Don't Become a Scientist?!

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

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noojens
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby noojens » Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:43 pm

fermiboy wrote:Also, I don't see how I descended into hyperbole. If someone would like to point out where I did I would appreciate it. I haven't exaggerated about anything.

You didn't. I think you've been totally reasonable. I said that Katz and the others you linked tended toward hyperbole. Specifically, I had Katz's "I've seen more lives ruined by getting a PhD than by doing drugs" comment in mind.

Re: quantitative finance -- largely a moot point; most of those jobs don't exist anymore. Talk to consultants if you want to know how a lot of ex-theorists fare in industry. They'll probably answer to the tune of $150-250k starting salary (assuming they have some speaking and writing skills) for doing research, not manipulating financial markets .

fermiboy wrote:And I don't know how many times I have to say this, but I'm not talking about people who are planning on studying something applied and moving to industry. I'm talking about people who go to grad school and want to be a professor.

Right, and I'm saying that people who do applied research (especially experimentalists, but theorists too) have a better shot at being professors. There's a lot more funding, academic departments have to compete with industrial employers for young PhDs, and so on.

I basically agree with everything you've posted, I just think there are a lot of good points on the other side too. *shrug* I did a master's in engineering physics last year, and have been working outside of academia since then. I stepped off the PhD path because I wasn't sure the degree was worth the time, stress, and opportunity costs. I've done a lot since graduating - research, consulting, travel, engineering, paying off student loans. Ultimately, I decided to finish my PhD and shoot for a prof job, but this time I'm doing it with my eyes wide open. I've thought a lot about it, and talked to many experts inside my field and out, from academia, labs, NGOs, funding agencies, and industry. I know what I'm worth on the job market, and I know what my opportunities are outside of academia. I've considered the odds, and to me the risk is absolutely worth it.

I think your decision to leave your program is an eminently sane one. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk more about opportunities for physicists outside of academia, or about the transition to engineering or whatever.

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:58 pm

kroner wrote:
fermiboy wrote:Happy Quark summed up my point more eloquently than I ever could. The debate is not if the market is efficient. It's brutally efficient. The debate is whether going to grad school is for a job in academia is worth the investment in the first place. Go talk to someone who doesn't know anything about the physics community. Tell them that you're going to school for 10+ years of intense training (undergrad and grad), and when you're done, you'll be happy to find a temporary position where you have no choice where you live and pays 30K to 50K a year. They will think you are batshit insane.

Of course it would sound insane because you omitted everything driving your decision except the money. If your goal is to make the most money then obviously that's a very stupid course to take. If your highest priority is something else, then you've done a very poor job explaining your situation.


The goal isn't to make the most money, it's to make enough money to be compensated for all the time you invested in studying. Every year you spend in grad school you are cutting into your lifetime earning potential. I'm talking about money because, like it or not, money is damn important thing to worry about in your life, especially once you are done with school and in the "real world."

But let's forget about the money for a minute. Suppose you are doing it for just your love of physics and you tell people that. That would make you very similar to someone who wants to be an artist or a musician for a living. Doing something you love for very little pay. Guess what? Most people think those who try to be an artist or a musician for a living are batshit insane as well. If you tell someone that they will tell you that you need to be realistic and have a backup plan if it doesn't pan out. Same thing here. If you want to go into academic physics look at it as a dream and have a backup plan.

kroner
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby kroner » Wed Mar 31, 2010 9:05 pm

fermiboy wrote:
kroner wrote:
fermiboy wrote:Happy Quark summed up my point more eloquently than I ever could. The debate is not if the market is efficient. It's brutally efficient. The debate is whether going to grad school is for a job in academia is worth the investment in the first place. Go talk to someone who doesn't know anything about the physics community. Tell them that you're going to school for 10+ years of intense training (undergrad and grad), and when you're done, you'll be happy to find a temporary position where you have no choice where you live and pays 30K to 50K a year. They will think you are batshit insane.

Of course it would sound insane because you omitted everything driving your decision except the money. If your goal is to make the most money then obviously that's a very stupid course to take. If your highest priority is something else, then you've done a very poor job explaining your situation.


The goal isn't to make the most money, it's to make enough money to be compensated for all the time you invested in studying. Every year you spend in grad school you are cutting into your lifetime earning potential. I'm talking about money because, like it or not, money is damn important thing to worry about in your life, especially once you are done with school and in the "real world."

But let's forget about the money for a minute. Suppose you are doing it for just your love of physics and you tell people that. That would make you very similar to someone who wants to be an artist or a musician for a living. Doing something you love for very little pay. Guess what? Most people think those who try to be an artist or a musician for a living are batshit insane as well. If you tell someone that they will tell you that you need to be realistic and have a backup plan if it doesn't pan out. Same thing here. If you want to go into academic physics look at it as a dream and have a backup plan.

Ok yeah, I agree with that. All I'm saying is that the fact that reaching the goal of being a successful artist/physicist/etc is difficult and uncertain doesn't mean no one should try. There are people for whom the risk is worth taking. (Also I think it's a bit easier to find a fall back as a physics PhD than an artist.)

