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Pure Science Becoming Less Popular Than CS

CmdrTaco posted more than 14 years ago | from the lure-of-easy-money? dept.

News 245

An Anonymous Reader writes "An article (free login required) in yesterday's New York Times (Business Section) says that the number of college students in the physical and biological science is decreasing because of the "easy money" available in the field of computers. It also says that the computer industry's growth will slow and that the next big boom of technology jobs will be in biotechnology. Interesting stuff. " Of course the real reason is Turing machines. We really just dig drawing out turing machines on chalk boards and arguing about NP problems.

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Don't study chemistry! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1705972)

I've been reading articles like this for years. Corporations want to encourage science and engineering grads so they'll always have a cheap supply. There are way too many chemists around and salaries are nice and low for those companies hiring chemists and yet I still see articles encouraging kids to get chemistry degrees.

Re:hmm... (1)

psaltes (9811) | more than 14 years ago | (#1705973)

worked for me oddly enough...perhaps someone recreated it?

Let see where have I heard this one before? (1)

Kal (16119) | more than 14 years ago | (#1705974)

Ah yes, it was when I was graduating HS 6 years ago and all my elders urged me to get into bio-tech. because it was the next big thing and CS was a dead end. Then came the web and the six digits... Who's laughing now? But seriously, the articles only mentions students that declare their majors, it doesn't mention the numbers of students that actually GRADUATE with a CS degree. If I am not mistaken, I read on slashdot a couple of months ago that the number of students that are graduating with ANY tech/sci degree has been on a steady decline for some years now. Which article do you believe? And this guy expressing that we don't need more HTML people in five years. Is HTML CS? While yes, HTML is the cornerstone of the web it has little to do with these two words Computer Science. I think the fundamental problem is not that these kids are chosing CS as a major, it is underlying philosophy of our educational system in our society. We educate our kids not to have them better themselves for the sake of education but, to fill a specific economic role. And whether it is CS or basket weaving, as long as our motives are money driven rather than the contiunued quest to gather more knowledge you will see this sort of major shifting time and time again.

Consistency in reporting please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1705995)

Less than 6 months ago the New York Times had an article saying that there WEREN'T ENOUGH computer science majors: They all drop out because it was too hard or too boring. My freshman CS class started at >300 people, I just finished my sophomore year and it is 100 people.

computers in education (3)

ijones (83977) | more than 14 years ago | (#1705996)

"Computer science courses teach skills and techniques, but they don't teach critical thinking the way physics does,"

Now that's a great quote. It's probably true at some universities. At a certain university, there's lots of debate among undergrads about the "theoretical vs practical" teaching of computer science. Basically, there's complaining that, though the introductory classes teach component engineering, function specifications, algorithms &C, they should actually be teaching us how to use Visual Basic so that we can get internships the summer after our sophmore year.

Fortunitally, some students prefer to learn real computer science.

Also Ms. Corning comments later in the article point to something that was brought up 20(?) years ago in a book called Mindstorms (Pampert?) about the Logo programming language. This teacher(Ms. Corning) seems to think that computers are a fancy full-color chalk board. Mindstorms warned that we shouldn't try to use computers to program children (ie fit computers into the current education model, at least in the US) but when children learn to program computers, they'll learn geometry and other math at the same time.

"Computers can teach information, but they don't teach a way to ask questions or conduct experiments where you don't know the correct answer ahead of time,"

Again, what kind of computer use is this quote assuming? It's the same comment as above: Computers shouldn't program children. It takes a different kind of _teaching_ to integrate the really powerful uses of computers into the education of a child.

I'd argue that a computer can be used to learn basic scientific principals, or the scientific method. If children were encouraged to be creative with the computers, and to solve problems (as in LOGO) they would discover the scientific method with only a little bit of direction.

But as long as education is thought of as "the road to a career," students will go for easy money. That's what they had 12-16 years of school for, right?

Then again, I speak only from personal experience with education. Perhaps some of you out there have been encouraged to be creative and think for yourselves.



Re:Dr. Science (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 14 years ago | (#1705997)

so does his illegitimate daughter, Turm Garten []


Only a science if it uses the scientific method (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1705998)

Of hypothesis and experimentation.

Luckily, things like randomized algorithms have only been shown as useful under real experiments, so CS qualifies.

"Political Science" and "Library Science" do not. Neither does math.

Most people seem to think any field is a science if they use numbers, equations, computers or funny symbols.

Re:That sounded like sarcasm! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1705999)

We do enjoy it, but most people do not. That's where the sarcasm comes from.

money (1)

psaltes (9811) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706000)

So far, I think that everyone I know who's gone to college planning on getting a cs degree because thats the way they can make lots of money on it has given up somewhat quickly, because these people also seem to have gotten the notion that they can make lots of money without doing any work or expending any mental effort. I'm sure some do make it through, but at least at my university the weedout courses are pretty decent at weeding out people. Of course at least one of them is pure sadism and weeds out even people who are there because they like computers. But thats life.

Assembly line CS and REAL CS. (5)

richnut (15117) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706001)

I think there's a big distinction that needs to be made here. Right now there's alot of jobs in the computer industry but how many of them are really CS? Coding HTML is not CS. Getting your MCSE is not CS. Being a Unix sysadmin is not CS. Running an NT mailserver is not CS.

True CS involves alot more of a high level understanding of what's going on. True CS involves people who are solving problems at a very high level, who are re-thinking the norm and who are applying their background in math and science to solve a problem, not people who are rebooting servers when the pager goes off.

