Of course, this matching of supply and demand occurs after one has invested a large amount of time and money.

I should add that I do not have a vested interest in producing either undergraduate or graduate degree holders; I do not require student labor to be a productive researcher.
 

CrysPhys

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I don't think any degree is worthless per se, but there should be a match in my opinion between supply and demand. Otherwise, many students will suffer unemployment, while the job market will suffer from a shortage of local skills, which is a double hit to the economy. I'm not sure what role professors must play in this, but I think universities must cooperate with the government and the industry to provide some guidelines to future students. If students decide to pursue their fields based on guidelines, then we can say they are completely responsible for their choices. But with the lack of guidance, they are not the only party responsible.
In the US, a bachelor's program typically takes 4 yrs, and a PhD program typically takes 4-7 yrs. Job market disruptions occur in shorter time periods. (1) Example 1. In the aftermath of the first oil crisis in the 70's, there was a strong demand for chem eng. So, one of my relatives decided to get his BS in ChemE. But by the time he graduated, demand had plummeted. He pivoted, headed off to med school, and became a doctor. (2) Example 2. In 1999, the InterNet Bubble was still inflating. There was actually a shortage of R&D scientists and engineers in various sectors of telcom. Just two years later, in 2001, the bubble had burst, and major telcom companies were downsizing 25 - 100%. Of particular interest for your situation, Nortel [a major Canadian hi-tech company and a major telcom (including wireless) player] headed into a death spiral and eventually kicked the bucket.

Commencement speakers are fond of the cliche, "Follow your passions, and the money will follow." This is absolute nonsense. But there are times in which you want to follow your passions, and deal with the consequences later. Another relative majored in art. She was actually a decent sculptor, but couldn't make a living as such. So she got a masters in art management (or something like that) and got a job as a fundraiser for museums. But, after several years of that, her artistic spirit beckoned, and she started her own business designing and handcrafting jewelry.
 
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Absolutely, that's why I think there should be cooperation between universities, the government, and the market to give guidelines for the market after at least 4 years. The guidelines cannot be about now for students who will be graduating in 4 years, right? Individuals cannot predict the future. For example, now many universities tend to have independent programs for data science, and I suspect many students are trying to enroll in such programs because the demand now is high for data scientists. But would it be the case in 4 years? Without large scale cooperation between entities that have the data, it's difficult to know.

To decide based on passion or money, ideally you would choose both, but unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn't give us the freedom to pursue our passions. We are constrained by obligations and responsibilities that only money can solve. The question is then: what is better to live with passion and poor, or to live a decent life with something satisfying somehow? Some people can transform passion into money, but it's not that common. A professor I know is passionate about music, but he didn't feel he was getting any where, so, he decided to go to school again and got his PhD, and now he is a professor. He is still playing music, but now he doesn't have to worry about the monetary aspect.
 

Choppy

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being honest jeopardize the professors themselves of being out of business. But the question is: is it a moral obligation to educate students on their future opportunities, or at least give them the skills that they can use in the future, given that education isn't an end in itself? I asked this question because I think my field isn't in demand, and I was wondering how I could help students if I taught someday!! I would feel very conflicted.
Do you have evidence of professors intentionally misrepresenting the job prospects associated with academic degrees? From time to time this question comes up around here. I don't doubt that some students may feel misguided in some respects, as that would seem self-evident from the question, but inevitably the concern is taken to some kind of extreme with the suggestion that professors are willfully misleading students. I've asked for evidence of it, but no one ever really seems to back it up.

There is no great conspiracy to keep students enrolled in physics degrees to justify the departments' existence. In fact I'd venture to guess that most physics departments would get along just fine without undergraduate physics majors. Most people who take courses offered by the department are not physics majors - they're pre-meds, engineers, and humanities students trying to tick off a mandatory science credit. It's the PHYSICS 101 courses that draw the warm bodies and the funding money that comes with them. The other big source of money is in the research grants, and if you think about it, you'd probably be able to draw more grant money in if you didn't have to burden your professors with teaching.

