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  1. Aug 9, 2011 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2011 #2
    I don't like the tone the person uses in that post but yea.. it's more or less accurate.
  4. Aug 9, 2011 #3
    oh god
  5. Aug 9, 2011 #4
    Have you not been reading these forums, or how did that rant crush your heart? Also, what's wrong with a job in industry?
  6. Aug 10, 2011 #5
    If you want to get a physics Ph.D., your life will be *MUCH* happier if you just assume that you won't be a professor and realize that the odds are that you will be doing something else to make money.
  7. Aug 10, 2011 #6
    Er, how about doing a PhD because you're actually interested in what you study? Does that count for nothing? How about all that time you get to devote mostly to studying something you love, an opportunity you will not get if you go and work rather than study for a PhD? And when you do eventually go and work (i.e. leave academia) people who have more years of education generally earn more. A very one-sided article.
  8. Aug 10, 2011 #7


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    It certainly is one-sided. However, it is also a dose of reality when you start to have to pay your bills, student loans, rent, mortgage, food, etc.

    I'm always torn between two extremes when dealing with topic like this. On one hand, I try to show that you can make a decent living at doing physics, so getting a PhD is worthwhile. On the other hand, I see kids wanting to be a theorist doing cosmology, string theory, etc.. etc. where the employability is so low and the competition for jobs is so high, they'll end up doing something entirely different just to make a living. At some point, what you end up specializing in, and your employability, do matter and can greatly influence your ability to land a job!

    Again, it is not a coincidence that the largest field in physics is condensed matter/material science. It has a large variety application, and it is also quite attractive to employment outside academia. If you are an experimentalist in that field, you gain quite a set of valuable skills that can serve you quite well in seeking a job. And in fields such as accelerator physics, I've already highlighted the fact that https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=410271" in that field, both in academia/research labs, and in industries. So the situation in those two fields certainly doesn't resemble anything at all to the pessimistic article in the OP. But switch fields and go into high energy physics, cosmology/astrophysics, etc.. etc., and the situation looks awfully like that!

    So is the article accurate? Yes and no. My only advice here is that, go in with your eyes wide open. If you choose to go into a field that has less degree of employability, and you are willing to accept the risk, then that's fine. Pursue your dream by all means. Just don't do it and then express shock and anger when you graduate and can't find a decent job in what you want to do. We all assume some risk in life, and nothing is guaranteed. The question is, have you done enough homework to know the degree of risk you are accepting?

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  9. Aug 10, 2011 #8
    Also, I think many people are more attracted to the romance of a professorship, i.e. they just like the idea of being a professor or academic, rather than enjoying what they study.

    Anyway, having your dreams unfulfilled is just a part of life. Just accept it and move on. It's part of growing up. We've all had dreams that haven't been realised.
  10. Aug 10, 2011 #9
    There seem to be quite a few people who do their doctorate in something standard and then find some really under-developed interdisciplinary work, applying their skills to a team research effort both in and outside of academia. If you do original work outside of academia, there isn't anything that prevents you from coming in later.

    Fields like theoretical physics are over-saturated with extremely bright people, but look at all of the areas of biology and physiology that still have tons of open questions that a person with lots of talent could pick apart. Just look at Aubrey De Grey, he went from computer science to aging research. Is he typical? No, not exactly, but he recognized an area with relatively (for him) low hanging fruit and he built himself a career in a relatively underdeveloped field.
  11. Aug 10, 2011 #10
    Industrial employability for cosmologists and HEP in general is not low. Most cosmologists end up with huge amounts of computational and statistics experience that is quite marketable. The same holds true for things like numerical general relativity.

    The problem is that there seems to be this weird attraction to subfields of theory in which employability is not high. I think the reason for this is that people are attracted to string theory and quantum gravity because it has no connection with the real world, but having no connection with the real world is a bummer when it comes to looking for industrial application.

