Some general academia rant

The school experience. School related queries, discussions, and stories that aren't specific to a subject.

Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

engr
Posts: 322
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:08 am UTC

Some general academia rant

Postby engr » Sun Jun 24, 2012 5:06 am UTC

I am currently in an engineering grad school and, sadly, I am becoming more and more cynical about academia and about higher education in general (which is a topic for a separate thread, I guess).
Basically, I am getting that feeling that I am sitting in this ivory tower which is nothing but a machine that takes money and spits out theses, journal articles, and conference papers for the sake of making more theses, articles, and conference papers. I thought that of all fields, engineering research would be very down-to-earth, closely tied to industry. And it is - to an extent. But still, like 99% all that's done is... I dunno, really disconnected from reality?

This is what it would look like if universities existed when the wheel was invented.
Some not-so-educated, but down-to-earth, experienced in his field of work dude invents the wheel.
Immediately twenty dissertations, a hundred of journal articles, and about two hundred conference papers are written on the tribology of wheel-ground contact. State-of-the art equipment is being used to measure the roundness of the wheel to within .001 mm and to obtain the wheel-ground friction coefficient. Five conflicting theories are being developed which explain the rolling phenomenon. Neither of these theories is used by people who make the wheels, for they are to busy actually, you know, making the wheels better. Finally, some academician achieves a great breakthrough: he makes a wheel, which has 30% lower rolling resistance than others! Too bad it needs to be made of tungsten, so no one can afford it, and the industry continues to make stone wheels. Another great academician discovers that if you grease the wheel surface, it will be easier to roll on the flat terrain but will lose any traction on the hill. He spends years trying different kinds of grease, different layer thicknesses, trying in vain to reproduce the conditions of "grassy hill" in his cave. Meanwhile, people who use the wheels, knew and used that grease thing all along, although they couldn't quantify it, neither they wanted or needed to. Then, one of these guys working for minimum wage, connects two wheels with a stick and invents an axle...

Am I beating myself too hard?
Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions. Gilbert K. Chesterton

Dark Avorian
Posts: 546
Joined: Mon May 03, 2010 10:48 pm UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Dark Avorian » Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:08 pm UTC

I guess it's just a matter of opinion. Personally I think its wonderful that there are people doing that kind of intense research into the tiniest details of things. Also, I suspect that once you get into the workplace, you can find a job that has a lot more down to earth aspects.
The 62-foot tall statue of Jesus constructed out of styrofoam, wood and fiberglass resin caught on fire after the right hand of the statue was struck by lightning.


meatyochre wrote:And yea, verily the forums crowd spake: "Teehee!"

User avatar
freakish777
Posts: 354
Joined: Wed Jul 13, 2011 2:14 pm UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby freakish777 » Mon Jun 25, 2012 6:16 pm UTC

Keep in mind that a lot of Academia, as seen by big corporations, is viewed as a "how much BS are you willing to put up with?" test. Those that are willing to deal with a high threshold of it and still produce results are going to make good employees...

User avatar
KestrelLowing
Posts: 1124
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:57 pm UTC
Location: Michigan

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Jun 25, 2012 6:32 pm UTC

The way I see it, academia is supposed to be not all that relevant to consumers - it's the stuff that comes before. There's tons of research that was done that didn't have any direct application when it was done, but later helped out someone when that little area of expertise was needed.

Now, there has been some issues with academia in that it is a 'paper factory'. Sometimes people put out papers that detail this tiny, tiny little thing when more of their work should have been combined into one paper to really be a significant paper. The whole Publish or Perish issue. That's an issue and hopefully someday a better system will be devised.

And it's perfectly ok if academia is not for you - some people prefer more tangible outcomes, and that is perfectly wonderful as society needs that! I would argue though that society also needs people whose work will likely make a technology viable in the future.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:43 pm UTC

The thing you have to understand with academia, that you don't really have exposure to as a student, is where funding comes from. Sometimes, there are conditions or expectations with funding to publish a paper. Sometimes, a professor has funding from three different sources to study things that are sufficiently different to not make duplicate funding illegal, but similar enough to use the same model/equipment. Sometimes, faculty members will publish a paper but attempt to throw a bone to a more junior faculty member, so they can up their publication count. Sometimes, a paper gets shotgunned to multiple journals with slight variations because it's uncertain who will accept it, and more than one journal accepts it. Some papers are adapted specifically for conferences, and will include an extra section or paragraph because the professor knows that that asshole from University of Whateverthefuck is going to nitpick his method.

