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Particle Physicists Facing Insane Competition For Work

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the poor-rewards-for-slave-labor dept.

Science 226

Jim_Austin writes "Teams of hundreds of young scientists — including many grad students and postdocs — staffed the Large Hadron Collider and helped make one of the most important scientific discoveries in recent decades. Now they must compete for just a handful of jobs. Quoting: 'The numbers make the problem clear. In 2007, the year before CERN first powered up the LHC, the lab produced 142 master's and Ph.D. theses, according to the lab's document server. Last year it produced 327. (Fermilab chipped in 54.) The two largest particle detectors fed by the LHC, the A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS) and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS)—which both independently spotted the Higgs—boast teams of 3000 and 2700 physicists. By themselves, the CMS and ATLAS teams minted at least 174 Ph.D.s last year. That abundance seems unlikely to vanish anytime soon, as last year ATLAS had 1000 grad students and CMS had 900. In contrast, the INSPIRE Web site, a database for particle physics, currently lists 124 postdocs worldwide in experimental high-energy physics, the sort of work LHC grads have trained for. The situation is equally difficult for postdocs trying to make the jump to a junior faculty position or a permanent job at a national lab. The Snowmass Young Physicists survey received responses from 956 early-career researchers, including 343 postdocs. But INSPIRE currently lists just 152 "junior" positions, including 61 in North America.'"

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why not work for wall street? (2)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#44725753)

they are always looking for quants from what i hear

Re:why not work for wall street? (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44725805)

Their attempt to build a giant, destructive, black hole with the LHC didn't work out, and now most of them are too depressed to try again.

Re:why not work for wall street? (4, Funny)

nbauman (624611) | about a year ago | (#44725825)

No, we need a program to divert them from destroying society.

Re:why not work for wall street? (1, Insightful)

gtall (79522) | about a year ago | (#44726515)

Excuse me, the 60's are calling you back. Advances in cancer therapy with radiation, physicists involved. Guessing since this is slashdot, you are a male and stand a significant chance of prostate cancer in your dotage. There are other cancers for which it works.

And those naughty physicists who thought up quantum mechanics? Maybe you didn't get the memo, it's used in all the latest devices.

Lasers? Those naughty physicists again. Damn, they're everywhere.

GPS systems...damn, there they are again.

Jesus, grow a brain.

Re:why not work for wall street? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#44726999)

I take it your theory is that there were far more jobs for particle physicists back in the 60's?

Got any evidence for that?

Re:why not work for wall street? (1)

tanujt (1909206) | about a year ago | (#44725989)

Bunch of quantum physicists on wall street? You know that's going to breed trouble. You won't be able to find your Bulls or Bears.

They'll be locked up inside a box somewhere, and until you open it, you won't know what the market trend is like.

Re:why not work for wall street? (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44726313)

Bunch of quantum physicists on wall street? You know that's going to breed trouble. You won't be able to find your Bulls or Bears.

They'd turn all bulls and bears into cats?

Re:why not work for wall street? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726041)

Because graduating in physics to become a finance quant is simply sad, it's a waste of talent and brainpower. There are some people who don't put money at the top of their ideals, even if it might sound incredible to americans...

Furthermore, this article doesn't reflect the entire reality of particle physicists, but only of those who want to work for CERN, which is basically the most exclusive lab in the world. OK, it's not easy to be hired there, but a particle physicist might work in any physics faculty of any university in the world, not to mention the thousands of companies who would like to hire them in their R&D departments. The supply/demand ratio is extremely favorable for them.

Re:why not work for wall street? (5, Informative)

monatomic (2612833) | about a year ago | (#44726443)

This is simply not true. Companies do not usually like to hire physicists, certainly not particle physicists. It is just not widely applicable to industry. Engineers are preferred. That's why there are not many jobs for them.

Re:why not work for wall street? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726843)

Everything you are saying is wrong. There are no positions anywhere for them. No postdocs, no staff scientists at national labs and no tenure track positions at research universities. That leaves tenure track at little colleges and uni's with no grad physics or research facilities, or adjuct anywhere. Either of those will effectively end a young scientists career. So they either keep waiting an starve/work as janitors or they take a minor academic position that will end their ability to advance. It is the same throughout most of the science disciplines, and is a embarrassment to all of western society.

Re:why not work for wall street? (1)

Longjmp (632577) | about a year ago | (#44726419)

Maybe some of the CERN scientists should aim for a different career [youtube.com] ;-)

(from yesterday's event)

A nice big glass (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44725757)

OF FROSTY PISS!

Expect Great Things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44725771)

With that kind of brainpower, there should be some startling developments in the next couple of decades.

Re:Expect Great Things (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44725833)

With that kind of brainpower, there should be some startling developments in the next couple of decades.

It will be an interesting test of the fungibility of brainpower. You don't become some sort of high-powered physicist by being an idiot; but the process that produces physicists doesn't necessarily groom or evaluate candidates for doing not-physics, so we'll see what sort of not-physics they end up getting up to.