I know alot of people who work answering the pager and maintain unix/nt/cisco systems as their job. They're all really smart people, but what they're doing probably isnt CS. In fact most of them dont have a degree in CS if they have a degree at all. I'm not even sure if what I do really has all that much to do with pure computer science, but I'm pretty sure I have a solid background to fall back on if it were to come up, which is why I dont worry. What worries me is people coming out of assembly line CS programs who dont have any idea what real Computer Science is about, and just want to get paid.


By effect (3)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706002)

I doubt that this is truly the intention. But...

The professors teaching these courses (both faculty and grad students) would rather be doing research, or working on papers, or something else entirely.

Instead they are forced by the administration into nursing snivelling freshmen who are required to take the course, but the mojority of whom couldn't care less about the actual material.

After about a semester or two of this, they (teaching staff) give up and go through the grind, all the while taking their frustration out on the students. The few students who have potential and interest, suffer, and many turn away. The ones who didn't care to begin with, care even less.

Very few people make it through the meat grinder of introductory science courses with their spirits and interests intact. These go on to become graduate students, all the while remembering how the majority of their peers in the 100 level courses, didn't give a crap.

It's an unfortunate vicious cycle.

Interestingly, everyone is also required to take Literature, History, and the like, where classes are much smaller due to the very interactive style of teaching that must be used. You'd think that the administration would have figured out the correlation between class size and student interest by now.

Re:Computer Science really is _science_ (1)

Skim123 (3322) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706003)

Hehe, sounds like somebody had an Automata theory class this summer! :-) While you might think CS is a lot of theory and abstract thought disassociated with actual coding, the fact still remains that CS is still an easier route than most other sciences. I have some friends who are math/comp sci. double majors. They find the advanced comp. sci. classes comical, since we comp sci's try to impress ourselves with attempting complex math (for automata theory, algorithm analysis, etc.), but the stuff we cs majors are tackling in our senior years, these math majors had nailed in their sophomore years. :)

Re:Yep, it's true... (1)

richnut (15117) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706004)

On the other end, it also means we end up with lusers as fellow programmers. A Visual Basic developper once asked me what a DLL was. Eek!

I was in a class my last year of college with seniors in CS who didn't know what a hash table was. YOW! Fortunately for those of us with a real understanding of CS, these fools will always be stuck answering pagers and writing HTML while the rest of us move on.


Nothing better (2)

On Lawn (1073) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706016)

Than craming Prologue, completing NP (All I know is that I'm not NP complete), while spreading sugar in my cLisp, and figuring out how to make a date with Perl.

Besides, who ever got into pure research for the money?
^~~^~^^~~^~^~^~^^~^^~^~^~~^^^~^^~~^~~~^~~^ ~

technology will merge... (1)

boog3r (62427) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706019)

i think we will see an integration and merging of traditionally seperate field in the next couple generations. right now we can see this happening in the field of biomechanics. hopefully once this happens more diversified training will ensue.

another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.

What courses are good for a career in biotech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706022)

do you need years of medical / biology experiance?

Time to change the major? (1)

jblackman (72186) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706025)

"[five years from now] we're going to need biotechnologists"

Damn. Exactly the time I'll be graduating with my degree in Computer Engineering. I knew I was born ten years too late.


p.s. I'm not stupid, just a double major.

hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706027)

Cypherpunk/cypherpunk doesn't seem to wanna work. Am I getting stupider, or did NYT catch on?

Re:hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706029)

they caught on.

That sounded like sarcasm! (1)

gregbaker (22648) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706031)

Of course the real reason is Turing machines. We really just dig drawing out turing machines on chalk boards and arguing about NP problems.

Some us like that.

Re:Research vs. Practice (1)

nstrug (1741) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706032)

Surely if they want to become doctors they would be better off studying medicine than the sciences...

Why would anyone want to take a science degree and then start over again in medical school? Or is there something I'm not getting here?


Study what you love! (1)

Skim123 (3322) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706033)

I don't think anyone should tell people what not to study. Everyone should go into college and study what they love doing, not what they think will be easy money...

Influx of new CS students (2)

Exerda (86025) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706034)

I've been working in the boring ol' IT world for five years now with degrees in Computer Science and English. In that time I've encountered many new CS students; most when asked about WHY they're in the field reply, "One of my friends did it and gets a lot of money." These same people have NO programming experience, and half don't know how to turn on a computer.

Not to worry, though - there are enough "weed out" courses in CS as in most majors. Just because the public sees big bucks in a computer field doesn't mean Joe Schmoe is cut out for the job. Let 'em waste two years and a few thousand bucks before they realize they did, after all, want a degree in Business.

(PS I'm slowly working on a Master's in Biology, so I don't feel threatened by any need for Biotech people anyway :)

Re:money (weedouts) (1)

Skim123 (3322) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706035)

Just out of curiosity, what classes are weedout classes at your school?

Re:Molecular Genetics (1)

biodork (25036) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706036)

Different case in the US. Time from graduation to job- 2 days. Wife now switches jobs from biotech company to biotech company whenever bored/money required. This with "only" a bachelors. now I am a grad student, and we get job offers a lot, none of us are going to get rich though....

Re:Opportunity (2)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706037)

Not entirely true,

Just about any enterprising teen can cook up a batch of crystal meth in their sink. And if you get reasonably ood at it, the field can be quite profitable.

If a kid tries to learn about anatomy, he's likely to be put in protective custody, and told to "stop doing that". God forbid you try to dissect a dead animal out of curiosity: You're branded as morbid and taken to counseling - after all, Geoffrey Dahmer used to do just that as a kid.