There are programs that help the transition from academia to industry. Industry doesn't just come up with some great thing randomly. The major advances that come out of industry are usually the culmination of 10+ years work. 15 years ago, that work was in a university setting. 15 years from now, the work in the current university setting will be rolled out in industry.

The publish or perish concept is bullshit. The ivory tower concept is bullshit. Faculty research what they get funded for. Sure, sometimes funding comes for ideas that don't have immediate application. But that's still a long way off of "research for research's sake". Trace back where that funding comes from and you can begin to get a better picture of why/how academia works the way it does. All those journal articles have a line that says "This work sponsored under NSF Grant Number 23984729384791uasdajh". That grant info should be publicly available. Look it up (it's not obvious how).

User avatar
KestrelLowing
Posts: 1124
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:57 pm UTC
Location: Michigan

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:57 pm UTC

gorcee wrote:[...]

The publish or perish concept is bullshit. The ivory tower concept is bullshit. Faculty research what they get funded for. Sure, sometimes funding comes for ideas that don't have immediate application. But that's still a long way off of "research for research's sake". Trace back where that funding comes from and you can begin to get a better picture of why/how academia works the way it does. All those journal articles have a line that says "This work sponsored under NSF Grant Number 23984729384791uasdajh". That grant info should be publicly available. Look it up (it's not obvious how).


I'm just curious if you could elaborate on the whole 'bullshit' thing. I'm not quite sure what you're saying, and I think I'll likely agree with you, but I'd just like to know your thought process. I guess I don't know specifically what you're calling out and I'm curious.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:35 pm UTC

From the perspective of someone in grad school for biology, I agree with your perceptions but not your conclusions. Academia is an estoeric ivory tower with little sensibility about the direct application or integration of their discoveries. That said, there are a number of (hopefully!) better venues to plug into once you have a PhD. Unfortunately, PhD training isn't just applicable to doing lab work; the training you recieve in information analysis and whatnot will be useful to a number of employers.

I hope.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 3:09 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:
gorcee wrote:[...]

The publish or perish concept is bullshit. The ivory tower concept is bullshit. Faculty research what they get funded for. Sure, sometimes funding comes for ideas that don't have immediate application. But that's still a long way off of "research for research's sake". Trace back where that funding comes from and you can begin to get a better picture of why/how academia works the way it does. All those journal articles have a line that says "This work sponsored under NSF Grant Number 23984729384791uasdajh". That grant info should be publicly available. Look it up (it's not obvious how).


I'm just curious if you could elaborate on the whole 'bullshit' thing. I'm not quite sure what you're saying, and I think I'll likely agree with you, but I'd just like to know your thought process. I guess I don't know specifically what you're calling out and I'm curious.


I mean a little more specific to engineering, but in general, publish or perish is a bullshit concept that academics (or, more often, wanna-be academics) throw out to make it seem like their job is harder.

SMBC Comics says it best: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2495

People get paid, and in return they're expected to deliver something, whether it be a good or a service. Academia has grown up around the idea of open promotion of research through peer-reviewed publications, and as a result, career progression is based on building your reputation as a researcher.

This, however, is not unique.

Stockbrokers build their career based on their rate of return and ability to manage assets. They're expected deliverable is the execution of a financial plan. Programmers build their career based on their ability to write code. Salesmen build their careers on the ability to sell products. There's really no difference, other than the population of academics is much smaller. Being a good programmer, stockbroker, or salesman is just as much "publish or perish" as being a professor. The only difference is that there is an a priori assumption that a professor is super-smart, and therefore can produce high quality work. Society has long adapted to supporting shitty stockbrokers, salesmen, and programmers. I don't have statistics for it, but I would be willing to wager that the rate of dismissal---including failure to achieve tenure---is higher among non-professorial types than among university faculty. In other words, I'm betting that the "perish" part of "publish or perish" is actually applied much more frequently in the private sector than in academia.

So yeah, if you want to be an academic, you have to do a good job. If you want to work for Boeing and design satellites, you have to do a good job. Nothing special there.

As far as the ivory tower concept goes, as long as money is involved, there is no purity. The only difference is that the research doesn't have to be tied to a specific product, fiscal year, or revenue increase. Professors (in engineering) still only get to do what they can convince other people is important enough to fund. (Other disciplines mileage may vary).