Personally I feel that the process of getting a PhD is in itself more important to me than the boost in lifetime potential earning. Even if it doesn't work out that I make it in academia, I need to be able to say that I tried, despite the financial cost. Whatever I can contribute doing research has some value as well.

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 31, 2010 9:27 pm

And I definitely agree that a physics PhD makes you much more employable than a high school drop out musician :D

But I think the attitude many beginning grad students (who want a job as a professor) take is this:

I know the job market is tough, but I love physics and want to continue with it. I'll just go to grad school and do my best. If I get an academic job, great. If not, I'll do something else but hey, at least I got to do physics for a few more years, right? I'll get a job and worry about money and my career then.

That's the attitude I certainly took, and I think it's a bit naive. For one thing, you truly don't know how much you love physics until you've been through the grad school coursework, comps, etc. You definitely don't know if you like research or not, even if you did do some as an undergrad. It's a lot different doing research when you are a grad student, you are expected to be a lot more independent. You also don't know how you will feel when you see your friends from undergrad start their careers and start making decent money, while you're still slaving away in grad school for years. An undergrad physics major really has no clue what being a grad student is like, even if they think they do from observing grads in their own department, and I think they tend to view it with rose tinted glasses.

Unfortunately, you won't ever know till you try it, which is why it's important to have a backup plan and be able to escape the minute you realize that grad school is not for you. I just want people to have "outs" before they take this plunge, and to seriously weigh all their options before they do so. I might seem bitter ( I guess I am about my own choices) but I'm actually trying to help future students by sharing my mistakes and experiences.

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 31, 2010 9:56 pm

noojens wrote: Specifically, I had Katz's "I've seen more lives ruined by getting a PhD than by doing drugs" comment in mind.


Lol yeah this is pretty over the top. Obviously Katz's doesnt get out very much and didn't go to any cool parties when he was in school :D

But seriously, there are probably more lives destroyed in a single day by drugs then there people getting physics PhDs over an entire year.

Anyways, I know I've commented (spammed maybe?) a lot in this thread and I'm not trying to be contentious with anyone, or overrun the the thread, so I'll chill out for awhile. But I think both the current system and the culture of physics graduate school is a very interesting topic, and one that needs to be discussed from all points of view.

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twistor
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby twistor » Thu Apr 01, 2010 10:52 am

or to impress hot girls with your superior knowledge of hadrons


Girls are already impressed by my superior knowledge of ...

Ohhhhh, you said hadrons.

geshi
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby geshi » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:05 pm

twistor wrote:
or to impress hot girls with your superior knowledge of hadrons


Girls are already impressed by my superior knowledge of ...

Ohhhhh, you said hadrons.


I saw a guy wearing this shirt (at a physics Open House): http://www.splitreason.com/product/538

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grae313
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby grae313 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 4:40 pm

geshi wrote:I saw a guy wearing this shirt (at a physics Open House): http://www.splitreason.com/product/538


was it cornell by any chance? A classmate of mine has this shirt. Cracks me up every time.

geshi
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby geshi » Fri Apr 02, 2010 8:59 pm

grae313 wrote:was it cornell by any chance? A classmate of mine has this shirt. Cracks me up every time.


It was at Ohio State Open House. He did his undergrad at some California school. Probably not the same person :-P

Ft437w
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Ft437w » Sat Apr 03, 2010 1:06 am

Oh Brendan...

johnpauljones
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby johnpauljones » Mon Apr 05, 2010 12:21 am

Here's my take on the whole thing:

I'm male, middle class, and white, so as far as the "system" goes, I'm all the things that are supposed to make life easy :roll:. My dad is an accountant and a second generation American, and he was the first in his entire family to go to college. He took a decent job that required a lot (~35 weeks a year) of traveling when I was a kid, which meant he was 1) not around much and 2) stressed out all the time when he was home. He put food on the table for the rest of us, but the lifestyle was a little miserable for him and there was often a lot of tension at home growing up.

I'm trying to learn from him and NOT get sucked into a job I don't really like just for the money. I'm finishing my MS in physics now and starting a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering next year. As a personal decision, I don't mind living on $20k-$25k/year until I'm in my late 20's, because I've found a career and a lifestyle that I really enjoy. I love the whole process of inquiry and discovery, and regardless of where my paychecks come from down the road, the most important thing to me is that I genuinely like what I do for a living. So far, so good.

That being said, my particular field -- CME/materials science -- has a lot more opportunities in industry than, say, HEP-th. The theorists I know now are all at least as intelligent and hard working as I am, if not much more so, but the reality is that it will be easier for me to find a job after I graduate that will pay me commensurate with PhD-level skills and training. Graduating from an engineering department also boosts my chances, as there are typically more direct relationships (internships, faculty connections, etc) with industry through engineering programs than in regular physics departments. I guess I got "lucky" that my interests naturally overlap with opportunity-rich fields of research...?