An insightful kid, with an interest in how people think, is more likely to be seen as a wise-ass, and punished to being to prying, rather that encouraged to read up on Freud, Jung, Skinner and the rest.

An introspective, even brooding kid with the makings of a great writter or poet, is probably on drugs, or at least has emotional problems, and must be helped in 'dealing' with his 'issues'.

If you show an interest in physics as a child, you're likely to become an auto mechanic. Figuring out how things work, and rebuilding carbs, just doesn't impress the Dean of Admissions. Pity.

So all that's left is to dabble with computers, since while everyone thinks you're wasting time and playing games (like a normal kid), you're actually learning something useful, develop a love for it, and go to college to get the papers.

Cold war is over, basic research lost funds ? (1)

masl62 (86014) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706038)

When the Cold War was on, and the military was funding a LOT of defense related development, including much University research, was there not more demand for scientists ? I think it is all a matter of PHD's and MS's finding rewarding jobs after graduation, in their field of specialization. Are there not too many PHD's these days working as sysadmins and making more money than on basic physics research ? I think
it is a shame, there are still several unresolved problems that might lead to surprising breakthroughs, as in cold fusion, gravity-antigravity, advanced interstellar propulsion systems. Unfortunately, in peacetime politicians have a hard time justifying funding for such very long term projects.


Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706039)

Sciences are based on the scientific method.

Math is not based on the scientific method.

Therefore, math is not a science.

Ouch (2)

DonkPunch (30957) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706040)

My neck is sore. I kept nodding my head saying "yes" while I read your post. :)

The paradox of post-secondary education in th'U.S. (5)

datacide (49123) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706041)

That is, until he realized that his hobby, fixing computers, could be a better career bet.

Bingo. I find this article, and others like it, interesting, because many people seem to act surprised that students may want to consider career opportunities in selecting a career. This shouldn't be surprising at all, because that's what American society is heavily slanted toward: money == happiness. Well, I don't think that's the case, and I'm glad that I stayed in school for a bit longer to earn a dual English/CS degree rather than just English...or just CS for that matter. But I'd be a liar if I said that the CS half of my degree was more important in the job market than the English half...or if I said that enough salary to live comfortably was never a consideration along the way.

So, ultimately, the paradox of post-secondary education, apparently (judging by the clamor in the article), is that that level of education is twofold in purpose: to widen and deepen oneself intellectually, and to greatly increase one's future earnings potential. Not many fields of study offer both of these, at least IMNSHO. I attended a large public university, where the two largest schools were the Liberal Arts College (which included the 'traditional' sciences) and the Engineering College (where Computer Engineering and Computer Science were taught, although CS degrees were awarded only by the Liberal Arts school). The vibe I got from a lot of the engineering students I attended classes with was that they were viewing university as a pricey trade school. (To be fair, I didn't get a vibe of intellectual expansion from all of the liberal arts students I ran into.) But the way the curricula were set up did little to counter this attitude. Get your degree, get your job, and get out. Where fault for that attitude lies, I cannot say.

But I can say that it disgusted me to be in a classroom where most people were seemingly interested in the piece of paper from the registrar's office than what it (ostensibly) represented.

Having said that, however, I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life. To expect otherwise is ridiculous. That's what hobbies are for.

Electroscope readings (1)

DonkPunch (30957) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706062)

Did any of the readings ever shout "FIRST POST"?

bioinformatics and comp bio -- worst of both world (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706063)

Here's what you need to know about being a computer scientist in a biotech company:

1. It takes an army of chemists and biologists to do the wet work necessary to discover anything real. This leads to a very different culture from CS -- where the productivity difference between good hackers and average hackers can be orders of magnitude. The productivity difference between great chemists and bad ones is more like a constant factor. You need lots of them, and it's hard to see the effect of any one god-like chemist on the company's bottom line.

What this means for you: you will never have a significant equity stake in a biotech company. There are just too many other mouths with whom you have to share the pie,

2. Biotech companies are run by chemists and biologists.

What this means for you: There is a "pyrex ceiling" that will make it unnatural for the company to put you in charge of anything not purely CPU-bound. With a few exceptions, upper-level management isn't a realistic goal for you in biotech.

Compensation policies within biotech are also heavily influenced by the industry's tradition as an escape from the science post-doc treadmill. That means it's great for chemists and biologists, compared to what they see in academia -- but its a joke when compared with what you can do in a pure CS venture. You can certainly negotiate a competitive salary coming into one of these places, but your raises and bonuses will track the biotech sector rather than the CS sector, and you'll begin falling behind your peers immediately.

Summary: biotech badly needs good computer scientists, but doesn't yet deserve them.


Re:technology will merge... (1)

richnut (15117) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706064)

another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.

Hm. I think CS has the potential to be equally as time consuming as well, but for different reasons. CS is both theoretical and applied and the applied portion changes VERY rapidly. Not to mention that the field is very young and many discoveries await us. For these reason to be up on CS you have to continue to learn way after you get your degree.


Re:Research vs. Practice (2)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706065)

Don't know how widely this is true, but where I went, pre-med was a third year commitment, up until which time, you studied general sciences.

So, in effect, pre-meds were in the same science classes as everyone else, through their second year, all the while getting their other electives (hist, engl, math) requirements out of the way, so they could hit the ground running in the pre-med classes junior year.

Re:The paradox of post-secondary education in th'U (1)

40 Watt (20388) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706066)

I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life.