Re:Expect Great Things (4, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44725995)

You don't become some sort of high-powered physicist by being an idiot

You do need to be somewhat of an idiot, at least about finances. PPs get paid very little in grad school, only a little more afterwards, and often end up in the unemployment line at the whim of legislative budget committees. The same thing happened when the SSC [wikipedia.org] was cancelled in America. Is there any other career where brainpower is rewarded less?

Re:Expect Great Things (2, Informative)

recharged95 (782975) | about a year ago | (#44726883)

I was there when the SSC was cancel, ready to move to Dallas and then found I didn't have a job start date (cause it was canceled).

Luckily for that time, The Internet showed up and 15yrs later from that detour I'm trying to get back into pure Physics.

For the younglings of today trying to excerise the power of the Force (literally, f=ma, mind that), I'm not sure what they'll drop into if they don't get a position at places like LHC since headcount is very tight and current senior positions are occupied in young PhDs with another 20yrs going for them. Social Media and Wall Street are dying out, but there maybe some hope with "Big Data".

Re: Expect Great Things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726039)

Those smarter PhDs are very welcome to mix latex in my rubber balloon factory.

Re:Expect Great Things (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44725897)

With that kind of brainpower, there should be some startling developments in the next couple of decades.

They still need to find a way to eat. That's the point.

Capacity (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44725777)

What this says is that every rich person in this country is lying through their teeth about needing immigrants. We have highly trained scientists and engineers. The percentages of people who have the right attitude and mental attributes to succeed in this line of work has remained constant for as far back as we've had standardized testing results. There has been no shift of the basic personality types from one to another; Each generation has had the same proportions as the previous.

What it means is that nobody wants to invest. And scientific progress is an investment. It doesn't give you the immediate payoff of, say, a sequel to the Fast and the Furious (what are they up to now, seven of those infernal movies?). Science isn't formulaic. There's no spreadsheet that says "And after you spend $100 million developing a drug for cancer, you'll get this as a reward. Spend $200 million, and you'll get a free t-shirt too." Science growth mirrors our own; We grow in spurts, with long periods where nothing seems to be happening, periods where change is slow, and occasional paradigm shifts.

This isn't very amiable to the current "get rich quick" culture the Boomers are espousing as they approach their retirement. They're sucking every corner of society dry looking for a quick way to monetize, any incremental way to earn a profit without much risk. And science... well, it's too risky for them. They don't care about future generations, or a cure for cancer, or putting men on the moon again. They want botox and comfortable retirements.

This is society reaching back and giving people who love science the middle finger. It's saying "We don't need you, because your contributions aren't immediate. You live in the future and we're trying to recapture our past." So unless science comes up with a cure for aging, or a time machine, it's not getting funding. And that's really all there is to this story. It's about greed, pure and simple. Nobody gives a damn about tomorrow, because for the people holding all the cash... their tomorrows are running out.

Re:Capacity (2)

pjt33 (739471) | about a year ago | (#44725813)

Unless by "this country" you mean Switzerland, I fail to see the relevance of your rant.

Re:Capacity (1, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44725855)

Unless by "this country" you mean Switzerland, I fail to see the relevance of your rant.

Well, my rants have a marmalade quality. If you like them at all, you're gonna love them and there will be nothing better. If you don't though, I have some good news: There's plenty of alternatives.

Re:Capacity (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year ago | (#44726151)

Well, my rants have a marmalade quality.

Cloying and a little bit goes a long way.

Re:Capacity (2)

the gnat (153162) | about a year ago | (#44726101)

Unless by "this country" you mean Switzerland, I fail to see the relevance of your rant.

The LHC is an international collaboration - there are significant numbers of scientists in the US contributing to the design and analysis, including grad students.

Re:Capacity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44727209)

I doubt it. And the LHC isn't Swiss-french only.

As Swiss, I'm proud that Switzerland did its job in enabling this thing to run - that a small country like Switzerland even *has* something of value to contribute to the world's most high-end particle accelerator experiment.

But the science and funding is only a small fraction Swiss. The USA ultimately provided more scientists and funding! As did other countries. Perhaps all isn't so bad, after all?

And I think there's reason to be optimistic, too. It doesn't seem to me like the situation with investments into the future is anywhere near irrecoverable. The "born with internet" generations will more often prefer knowledge and cool machines over simply being richer than their neighbors.

Re:Capacity (-1, Troll)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#44725919)

Ah, yes, nativism. "America for Americans." It's not racist at all! Ever think that maybe that prosperity was a result of theft and maybe it needs to be spread around instead of kept among white people? What's the racial makeup of those "scientists and engineers" anyway? How's the diversity quotient?

Re:Capacity (3, Insightful)

mc6809e (214243) | about a year ago | (#44726015)

Ever think that maybe that prosperity was a result of theft and maybe it needs to be spread around instead of kept among white people? What's the racial makeup of those "scientists and engineers" anyway? How's the diversity quotient?