Anyway, I suppose that if I was "stuck" in a field with no direct prospects outside of academia, and long odds within it, I might second guess my education & career decisions more. But to me, the most important thing is just to find something you love to do; if you can get paid well to do it, that's icing on the cake. Either way, as some previous posters have eluded to, someone with a PhD in physics (regardless of research expertise) possesses some extremely useful and marketable critical thinking, data analysis, and problem solving skills.

So, I guess I agree with the main point of this post: make an informed decision before you commit 1-6 years of your life to grad school. It's ok to dream big, but have a back-up plan. Einstein said that "great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" -- like the teacher who told him he would never amount to anything. Of course, for every Einstein, there are dozens (hundreds?) of no-name lab rats and theorists who work hard for minimal, if any, fortune and fame...but if it makes you happy, why not? There are worse things in the world.

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zxcv
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby zxcv » Mon Apr 05, 2010 3:00 am

grae313 wrote:Life is different if you're an aspiring theorist, but for me, life is grand.

I could not agree more, and I am an aspiring theorist.

Look: I have no pretentions about my long term job prospects. Just as many of my adviser's former students end up in consulting as in tenure track positions.

I'll drop off the wagon when I'm not enjoying it anymore or, more realistically, when my luck runs out. It may not be physics, but I'll still be eminently employable in interesting, quantitative fields.

kedar
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby kedar » Tue Apr 06, 2010 2:37 pm

SO what are the options after all .. if not a position in academia what else are the opportunities for hep theorists & hep experimentalists & computational physics grads..
research labs, scientific collaborations or the industry ??.. what kind of jobs ; technical and non-technical ??
any awareness on this front shud be beneficial in decision making ..
Also how easy / difficult it is to make the transition specially for ppl in fields like hep or astro ?.. condensed matter / AMO ppl seem better put in terms of opportunities..

comments and some seriouss info ..

backONit
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby backONit » Fri Aug 06, 2010 3:07 pm

fermiboy wrote:... But I don't really feel like doing either of those jobs so I got something else set up. I don't really want to mention it in a public forum, so PM me if you really want to know. Let's just say that I'll be my own boss, I can work from anywhere I want (via the internet), and I will get to use a lot of my math skills.


If you think success in poker is any more easy than success in physics academia then I think you haven't been playing the game very long. While it is currently quite easy to make 50K/year, if you hope for any advancement and/or the ability to consistently reach your income goals for the rest of your life, you have to constantly study, adapt and improve...i think anybody who is familiar with the ACTUAL state of professional poker will inform you that the games get tougher every DAY, and the competition at even the middle stakes games is akin to taking a probability class at MIT and trying to outsmart some of the most intelligent people on Earth. The stress of this lifestyle is surely equal or greater than the stress of succeeding in the physics world. I would even go as far to say that recognition in poker is infinitely more elusive than recognition in physics.

Nail
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Nail » Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:13 am

Very informative detail...thanks

randomphys
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby randomphys » Sat Aug 21, 2010 5:38 am

Interesting topic. Since less than 900,000 seconds remain until I (hopefully) defend my PhD in Physics, the perspective of what follows after that is kind of relevant to me. :D

I have first to say that I am an international student (which actually makes the perspective less obvious), and as a such, I do not quite understand the thinking of some people who do care so much about what their job options would be after they graduate. First, the question about whether or not you should even have gotten into a PhD program in Physics has not been and is not a question at all to me. Why is summarized below (forgot who posted it):

I guess I'm a bit unusual. I plan to work in industry but want to get my PhD because it's important to me on a personal level to be a highly-educated person, and because the research leaders in industry that I see have PhDs so I think the career opportunities for PhD holders in industry are more open.

PhD is the highest-educational degree. PhD in Physics is perhaps the hardest educational path. Getting the highest educational degree in the hardest educational discipline is a goal in itself. It simply puts you on top (not specifying of what, because to me is of everything one can desire). This in turn opens opportunities. End of story.

Second, why do you care about what jobs you can take? I care about what life I want to have. I very well understand that USA functions based on hard work, demanding jobs, and hard work and demanding jobs, which is a cyclic and inevitable part of almost everybody's life and hence, of almost everybody's thinking. However, my life is not my job. In fact, life is so beautiful and complex that there is no job in the world that can confine it. By putting so much emphasis on the job, you are simply confining your life. I want to be free to try out and be immersed in millions of beautiful aspects of what life can offer, so it is more than obvious that I want to work something that will allow me to do so. My initial goal was to become a professor for that reason - you are the boss of yourself, you manage your own time, you (may) have time to do the other so many cool things you enjoy in life (besides physics, which is just one of those things). However, during my graduate studies I realized that this may not happen too soon (as pointed out by Katz and others). In addition, during the writing of my thesis I realized that ... I actually do not like repeating things that I have already found the answers to. It is simply boring. Well, for the first time in my life it came across to me that professorship might not be what I would actually enjoy: Not only will I have to write grants, but I will also have to write papers for other people to read and to help me ... write and get other grants. Basically, do the same thing at least twice. I do not find motivation in doing that unless I hire somebody else to do it. I am not a robot or machine to repeat things and tasks that I have already gone through. Therefore, my perception of how I would like to live will eventually determine what I would do (I do not say work, because, again, job is not my priority).

