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Some worries about going into academia

  • Thread starter Opus_723
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Main Question or Discussion Point

So, I've been set on being an astronomer for a while. I love Physics in general, but Astronomy is what really attracts me. I want to do research. I like the academic environment and culture. I am very interested in engineering, but don't feel that the lifestyle is the right fit for me.

However, I've read some scary articles, and had a few scary conversations lately about how terrible it really is to be a scientist, so I'm a bit worried. I keep hearing how it's nearly impossible to become a full professor, how little money you make, how little time you have for family, and that the likelihood of being fired is very high. Basically, everything I've heard from anyone the last few days has sounded miserable, and shaken me quite a bit. However, none of these people are scientists, so I don't know how much to trust this view.

Basically, I would like to find out how true all of this is.

Specifically with regards to the salaries, I've always assumed 70-90k/year was reasonable for a full professor. Am I wrong, or is this too high? Is this a comfortable living?

Also, just how hard is it to find a research/teaching position? I know it's difficult, but is it so hard that I wouldn't be able to rely on getting one, eventually? How hard is it to keep a job in academia once you have one?

How much free time does a researcher have? I'm comfortable with working hard, and long, but the thought of neglecting family worries me.

Finally, would I be right in assuming that it's relatively easy for an academic-oriented physicist to retool and enter a more industrial workforce, if the worse comes to worst?

Answers to any of these questions would be appreciated.
Thanks everyone.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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However, I've read some scary articles, and had a few scary conversations lately about how terrible it really is to be a scientist, so I'm a bit worried. I keep hearing how it's nearly impossible to become a full professor, how little money you make, how little time you have for family, and that the likelihood of being fired is very high. Basically, everything I've heard from anyone the last few days has sounded miserable, and shaken me quite a bit. However, none of these people are scientists, so I don't know how much to trust this view.
If you get a astronomy Ph.D., you have a 1 in 10 chance of ending up as a tenured professor at a research university. The good news is that if you end up in the 9 out of 10, it's not hard to find something else pretty cool to do.

Specifically with regards to the salaries, I've always assumed 70-90k/year was reasonable for a full professor. Am I wrong, or is this too high? Is this a comfortable living?
Depends on the location. In Austin, yes, in NYC/Boston, no. However the problem with becoming a full prof is that you'll have spend about six years working at 30K. One other thing is that unlike other jobs, professors are encouraged to moonlight. Every single physics professor I knew as an undergrad had something cooking in their garage, and was trying to get startup funding for something.

Also, just how hard is it to find a research/teaching position? I know it's difficult, but is it so hard that I wouldn't be able to rely on getting one, eventually?
1 in 10 once you have your Ph.D. Not impossible, but you'd better have a backup plan. Also that's assuming you get your Ph.D.

How much free time does a researcher have? I'm comfortable with working hard, and long, but the thought of neglecting family worries me.
Professors are like police officers. You are always a police officer once you are off-duty.

Also in my situation, academics was part of the family environment.

Finally, would I be right in assuming that it's relatively easy for an academic-oriented physicist to retool and enter a more industrial workforce, if the worse comes to worst?
It really depends on the individual. One big difficulty that pretty much everyone faces is if you have been brainwashed for decades into thinking that industry is "worse" than academia, this will cause problems as you try to unbrainwash yourself of this silly notion.
 
  • #3
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However the problem with becoming a full prof is that you'll have spend about six years working at 30K.
Really? Do you mean as a post-doc before joining the faculty? It sounds really low for an assistant prof. Although I don't know the salaries in astronomy.

How much free time does a researcher have? I'm comfortable with working hard, and long, but the thought of neglecting family worries me.
I think it's no worse than in the private sector in that regard.
 
  • #4
Pengwuino
Gold Member
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I think it's no worse than in the private sector in that regard.
It's no worse because it's not bad in either case. The way i see it, if you do a phd in something, you are really interested in the subject. Thus if you're in academia, you're going to see your job as less of some awful waste of your life and more of something that allows you to do something meaningful. At least, compared to everyone else who work the typical 9-5 jobs in society. With this in mind, I think you have people who devote little time to stuff outside of work because they WANT to, not because they have to.

Also, to the OP, don't trust people who aren't in the field. Most people have no idea what physicists or scientists do, let alone that some fields are some of the highest paying fields out there with some of the lowest unemployment rates.
 
  • #5
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Really? Do you mean as a post-doc before joining the faculty? It sounds really low for an assistant prof. Although I don't know the salaries in astronomy.
You have to have two three year post-docs before anyone will consider you for junior tenure track.
 
  • #6
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You have to have two three year post-docs before anyone will consider you for junior tenure track.
Ah, ok. I thought at first that by full professor, you had meant tenured.
 
  • #7
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If you want to know what professors make just google it. Public universities have to release the information. I have looked into it and the full time professors where I go make over 100k.
 

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