Prosperity is mostly a result of applied cleverness and knowledge and not theft. Iron and carbon don't become steel without cleverness and knowledge. Niagra falls doesn't create power for factories without cleverness and knowledge. Fast computer chips don't exist without cleverness and knowledge.

We've tried spreading cleverness and knowledge through public education.

Some people just don't seem to want what the government gives away for free.

Re:Capacity (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44726301)

Prosperity is a result of luck.

Cleverness can bias the roll of the die, but that's all it can do.

Re: Capacity (2)

turbidostato (878842) | about a year ago | (#44727049)

False and sad that you hold such an opinion.

Individual prosperity, yes, is a matter of luck (among other things). But building a prosper society is far from a lucky endevour: it's a matter of honesty and investment.

Re:Capacity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726873)

And power for factories does not turn into money without lying cheating and stealing by business people who also keep most of the money that cleverness made possible.

Re:Capacity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726053)

Well, if it's from theft all the more reason to hang on to it, because who wants to steal something twice? And what does diversity add to engineering unless you're working on a product to lighten skin? Even then you'd probably want someone who understands white rather than dark

Re:Capacity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726119)

Ah, yes, nativism. "America for Americans." It's not racist at all!

American isn't a race.

Neither is Mexican.

Or Swiss, for that matter.

Re:Capacity (4, Insightful)

the gnat (153162) | about a year ago | (#44726149)

"America for Americans." It's not racist at all! Ever think that maybe that prosperity was a result of theft and maybe it needs to be spread around instead of kept among white people?

I didn't really detect any nativism in the GP post. I personally favor open borders, both for scientists and avocado pickers, as long as they obey a few basic rules (i.e. work hard, don't hurt anyone, contribute to the general welfare, etc.). If someone in China or India thinks he or she can do my job better or cheaper, they're welcome to try. But I also think the claims of a shortage are self-serving bullshit by a clique of plutocrats who would happily fuck their fellow citizens for a new private jet. The only shortage is of people willing to do first-world work for developing-world salaries. Pointing this out isn't picking on the poor would-be immigrants who only want the same opportunities I have - it's merely the product of frustration at seeing the rich and powerful game the system yet again, and do so by lying through their teeth. If we're going to open our doors to foreign technology workers, it shouldn't be because some technology or pharma executive wrote an editorial in the WSJ.

Tech clustering have value... (4, Insightful)

jopsen (885607) | about a year ago | (#44726871)

If we're going to open our doors to foreign technology workers, it shouldn't be because some technology or pharma executive wrote an editorial in the WSJ.

Well, said... As someone moving to SF on an H1B next month, I'm usually pro the H1B program :)
But I do want to point out that not everybody abuses the H1B program.
I'm not relocation from a third world country, or to work at a third world salary, in fact could get similar wage here... actually I could just do job remotely.
Or get a well paying job at a company here... but the job wouldn't be as fun :)

I think mobility is important for many reasons, in my considerations are things such as SF having a lot of tech companies, startups and etc...
I don't know if I'll apply for a permanent visa at some point, but if I move back the contacts I'll be making will be invaluable, on both ends.
At the end of the day, if you don't let tech workers from around the world in, tech workers from around the globe will cluster in another valley.

Note. with all the NSA scandals, lack of welfare, poor security, crime, human rights violations, war crimes, etc. that the US has got going, I'm starting to wonder why I'm relocation.
On the other hand, I did all the paper pushing... So I might as well try it out :)
Anyways, feel free to tell me why the US is so awesome, I kinda need it...

Re:Capacity (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726889)

Ever think that maybe that prosperity was a result of theft and maybe it needs to be spread around instead of kept among white people? What's the racial makeup of those "scientists and engineers" anyway? How's the diversity quotient?

...Or maybe you "minorities" really aren't good for more than eating fried chicken, selling drugs, and breeding out-of-wedlock children, none of which would be possible without welfare. As for theft, you have nothing anyone would want to steal.

Re:Capacity (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a year ago | (#44726433)

Maybe.

However, this is being seen in pretty much every single sector. Lots of people with degrees and an order of magnitude less jobs.

Re:Capacity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726955)

"It doesn't give you the immediate payoff of, say, a sequel to the Fast and the Furious"

Doesn't take a PhD to know.... T & A > mc^2

And it doesn't matter if science comes up with cures for aging or a time machine, unless science comes up with it in the next 5 yrs. The current culture and their kids want things now and refuse otherwise.

A revolution, aka more of an enlightenment, is needed to get out of this attitude of thinking.

old story for this physicist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44725789)

I have a PhD in physics and mathematics. I did my research at Fermilab in the late 80's. I have been unemployed for a year. I have been underemployed for more than ten years. My math and analytical skills have been mostly unused by my employers. I gave up hoping for a job in research long ago.

Re:old story for this physicist (2)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#44725809)

wall street, looking for oil
what about any math heavy job?