Third, money is irrelevant. Exciting life is not measured by how much money one has or earns. I'd definitely say that my life was n-times more exciting before I came to US for my graduate studies, although it was n^n-times more miserable in terms of financial resources (let's just say that I had a salary of $110/month and my rent was ... exactly $100./month). Simply said, I was not born to work ... for the sake of earning money. I was born to live ... for the sake of my enjoyment, happiness and intellectual progress. I want personal freedom and this is what I am going to achieve, regardless of the job (if any) I am going to work. The very last thing that would happen for me is to become a slave of my job, which actually is the case for a very high percentage of American workers, including professors. No thanks. I prefer to enjoy the diversity of life while still being young though not rich, rather than do only one thing (understand work like crazy) in order to (presumably) have N-billions dollars when I turn 50-60 years old, but will not longer be able to do 80% of the things I can do now. So, I do not have job options in front of me, I rather face life choices. Graduate studies have been such a great choice because they have allowed me to enjoy many other aspects of life besides pure taking of classes, teaching and research. Obviously, I did not enjoy the homework assignments :P , because they confined my freedom outside of the classroom by taking my personal time, which I could have invested in other interesting activities. On top of that, grades emerging from such assignments, and actually the whole grading part of the American education, was and is still ridiculous. The curving of grades was and still is my biggest disappointment. Anyway, this is another topic.

The bottom line, people should become whatever serves best their desires of life style. Regardless of whether a scientist or tractor driver. The job comes as an attribute to what you really are, it's not the opposite. Even if you like what you work, you cannot like ONLY what you work. If you do, then ... well, you don't have much internal happiness, do you? :)

I go ahead to lay out my beautiful diverse future life plans and activities ... and wait to see what job(s) offers that will match my plans I will receive. :mrgreen:

larry burns
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby larry burns » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:16 am

fermiboy wrote: Even if you are going to Harvard your chances of a faculty job are about 1 in 4, at best

/rant



if thats true for all the top 10 schools, then those odds dont sound that bad to me. Where did you get that data anyways?I had been led to believe it was much worse according to sources such as this article, which states the odds for PhDs in general is 1 in 20: http://doctorpion.blogspot.com/2007/07/ ... art-2.html.

But since the odds are much higher for graduates from top-10 than other schools, I guess that turns out towards 1 in 4 for top-10 schools?

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Thu Mar 03, 2011 3:25 pm

larry burns wrote:
fermiboy wrote: Even if you are going to Harvard your chances of a faculty job are about 1 in 4, at best

/rant



if thats true for all the top 10 schools, then those odds dont sound that bad to me. Where did you get that data anyways?I had been led to believe it was much worse according to sources such as this article, which states the odds for PhDs in general is 1 in 20: http://doctorpion.blogspot.com/2007/07/ ... art-2.html.

But since the odds are much higher for graduates from top-10 than other schools, I guess that turns out towards 1 in 4 for top-10 schools?


I just borrowed the number from Steve Hsu's blog. He said a prof at Berkeley kept track and the odds for coming out of Berkeley where about 4 to 1. So I just subbed Harvard = Berkeley. Pretty much equivalent imo.

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Thu Mar 03, 2011 3:36 pm

backONit wrote:If you think success in poker is any more easy than success in physics academia then I think you haven't been playing the game very long. While it is currently quite easy to make 50K/year, if you hope for any advancement and/or the ability to consistently reach your income goals for the rest of your life, you have to constantly study, adapt and improve...i think anybody who is familiar with the ACTUAL state of professional poker will inform you that the games get tougher every DAY, and the competition at even the middle stakes games is akin to taking a probability class at MIT and trying to outsmart some of the most intelligent people on Earth. The stress of this lifestyle is surely equal or greater than the stress of succeeding in the physics world. I would even go as far to say that recognition in poker is infinitely more elusive than recognition in physics.


This post is so ill informed it's funny. I've been playing poker as a hobby for years (and the last year as a professional), so I'm well aware of the ACTUAL state of professional poker. Comparing poker players to MIT students is extremely LOL, most poker player can barely do arithmetic, let alone algebra.

It is a stressful lifestyle for sure, but I'm definitely far less stressed than I ever was in grad school. And unlike grad school, if I'm feeling burnt out I just take some time off.

So yeah, basically your post is completely wrong. Here's a link to my p5s page if anyone is interested:

http://www.pocketfives.com/profiles/loose_cannon_jj/

I don't really care if my real name is linked to Fermiboy anymore since I'm out of academia (and never goin back).

