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What institution allow you to do research in physics for the rest of your life?

  1. Oct 25, 2009 #1

    fluidistic

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    I'm only at the end of the second year (out of 5) of a physics bachelor. I plan on to do a Phd although I've absolutely no idea in which area (and I know the admission will be very hard). After the Phd I'd like to do research for the rest of my life. Is that possible in the US?
    For example in France there is the CNRS (national center of scientific research) and once you get in (extremely hard), you have very few obligations to accomplish. By this I mean that one does not have to publish every year or so. Alain Connes said that a mathematician can work his whole life on a single problem, contrarily as in the US where, according to him, one has a lot more pressure to publish, resulting in papers of lesser quality. (I'm not criticizing the US system, I just repeat what I've read in an interview of Alain Connes).

    In Argentina there exist the CONICET which seems very similar to the French CNRS. Most my current professors work at the CONICET and I believe they're all experimentalists, although I'm not sure about my EM professor (H. M. Pastawski). Once one has entered the CONICET, there's not a big pressure to publish. You could think that it's not good because a researcher could get lazy, but I think they're serious and publish regularly. (According to what I've seen at my University).

    I'm curious if there exist similar institutions/centers in the US (or Canada or any other country) that allow you to study in most branches of physics (including theoretical physics) and where you could publish once in 2 or 3 years or even more if you're working on a long project.

    Thanks for your time.
     
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  3. Oct 25, 2009 #2
  4. Oct 25, 2009 #3

    fluidistic

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  5. Oct 25, 2009 #4
    In the UK we have the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/About/Conts/Find/RAL/Introduction.aspx" [Broken]. I'm not too sure of any others, but there aren't as many as in the US, that's for sure. Most stuff if just done in University-run centres.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  6. Oct 25, 2009 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    There are two parts to the OP's question:
    1. Where can one do research full time?
    2. Where can one do research full time, and go years between publications.

    The National Labs are a good answer to #1, but I fear the answer to #2, unless you've got a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal, is "nowhere". If you want to be paid, you have a boss. If you have a boss, he wants to know what you are doing. If you're publishing papers every 2 or 3 years, that looks an awful lot like "nothing".

    Looking at a few people at different career stages in Brookhaven's theory group, I see the following publication rates:
    • Dr. A: 4.7/year.
    • Dr. B: 6.1/year
    • Dr. C: 2.4/year
    • Dr. D: 4.8/year
    • Dr. E: 4.3/year

    Indeed, I would count on more pressure to produce at the Labs rather than less. Lab theorists cost the DoE six times as much as university theorists (because the DoE is paying twelve months of salary rather than two) And since these are some of the few full-time research jobs, competition is intense. If you aren't producing, you need a good reason for your boss not to replace you with someone who is.
     
  7. Oct 25, 2009 #6

    fluidistic

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    Thanks for the last 2 replies. That's useful information.
    I'm really impressed by the number of publications of the professors at Brookhaven.
    And yes, Vanadium, I basically asked the 2 questions you pointed out. I may add a few ones : where can one work on unification theories such as ST or LQG? I would consider those as a theoretical part of physics although their implications have not been verified yet.
    Is the answer : at any University? If I'm not wrong, I've heard that there are many researchers on LQG at Waterloo, Canada. Do they have the pressure to publish a couple of papers a year? Are their research purely (100%) theoretical so that there's absolutely no experiment involved to test their predictions? Lastly, do they have to do research on other branches of physics where their predictions can be more easily verified?
     
  8. Oct 25, 2009 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Perimeter authors published 152 papers last year. This is from maybe 40 or so people - so just under 4 papers per person per year.

    Being a great theoretical physicist who doesn't publish any papers is like being a great ballplayer who doesn't play any games.
     
  9. Oct 25, 2009 #8

    fluidistic

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    I see your point. What do you mean by perimeter authors?
     
  10. Oct 25, 2009 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    Authors of papers who gave The Perimeter Institute as their affiliation when publishing.
     
  11. Oct 25, 2009 #10

    fluidistic

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    Ok thanks.
    I see that activeness is very important wherever you are. Thanks for clarifying. I wonder if one finds time to work on a single problem/project for years if you're almost obligated to publish as soon as you can.
     
  12. Oct 25, 2009 #11

    lurflurf

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    Many large projects are divided into stages with publications at each stage. This has several advantages
    -Increase in publications for researchers.
    -Results and methods can be checked, used and improved by others.
    -Managable length, few Journals accept 10 000 page articles.
     
  13. Oct 25, 2009 #12

    fluidistic

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    Ah ok, so it's possible to work on a single long subject, dividing it by stages. Nice to know.
    I feel I'm so ignorant about all this, that's funny.
     
  14. Oct 26, 2009 #13
    The other thing is that at most research institutes, pretty much all of the papers are co-authored so that reduces publication pressure. Also, you have more time to publish papers since you aren't teaching classes.

    The reason paper publication is important is to that when it comes time to ask for more money, and the funders ask "so what did you do with the $X we gave you last time" you have something to show them.

    Also publication in the physical sciences is much easier than social sciences. The main reason is that the peer reviewers don't see themselves as major gatekeepers so as long as you have something not totally crazy, it will eventually pass peer review. (The acceptance rate for Ap.J. is something like 70%.)

    In the social sciences, the journal peer reviewers *do* consider themselves gatekeepers, so that the publication rate is low and painful and IMHO much more political.

    In the physical sciences, the real gatekeepers are the funding committees and the allocation committees. There is a strong political element in this but, IMHO I think it's mostly "good politics" (i.e. so what types of research should we spend tax money on?) One thing that I've noticed about senior scientists is that they spend a huge amount of time in Washington D.C. The observation that money is what matters in science is what going me interested in finance.
     
  15. Oct 26, 2009 #14

    symbolipoint

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    Can you or someone explain this more:
    Why do you believe this kind of gatekeeping is as it is?
     
  16. Oct 26, 2009 #15
    I think it's a money issue. Physics is funded by people that want to see results, so people will look very badly on groups that keep decent results from getting published, and people have enough money to create huge size journals. In the case of the social sciences, there isn't much money, so resources are allocated based on status, which gives extraordinary power to people that can confer or withhold status.

    The other issue is that the standards of quality are a bit more objective in physics. If you've proved Fermat's last theorem or invented special relativity, then if a peer review board says no, then you scrall something somewhere and the peer review board looks bad. In the social sciences (and even worse yet in the humanities), the standards for what is a "good" paper are much more subjective.
     
  17. Oct 27, 2009 #16
    i will second that. Splitting up thesis research into journal format is proving to be a real headache. Its nice and creative to have a long gestation time for projects, but the real world is not that creative and functions on regularly monitored subdivided projects on existing agendas.

    Alas the brain also becomes less creative as you get past postgrad age, so you may feel limitless creativity now, but for most this will slow down. Unless you already have some pretty hot seeds for a lifelong project and are creative in a manner thats totally unmanageable by others, its better for development, survival and healthy functioning to learn how to be a cog in the machine and output something every season.
     
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