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Physics Theoretical physics as a backup carreer

  1. Dec 28, 2015 #1

    tgt

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    I am 30 years old and doing a degree in pure maths wishing to work towards a Phd in pure maths. Think I will be late 30's when finished with this Phd. Unfortunately, I am not a maths genius and they say a job in pure maths is extremely difficult. Being close to 40 doesn't help either. If after a year, I am unable to find a job in pure math then my plan is to do a Master degree in theoretical physics (I have already completed a bachelor degree in physics but prefer pure maths more at least for now) with hope of gaining a Phd in theoretical physics afterwards. If successful I will be late 40s when finished with this Phd. I will then try to get a job in theoretical physics research. What are the odds of me being successful at getting a job in my late 40s in physics?

    Note: I am able to live alone, partner-less and childless. I will be tutoring all those years to earn a living. Hopefully will get some scholarship on the side as well. I guess even if I don't get a physics job at 50 years old, I will at least have 2 Phds and be a sought after math and physics tutor? If able, will also do some of my own research on the side. What do you people think? Am I crazy? I would be the perfect example of doing what you love. But I will be alone my whole life!

    What I was thinking was that because of my extensive maths background, may be able to tackle some sexy areas in theoretical physics like TOE and what not. They say the person who figures that out is likely to be a loner of some sort like Einstein was. But a 50+ year old loner?

    Suggestions would be grateful.
     
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  3. Dec 28, 2015 #2

    Orodruin

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    To be perfectly honest, the chances of getting a job in theoretical physics are slim to begin with and after your PhD you would usually spend several years at different institutes, holding two year positions with rather lousy conditions, before having any chance at a tenure track position - which is by no means guaranteed. It is definitely nothing I would recommend as a backup plan.

    Who are "they"? I certainly do not believe this to be true.
     
  4. Dec 28, 2015 #3

    tgt

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    My back up plan is and has always been tutoring. If at 50 years old, I am not able to get any sort of permanent physics job than I will be tutoring and doing my own research. Even though it's another 20 years away, there is a 95% chance I will end up like this ie without a permanent job. What do you think?

    Many people I've heard including physics lecturers. Look at the physics theories to date. Lee Smolin is one such person probably. He said the physics community hasn't progressed much in decades. Who do you think is likely to come up with a breakthrough?
     
  5. Dec 28, 2015 #4

    Orodruin

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    This is simply wrong, physics has developed significantly. The one front which takes a long time to progress is the experimental one as higher energies require more and more manpower and innovation in order to test new theories. I would say that this is the bottleneck today - not a lack of theories.
    This is not so much of an if. I can already tell you that getting a PhD in your late 40s will not land you a permanent job in physics. Going by the typical time scale for getting a tenure track job, you would be in your late 50s before even being considered for tenure - and all along the way you would have to fight against the age discrimination (people are often more likely to hire younger PhDs and postdocs in my experience).
     
  6. Dec 28, 2015 #5

    tgt

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    So you think we won't have another person like Einstein to make a breakthrough? Is physics today like big corporations in that it's harder for the small guy to make an impact?

    Thanks for telling me early. But if I have a strong curiosity and ok on the financial side without family commitments, do you think I could make an impact in theoretical physics going about it myself after 50 at home after the Phd?
     
  7. Dec 28, 2015 #6

    Orodruin

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    What many do not realise is that Einstein was in no way a loner in the sense that he was well aware of and well versed in the ideas existing at that time. He could not have made his breakthroughs without others like Maxwell laying out the ground work. Physics today is even more an enterprise of many contributors, the usual thing in theory is to work in small groups of a few people, discussing and performing different computations - numerical as well as analytical. Today, physics is larger than it was at Einstein's time. It is essentially impossible to have a grasp of all areas in physics. Just look at this forum, I have a tenure track position in theoretical astroparticle physics and I will not pretend to have a working knowledge good enough to answer many of the advanced questions outside of my own area of expertise.

    I am not saying it is impossible, but I think it would be unlikely.
     
  8. Dec 28, 2015 #7

    tgt

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    What about making a giant leap as it were - a different way of thinking like what Einstein did (I am aware he was well versed in physics but he did think of the ideas himself and not in a team like so many of articles in physics today are)? Many say we are due for another one and it most likely will come from someone outside the mainstream physics academia.

    What is more unlikely do you think, me in my late 50s coming up with such a groundbreaking idea at home or getting tenured in my 50s as a result of doing good and consistent "mainstream" physics?
     
  9. Dec 28, 2015 #8

    Orodruin

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    I do not think this is true. If you take Einstein as an example, it is only a myth that he was really outside mainstream academia.

    Compared to making a ground breaking discovery at that age without connections to the scientific community, getting a tenured position is many many times more likely.
     
  10. Dec 28, 2015 #9

    tgt

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    But his ideas were definitely outside the mainstream at the time? So outside that many rejected his papers at first?

    I am assuming making a breakthrough after obtaining a Phd in physics and maybe correspond to some physicists around the world. Also you have to take into account my extensive maths background.

    Jeez, basically I've got no hope of achieving either. Isn't age discrimination illegal? Or would professors just come up with an excuse for not hiring someone who might even be older than them?
     