I must disagree with this statement, or at least amend it to read this way:

I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not always necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life.

That may be fine for some people, but given the choice, I'd ALWAYS search out a job that appealed to my intellectual pursuits. Otherwise, it's not worh doin', IMHO. (And living in the USA, I count myself as very lucky to be able to make this choice.)

Re:Research vs. Practice (1)

bradleyjg (68937) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706067)

Because alot of schools don't have a medicine major for undergraduates, so you get hoards of obnoxious premeds (note: not all people that go to medical school are obnoxious but all premeds are) flooding the natural science majors.

worse case senario... (1)

Zilfondel (70989) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706068)

What would happen if fewer and fewer people took the hardcore sciences route, and the demand for CS jobs just continued to grow? Barring a change in our economy or technology, I don't see how this can be a positive thing. Isn't our whole society based upon the fruits of science (technology)? If the majority of people in our society do not understand science, I can only see the downfall of America. And with our financial institutions becoming world-wide organizations and stock markets moving towards existing completely online, we would lose the monopoly on finance. Japan already produces much more electronic devices than we do, India many more programmers. Europe, with their superior public educational system, possibly can surpass us in the technology department...and if that happens...I'm moving to Finland! Zilfondel

Re:Opportunity (1)

rark (15224) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706069)

Double not true. There are a few good books out there with *really decent* experiments you (at any age that's likely to be able to read) can cook up and learn stuff about chemistry and physics.

As for bio, I grew up with a copy of grey's anatomy in the house (though my mom is a nurse, so this might be a little weird) and my sister actually got the coloring book version (lucky!) when she was sixish...

The only things you need to do to learn anything is 1. learn to read (this is really important, though I have heard of a well documented case where a person who was born deaf and never taught any language, signed or otherwise, taught himself math out of a textbook) 2. be resourceful

optionally 3. have supportive parents, but if your parents are as evile as that, you probably learned to keep the eleventh commandment young anyway (I did, the friends with whom I built explosives in high school did)

so the only valid point you have is about the animals...dissection, until you get fairly high up, is pretty unnecessary anyway...but if you *really* feel the need to dissect something, I imagine a trip to the local high school bio teacher might be helpful...


I dunno about that (1)

cookd (72933) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706070)

Lets see... CS majors, I'd guess around 100/year from my university. Students in CS 142 who plan on being CS majors, I'd estimate about 700. No "weed out." No "You weren't accepted for the major." Just people say, "oh, this isn't the easy money I thought it would be."


Wait a minute.... (1)

drivers (45076) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706071)

First we hear that there are not enough students going into CS and so we need to increase the number of visas for foreign tech workers, and now we hear that everyone is going into CS. So which is it? I guess it depends on your special interest.

Re:How 1993 (1)

Rabbins (70965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706090)

Kinda like the Internet was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in the late 90's?

Re:hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706091)

If everyone signs in as cypherpunk, That's a whole lot less unique readers they get

On the flip side, if they require registering, they'll just get the same crowd registering bogus accounts every time that are thrown away everytime they read an article. The result is just a bigger, more meaningless, mess. NYT was smart to provide cyperpunks^2.

cypherpunks^2 won't work unless cookeis r enabled! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706092)


Re:By effect (2)

mapletree (85582) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706093)

I'm sure this is also because the hard sciences are seen as just that - hard, and the people involved in the discipline have a certain vested interest in maintaining that image. If just anyone could major in physics, math, biology(at my school, one of the most highly dropped and difficult majors) etc., then the (insert hard science here) people wouldn't be able to sneer at all the Human Ecology majors. Perhaps not a conscious motivation - but, as Barbie says 'Math is Hard!!'

no chemistry, no power pc chips. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706094)

Most people who design power pc chips are EE not CS (well maybe CE.) I don't think you can get a degree in electric (or even computer engineering) w/o basic chemistry at some point. Plus there is a lot of chemistry and physics in those little guys. I should know, I am taking my qualifiers to get a PHD in EE. Well, time to study again!

Re:That sounded like sarcasm! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706095)

I wish that were true for more of us in CS.

Dissapointment (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706096)

I was dissapointed with Computer Science, and then I finally realized that what I wanted was Software Engineering. I wonder how many others will have a similar experience. Most CS course I have seen were Applied Math (and no, not just the number crunching kind of courses) in drag.

My $.02

Re:money (1)

richnut (15117) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706097)

What's amusing is that when I started CS in 92, just a few years ago, very few people were in it because they thought they'd get rich. No one had email, most people didn't know or care wtf Bill Gates was. For the most part, people I talked to consider CS something like 'Rocket Science', something very technical, and very hard, that only really smart people can do. Of course that perception has changed alot as any monkey can get a job in IT, and that gets equated to CS in the mainstream.

The boom will vanish someday. Hopefully we'll still remember enough math and physics to be useful computer scientists.


'cause I love it (1)

wesmills (18791) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706098)

I'm currently a freshman in college, taking the basic core classes and trying to decide if I should go for CS or BCIS (Bus. Computer Inf. Systems).. IF you have any suggestions, let me know.

Either way, though, I'm doing this because I love it. I can program reasonably well (fragging C++... need to get the time to learn that really well), but I also like hardware, networking and making things go. I'm not a big fan of physical sciences (except Chemistry), so I'm in computers, not because of the money, but because I like them.

And, yes, I can truly say I'm not in it for the money.. Why? Because my minor is *education*! Yes, that's right, I'd actually like to teach computers or business. Why? Again, because I love it.

