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Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate?

  1. Jan 26, 2013 #1
    With the advent of the internet, and the fact that a theorist's work does not require access to expensive laboratory equipment, it would seem that there should be a vibrant community of ex-academics performing research outside of the traditional environment.

    But if there is such a thing, I've never heard of them. Why doesn't this happen? Why aren't there open publishing forums through which theorists outside academia can have their work recognized? Is it impossible to have a balanced life including private research?

    The reason I ask is because, as I have matured mathematically and physically (by that I mean my physical intuition and love of the subject), I have realized that theory really illuminates my imagination, to the point where I am determined to study it, even if I must do so at Bob Jone's bible college. Of course I realize that the academic market for theorists is far worse than the traditional academic market.
     
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  3. Jan 26, 2013 #2
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    If they perform that work in their job then their employer owns the rights to the intellectual property. Additionally, most work in the private sector limits the amount of time one can devote to creativity.
     
  4. Jan 26, 2013 #3
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Well from my experience, not all the theorist are looking at the same things Einstein was. They often use very advanced computer systems and theorize about very specific fields of interest which are not as broad as say, string theory.

    I don't know how it was in the past but now you have physicist in the Biological, Medical and Quantum (statistical) fields that are all under the title theorist and a lot of them utilize super computers (not accessible without sufficient funding). So, I think it is your view on what it means to be a theoretical physicist that might be a little flawed.

    An example of what you are talking about can be seen in my area though, there is one PHD theoretical physicist (that graduated from my University) who now runs a bakery downtown. I don't know if he has published recently though, but from what I understand publishing is often viewed as a pain in the butt thing that scientist often feel pressured into doing for funding or prestige.

    A little word bit of information that I found useful though is that the line between theoretical and experimental can often be very vague. They are only terms that arose out of very broad generalizations.
     
  5. Jan 26, 2013 #4
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Speaking for myself- I don't have the time.

    Theoretical research takes a great deal of time and focus, you can't 'dabble' and expect to make contributions. Just the background things-like keeping up with the literature, require a fairly large time commitment. While I was in graduate school, even things like 'vacation' weren't truly free of work- I would read papers, etc constantly.

    In order to find gainful employment, I transitioned to statistics/data mining which has required constant self-study to learn the field. I also have a lot more responsibilities outside of work than I did in graduate school. I couldn't commit to the same sort of schedule I was in during graduate school even if I had no other job.
     
  6. Jan 26, 2013 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Publishing for peer review does happen in the private sector when people want to do it. It's just the pressures are different.
    i.e. you may be researching something that your employer would like to turn into a product via a patent ... so you'll have clauses in your contract about when and how much, if anything, you can publish.

    Academics publish lots more because they have to do it. They also teach a lot more: same reason.
    They also have more time <tips hat to Particlegrl>, since it is part of their job, and they get to exploit grad students for the donkeywork.
    I think the equivalent to a grad student in the private sector would be an intern?

    Private sector does not pay well just for publishing - while academia often has a publishing requirement tied to your paycheck. On top of that, the private sector often penalizes what they see as "failure", academia revels in it: exposing your research to peer review just increases the chance you'll be seen as a failure when leaving it a bit could let you quietly discover and correct errors (or hide them long enough to get through the next budget allocation).

    Research has a delicate balance though - too much openness and your efforts could be preempted by a competitor: beaten into print (academic), or to the killer product (commerce), or to the killer weapon (military). Too much secrecy, though, and the research tends to get weird and disconnected... like what happens in top secret military research sometimes. Peer review is one way academics, who are not the most in-touch people at the best of times, get their reality checking done. Private research usually has some mechanism of budget assignment at management level.

    Pure research for the sake of research is very expensive and the returns are either intangeable or realized only in the very long term (or non-existent). Though high risk also pays off high, venture capitalists are risk-averse ... That's why only the independently very wealthy (and eccentric) or governments tend to pay for it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  7. Jan 27, 2013 #6
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Simply put: they have no time for making publications that will be considered by peers as good quality and on timely topics.
     
  8. Jan 27, 2013 #7
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Everything has been already said: it's time consuming and I can only imagine very few non-academic/government lab jobs where independent research is encouraged.

    I know someone who did his thesis in quantum information theory and has continued to publish post-phd while working outside academia (he was never paid during his phd either, which he did while employed). At best he and his group (which is spread out throughout the country) submit 1-2 papers a year on their subjects(which don't always get published, but I think he's had at least 4 papers out in the past 4 years, and is now breaking one up into smaller ones which was the only reason it was rejected from PRL recently).

    The people he works and publishes with (tenured academics) do publish much more on their own as naturally it is their livelihood.
     