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:18 pm

fermiboy wrote:This post is so ill informed it's funny. I've been playing poker as a hobby for years (and the last year as a professional), so I'm well aware of the ACTUAL state of professional poker. Comparing poker players to MIT students is extremely LOL, most poker player can barely do arithmetic, let alone algebra.

It is a stressful lifestyle for sure, but I'm definitely far less stressed than I ever was in grad school. And unlike grad school, if I'm feeling burnt out I just take some time off.

So yeah, basically your post is completely wrong. Here's a link to my p5s page if anyone is interested:

http://www.pocketfives.com/profiles/loose_cannon_jj/

I don't really care if my real name is linked to Fermiboy anymore since I'm out of academia (and never goin back).


Do you play mostly online or offline? I've played poker for quite some time myself on PokerStars, although I hardly play in anything worthwhile. We should play sometime. ;)

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:21 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Do you play mostly online or offline? I've played poker for quite some time myself on PokerStars, although I hardly play in anything worthwhile. We should play sometime. ;)

-Riley


http://www.pocketfives.com/poker-scores ... cannon_jj/ :shock:

bfollinprm
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:21 pm

It's not true that there are no jobs in the sciences. There are loads of jobs in the sciences, those jobs are just not for physicists. It's a great idea to keep current on fields like bioinformatics, statistics, etc. Simulation/data work on genes isn't so far removed from work in astrophysics or HEP, and there are a hella lot more jobs (and the biologists/chemists that should fill them don't know the math/coding). Sure, biology is mathematically messy, but so is the physics we'll all end up doing in grad school anyway, so if that turns you off I hope you invested heavily in APPL 20 years ago.

EDIT: As regards jobs for physics, this is what pisses me off:

In 2006, the median annual salary for full-time employees holding the PhD physics degree (excluding those in postdoctoral positions) was $97,700

What entitles them to remove "postdoctoral positions"? That's what 90% of us will end up doing, if we follow the path they expect us to.

Also, 98k for all the work we put in is kind of ***. I was offered 70k to join a modeling group just out of my undergrad.

larry burns
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby larry burns » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:07 pm

fermiboy wrote:
I just borrowed the number from Steve Hsu's blog. He said a prof at Berkeley kept track and the odds for coming out of Berkeley where about 4 to 1. So I just subbed Harvard = Berkeley. Pretty much equivalent imo.


thats actually not as bad as I thought. I almost switched from physics to engineering because I had always heard the dismal stories of trying to become a professor similar to being like winning the lottery

bfollinprm wrote:Also, 98k for all the work we put in is kind of ***. I was offered 70k to join a modeling group just out of my undergrad.


really? I'd like to know where you could make that much, in something related to science (I assume), with just a BS?

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fermiboy
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby fermiboy » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:16 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Do you play mostly online or offline? I've played poker for quite some time myself on PokerStars, although I hardly play in anything worthwhile. We should play sometime. ;)

-Riley


Mostly online. I play offline tournaments once in while here in Vegas. This year will be my first WSOP so I'm excited about that. PM me if you want.

grae313 wrote:http://www.pocketfives.com/poker-scores/loose_cannon_jj/ :shock:


Yeah crazy huh? It got to the point in grad school where I was gambling more in a day then I made as a TA in an entire month, and I was making more than I ever would as a prof. So I just decided to play poker instead of write a thesis.

That site just shows the winning though, and not the losing. Most days I lose actually. That's the nature of poker tournaments. Lose, lose, lose, then have one big day and make it all back. I've had multiple downswings on the order of $10K and currently I'm on my biggest one yet. TBH, I don't most people could handle the swings mentally.

Anyways, wasn't trying to brag by linking to my results, just wanted to show I was a legit pro and not some wannabe spouting nonsense. Here's a pretty cool Discover article about physicists and poker:

http://discover.coverleaf.com/discoverm ... &pg60#pg60

bfollinprm
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:48 pm

larry burns wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:Also, 98k for all the work we put in is kind of ***. I was offered 70k to join a modeling group just out of my undergrad.


really? I'd like to know where you could make that much, in something related to science (I assume), with just a BS?


Utility company needed a modelling group to model the power consumption of a new market. It helped that I knew the VP. I also got an offer to make fairly good money as a computer scientist, but both jobs required me to move, and I wasn't ready.

Neither, though, were really related to science, though they did use a lot of the same experimental methods I use during physics research.

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twistor
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby twistor » Fri Mar 04, 2011 2:56 pm

fermiboy wrote:
backONit wrote:If you think success in poker is any more easy than success in physics academia then I think you haven't been playing the game very long. While it is currently quite easy to make 50K/year, if you hope for any advancement and/or the ability to consistently reach your income goals for the rest of your life, you have to constantly study, adapt and improve...i think anybody who is familiar with the ACTUAL state of professional poker will inform you that the games get tougher every DAY, and the competition at even the middle stakes games is akin to taking a probability class at MIT and trying to outsmart some of the most intelligent people on Earth. The stress of this lifestyle is surely equal or greater than the stress of succeeding in the physics world. I would even go as far to say that recognition in poker is infinitely more elusive than recognition in physics.