Re:old story for this physicist (3, Interesting)

gmfeier (1474997) | about a year ago | (#44725817)

I was in a similar position once, but I hooked on with the US government as an engineer and did my last 15 years as a mathematician. Comfortably retired now.

Re:old story for this physicist (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#44726105)

And what makes you think that it is different in any other profession? I'm an engineer, been unemployed, underemployed and self employed and the only complex mathematics I do is when I try to calculate 10% of a restaurant tab - Bistro Math.

Re:old story for this physicist (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about a year ago | (#44726349)

If you're still tipping 10%, I hope you like spitburgers.

Doing what you love (4, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | about a year ago | (#44725791)

Doing what you love rarely puts bread on the table and a car in the garage. Just ask a musician.

Re:Doing what you love (2)

dugancent (2616577) | about a year ago | (#44725913)

My GF is a musician and makes six figures playing full time in an orchestra, so it does happen, even outside of popular music.

Re:Doing what you love (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726007)

The question isn't can it be done but how many can really do it. Hundreds if not thousands try for every one who actually make a real living doing it. It's probably on par with the success rate of junior high students who are gunning for a professional sports career.

Re:Doing what you love (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44726205)

There's another common: Only the successful are visible. The pop stars and major sports pros are international heroes, but no-one notices all the also-rans who didn't have the talent or the lucky breaks to make it to the top. This gives people a false perception of their chances, leading to lots of people choosing a career in which the chances of even financial independance are very low. It's a high-risk option.

Re:Doing what you love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726965)

I refuse to believe that a slashdotter has a girlfriend, let alone one with a six figure income.

Re: Doing what you love (3, Funny)

turbidostato (878842) | about a year ago | (#44727101)

And you'll be right. I bet he was talking abour his grandfather, not his girlfriend :)

Re:Doing what you love (2)

tftp (111690) | about a year ago | (#44725945)

You just need to learn to love work that puts bread on the table. Electrical engineering is good at that. Analog RF is super good at that.

But if you a historian who specializes in Neanderthals... sorry, but your work does not put any products into stores, and doesn't make anyone's life better. It's a useful thing to do, but the overall value of your work, so far, is very low - on par with a drunken ditch digger. Even then, at the end of the day the digger will make a ditch that will be used to lay cable to a new house, and there will be light. What will you contribute, after staring at a 1x1 mm piece of bone for a whole day? If it were left to the free market, you'd be dead from hunger, just like that Neanderthal that you were studying.

Basic science (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726115)

The same can be said for all basic science.

Also, much of the math that is integral to today's search engines, routing, and the Internet in general was discovered many many years ago and was filed away as just an academic curiousity.

And that Historian studying Neanderthals - they've been discovering things that is answering some questions the geneticists had and subsequently helping medical research.

That lowly stupid historian is probably indirectly saving lives.

As opposed to designing some shiny electrical gadget for people to waste their money on.

Re:Doing what you love (2)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#44726123)

I dunno, there are lots of live Neanderthals out there, especially in politics.

Re:Doing what you love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726173)

As someone with Neanderthal DNA, I take offense to you suggesting I am at all related to those in politics.

Re:Doing what you love (0)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44726527)

I dunno, there are lots of live Neanderthals out there, especially in politics.

...And most married women can readily provide additional samples.

Re:Doing what you love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726957)

You just insulted the Neanderthals,

Re:Doing what you love (4, Insightful)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#44726383)

General knowledge has value beyond mere practical applications. It is part of the generation and maintenance of human culture. Once society rises above the level of mere subsistence, culture is pretty much the entire point of human existence. And I say this as an engineer.

Re:Doing what you love (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726485)

What the hell are you yammering about, Prune-face? You are an idiot supreme, the veritable King of all Cretins!

And I say this as a troll.

Re:Doing what you love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726469)

Is the ideal society one with a plethora of ditches and no understanding of its place in the span of history? If you think so, then I suspect your society will be called "Ditch People A" by the later societies that are studying your remnants.

Re:Doing what you love (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44726887)

You just need to learn to love work that puts bread on the table. Electrical engineering is good at that.

It was, but is becoming less so. Would you feel entirely comfortable steering your kids towards a shrinking field? Read the following: [computerworld.com]

Computerworld - The number of electrical engineers in the workforce has declined over the last decade. It's not a steady decline, and it moves up and down, but the overall trend is not positive.

In 2002 the U.S. had 385,000 employed electrical engineers; in 2004, post dot.com bubble, it was at 343,000. It reached 382,000 in 2006, but has not risen above 350,000 since then, according to U.S. Labor Data.

There's also been some concern about the data coming out this year. In the first quarter of this year, unemployment for electrical engineers reached 6.5%, a figure the IEEE-USA, at the time, called "alarming."

Times have changed. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726029)

When times are good, pretty much all you hear is "follow your passion!" - it doesn't help when in the business press you hear and see the "succesful" people who say that. Or the employers who demand that only people "passionate" in their work need apply!

So, folks did that: they went to school for music, art, history, literature, etc ... and maybe even found a job.