Don't fret about what the hot jobs will be 5-10-15 years down the road. Worry about what *YOU* want to do, and if you have enough desire, you'll be able to do it.

Absolutely (5)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706099)

In fact, people who do true CS could still do their job without writing a line of code.

True CS:_________Not True CS:

Still not sure where the likes of Kernighan and Ritchie come in, but I'd give all of the Ancient Gods the benefit of the doubt, and say that they're as close to True CS as Programming can get.

Re:Study what you love! (1)

Basalt (47097) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706100)

What I Love IS eazy money :-)

Supply vs. demand; also, funding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706101)

I wouldn't say that there are too many Life Sciences Ph. D.'s, but rather that the number exceeds the number of grants funded by the U. S. Government and academic institutions.

Over the past ten years, Big Science projects have been funded, while Little Science projects haven't been funded. It used to be the case that funding was granted in response to 30% of Life Science grant proposals.

Around five years ago, I spoke with a researcher who served on a panel that reviewed such proposals and allocated the money, and learned that the percentage of proposals that received funding was down to twelve. So, we have the Human Genome Project instead of more numerous smaller projects -- and fund fewer people and fewer approaches to the Life Sciences.

Another cause of the excess of supply is the number of people hired during the Fifties who haven't died or retired. The U. S. Government, in a panic over Sputnik, funded so many researchers that there aren't jobs for the current generation -- there are still bodies available to do the work.

Nat sci -> CS crossovers (1)

HP LoveJet (8592) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706102)

I've been seeing more and more of these lately.

An extreme example is a fellow I interviewed last month for a senior developer position at my company: he has just completed a PhD in theoretical physics (at a world-renowned institution no less), and wants a career as a programmer. I'm not sure what to make of that, possibly because I was a physics major before I dropped out of college.

Science is not only scientific method. (1)

Jayson (2343) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706120)

1. Knowledge; knowledge of principles and causes; ascertained truth of facts.

5. Art, skill, or expertness, regarded as the result of knowledge of laws and principles.

Note: Science is applied or pure.

The mathematical and physical sciences are called the exact sciences.

--Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

I am ok with this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706121)

If everyone gets a degree in CS then soon the money will be in pure sciences. And since I have a degree in physics that will mean more money for me. Also whenever slashdot posts a science article, you can look at the comments posted by CS people to determine how clueless CS people are about the physical sciences.

Maybe ... (1)

wert (86068) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706122)

Maybe, that pure science is becoming less popular
than CS in the moment, but as long as mankind is
dealing in which way ever with matter, people are
needed, who can deal with matter -> scientists!
Who else will develop quantum computers,
starships and nanomachines?

Exactly! Go for CS because you LIKE it! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706123)

Go for physics if you LIKE it. I see too many students in med school or law school because they want 'big bucks'. These people are depressing to be around. They hate their life and the world. What a sham they are living, making big money doing what they hate to do everyday until they die. Sad. I didn't graduate in CS because I wanted big $$$, I did it because IT'S FUN! I LIKE going to work everyday. I may not make what a lawyer makes, but I'm happy with my life and make enough to live well. And isn't 'hapiness and living well', what it's all about?

Re:That sounded like sarcasm! (1)

Caktus (28195) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706124)

Anyone has ever written that famous program that works like this?:

$ ./program < program


$ ./program < something_else


The crystal ball says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706125)

I have just consulted my crystal ball and it suggests that natural sciences have nothing to worry about. It showed me the future, a future filled with people who are very knowledgable about computers, and across the board, musicians, engineers, chemists, biologists, artists, all of them, using computers (and programming) them to help evolve their work. Certainly the trend now is to "work in computers" to "make the big bucks" but that will change as software evolves and the Microsoft monopoly on computer mindshare decreases. Indeed in the future software will suplement our tasks, it will aid us in whatever course we choose instead of filling our lives with constant maintenance and upgrades. As computer programming languages get simpler they will reach the masses, everybody will be able to use them to customize their computer related tasks. Computers will be much more useful. Or maybe not, maybe we /all/ will just turn into computer scientists and end up dieing from no sleep and starvation while trying to hack that last line of code for our fliogenic maximator compiler.

Wonderful. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706127)

That sounds right-on.

Re:Yep, it's true... (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706128)

Did you switch to BOFH mode and tell him it was a temp file that should be deleted?

I wasn't that fast on the uptake, but I did inquire if he had gotten past the advanced chapter on "Hello, world!" programming...

"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

Re:Opportunity (2)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706131)

I was mostly being facetious, but point well taken.

However, being a knowledgable kid, with an interest in science, still carries with it the stigma of GEEK!, while computers are actually the COOL thing to be into these days...

Before my girlfriend got to know me, and what I do, she would (without knowing any better at the time) ask "can you hack?"... You really could see the italics, too.. It was like some secret thing that I could do, that was ooooh-so-scary and impressive.

Knowledge of computers is no longer a 'geek thing' in the derogatory sense, but playing with a chemistry set still is - unfortunatelly. We here know better, but we here are a minority.

We're sort of like the first black sports stars. The first black running backs and batters. We're respected for our skills and talents, but we're still part of a discriminated against minority.

Re:Electroscope readings (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706133)

Did any of the readings ever shout "FIRST POST"?

No, but there were as much of an eyesore!

"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

Re:What courses are good for a career in biotech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706140)

Computer Science and statistics would both be helpful for a career in biotech. Most of what they are doing seems to be cataloging genes and molecules, and searching/simulating on computers to see what they all do. To some extent, it's just big database and data mining.