This post is so ill informed it's funny. I've been playing poker as a hobby for years (and the last year as a professional), so I'm well aware of the ACTUAL state of professional poker. Comparing poker players to MIT students is extremely LOL, most poker player can barely do arithmetic, let alone algebra.

It is a stressful lifestyle for sure, but I'm definitely far less stressed than I ever was in grad school. And unlike grad school, if I'm feeling burnt out I just take some time off.


So yeah, basically your post is completely wrong. Here's a link to my p5s page if anyone is interested:

http://www.pocketfives.com/profiles/loose_cannon_jj/

I don't really care if my real name is linked to Fermiboy anymore since I'm out of academia (and never goin back).


QFT. *** ACADEMIA!

FERMIBOY

Welcome back!

I gotta say,

YOU

ARE

MY

***

HERO.

For real.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby HappyQuark » Tue Apr 05, 2011 1:40 am

larry burns wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:Also, 98k for all the work we put in is kind of ***. I was offered 70k to join a modeling group just out of my undergrad.


really? I'd like to know where you could make that much, in something related to science (I assume), with just a BS?


I currently make a bit under 70K as a DoD government contractor with nothing more than a B.S. in physics from a relatively unknown liberal arts college.

Sorry to revive this thread but with the deadline coming and my decisions still looming, I'm having a bit of a crisis and have started re-reading old "don't go to grad school" posts.

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Dorian_Mode
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Dorian_Mode » Tue Apr 05, 2011 3:57 am

HappyQuark, you may be poor as a grad student, but it's a lot more fun to be poor in Hawaii than it is elsewhere. Just sayin'.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby laser » Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:09 am

larry burns wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:Also, 98k for all the work we put in is kind of ***. I was offered 70k to join a modeling group just out of my undergrad.


really? I'd like to know where you could make that much, in something related to science (I assume), with just a BS?


I decided not to apply to grad school for this year (well, I'll be doing a master's part time because I want to keep learning and improving, but that still doesn't mean "grad school" to me for some reason, even if it technically is) because I wanted to bring up my PGRE score first, and just accepted an offer for almost that much myself in industry, related to science, though of course not high level research. I also interviewed for a position (that I ultimately didn't get, but someone did) that was specifically looking for a recent BS to join their group, and was definitely related to science (would have paid about $50K, which is less than what I was offered at the place that *did* make an offer). The jobs are out there, even if they usually have the word "engineer" or even "technician" in their titles. Given a starting salary that is much larger than I expected to get with just a BS, and after reevaluating my goals, I'm seeing industry as not only just an option for me, but a more desirable course. I'm still planning to study for and retake the PGRE though, I might still want to go for the PhD in the near future, but I don't have to decide that now of course.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby borelius » Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:52 am

Now that I have read this whole thread, I'm starting to think that my poor scores in the general GRE are maybe a good signal that grad school and the insane lottery of academic job market are not for me. Maybe now is the right moment to jump off the ship (in fact my lifeboat had already been arranged for a while). First of all, let me (kinda) present myself. I'm an international student from a developing country just about to get a Masters degree in my homeland and aiming to be a theorist. I intend(ed) to apply to some top 20/30 schools in the US, but although I got a pretty good score in the PGRE (900 - 86%), a very good GPA, reasonable recs, one publication and did OK in the TOEFL (102 / 120 overall), I did poorly in the general test for various reasons (if you like, take a look at my previous thread http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=4230).

Originally, my plans were the following. Plan A was to go to an American grad school straight after I got my Masters degree. Generally speaking, getting a PhD from a respected American institution would improve greatly my chances to get a permanent position in a good research-oriented university in my homeland, because here it's quite common to get a PhD from a national university rather than study abroad. However, my bad general GRE scores partially ruined my chances of being accepted. I'm still considering to apply for a bunch of top 20/30 schools, but no longer with any hope of getting even a single offer.

Plan B would be the retaking of the general test (that would cost me almost a year of tough preparation, including the memorization of disgusting vocabulary lists) and maybe also the PGRE (just in case, as I could get an even better score) and the TOEFL (dunno if a 22 in the speaking section would hurt my application). After taking an year off just to retake the tests, I would finally apply again for grad school in a second try. If I got no offer from any school, then plan C would come into action.

Plan C is the most interesting part: even though the job perspectives in industry for a BS in physics are damn too tiny in my country, it's pretty easy to get back to undergrad school anytime to get a degree, say, in Engineering (that would cost me around 3 years of study), because the best and most traditional schools in here are the federal/state universities, which charge no tuition at all from the students (that is, the tuition is paid by the government, like it or not) and the only criteria that select who gets in are selection exams that cover high school topics (should be pretty easy). If I end up majoring in Engineering, then I would easily get a decent job straight after graduating, and guess what, here there is a MINIMUM salary (which BTW is much lower than the average salary) set by law for any engineer that is pretty close to the average salary of an adjunct professor of a prestigious university!!