Now when times are bad (and student debt burden being in the news), folks are quick to say, "WTF didn't you study something marketable?!"

Our society is really fucked up and I have to blame corporate America - mostly. They are forcing all of us in the States into a narrower and narrower path for making a living.

Back in the old days, one was able to go to school for History or Literature come out and apply for a training program - say in Data Processing. You took an aptitude test and if you passed, they'd put you a training program (COBOL, CICS) and if you passed, you got a job - paid shit for a couple of years, but never the less a decent job. And he company NEVER - EVER - bitched about shortages of talent. They made it.

Now, you need to study EXACTLY what they need otherwise you are not qualified and not good enough - so off to India or wherever.

So, you either study something marketable - AND do well - or it's making coffee, 100% commission shit or dipshit retail.

Re:Doing what you love (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#44726097)

Doing what you love rarely puts bread on the table and a car in the garage. Just ask a musician.

Also, what percentage of Screen Actors Guild members make a living at acting?

Frankly, my gut response to this non-story is "cry me a river".

Re:Doing what you love (2)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#44726247)

Doing what you love, if you are good at it, does put bread on the table. I know plenty of musicians that make a living. The problem is when you make things sound too exciting. Particle physics is cool, but when I was in school everyone knew it was a very competitive environment. It was not what very many physics students would do. In fact, if you were willing to go into the rat race of post docs, you just got your masters and went to work for an oil company or whatever. Every saw the number of students on their third or fourth post doc. Everyone knew someone who just gave up and accepted a teaching position at community college or high school.

But if you loved what you did, and even if you didn't get to do particle physics all your life, teaching or whatever does put bread on the table, and you got to do what you loved for a while.

It is like sports. I knew this lawyer who loved baseball. He went to college on a full baseball scholarship. He was so envious of the people who could play baseball well enough to make money. But he wasn't, so became a lawyer. But playing baseball was what put bread on the table, through scholarships, until then.

Re:Doing what you love (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about a year ago | (#44727123)

Doing what you love rarely puts bread on the table and a car in the garage. Just ask a musician.

No. Doing what you love usually puts bread on the table and a car in the garage. The exception is many musicians.

On the plus side... (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44725793)

When the resonance cascade occurs, we'll be able to just zerg-rush the bastards with PhD-and-crowbar equipped theoretical physicists. Aliens won't stand a chance.

Re:On the plus side... (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44725889)

When the resonance cascade occurs, we'll be able to just zerg-rush the bastards with PhD-and-crowbar equipped theoretical physicists. Aliens won't stand a chance.

True, but I'd rather they discover practical interstellar travel instead of being thrown in a meat grinder and set to puree. But hey, to each evil overlord, their own.

Re:On the plus side... (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44726043)

It's hardly 'throwing them into a meatgrinder'. Nobody seems to know why a degree in theoretical physics gives you the power to single handedly cut your way through alien swarms, military black-ops teams, and some of the most horrifying violations of OSHA guidelines ever built; but it does.

Re:On the plus side... (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about a year ago | (#44726137)

In my mind, Gordon Freeman now has the voice of Sheldon Cooper

Re:On the plus side... (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44726235)

It's hardly 'throwing them into a meatgrinder'. Nobody seems to know why a degree in theoretical physics gives you the power to single handedly cut your way through alien swarms, military black-ops teams, and some of the most horrifying violations of OSHA guidelines ever built; but it does.

Maybe if you're old school. If you've been watching the latest Trek movies, you know that all a degree in theoretical physics causes is nakedness [ignimgs.com] .

Re:On the plus side... (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44726271)

The game made that clear: Freeman wasn't the hero, his hazmat suit was. The thing shrugged off bullets, had a self-contained underwater air supply, ammunition monitoring system (Why?), augment movement rate, allow superhuman jumping range, even provides some level of radiation shielding.

Just what kind of hazardous material was that lab handling?

I suspect if you look closely you'll find the Stark Industries logo on there somewhere.

Re:On the plus side... (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44726221)

I'm in the rare position of owning equipment that actually can suffer a resonance cascade. Co-own, anyway - friend and I build it.

The real effects of one happening are rather less dramatic though. Worst-case, it just blows up a very expensive high-voltage capacitor.

s'cool, and it makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44725843)

Two comments on this:

1) The LHC was to a large extent built to find the Higgs. Given that the Higgs has been found and there are basically no hints of physics beyond the standard model, it's rather reasonable that the amount of funding would decrease as the future work to be done is mostly measuring quantities to higher precision and looking for really cool but pretty pie-in-the-sky new physics.

2) It's not really accurate to say that PhDs are training for a post doc. The way it's always been throughout academia is that a fairly small fraction of PhDs actually stay in academia. While some of these move to industry or what have you because of the difficulty of ultimately getting a tenure track position, probably a majority have gotten what they wanted out of academia and want a more normal job.

Macky Dees is hiring! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44725907)

You want fries with that?