Re:What courses are good for a career in biotech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706141)

physics. If you have degrees in bio or chem, you can do certain things w/in bio or chem, but if you have a degree in physics, you can do anything. Part of its the disicpline, I think... Part of its the level of mathematical sophistication required, and part of it is that chem. and bio. are really just subfields of physical applied to a specific scale...

Re:hmm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706142)

try cypherpunk41/cypherpunk or probably any number up to ~90

damn password protected sites (1)

FooBarSmith (85970) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706143)

can we not set up some generic username / password combo for these password protected sites and post it with the story, i must have registered with the nytimes like 3 times for some lame story...

Re:hmm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706144)

Then register! It's free... they barely send any spam... and it shows interest... If everyone signs in as cypherpunk, That's a whole lot less unique readers they get, and may one day go "hmmm... maybe we need to switch this to a subscription model again..." That being said, and with me being an annoymous coward, don't yell at me... I only seem to have my password saved in NSCP, not MSIE.... "Um... Lucas!"

Cleaning toilets vs. hacking (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706147)

Graduated in biology. Cleaned toilets for 2 months. Went back to start over in engineering. The engineering classes have 1/4 as many students as the biology classes. What's decreasing is men taking biology classes. Only people who have a choice in breadwinning or staying home flock to biology.

By Design? (3)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706148)

All I know is that my university seems to work pretty hard at lowering the number of people who end up in the hard sciences. Seems like a lot of first year science courses are geared to "weed out" undesirables, undesirables in this case often being people who would be perfectly capable of pursuing the degree, just not at the pace and depth at which the first class is taught, often in huge lectures with little access to useful assistance. A number of people that I have talked to have seen this to be the case, especially at large schools. People who, if attending a different college, could go on to become, if not nobel prize winners, at least useful members of industry, are shuttled into social sciences or the liberal arts. The impression that at least one person who I know got was that professors are interested in the top precentage of students, those who can assist them in their research and who will require the least attention. Sure, you produce more outstanding research assistants and super scientists that way, but odds are you're going to loose some very good people too. Combine this mentality with the fabled high pay and recent publicity of the computer field, and it's no wonder universities are hurting for geophysicists and mechanical engineers.

Research vs. Practice (2)

Rabbins (70965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706150)

While I have few friends who are studying sciences in order to become a (research) "scientist"... I do have many friends studying the sciences in order to become a doctor.
Money driven? A lot of them.

I think computer science has replaced a lot of the traditional sciences for many people because here is a field where you do not need to get a master's or a Phd in order to enter the work force in their desired field. Plus (right now), the pay is a lot better.

I know plenty of people who started out as chem or physics majors in college, and either switched to computer Science half-way through (it was more interesting and easy for them), *or* ended up working in a computer related field because they simply could not find a job as a traditional scientist.

Eventually it will even out... but I definitely have not noticed a decline in those people wanted to become doctors.

World has plenty of "bsic scientists" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706153)

I don't see this as a problem. I've never heard a complaint that there weren't enough bio grads.

Following the money in this case is quite beneficial for society.

Business school, engineering, and compsci are going to attract more and more students as people realize a plain ol BA or BS doesn't put a lock on a job in a world where financial security is increasingly a do-it-yourself affair.

All of this is fine. In the last twenty years, far too many people have enrolled in universities who really have no business being there and would benefit society better by pumping gas. If at the very least they pick up something like programming, they can actually use their education to benefit society, instead of being yet another philosphy or biology student working the till at the Gap.

Dr. Science (1)

Quarters (18322) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706155)

He's got a Master's degree...IN SCIENCE!

Re:By effect (1)

ramparte (53311) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706160)

It's funny, this is exactly how I felt about all the Great Books, Social Science and History I had to take in school - I didn't care, the prof didn't want to be there, and the whole thing was a joke. Just depends on your mindset.

I also taught a class of remedial calc students when I was a grad student. I'll tell you, the profs may be partly to blame, but it is really hard to try to get people to care about hard things, even if you're not burned out.

Sometimes The facts get buried. (4)

Capt Dan (70955) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706161)

There are a couple of main issues here.

First, some background. I just graduated from the (or one of the) top CS schools in the nation, with a dual degree in CS and ECE. (And I busted my ass to do so, so please forgive any cockiness that develops, it's a pride thing). Around a hundred graduated this year, with the CS department as their home department.

How many double majors were there for CS/ECE? 1. CS and Mathmatics? 15. What about double majors in CS and Chem? 5. CS and Bio? 6. There was even one guy who in three years managed to pull a CS degree, a Pysch degree and a hard science degree.

And how many of the rest of the graduating class had a hard science as a minor? I know quite a few CS people who have entered into biotech based upon the merits of their minor degree. You wouldn't believe the number of *art*majors* with a CS minor.

My roomate was a physics major. Granted it was a small department, but he was the only one not to go on to grad school. Why? He realized that he was a better computer scientist than a physicist. More power to him.

What does this mean? I think that it means that the really bright *scientists* realize that having a full knowledge of CS will greatly aid them in their research.

I do not feel that biotech and other hard science research will be suffering by this movement. Why? Because the real scientists, the ones that are bright enough to make the breakthroughs in for things like nonotech livers and curing AIDS, WILL STILL BE IN THE FIELD. All they may have done is increased their knowledge, and by doing so are better suited to achieve their original goals.

Does it really matter if Joe Schmoe got-an-A-in-high-school-bio picks CS over Bio or Chem? Would he really have made a difference in the field anyways?

