Leaving Academia: Cry or Celebrate?

No, no, I’m not leaving academia (yet 🙂 Pfffffft! That’s the sound of me thumbing my nose at the world.) But recently I was thinking about about people who get a Ph.D. in, say, physics, or are a new postdoc, and then are faced with what to do next. As Peter Rhode, writes in a post today (or whatever day it is in the upside down part of the world) entitled “Farewell physics”:

The academic system has some serious problems. Most notably in my opinion, there is very limited scope for promotion. For every permanent position there are countless postdocs competing for that position. It simply isn’t possible for all of us post-docs to progress right up through the ladder. Many of us will be stuck as postdocs for the indefinite future. Realistically, I could expect to spend the next 5 or even 10 years as a post-doc before a permanent position would come along, and even then I would have very little control over where I would end up. I’ve seen many outstanding colleagues in exactly this position….
There is a huge salary discrepancy between academia and the private sector. With the same qualifications one can earn twice as much in the private sector than as a post-doc.

Peter, like others before him, has decided that the academic rat race is not the path he wants to take, and is therefore heading out for greener pastures. Of course my first reaction, I’ll admit, is one of sadness: I’ve read some papers by Dr. (err DJ) Rhode, and enjoyed them. By contributing to quantum information science, he’s become part of a community I consider myself a (annoying, loud, insert random invective here) member of. But, in thinking about this, I realized, that I’ve got it all wrong.
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Teaching Generalizations of Probability

Hoisted from the comments, Robin asks:

So, with that in mind, here’s a question. What do you think about teaching quantum mechanics as noncommutative probability theory? In other words, by starting with probability theory and alluding to probabilistic mechanics (e.g., distributions on phase space), and then introducing quantum theory as a generalization of probability.
This is how I think of quantum theory all the time now — and it makes tremendous sense to me. I think it’s how I want to teach it. And I’m curious what y’all think.

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The Leveling of Education or Information Overload?

I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I read all, and I mean all, of the science and math books in my local library (and nearly all of the Scientific American magazines as well.) Because this was before the internet was ubiquitous these were the only resources I had. These days I often wonder how my life would have been different if I would have had access to open courses like the one described in this article.
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Nitpicker's Paradiso: We Don't Need no Stinking Scientists and Engineers Edition

Researchers Dispute Notion That America Lacks Scientists and Engineers in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a fine example of how thinking that scientific or engineering degree’s are like technical training degrees will lead you to say all sorts of funny things. Yep, it’s another edition of Nitpicker’s Paradiso.
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To Every Ranking, Spin, Spin, Spin

This morning I received a funny email from a graduate student here at UW, Nicholas Murphy, which made me laugh out loud (reproduced and linkified here with permission from Nicholas):

Subject: Times Higher Education Supplement rankings: a study in spin
For entertainment purposes, the same news story from different university publications:
Stanford (I particularly enjoy the terse, annoyed tone here, especially given the first comment):
BBC generally:

To which I will gleefully add my own spin: the west coast of the US gets no respect, damnit!