Funding pure research requires a wealthy society (4, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | about a year ago | (#44725929)

This should be no surprise, since these positions are for pure scientific research with no way to calculate the ROI for the money spent. Countries have debt problems caused by borrowing and their budgets are already stretched to pay benefits for retirees and other non-workers. Add a long recession, a weak recovery, and very little prospect for robust future economic growth, and ultimately you don't end up with the sort of fiscal environment that can support lots of pure research.

Wealthy societies have discretionary funds for things like pure scientific research. Poor societies have to struggle just to get by. If you want more pure research, you need more people in your society to be employed productively. And you need them to generate lots of wealth -- far beyond "the amount they need" or "their fair share" -- so there will be a lot extra left over for things like pure research.

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726299)

I know how to fix the economy.

Simply automatize the consumer aspect of business and implement robotic customer machines to replace the needy whiney and low wage poor human consumer.

No need to thank me.

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726359)

If you want more pure research, you need more people in your society to be employed productively. And you need them to generate lots of wealth -- far beyond "the amount they need" or "their fair share" -

That we have: rich owners of robotized factories. The benefits of this robotization should fall on all the members of society, not only the few that possess the factories.

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44727041)

That we have: rich owners of robotized factories. The benefits of this robotization should fall on all the members of society, not only the few that possess the factories.

What the hell did you ever do to think that you deserve any of the "benefits"? You priced your labor (through the unions) to an unsustainable level; you threatened profitability with work slowdowns and strikes; you supported the lazy assholes who did just enough to get by and never tried to push for more productivity - any wonder that management went to the expense (and it is LARGE) and trouble of implementing "robotized factories"? And for doing nothing (and worse) you now feel that you should be entitled to the benefits?
You do and have done nothing to increase value for the shareholders (you know, the people that own the company) , but you want more - typical union mentality.

Just remember: if it is poorly made of inferior materials. outrageously overpriced, and fails to fulfill its designed function - it's union made in America!

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (2)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about a year ago | (#44726367)

The labor markets are saturated, and wealth is concentrating on the top. There just isn't a market for lots of labor anymore, manufacturing is increasingly automated, services like retail is becoming more automated (thanks Amazon!), so why not soak the rich and use the money to support more research instead of letting all that capital idle at the top?

Because that's EXACTLY what is happening now. All that capital is idling at the top, the middle/lower classes are underpaid and underemployed and not generating demand.

How about we fund a "research class" instead of a "leisure class"?

--PM

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (0)

Kohath (38547) | about a year ago | (#44727039)

The labor markets are saturated, and wealth is concentrating on the top. There just isn't a market for lots of labor anymore, manufacturing is increasingly automated, services like retail is becoming more automated (thanks Amazon!), so why not soak the rich and use the money to support more research instead of letting all that capital idle at the top?

This is in danger of going off topic now, but if labor markets are saturated, it's because companies can't make a higher profit by hiring more employees. If we could find a way to increase the profitability of these companies and/or to reduce the cost of hiring more employees, then the companies would hire more people. Labor markets would become saturated at a higher level of employment. More profits would be earned, and, all other things being equal, the society would be wealthier and be more able to fund pure scientific research.

Labor costs could be reduced without any wage or salary changes by cutting the costs of liability and regulatory compliance. Beyond that, various taxes could also be cut. Profitability could be increased through similar changes -- especially by cutting the US corporate tax rates from the world's highest to a rate more in line with international norms. If we want (the benefits of) a wealthier society, we should think about these and other ways our society can be wealthier.

"Soak the rich" produces the opposite of higher profitability. Profits -- or the benefits of profits -- are enjoyed after taxes. If a rich person can't enjoy the benefits of higher profits, he won't bother to produce anything beyond some minimum level and he certainly won't burden himself with unprofitable employees. When he cuts his investments in response to being "soaked", you'll have a poorer society with fewer people employed. That society might be able to spend a few extra dollars on pure research for a few years, but then the money will be gone and there will be none to replace it.

How about we fund a "research class" instead of a "leisure class"?

Do you include all the people who are retired but still physically able to work in your "leisure class"? They certainly enjoy their leisure. Do you think we should cut subsidies for this leisure and use some of the money to fund more research?

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#44727223)

Labor costs could be reduced without any wage or salary changes by cutting the costs of liability and regulatory compliance. Beyond that, various taxes could also be cut. Profitability could be increased through similar changes -- especially by cutting the US corporate tax rates from the world's highest to a rate more in line with international norms. If we want (the benefits of) a wealthier society, we should think about these and other ways our society can be wealthier.

Umm not. Labor costs are not particularly affected by regulation and liability. Nor are they affected by taxation. It is only corporate profitability that is affected. Which is already at an all time high. Corporations don't need to be more profitable to hire people. Corporate cash accounts are at all time highs.

The reason we have a labor glut? Demand is down and worker productivity is extremely high. So we have record low labor force participation. Unemployed people consume lots less than employed people.