So there's a glut of CS majors. Fine. The people who enter CS for the purpose of learning CS will have better skills and understanding of what is going on. They will always be able to design and implement faster, smaller algorithms. They'll get the sexier work.

Re:World has plenty of "bsic scientists" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706162)

I beg to differ. I'm a succesful software developer with a BA in philosophy and not even a year of CS classes. It was actually a course in C offered by the EE department at my college that got me started. After a little hard work on my own I'm now able to make a good living as a programmer alongside a bunch of people who have CS degrees from Princeton and Stanford. So why waste your time with a CS degree if you can pick it up later? And instead you get a broader educational base instead of the narrower at times almost vocational focus of a CS program. I forgot my password. It's jonnystiles and you van figure out the rest.

Pointer arithmetic weeds out loads! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706163)

I'm surpried at how many freshmen can handle pointers in C. It just freaks them out. Recursion is another big filter. I guess a lot of freshmen think CS is all just point, click, and cash the paycheck; and that there will be a Microsoft high level tool like Front Page to do all their work for them in whatever job they see themselves in someday.

Meanwhile the non-CS folk in the job world are dumbfounded and pissed off that we get paid a lot when all we do is "play" with computers. "Anyone can do that", they think.

New decade same story (1)

ramparte (53311) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706164)

I came out of math grad school a decade ago. I basically decided that too many people who were better than me at math were having too much trouble getting jobs, and I liked programming better.

At the time, I was part of a 'trend' being lamented the same way this one was - all the good math people were leaving for better pay to CS, woe was us.

Doesn't look that much different to me now. Just something for the press to chew on when things are a little slow. Also a nice back to school story.


Wait a minute... (1)

Capt Dan (70955) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706165)

Hasn't something like this always been happening?
Wasn't there a big shift into Law during the eighties, and away from medicine?

I could be wrong. I was much to busy watching the smurfs, transformers, and airwolf at the time. Not to mention Manimal.

Re:Science is not only scientific method. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706166)

This basically boild down to observations, experimentation, and the results of such....

which is basically what i already said.

Oops, ^can^can't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706169)


i didn't say you needed a cs degree to program.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706171)

I only said that many students are going into CS because of the obvious career possibilities.

Of course you can become a perfectly brilliant programmer with any degree, or with none, but lets face it you're the exception not the rule.

Re:Absolutely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706172)

I have to agree with you, but isn't kernel hacking a little different from writing perl scripts? Ken Thompson and Ritchie created the field from whole cloth. To me, that's science, because they had theories about the OS, they experiemented, and they applied the results. Everyone else can consider themselves plain cranial laborers...

Opportunity (3)

ranton (36917) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706180)

The reason why kids are so interested in computers is because of the opportunities that have in learning about them while still young. You dont learn anything useful about physics or chemistry until college. I was already programming computer games that my friends and I would play when I was in sixth grade. But now im a sophmore in college and I still am not allowed to do anything on my own. You cant just dabble with chemistry in your room like you can with computers. If you could we would have alot of dead potential chemistry majors. (oops, i spilled sulfiric acid on my shirt. oh well, ill clean it up later)

Re:damn password protected sites (2)

Accipiter (8228) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706181)

How about just using:

A) The first account you registered with.


B) The well known Slashdot Generic Username/Password Combo.

-- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

Molecular Genetics (1)

coffii (76089) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706182)

I graduated in Molecular Genetics in Biotechnology. Could I get a job, no! I have just finished an MSc in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems.
That biotech boom is not here yet, and won't be for quite a few years.

Yep, it's true... (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706183)

As an ex-particle physics grad student, I can tell you it's no wonder people are turning from pure science to CS. It's what I did.

At least now when I surf the web, I do it for work. :) What would you rather get paid for? Watch electroscope readings or read Slashdot?

People are turning to CS because it's cooler, it's hip, the pay's good, the market is booming.

On the other end, it also means we end up with lusers as fellow programmers. A Visual Basic developper once asked me what a DLL was. Eek!

"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

Hmmm... (2)

smoondog (85133) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706184)

Being a grad student in biotech, that's great to hear. But I'm not sure I follow the prediction that computer jobs are going to decline under biotechnology jobs. Biotech is a very specialized field, whereas computers are a tool, that can be applied to many fields..... (just my .02)
-- Moondog

People need Computer science (1)

nix99 (85909) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706185)

A lot of the boost in CS is the fact that companies need people to run these computer networks that their older workers don't have any clue about. Since right now there are not enough of these computer science people to go around so they get paid a lot. The combo of the money and the fact that many teens just love the idea of "playing" with computers for a living draws people in. If you have a parent in a business that wants to expand there networking and such you have it made since the companies need system admins that they can trust not to leave backdoors and other stuff, who better to hire that the son of one of the upper level execs (this is happening to many of my friends).

Re:Yep, it's true... (1)

georgeha (43752) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706186)

On the other end, it also means we end up with lusers as fellow programmers. A Visual Basic developper once asked me what a DLL was. Eek!

Did you switch to BOFH mode and tell him it was a temp file that should be deleted?


Re:damn password protected sites (1)

jilles (20976) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706187)

Do like me, keep a username password available for this type of sites. I'm registered for more sites that I can remember and I always use the same user/passwd combination (except the important ones :)). I also have a special email account (yahoo) for catching spam which I give whenever an email address is required. (I sometimes also use if I'm really annoyed)

It'll be good for Hemos (1)

ksan (24007) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706188)

More biotech, more posts for Hemos.
I'm eletronic engineer and a system analyst and tradicionaly I would dislike bio but for me it was allways easy.
I've never had to study to any exam because it was natural for me.
I think people liking bio as they like CS: for a question of ego find.
People that don't like so much don't grew in theirs jobs so much.

way too many bio phds (1)

deanc (2214) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706189)

The way it works now is that you slave away at a bio phd only to end up in a post-doctoral fellowship which will only pay 20k-25k/year. These last another several years, at which time you _might_ get an appointment at a university as an assisstant professor, but you'll be competing with hundreds of candidates for each spot.