I don't think any degree is worthless per se, but there should be a match in my opinion between supply and demand. Otherwise, many students will suffer unemployment, while the job market will suffer from a shortage of local skills, which is a double hit to the economy. I'm not sure what role professors must play in this, but I think universities must cooperate with the government and the industry to provide some guidelines to future students. If students decide to pursue their fields based on guidelines, then we can say they are completely responsible for their choices. But with the lack of guidance, they are not the only party responsible.
I understand what you're saying here, but there are two major arguments against doing this. The first goes back to my original point. The purpose of any academic degree is not to train the students for a particular vocation. It's to educate the student in that field. If you impose a limit on the number of physics majors that you'll educate based on the number of physics professors you think you'll need in then next decade, all you're really doing is denying people an education. How would you choose which ones get in? What would you do about those who think they like physics based on their experience in high school and then realize it's not for them once they get into second year and change majors? Overall you're just creating a population that's less educated about real physics, and you're shrinking the talent pool from which to pick your professors.

The second argument is a more pragmatic one. The APS puts a substantial effort into tracking data on physics graduates. Unemployment amidst graduates, is consistently low and most physics majors seem to do quite well for themselves compared to other majors. So while it's true that you don't fine many professional physics jobs out there, it seems that most physics graduates find jobs that they are quite happy with in the long run. So by restricting enrollment, you're not actually solving anything.
 
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I didn't say professors are misleading their students intentionally. I was saying if it's a moral obligation for them to enlighten their students (especially if they (the students) ask), because they (the professors) are supposedly know more than their students about the job market. Also, I didn't say to restrict the number of students in universities based on majors, but rather to give general guidelines to the students about the needs of the job market in the near future, and then they (the students) can decide whatever they want.

Eventually, everyone will find a job, but why not to make their jobs relevant to their study? What is the point of studying in itself if it's not to prepare them to find a job? You said it's to educate students in that field. But still why?

Of course you can develop skills later, but you will need more time and more money to be prepared, while the whole idea (at least in my opinion as you don't seem to share my view in this) of getting a degree is to find a decent job.
 

symbolipoint

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Eventually, everyone will find a job, but why not to make their jobs relevant to their study? What is the point of studying in itself if it's not to prepare them to find a job? You said it's to educate students in that field. But still why?
Choppy explained some of this well enough. A degree in Physics is to academically educate people interested in Physics; and about matter, energy, and interplay between matter and energy. The purpose of education of Physics (less than or up to full undergraduate) is to prepare ONLY IN PART, other future scientists and engineers, or also those few who have a strong interest in Physics.

Make the job relevant to the study? No. The jobs exist. What must be done is to make the study relevant to the job. The jobs require the undergrad or grad degree; the degree requires the education and the education needs to include several different courses, some of which are Physics at the very minimum of one course each in Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and some extra stuff often called "Modern Physics".

Some studies for degrees are for qualifying for various professional jobs, but this is often not the same as "training" for those jobs. Some studies for degrees do involve the intent to help qualify the graduates to do research but as such are not intended to be training for jobs.
 
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Why does everyone think I'm talking about physics in specific? I'm not a physicist, and I'm talking in general about fields that have less chances in the market today. I wouldn't exclude physics as one of them, though.

...
Make the job relevant to the study? No. The jobs exist. What must be done is to make the study relevant to the job. The jobs require the undergrad or grad degree; the degree requires the education and the education needs to include several different courses ....
In the context of what I said, I meant that people can find a job eventually, but the question is is their job relevant to their studies? I read somewhere here that a person with a PhD in physics is working as a bus driver. He is working, but his job is completely irrelevant to his studies. That's what I meant.
 

symbolipoint

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Why does everyone think I'm talking about physics in specific? I'm not a physicist, and I'm talking in general about fields that have less chances in the market today. I wouldn't exclude physics as one of them, though.