Do you know who else consumes relatively little (as a proportion of their income)? Very rich people.

What do we have in the US right now? A real crappy distribution of income. A shrinking and lower income middle class. Until the consumer class starts growing again demand will stay low and along with it labor force participation.

Re:Funding pure research requires a wealthy societ (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#44727155)

Most retirees worked for their benefits. They may be non-workers now, but while they worked they paid taxes into a retirement system and often accumulated their own capital in addition.

The fact that the government frittered away their contribution is not their fault.

The capital they accumulated should be and even sometimes is an important source of accumulated wealth that is invested into the economy. When it isn't, it's another government screw-up.

Real tragedy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726011)

The sad part is that many of these brilliant people will wind up on Wall Street creating obscure financial instruments greatly enriching their employers while gradually destroying the economic base of America.

Re:Real tragedy (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#44726141)

Why would they emigrate to the USA? France and Switzerland have a much better quality of life. They will just stay there and sell pizza by the slice or something.

Re:Real tragedy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726209)

France is a shithole. If you've never been there you should just shut up until you learn the truth of this mythical paradise.

Re:Real tragedy (1)

felix rayman (24227) | about a year ago | (#44726245)

It is a tragedy to the same extent that it was a tragedy when Blaise Pascal wasted all those hours gambling when he could have been doing mathematics.

They are so smart (1)

hsmith (818216) | about a year ago | (#44726019)

They were unable to calculate their future job prospects. Whoops.

Put em on Polywell (1)

DMJC (682799) | about a year ago | (#44726023)

Put them to work on the polywell fusion reactor concept. Actually get the damn thing proven already.

Since A-bombs stopped being cool (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#44726095)

This isn't new. It's been that way in high-energy physics since A-bombs stopped being cool. After WWII, there was a huge interest in getting into physics, and large numbers of PhD physicists were produced. The U.S. Government hired a lot of them. Nuclear weapon design became excessively fancy, much to the annoyance of today's workers who have to maintain the old bombs.

Then, after the US had produced enough bombs for the next few world wars, the nuclear establishment wound down. Los Alamos got into all sorts of strange non-nuclear stuff like chaos theory. Lawrence Livermore became a senior activity center for aging physicists. The average age of the membership in the American Physical Society went up by six months each year. That was back in the 1990s. It hasn't gotten better.

When the USSR wound down, there was a US effort to find jobs for old Soviet nuclear experts. The worry was that they'd go to work for somebody who still wanted to build a bomb or two. Some came to the US.

Re:Since A-bombs stopped being cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726975)

I want to see the biggest, bad, mother-fucking H-Bomb built and launched into space. I want to see just how much of the martian ice-caps we can melt with a few gigaton bombs!

Why teraform a lifeless planet this way? BECAUSE WE CAN!

but, but, but H1B visas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726127)

I mean we have such a shortage of scientists and tech workers, this must be a lie, right?

STEM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726159)

And this is why we need more graduates in science and math, to meet the need of all those jobs that are going unfilled!

Physics PhD's are wonderful (I have one myself), but the idea that we aren't producing enough for the available jobs is ludicrous.

-JS

Trillian (2)

RDW (41497) | about a year ago | (#44726199)

"Same as you, Arthur. I hitched a ride. After all, with a degree in maths and another in astrophysics it was either that or back to the dole queue on Monday."

Unreasonable expectations (3, Informative)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | about a year ago | (#44726275)

Young people should not go into physics expecting to become tenured professors. It might happen, but it's unlikely. And besides, why would you want to? Because your professor thinks you should aspire to it? It's actually not that great a job.

However. physics is still a great field of study because you can take it so many places. You can do engineering that engineers can't do because while they know the shortcuts while you know the fundamentals. I know a number of physicists who work in medical imaging, for example. The best RF engineer I know has a physics degree. A physicist needs great math skills, and unlike mathematicians, needs to be able to apply them in the real world. A smart physics student will take some classes outside of physics, and make mental connections between fields. If you're at a university, you should exploit the situation (and avoid being exploited).

misoverestimation (1, Interesting)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about a year ago | (#44726303)

Getting a PhD is nothing like it used to be. The whole process has become industrialised since I was young, and - while it's excellent that there *is* so much support - it doesn't represent the independent intellectual achievement that it once did.

So, while I'm very happy that there are so many people training at this level, they shouldn't think they're that great.

NASA (1)

dicobalt (1536225) | about a year ago | (#44726365)

NASA should hire all of them. We need something far far better than rockets.

Different to any other science? (1)

solanum (80810) | about a year ago | (#44726385)

I'd be interested to see how these figures compare to other sciences. I am a mid-career biologist (did eight years as a post-doc and have had a permanent research position for the last seven years). I've always felt that we lose about half of PhD graduates to other areas, partly because they don't want and to partly because there aren't enough jobs, and then about half of post-docs don't continue in science for the same reasons. Doesn't seem that different. I do remember that, when I was a post-doc, an eminent prof (multiple Nature papers) in my field once said to me that he didn't know anyone who was 'really' determined to continue in science who didn't make it as a career. I'd say that is still true. It is a tough career that doesn't pay that well (compared to other professions with equivalent training), but a rewarding one.