Edit:

I'll illustrate this a bit with a little game. As I've mentioned before, for my job, I do a lot of multi-disciplinary research for a private contractor. We very frequently subcontract to Universities and faculty. Part of what my company does is helps to transition academic research to industry and the real world. For subcontracting agreements, the professor/faculty member has to specify an hourly rate.

Assuming that academia is an ivory tower, what do you think they'd charge per hour?

User avatar
freakish777
Posts: 354
Joined: Wed Jul 13, 2011 2:14 pm UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby freakish777 » Tue Jun 26, 2012 4:31 pm UTC

gorcee wrote:Assuming that academia is an ivory tower, what do you think they'd charge per hour?


$400? That would put them inline with decent lawyers right? And a professor with an ego couldn't possibly make less than a lawyer he knows he's smarter than...

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 26, 2012 4:53 pm UTC

freakish777 wrote:
gorcee wrote:Assuming that academia is an ivory tower, what do you think they'd charge per hour?


$400? That would put them inline with decent lawyers right? And a professor with an ego couldn't possibly make less than a lawyer he knows he's smarter than...

DAHAHAHAHA
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 5:41 pm UTC

$300-400 is about right for a professor working a subcontract to a private research project. A lot of government research projects have small business and university requirements. For instance, NIH R21 grants and STTR contracts must have a university (or, technically, non-profit research institution) component. STTR contracts have to have at least 30% going to the non-profit.

The hourly rate does include some University overhead, but the fact that the University is managing revenue through its professors' research contracts and subcontracts doesn't exactly detract from my "ivory tower is bullshit" argument.

Say $350/hour. Billable in 15-minute increments. How long does it take to modify one paper to be slightly different to submit to another journal/technical report? 5 hours? 20-30 hours if you re-write the whole damn thing (excluding the actual data analysis parts, which you schlep off to graduate students anyways). And the department is taking maybe 50% (or more) of that billable charge?

Sure, publish or perish is about purity.

User avatar
KestrelLowing
Posts: 1124
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:57 pm UTC
Location: Michigan

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:22 pm UTC

Ah, yes I agree with you - academics should produce something! My main problem is that it's often based on the number, not quality of papers.

Also, professors have other duties than just research. They also have to teach. This is often overlooked so professors that have higher teaching loads will be expected to produce the same number of papers as a professor who has lower teaching loads.

So that's my issue with publish or perish, but I can totally see where you're coming from.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:57 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:Ah, yes I agree with you - academics should produce something! My main problem is that it's often based on the number, not quality of papers.

Also, professors have other duties than just research. They also have to teach. This is often overlooked so professors that have higher teaching loads will be expected to produce the same number of papers as a professor who has lower teaching loads.

So that's my issue with publish or perish, but I can totally see where you're coming from.


For many professors, teaching is so low on their priorities that it's about equivalent to my obligation to keep my notebooks filed. Something they have to do to satisfy part of their base salary requirements, but that's about it. Especially established professors, who can teach the same course out of a single set of notes every year.

There are, of course, exceptions. I have had the great fortune to learn from a number of professors who took teaching very seriously and enjoyed it very much.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:00 pm UTC

If you think 10 papers in a low impact factor journal is better than one in nature or cell or science, you have a lot of real world exposure to brush up on.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:22 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:If you think 10 papers in a low impact factor journal is better than one in nature or cell or science, you have a lot of real world exposure to brush up on.


You must have imagined the part where I said anything about raising academic impact scores, because I didn't.

Reputation as a researcher means many things. Part of those things are getting your name known by folks in government and private industry, who give all of about one and a half fucks about the journals you publish in. At that point, its about connections, and publishing a paper with someone from a company in a low-impact journal leads to much more future collaboration than aiming only for high impact scores.

Also, a grad student telling someone to brush up on real world exposure is kind of LOL, sorry. Grad students are extremely sheltered not only from the real world, but from the actual internal workings of academia, by quite a bit. Maybe you've been out in the real world before entering grad school. But I'm here right now, literally dealing with these issues at the moment (I'm waiting on some emails, which is why I even have time to post this). And yeah, that's how it works. There's no ivory tower in academia. There's just more of a bubble shielding you from the invisible hand of the market.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:42 pm UTC

gorcee wrote:You must have imagined the part where I said anything about raising academic impact scores, because I didn't.
KestrelLowing wrote:My main problem is that it's often based on the number, not quality of papers.

