Don’t Become a Scientist! by Jonathan Katz:
I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs.
Time to start a war on Ph.D.’s in physics.
Well, that’s one point of view, I guess! I’m not certain I agree with it, however. Yes, PhDs can be frustrating, and I’ve heard lots of stories about how bad/hard the job search is. But that said, there are lots of very happy, very enthusiastic scientists out there. I’m also sure that there are some, if not many, ex-students that have since left science, because as he says there are many more PhD students than jobs in the end. But that doesn’t mean that PhDs are worthless, or that you won’t get a job at the end, or that if you do get a job you won’t enjoy it. We still need to be encouraging people to study science, but we also need to educate everyone about the importance of science and raise general awareness of its usefulness, so that the funding situation does improve. Certainly I don’t think telling people not to study it is the right solution!
This was all from 5 years ago, according to the date at the bottom; I wonder whether things have changed at all since then? For better or worse?
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Yeah, it’s a pretty lowsy article. I especially disagree with his view that scientists have to pander to the status quo. All the good scientists I know are good specifically because they don’t do this. If you’re too scared to tread your own ground, you shouldn’t become a scientist. But I love my job as a postdoc and I have an amazing amount of freedom (enough to hang myself!) in what I work on. I specifically choose many days to think about Science with a capital S, the ideas that are interesting in spite of what is considered mainstream.
Check out the other stuff on Katz’s website. Pretty inflamatory, I must say.
I just thought it was funny that he thought getting a Ph.D. in physics was as bad as becoming an adict. I think that’s just plain silly and only holds water from an elitist point of view that’s never experience the depths of darkness someone with a true drug problem experiences.
I think nobody with an advanced degree in physics has anything to worry about. I can tell you from 8 years experience in the (I despise this term) “real” world that among the ranks of the most successfull in the engineering and software fields you typically find a smattering of “engineers” originally trained in physics or mathematics. It’s generally easy for a competent physicist to step ‘down’ into these fields. After a few years catching up he is likely to find that his familiarity with mathematics and disciplined thinking compare him decisively favorably with most of his new peers.
Scientists who aren’t physicists are probably in trouble, though. (See Bill: Previous Majors: Chemistry).
The last line is interesting, “…graduate schools are filled with weak American students and with foreigners lured by the American student visa.”
If you go down below the top ten or so graduate schools, this may arguably be true. But is it because many brillian American physics majors “sensibly refuse” to attend physics graduate school as he claims.
Ps: Hullo Dave, your former student in H7A. Now suffering graduate school.
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