Job market realities (1)

Livius (318358) | about a year ago | (#44726493)

So, the short version is particle physics is exactly like every other profession in today economy?

The problem is not enough physicists (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726571)

The aim of Physics should not be to become an tenured professor, endless publishing in a very dodgy field, but doing it because its easy papers. What a waste. As much as a waste as working on wall st (telling people how to move money) or Google (getting people to click ads).

  The aim of Physics is to teach the other primates to *THINK* and inspire. Some do that by building machines, some do that by tv shows some just grab people in the street and try to make them understand. Its not to get the nobel prize, or a tenured job or any shit like that.

  Albert said his backup career was to teach high school science. Personally I think it should be the backup career of every physicist to teach high school physics. I think every physicist should do it like compulsory military service. Say 3 years during the early part of your career. As a professor, most uni's have teaching loads so learn how to teach damit.

  Physics is dying. Less than 10% of the people teaching physics have any 3rd year physics units. Even less are Physics graduated. Its taught by PE teachers, librarians or anyone who there is currently excess supply of. People think that physics isn't important, or real or something they should know about.

  We should be pumping physicists out into our societies. They are adaptable. Tesla was a labourer, Fermi could fix cars, Newton ran the mint and made one hell of an investigator. Everywhere physicists go they revolutionise or advance other fields. Because those fields are so childishly simplistic and usually not based on logic or reason. Physicists make great managers. Look at the LHC or the Manhattan project, can you imagine a team of 10,000 history/management/business/accounting professors managing and working together? Do you think they would get together and make something that changes the world socially, politically, economically? Its in our nature to collaborate, to link up to cross over into other fields. Physicists win prizes outside their field (chem, bio, economics) like its nothing.

Damit, the problem is no one is seeing the real problem, which is pumping physicists into the general population. I have a team of ~10 physicists (degree level) working under me. Its great. They are prolific about their work, they work hard, they collaborate, they rarely make mistakes, they pioneer or develop new technologies into the workplace and share everything they know with anyone who is interested. All highly capable mathematicians, communicators and problem solvers, particularly outside of their field.

Open source it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44726897)

Why not use changes in technology to help support research?

Use crowdfunding to get started maybe?
Document and publish via youtube etc. for advertising revenue. The cooler the videos, the more revenue.
Use the GPL so that everyone has access to the research, rather than having it restricted to traditional avenues.

Think about how awesome the videos could be for things like plasma physics...what kinds of useful tech could be done in a way that looks cool and has important applications? Shields to protect spaceships from cosmic radiation perhaps? Demonstrations of thrusters like VASIMR?
Maybe companies like SpaceX would want to invest in useful tech like that too?

How could communications be changed by quantum physics?
Figuring out what distances the observer effect is useful over might revolutionise communication. If the double slit experiment could be refined to the point where observation(or lack of) is used to transmit data, there might perhaps be a way around the limits imposed by the speed of light.
Just demonstrating the double slit experiment and spooky action could make for cool youtube clips.

Multiple entangled pairs of particles can be used to find the polarity of a photon before the particles have been entangled.
If weak measurement could be used to find the polarity of a particle and strong measurement used to send that as data, could there be a way of sending data back in time?

Don't you think people would be interested in crowdfunding projects to see what's possible?

Has been a while that I got my physics degree (1)

quax (19371) | about a year ago | (#44726903)

Twenty years ago it was pretty clear that very few physics graduates would have a career in the field so little has changed in this regard.

You study it because it is fascinating stuff, not necessarily because you'd expect to make a living of it. Other work is financially much more rewarding, and it is fairly easy to branch out with a physics degree under your belt.

Government, society should encourage science (1)

Beeftopia (1846720) | about a year ago | (#44727005)

Instead of spending billions on Wall Street, the government should be supporting the sciences, by providing patronage for things like physics Phds and the like.

Much higher return methinks.

“Science is like sex: sometimes something useful comes out, but that is not the reason we are doing it. ” Richard P. Feynman

The rest of society benefits when government and society puts money into the sciences instead of financial hustles.

Nothing new here..... (1)

kungfool (949878) | about a year ago | (#44727007)

I graduated in '91 studying molecular beams. There was so little work in the field then, that I went into peptide chemistry. Nothing has changed, and I doubt anything will in the future. More people want to study high energy physics than can be supported in the field. Nothing new. Nothing to see here, move along......

we'll always need people to cook french fries (1)

kylemonger (686302) | about a year ago | (#44727177)

I don't see why I should cry for these guys any more than I should cry for the millions of athletically gifted sacks who discover that they won't be playing professional sports for a living. The worldwide number of professional athletes and professional particle physicists seem comparable and the physicists don't have the jocks' excuse of being bad at math.
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