One of the biggest issues is that I'm not the kind of person that would be ok to live anywhere he could possibly find a job. I'd like to CHOOSE where to live, at least. Second, I currently have a standard of living that I would hardly renounce just for a passionate but damn too risky career in Physics (I live reasonably well in one of the finest areas of my city, with all the amenities one would ever dream of, I got a good car that allows me to go anywhere I want and so on). BTW, if my life quality is quite good so far, it's thanks to my parents that have worked hard all their lives as ENGINEERS, to be finally rewarded with very well paid and stable jobs.

Unfortunately, I feel that the situation of aspiring PhD's here is getting worse day after day, much in the same way as in the United States. The competition here to become a professor in a renowned school is insane (though still much lower than in the US), as the number of PhD's coming out of the grad schools is increasing dramatically.

Sorry for ressurecting such a depressing thread, but I hope I've made a positive contribution to the discussion with my personal account.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Nov 22, 2011 12:23 pm

Just want to point out that as far as I know (and I'm pretty sure I know in all cases) the posters who were arguing, like myself, that life as a physicist isn't economically advantageous all ended up going to grad school, presumably in the pursuit of a PhD.

If you're having second guesses about whether life as a professor is really what you want, you should think about your decision to go, and whether the next 6-7 years are well spent pursuing a degree you aren't sure really moves you anywhere. If you know that a physics degree is the way to the life you want, no matter how remote, I'd argue you still should give it a shot. The PhD is medium-risk, high-reward in that case: if you win you get the job of your dreams, if you lose you at worse have a decent job you worked way too hard for 6 years to get. Your numbers are better as an international student: you essentially have two economies (ours and yours) to find jobs in, and so while success in applying to grad school is harder, success after leaving grad school is a little better.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby borelius » Thu Nov 24, 2011 7:54 pm

This particular reading: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science was so convincing and so clarifying that I've practically decided to go straight to plan C that I described in my previous post. I strongly recommend the reading to anyone that is considering to pursue a PhD.

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Andromeda
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Andromeda » Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:15 am

borelius wrote:This particular reading: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science was so convincing and so clarifying that I've practically decided to go straight to plan C that I described in my previous post. I strongly recommend the reading to anyone that is considering to pursue a PhD.


The whole premise of the article is more or less "don't do academia because you won't get paid much for your time." Well yes I could've told you that a long time ago, but that's not why I do science.

I also confess I stopped reading said article in great detail when the author touted her student who went off to get an architecture degree as a far better option than science. Everyone I know of in that field makes far too little money assuming they're lucky enough to find a job (most don't, particularly in today's economy), and it is way more competitive than academia. So of all the comparisons to make that's a pretty abysmal one.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby borelius » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:21 pm

^^
The low pay of academic jobs isn't the only point that the author tries to make. In fact, this aspect of academia doesn't even bother me so much. What's really worrying about such a career is the lack of job security over an extremely long period of time. As fermiboy already pointed out, once you invest the time you never get it back. By the time you've already reached your thirties, it becomes almost impossible to change career, which can be very disappointing. Being a physics professor / researcher is my dream, but I don't wanna run the risk of living a miserable life.

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Andromeda
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Andromeda » Wed Nov 30, 2011 8:46 am

Hate to break it to you, but being alive in general means you run the risk of being miserable at some point regardless of your field of choice. :wink:

Ok, so a lot of people who end up doing a PhD don't become professors- most people who go into finance don't end up becoming CEOs either. Also gone for the majority of Americans is the assumption of "job security" as you no longer go to work in your 20s at a company and stay there for life- academia is certainly the exception rather than the rule on this point in that some people end up getting such security.

Take the example of the guy who went off to get an architecture degree in the article. I have family and friends who decided to do architecture, and last year at my university 15 people graduated with an M.S. in the field and only one had a job when he graduated. What a beyond awful field when it comes to prospects! And even then it doesn't mean you get to be a proper architect- because the field is so inundated with workers you have to undergo several rigorous exams to get licensed after you get your M.S. and job on a timeframe that makes passing the bar for a lawyer to be a cakewalk.

When it comes down to it, one of the most sage pieces of advice I ever got from someone (who left during her PhD but decided she missed it too much and went back) is that every job you will ever take will have crap that you don't like or don't want to do, and that's just part of life. The trick though is finding something that you love doing so much that you are ok with putting up with the crappy parts.

So ok, yes, in 4 years time when I finish my PhD I have no idea what prospects I will have- though I don't think I view this with as much of an issue as you because I like not knowing how the rest of my life will turn out, as things are far richer than I could've imagined just a few years ago. :) But even if I don't land anything in academia, so what? I was lucky enough to spend a few years focusing exclusively on what I love, something many people can never say, so on that level alone I am happy with how I am "investing my time" as you put it. If you're not happy with how you are investing yours then of course you should do something else, but don't paint everyone else with the same brush just because you're not interested.