  11. Dec 28, 2015 #10

    micromass

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    That his papers were rejected, I do not know. You'll need to give me some link that establishes that. But I do know his theories were definitely not outside the mainstream. In fact, quite a lot of Einsteins ideas were already made before him. People like Lorentz and Poincare already made very important contributions to relativity before it was a thing. The crucial step Einstein made was to put many of those ideas in a very elegant framework. This was definitely a very important thing to do, but by all means not outside the mainstream. I would guess that if it were not for Einstein, the theory of relativity would arise anyway within 10 years.
     
  12. Dec 28, 2015 #11

    Orodruin

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    Also, there is an entire spectrum of phycisists with strong mathematical background. It would by no means make you stand out.

    I do not mean to be discouraging, just to relate the facts of the matter before you embark on an endeavour which might bring you nowhere.
     
  13. Dec 28, 2015 #12

    ZapperZ

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    When you come up with a "backup" plan, that plan has to have a substantially HIGHER probability of succeeding. This is why your plan of having a "theoretical physics" career as a backup plan is a head-scratcher for many of us. At best, it may be just a minor improvement from your current plan.

    Zz.
     
  14. Dec 28, 2015 #13

    micromass

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    And then there's the question whether having a PhD in mathematics is actually helpful in theoretical physics. Sure, it doesn't exactly hurt, but the majority of pure math you'll encounter during a PhD will be completely irrelevant to physics.
     
  15. Dec 28, 2015 #14

    SteamKing

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    If your academic training accomplishes nothing else, it should teach you to discount what 'They say' unless and until you have verified it with your own research. :wink:

    Einstein was not the Unabomber of his day.

    A lot of the details of Einstein's personal life have been overshadowed by his accomplishments in science. He had married a fellow student who attended ETH with him and fathered a daughter, about whom unfortunately we know little else, suggesting that she died in infancy. Einstein later had two sons with his wife, both of whom remained with their mother after their parents divorced and Einstein left Switzerland for Berlin. Later, Einstein married a second time, and the couple emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1933, although Einstein's wife was apparently in ill-health at the time. She died shortly after their arrival in the U.S.

    In the U.S., Einstein cultivated many friendships with his colleagues at Princeton, including an especially close one with the mathematician Kurt Godel. Einstein reportedly loved performing with his violin in public with various chamber quartets.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein
     
  16. Dec 28, 2015 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me get this straight -your Plan B is to get a PhD in theoretical physics and make an Einstein-level breakthrough. That's your backup plan? That's a bit like saying "My backup plan is to be elected President of the United States - while keeping my career as an NFL Quarterback. And pitcher for the Yankees."

    Even stipulating this, you are concerned that with a once-per-century intellect, your problem is going to be age discrimination?

    I don't think this is a very realistic plan.
     
  17. Dec 28, 2015 #16

    StatGuy2000

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    Let me ask some different questions to the rest of PF. The OP is currently 30 years old, about to finish his/her undergraduate degree in pure math, and considering pursuing a PhD in pure math. He/she estimates that he/she will be in his/her late 30s by the time the PhD is completed. Do you think that is a wise plan (given Orodruin's point about age discrimination, and the OP's own concerns about job prospects for math PhDs)? What would any of you suggest the OP do instead?
     
  18. Dec 28, 2015 #17

    Vanadium 50

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    I think the smart thing is to develop a realistic Plan B. One that does not take 7 more years of school and 6 years of postdocs and still have a 10% probability of reaching the goal the OP has set. I am not worried about age discrimination - it's illegal in the US, and the one person I know who retired and took up physics as a second career did fine. I am worried that there isn't enough time to actually have a career. It's normally PhD+20 years where you start to have an opinion that matters and can start shaping the field. The OP will be in his 60's by then.
     
  19. Dec 28, 2015 #18
    Ignoring the fact that relying on, planning around, and expecting one to be an Einstein is just childish, I echo ZapperZ's thoughts that a backup plan is what one plans to do if their grand vision does not succeed. If you were set on pursuing pure math and your backup was that if you couldn't find a job you would become a programmer or software designer that would be an excellent plan as the fields are related and good programmers/computer science people are in high demand worldwide. Similarly, if you were set on pursuing theoretical physics and your backup plan was to be an engineer of some sort than that would also meet those criteria.

    Saying that you're going to pursue pure math and then if that doesn't work out instead pursue an arguably even harder field to find a job in that is not totally relevant to your previous field and furthermore that all you have to do is be the greatest genius of your time is not what a good backup plan would be.
     
  20. Dec 28, 2015 #19

    Fredrik

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    Who will you tutor? In my country, the only people who use paid tutors are high school students, and most of them will only want to see you once a week, 1.5-2 hours at a time. They're in school most of the day, so you can only work late afternoons, early evenings and weekends. They won't let you schedule sessions at times that are good for you, so you will probably only see 2 students per day on average, even if you want to work more.

    The pay for those sessions is pretty bad, and the pay for travel time is a joke. At the end of the month, you will have made something like 25% of the average salary in your country. This is during the school year of course; no one will hire you during the summer. You don't get paid vacations, and your employer won't be making payments towards your retirement.

    So I don't think tutoring is a great backup plan either. I think some of the better options are to get a degree in engineering or applied mathematics, or get certified as a teacher. Unfortunately each of these options will require you to go back to school for two years.
     
  21. Dec 28, 2015 #20

    tgt

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    I meant more like a Uni tutor.
     
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