Perhaps this is why I should have quoted her instead of replying to the thread at large.

gorcee wrote:Part of those things are getting your name known by folks in government and private industry, who give all of about one and a half fucks about the journals you publish in. At that point, its about connections, and publishing a paper with someone from a company in a low-impact journal leads to much more future collaboration than aiming only for high impact scores.

You'll notice I never said that good work doesn't come out of lower impact factor journals; that's obviously a ridiculous claim. You'll also notice I never said 'Don't publish unless it's Nature'. That's also ridiculous advice.

gorcee wrote:Maybe you've been out in the real world before entering grad school. But I'm here right now, literally dealing with these issues at the momen

That's adorable! I trust your venerable experience gives you ALL the answers, yes? What's even your point here, that the job security and lack of requirement for filing taxes as earnings somehow makes the observations of a grad student invalid? I'm telling KL that the notion that most academics are solely focused on quantity, not quality of their papers is a rather incorrect evaluation of the state of academia.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:27 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
gorcee wrote:Maybe you've been out in the real world before entering grad school. But I'm here right now, literally dealing with these issues at the momen

That's adorable! I trust your venerable experience gives you ALL the answers, yes? What's even your point here, that the job security and lack of requirement for filing taxes as earnings somehow makes the observations of a grad student invalid? I'm telling KL that the notion that most academics are solely focused on quantity, not quality of their papers is a rather incorrect evaluation of the state of academia.


My point that is that the Ivory Tower concept -- where academia this grand environment untouched by outside forces, where researchers can do what they want for the good of all mankind -- is a hopelessly naive notion, and one that academics like to pass on to their students, much like parents pass on their erstwhile dreams to their children.

Maybe in some disciplines this is the case (classics, for instance), but in engineering, which is the whole point of this thread, such is far from the truth.

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Tue Jun 26, 2012 11:50 pm UTC

Academia is perhaps one of the most exploitative work arrangements in modern society. A grad student signs up for 6+ years of 80 hour work weeks- the university gets a cheap instructor, the student's adviser gets the labor he needs to write papers, and the student himself gets nothing but a piss-poor wage and training for a job that mostly does not exist. The majority of phds I know got jobs in industry that in no way use their phd training- they work in insurance, finance, management consulting, etc. These are jobs they could have held after undergrad, they've just lost 6 years of their life to an exploitative system that burns human capital.

The tremendous stress on the academic labor market can be seen in the working conditions people are willing to put up with- I know chemistry and physics phds who are in there late 30s still working for < 40k a year in dead end postdocs because they can't find any other jobs that there training is useful for. The competition for jobs also leads to a proliferation of mediocre papers since this is the yardstick by which your job prospects can be measured. Most of the postdocs I know routinely crank out two or three barely-publishable easy projects in addition to the work they consider important. The lucky people who land faculty positions (myself included) only won a lottery- we are no more hardworking or brilliant than our compatriots languishing in dead-end postdocs.

If you are becoming cynical about the academic world- you should. We need fewer scientists willing to put up with awful career prospects, low pay, and long training periods or the system will never change.

User avatar
Dopefish
Posts: 855
Joined: Sun Sep 20, 2009 5:46 am UTC
Location: The Well of Wishes

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Dopefish » Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:34 am UTC

How much original paper writing do professors who have grad students under their wing actually do themselves?

Most of what I've seen is grad students (or occasionally undergrad researchers) writing the paper, then the supervisor edits, and then the supervisor ends up being a coauthor, if not first author, of the resulting paper. Now to be fair, the supervisor tends to 'edit' by way of crossing out everything in a red pen and rewriting half of it, and the supervisor is often the one who pushed the research into motion (as well as the one getting the funding), but the papers themselves seem to always be originally written by grad students.

Looking through the papers listed on my honours project supervisor's site, there's only two written exclusively by him in the past dozen years, and the rest are coauthored by grads and former grads. Is this typical?

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:51 am UTC

Looking through the papers listed on my honours project supervisor's site, there's only two written exclusively by him in the past dozen years, and the rest are coauthored by grads and former grads. Is this typical?