In the context of what I said, I meant that people can find a job eventually, but the question is is their job relevant to their studies? I read somewhere here that a person with a PhD in physics is working as a bus driver. He is working, but his job is completely irrelevant to his studies. That's what I meant.
A PhD graduate of Physics could work as a bus driver, but more common is to work as a scientific or engineering consultant, computer programmer, some other computing designer, finance specialist/analyst, or some kind of technician or engineer.
 

CrysPhys

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Absolutely, that's why I think there should be cooperation between universities, the government, and the market to give guidelines for the market after at least 4 years. The guidelines cannot be about now for students who will be graduating in 4 years, right? Individuals cannot predict the future. For example, now many universities tend to have independent programs for data science, and I suspect many students are trying to enroll in such programs because the demand now is high for data scientists. But would it be the case in 4 years? Without large scale cooperation between entities that have the data, it's difficult to know.
I think you got this backwards. My point is that if the job market can go from boom to bust within a relatively short period of two years, why do you think you can get an accurate picture of the job market 4 years or more out? This is like the weather forecast. For argument's sake, assume a 50-50 chance that tomorrow's forecast is accurate. Why would I have greater faith in next week's forecast?

There are way too many unknown variables, including disruptive technologies and government policies. Many books and business reviews written on the topic. Besides, what happens if the guidance is correct, and you do land a job upon completion of your degree, but a few years into your career, there's an industry meltdown?

There are some general trends that make some job markets more certain. In the US, for example, we have the "baby boomer" generation entering old age and living longer. Great market opportunity for geriatric healthcare. Certain sectors require on-site workers, can't readily be automated, can't readily be outsourced to India. Will these jobs pay well? Who knows? Socialized medicine would have a major impact.
 

Andy Resnick

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Absolutely, that's why I think there should be cooperation between universities, the government, and the market to give guidelines for the market after at least 4 years. [...] Individuals cannot predict the future. <snip>
Do you not see the inherent contradiction here? Unless there is something like mandated 5-year plans (http://ibatpv.org/projects/soviet_union/five year plans.htm), there's no ability to predict the future.
 

Dr Transport

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Almost all plans in industry are less than 5 year in duration, unless there is a long term contract out there. I have seen groups being successful for years then over the course of two years decimated because the long term plan doesn't come to fruition.

Even with long term contracts, I have seen where they are going OK then are cancelled due to govt convenience. Been there, had a 20 year program humming along heading towards LRIP (low rate of initial production) and cancelled, 2000 people out of work in a weeks time. Long and short of it, no plan is set in stone and in the real world things change in an instant.
 

CrysPhys

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I was saying if it's a moral obligation for them to enlighten their students (especially if they (the students) ask), because they (the professors) are supposedly know more than their students about the job market.
This is an incorrect assumption in general. Many [not all] research professors think academics is the only true profession and know little of job opportunities outside the walls of academia. I'm a physicist and a member of APS. I know that APS is aware of this issue and has off and on tried to remedy this situation with special programs. More needs to be done. I asked you in another post: What's IEEE doing about this?


Eventually, everyone will find a job, but why not to make their jobs relevant to their study? What is the point of studying in itself if it's not to prepare them to find a job? You said it's to educate students in that field. But still why?

Of course you can develop skills later, but you will need more time and more money to be prepared, while the whole idea (at least in my opinion as you don't seem to share my view in this) of getting a degree is to find a decent job.
I also disagree with your premise that the only point of getting a degree is to get a decent job. Sometimes an education, in particular a thesis project, is an end in itself. I realize you're a EE, but, hey this is a physics forum, so I'll give you another physics example. Ask the grad students and postdocs who worked at the LHC to discover the Higgs boson whether they were glad to be part of that project, even though it will not likely lead to a job. My guess is a unanimous, "Yes!"

And think of the humanities majors who wrote a PhD dissertation on medieval German poetry or Egyptian architecture in 3rd millenium BC. Certainly not a sure-fire path to employment. But it was worth it to them.
 

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