    Fortunately, most theory jobs aren't in things that are too esoteric. My main problem was not finding a job, but trying to convince myself that I shouldn't feel like crap for looking.

    No it isn't. The job market for people in HEP, cosmology, and theoretical astrophysics is pretty decent. Now there are people that go into theoretical astrophysics with the attitude of "I will not do anything that has to do with EWWWWWW money" but that is a psychological issue has nothing to do with the lack of jobs. Psychology is important, so this is why I think people need to go into graduate school with the right mind set.

    Also career services for theoreticians is *HORRIBLE*, almost intentionally so.

    My advice is to ask lots of questions. I *don't* think that computational astrophysics has a worse job market than say condensed matter. Now if you take the attitude that if you have a astrophysics Ph.D., you *must* take a job with astrophysics in the title, then yes, that restricts things. But that's a weird psychological issue, and you'll be better off the faster you get rid of it.

    Money is money. For that matter PDE's are PDE's. I like crunching PDE's, and I don't care much if they are neutrino hydrodynamics equations or convertible bond equations.

    The problem isn't "risk" but "bad advice" or even worse "bad teaching."

    Telling people that that shouldn't go into cosmology because there is no industrial job market for cosmologists is a bad thing because it's not true. One thing that makes it easy to get a job is that we are dealing with very small numbers. The world graduates at most about 20 or so string theorists a year, and if you are able to hire 2, that changes the employment picture a lot.

    There are things that you can do if you are interested in cosmology that increase employability, but it's unlikely whatever you do that you are going to end up living in a cardboard box, and the problem with theoretical physics Ph.D.'s is really not so much the lack of jobs as the psychological trauma of learning to like what jobs do exist. I think that a lot of the psychological trauma comes from "bad teaching".

    The problem wasn't finding a job. The problem was feeling that I was somehow "abnormal" or "inferior" for doing so. That might sound absurd to you. It does to me now, and if I had to go back in time, I'd almost be willing to slap myself in the face and tell myself that I should feel *good* about my situation.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2011
  12. Aug 10, 2011 #11
    I really don't think that it is. I think we have a terrible problem with economically organizing Ph.D.'s to maximize social value, but that's a different issue. Also they can't be that smart, because if they were they would figure out how to fix the problem.

    Look, we are talking about 20 string theorists a year. If we can't think of something else, then open a pizzeria. Look around you. The markets are tanking. Unemployment is a 9%. The polar ice caps and the middle class is disappearing. If we can't figure out how to get some of the most mathematically gifted people to solve those problems, then we aren't that smart.

    I think he is more typical than you would think. One thing has been useful for me is to be able to flip from field to field very quickly, so that I can go where the grass is greenest.

    There's some really crazy psychology that is going on here.
  13. Aug 10, 2011 #12
    I think its important to realize that your specialization can matter tremendously for the type of job you want.

    A lot of advisors seem to present industry as this magical world that soaks up excess physicists, and say things like "you can always get a job in industry." The relevant question to ask is 'which industry?' Most physicists I know would vastly prefer a job doing something physical (engineering, product R&D, etc) to something that is more social science (economics, finance). For those physicists, doing HEP theory is likely the wrong decision. Contact any potential advisors former students and find out what they are doing now. Contact collaborators former students and find out what they are doing now. If the majority of these former students are in jobs you don't think you would enjoy, you are working for the wrong advisor.

    Generally, people who get years-on-the-job experience instead of doing a phd earn more than the people who go the phd route. As an anecdote to this- I recently had a job interview conducted by someone who was a student in a physics class I taught a few years ago (I recently finished a phd), if I get hired, he will be my immediate superior.
  14. Aug 11, 2011 #13
    From http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/moneymatters/a/edandearnings.htm" [Broken]

    Though we aren't quite talking about the same thing.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  15. Aug 11, 2011 #14
    Was that an engineering or physics student? Also, what kind of job was that, if you don't mind me asking?

    Thank you.
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