I can see how the prospect of that just is not appealing, anymore. On the other hand, those with BS or graduate degrees from top universities in CS or EE can find a good job right away that pays much more than someone with a bio or physics PhD and a few years of experience.

Honestly, I think it's good that these potential science majors are able to find other options rather than accept indentured servitude in a flooded market.


Login for NY times (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706210)

Is there someone who would like to share their login data with me I have received at least two of these stupid things and they keep invalidating them I guess due to timeout or something.

Re:damn password protected sites (1)

GeorgeH (5469) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706211)

cyberpunk/cyberpunk was bequethed on me long ago, and now I bequeth it to you.


How 1993 (1)

apocalypse_now (82372) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706212)

Come on... Am I the only one who remembers that biotech was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in the early 90s?
Matt Singerman

bioinformatics & comp. bio - best of both worlds (1)

chris.dag (22141) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706213)

Look into the fields of bioinformatics, genomics and computational biology. You get to work at the cutting edge of many disciplines -- high performance technical computing, genetics, molecular biology etc. etc.

Right now the field is pretty hot -- companies and labs are desperate for biologists who can code and techies who have a basic mol. bio background.

We even have our own Open Source projects to play around with :) Take a look at [] .

The REAL reason for CS appeal? (1)

mclem (34313) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706214)

Two words: geek groupies.

All three of 'em.


The value of the Sciences (2)

RenQuanta (3274) | more than 14 years ago | (#1706215)

another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.

I don't think it is any harder now at the front lines of scientific research than it was before. The only difference is that now, there's more foundational knowledge to learn than there was, say, a hundred years ago. The methods and means of learning unknown facets of the Natural World, however, remain unchanged from whence they were when Galilleo turned his telescope to the stars.

Perhaps it is but a parabolic adventure, but the rewards at the end of the parabola are more than worth the effort to climb the steep slope. I just finished a Masters in Quantum Chemistry. It was incredibly hard work, but to actually understand what makes the universe work is a thrilling experience. Moreover, some of the most fascinating people in the world are in Academia. While most of us can't hope to match them, just having known them and having worked with them is a pleasure worth the effort of the study.

I knew a German at the University I attended who fits this mold. He was a great guy, and was also tremendously intelligent. He had a PhD in mathematics and was concluding his second post-doctorate. He was working on various projetcts with phycists, and doing some neat stuff with the EE department.

I had the good fortune to spend time with this fellow in the capacity of a student. He was doing me the good favor of tutoring me with my Quantum Mechanics, as I was struggling. On his own initiative, he went out and bought the textbook we were studying, and in three weeks covered the same material which the classs had spent the last three months trying to slog through. Then with infinite patience, he explained each concept to me until I understood it. Not only was he tremendously intelligent, but he was a fabulous teacher.

My expereiences with this fine mathematician, and the other people I knew at graduate school, showed me the marvelous way in which mathetmatics, physics, and chemistry entwine together. In no other environment could I have recieved such insight into the physical world, and how it works.

The foundation laid by the five years I spent studying chemistry for my B.S. were equally enlightening in their own right. There is no other way for most people to truly understand the Scientific Method. One can look it up, and learn what people say it is, but until you have a problem to apply it to, which will take possibly years of hard work in research, you will never truly understand it.

However, after all my experiences, I am now in an IT job. I am quite happy, but I would not trade my physical science background for the world. With my experience in Theoretical Chemistry (Quantum) I can now do theoretical research on Linux boxes. Thankfully enough, my switch from Academia to Coorporate has not ended my forays into the remarkable world of Chemsitry. As for the work I do now, it is challenging, and I've always had a passion for computers. But my true love has always been, and always will be, science. For it is in science that we may learn some of the most basic truths of the world which we have found ourselves. It is within science where we may find absolute truth.

Computer Science really is _science_ (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1706216)

I think that a large part of the mass movement towards CS comes from a basic understanding of the subject matter. Many a college freshman shows up with the notion that he (and sometimes she) wishes to do something with computers or get training for a well paying job. The _computer_ part of CS refers only partially to the machines used. Perhaps Science of Computing is a more appropriate moniker. I wonder at times if college freshman would chose to enter a field whose core theories are those of Regular Grammars, Computatabily, Complexity Theory, etc..

Certainly, CS is not a mere way to learn to program well. Nor is it intended as preparation for an easy-money job (though all too often it is). CS is centered around mathematical fields, and concerns itself more with algorithms than with coding.

To be completely honest, knowing how to reduce a Nondeterministic Automaton to a Deterministic Automaton is not going to help most CS majors in the type of work they will be performing upon graduation. True, there do exist positions in which such knowledge is applicable, but most graduations are not doing programming of that caliber. Industry seems to be under the illusion that Computer Science trains people to work with computers. Will a CS education really help someone set up an NT service, or get Oracle running on Solaris? These are the jobs that await many CS majors. It is sad, but it is the truth. Is this a result of all the hype surrounding CS, that has made it appear to be the golden ticket to success that has attracted people who would otherwise have no interest in the field?

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