lecture1 - Phys 7857 Graduate Seminar How to get a job in...

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Phys 7857 Graduate Seminar “How to get a job in physics” oday: rationale for the course Today: rationale for the course
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Far away and long ago you decided to get a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy… “How many leading theoretical physicists were once insecure, small, pimply boys who got their revenge besting the jocks (who got the girls) in the one place they could—math class?” Lee Smolin, “The trouble with physics” (Houghton Mifflin 2006). More recently the thought probably morphed into “I want to get a job having to do with physics”… The problem is you conceived this thought in a highly distorting environment: a university.
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Unfortunately, attempting to become a professor at a major research university is a highly dangerous endeavor career-wise. Human beings are not very good at calculating abstract risks. As N.N. Taleb puts it “ We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial – and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly In both computational and mental effort. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassim_Taleb Yes, everyone knows that becoming a professor is “hard”. But how hard? Let’s look at the facts: http://incoherently-scattered.blogspot.com/2007/06/does-phd-pedigree-matter.html (original link is broken, you can find an archived copy in http://archive.org )
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AIP graduate program listings, which I believe are compiled in 2005-2006 list 636 professors in the top 50 institutions (I used NRC'95 rankings) in associate or assistant rank. Typically their PhD years span about 12-15 year period from about 1990 till ~2003-2004. 162 of them have foreign PhDs (more on that later) and 472 held PhDs from US. More than half of those hires have PhDs from just 8 institutions: Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Berkeley, Chicago, Stanford, Caltech and Cornell. To try to normalize these numbers (s)he divided by the number of PhD’s produced at each of those institutions in that period.
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As you can see the number drops quickly into low single digits, where these statistics stop being meaningful. But they nevertheless emphasize how rare getting a professorial job actually is. “Crew wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of
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This note was uploaded on 11/23/2011 for the course PHYSICS 7857 taught by Professor Pullin during the Spring '11 term at LSU.

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lecture1 - Phys 7857 Graduate Seminar How to get a job in...

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