  9. Jan 27, 2013 #8
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    The time issue has already been mentioned. Professional science just isn't a hobby. Another issue I see is that it doesn't really make sense: When I quit theoretical physics I certainly wasn't out of ideas. Some of them I even could have followed with the equiment I have at home and a bit of rented CPU power. But I fail to see why I should bother when (after having accounted for the option to simply spend more time with friends, family, sports, ...) I can just as well work on some things related to my current job rather than my old one? If I don't like that then the way to go is finding a new job, not being sentimental about the old one. Theoretical physics research is not the holy grail of intellectual stimulation and enlightenment that non-physicists often seem to imagine it to be.
     
  10. Jan 27, 2013 #9
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Good summary
     
  11. Jan 28, 2013 #10
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    At one of my previous jobs they published constantly. Publishing doesn't only exist in academia, if you find research type work there will always be things to publish regardless of what it's at.
     
  12. Jan 28, 2013 #11
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    It depends on the type of work- since starting data mining/consulting work I've produced a few results that would be publishable in an academic setting and but are 'vital to the business strategy' and so I will not be allowed to publish. I imagine people in finance run into the same issue.
     
  13. Jan 28, 2013 #12

    Dr Transport

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    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Both quotes expose the crux of the industrial publishing dirth: your employer owns your research and if there is a profit to be made they own the rights, a dvd worth of data could be worth a billion dollars in profits....
     
  14. Jan 28, 2013 #13
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Although, I think the OP wasn't trying to get at isn't 'why do industry phds publish less', but rather something like:

    'Many (perhaps most) physics theory phds are employed outside of science. They clearly enjoy physics research- so why haven't all the theory phds in finance,insurance,etc continued their interest in physics as a sort of high-level hobby.'

    I think the answer there is just lack of time.
     
  15. Jan 28, 2013 #14
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    How disappointing! I guess I'll have to get a job as a patent clerk if I want to continue research when I don't get a job in academia :P
     
  16. Jan 29, 2013 #15
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    ^^Haha, nice.

    I think your wrong though, top level Comp Sci, Statistics, Math and physics is the holy grail of intellectual stimulation. I make that judgment on the grounds that there is no better subjects which bind a person to rationality and critical thinking. Of corse it will never be some mystified glamorous thing but that is why its the holy grail of intellectual stimulation.

    I think practicing mathematicians/physicist can loose sight of this sometimes.
     
  17. Jan 29, 2013 #16
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Studying and learning physics was enlightening; actually doing it turned out to be dreadfully boring. Timo hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

    I would add though that a lot of the publishing treadmill seems increasingly silly outside of academia. I would love to know what portion of publications are only ever read by the author and the reviewer. Unless you stumbled on something really interesting it's hard to justify the time spent preparing the article.
     
  18. Jan 29, 2013 #17
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Well, clearly there are tasks which can occupy one's mind and time obsessively; try being a novelist, or a musician, or an engineer designing cutting edge technology.

    I think sufficient intellectual pleasure can be found in activities outside of the mathematically intensive disciplines. But what is distinct is that, for me anyway, there is a very deep sense of purpose and desire to the solving of very particular problems. The idea that whatever I'm working on is progressing our understanding of basic physical science, and that it could answer quite deep questions of basic science, is wildly exciting, to the point where I'd be content to merely work on that sort of thing even if I failed to produce anything major by far; it's the act of puzzling it out and steadily progressing which is important to me, not the being famous or venerated as a genius for solving some famous problem.
     
  19. Jan 29, 2013 #18

    AlephZero

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    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    And that also explains one reason why companies DO publish: if you publish half of what you know, about a method or process that turned out not to work, you might send your competitors down a blind alley for a few years...

    The same can apply to patents, of course.

    IBM's research on supercomputers based on Josephson Junctions in the 1980s is a nice example - JJs did turn out to have some practical appplications, but not for high speed computing.
     
  20. Jan 29, 2013 #19

    Nabeshin

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    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Another overlooked reason is the importance of an academic environment in which your peers are ready to poke any and all holes in any ideas you have. The importance of this part of theory cannot be overstated. With all the advents of the internet, it's still not the same as being physically surrounded with people. And, unlike popular conceptions, theory is still a highly collaborative endeavor.
     
  21. Jan 29, 2013 #20
    Re: Why don't theorists employed outside academia continue to publish and collaborate

    Hm, I was going to suggest skype conferences, but the spontaneity of working with others isn't conserved under those circumstances; working near my collaborators in the lab group I'm working in right now has lots of benefits I suppose would be lost by replacing the environment with contrived teleconferences.
     
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