CarlBrannen
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Nov 30, 2011 1:48 pm

Andromeda wrote:Hate to break it to you, but being alive in general means you run the risk of being miserable at some point regardless of your field of choice. :wink:


One of the secrets to being happy in life (perhaps the only secret) is to devote yourself fully to something. People who work hard at physics may complain about various things, but generally they will be as happy as people who devote themselves to the many other subjects humans devote themselves fully too (for example, knowing the statistics of their favorite baseball team, knitting perfect sweaters, raising children, or blowing up airliners).

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby SSM » Wed Nov 30, 2011 10:51 pm

borelius wrote: As fermiboy already pointed out, once you invest the time you never get it back.


True, but unless you have immediate financial obligations or are planning to have them real soon, grad school isn't a bad use of your time in your twenties. It's not all slave labor, by the way. In a lot of ways it's really nice, if you don't mind the fact that your friends with Bachelors are making more then you at the time. It all really depends on what your priorities are.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:08 pm

Yeah, sometimes I think about the fact that I could be making 4x more money, but I make enough to live comfortably (I can eat out, and my SO and I share a nice 2 bedroom condo, with a yard and garage). I really don't know what I'd do with the extra money, but certainly if I didn't care to learn physics for the sake of physics, grad school would be a bad choice.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby CarlBrannen » Thu Dec 01, 2011 2:44 am

If you had enough money for a big house you'd find your time eaten up by all kinds of stupid things that are necessary. Little rentals are the way to go.

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Andromeda
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Andromeda » Fri Dec 02, 2011 6:51 am

I dunno, I guess I've honestly never been one to consider the money angle so once I established I was never going to miss a meal I pursued other things. I also hate stuff- currently everything I own can fit into four suitcases- and don't really get the appeal of owning a place when you can just rent. They're just things, after all.

When it comes to money and happiness two articles come to mind that I've read on the topic. Article #1 was basically a study done some years ago all around the world which basically looked into whether money makes people happier, and the interesting thing was while there is a correlation up to a level it stops at around US$15k, after which there is no real correlation between money and happiness. The researchers pointed out that this is about the level that ensures you and your family will have a roof over your head, not starve, and can send your kids to school... obviously I don't think the $15k level would hold in say NYC or Tokyo etc, but the point was once you have the basics covered other things like your relationships with others become much more important.

In the second study researchers looked at which makes you happier, buying a new car or spending that money to go on a vacation. Most people predicted that the car would make them happier because it would last longer but it turns out the inverse is true- eventually the car just becomes a hassle (it breaks down so you have to take it to the shop etc), but for a vacation you're usually spending quality time with people you care about and having an adventure that you'll have good memories of. I can pretty much attest to this by the way- I had about enough money to either buy a car or go backpacking around the world between my degrees for a few months, and without question that trip made me enjoy life and grow as a person in a way that I'll carry for the rest of my life.

My two cents on this topic anyway. :D

By the way, if you're really concerned about money during your PhD, move to Europe for it. Here in Holland I count as a junior employee which translates into a civil servant, along with all the perks civil servants usually get on an increasing pay scale through the years, to the point where I think I'll actually be taking a pay cut if I go back to the USA for a postdoc. So it's quite nice until the Euro falls down around our ears at least.

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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby Minovsky » Mon Dec 05, 2011 1:22 pm

Andromeda wrote:When it comes to money and happiness two articles come to mind that I've read on the topic. Article #1 was basically a study done some years ago all around the world which basically looked into whether money makes people happier, and the interesting thing was while there is a correlation up to a level it stops at around US$15k, after which there is no real correlation between money and happiness. The researchers pointed out that this is about the level that ensures you and your family will have a roof over your head, not starve, and can send your kids to school... obviously I don't think the $15k level would hold in say NYC or Tokyo etc, but the point was once you have the basics covered other things like your relationships with others become much more important.
I read an article about a recent study which said that $75,000 is what Americans need to feel financially secure. Overall happiness was not found to correlate with higher salaries, but overall life satisfaction did.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Dec 09, 2011 9:35 am

Um, http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science says that the average assistant professor will be denied tenure.

I'm sure that the situation is different for some colleges, but it seems that most assistant professors *will* get tenure - it's just that the path from postdoc to assistant professor is now insanely competitive.

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grae313
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby grae313 » Fri Dec 09, 2011 1:23 pm

InquilineKea wrote:Um, http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science says that the average assistant professor will be denied tenure.

I'm sure that the situation is different for some colleges, but it seems that most assistant professors *will* get tenure - it's just that the path from postdoc to assistant professor is now insanely competitive.


Unless you have some data to back it up, what's the point of saying "it seems that..."? How do you know that most assistant professors get tenure?

borelius
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Re: Don't Become a Scientist?!

Postby borelius » Tue Dec 13, 2011 10:01 pm

Two interesting and also depressing videos on the topic under discussion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfxfnokQuLM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZownzxLHZ6M&feature=related




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