The only atypical thing is that he has two papers written exclusively. Most professors have little time for the lab/simulation/pen-and-paper work. Most of the job is begging for cash and demonstrating that you haven't wasted that cash (so you can beg for more cash).

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:04 am UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Looking through the papers listed on my honours project supervisor's site, there's only two written exclusively by him in the past dozen years, and the rest are coauthored by grads and former grads. Is this typical?


The only atypical thing is that he has two papers written exclusively. Most professors have little time for the lab/simulation/pen-and-paper work. Most of the job is begging for cash and demonstrating that you haven't wasted that cash (so you can beg for more cash).


Basically this.

Part of this is the fault of academia becoming an industry unto itself. Part of it is increasingly onerous requirements and regulations from the government (for better or for worse; the merit is debatable, but what is certain is that the regulations prevent no waste, since veteran and saavy faculty and department heads can navigate those waters with aplomb).

Here's the thing. A PhD takes at least 5 years of postgraduate work. It's worth about 2-3 years of experience in industry. Get a PhD for two reasons, and two reasons only: you have a good sense of what academia is like, and you really, really want to be a professor (meaning, you really, really want to be heavily involved in multiple levels of management and bureaucracy as a consequence); or, for personal reasons.

A Masters will get you almost everywhere you need to go, both in industry and government. And if you want to keep doing research, you need to go out and do the legwork to find the money trail: see who's getting the money, and for what. Go work for them. You'll get all the idealistic perks of academia--publications, conferences, travel, working with other world-class researchers--and a whole lot more money.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:15 am UTC

gorcee wrote:My point that is that the Ivory Tower concept -- where academia this grand environment untouched by outside forces, where researchers can do what they want for the good of all mankind -- is a hopelessly naive notion, and one that academics like to pass on to their students, much like parents pass on their erstwhile dreams to their children.

There is some truth to what you wrote, but I'm curious why you wrote it; I never made any such claim that Academia is a glorious land of green grass and complete and utter intellectual freedom.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:Academia is perhaps one of the most exploitative work arrangements in modern society. A grad student signs up for 6+ years of 80 hour work weeks- the university gets a cheap instructor, the student's adviser gets the labor he needs to write papers, and the student himself gets nothing but a piss-poor wage and training for a job that mostly does not exist. The majority of phds I know got jobs in industry that in no way use their phd training- they work in insurance, finance, management consulting, etc. These are jobs they could have held after undergrad, they've just lost 6 years of their life to an exploitative system that burns human capital.

I don't see eye to eye with you on this. While I don't feel the academia rat race is for me by any stretch of the mind, I think you've got to look to those who pursue it, and pursue it successfully, to understand why someone would dedicate 5+ years of their lives to pursuing a PhD. But lets backup;
I am current a graduate student in the life sciences. My stipend is approximately 35k, health insurance included. I have job security until I graduate. From the university, I get an education, and prestige and the opportunity to do research (social currency). In exchange, I have to TA one year worth of classes. Any TAing I do on top of that, I get paid for. Now, I'm not claiming by a long shot that my route is the best route, or even that it offsets lost years that could have been spent gunning for promotions in an industry position. But it's not the scam you seem to be suggesting. Whiiiiich leads me to my next point;
SU3SU2U1 wrote:I know chemistry and physics phds who are in there late 30s still working for < 40k a year in dead end postdocs because they can't find any other jobs that there training is useful for.

Of course, this is a serious problem; the issue however, is not necessarily that our training is useless, but that they are continuing to hope for a faculty position. You yourself pointed out that;
SU3SU2U1 wrote:The majority of phds I know got jobs in industry that in no way use their phd training- they work in insurance, finance, management consulting, etc.

means that our training is quite useful.
Dopefish wrote:Most of what I've seen is grad students (or occasionally undergrad researchers) writing the paper, then the supervisor edits, and then the supervisor ends up being a coauthor, if not first author, of the resulting paper.

The effort tends to be fairly collaborative, but this depends on the professor. What is incredibly uncommon is a professor taking first authorship on a paper, at least in the biological sciences. The last few names on a paper are to indicate what lab the work was done in. The first few names is to honor the individual who did most of the work. Everything in between is filler. Typically.

gorcee wrote:A Masters will get you almost everywhere you need to go, both in industry and government. And if you want to keep doing research, you need to go out and do the legwork to find the money trail: see who's getting the money, and for what. Go work for them. You'll get all the idealistic perks of academia--publications, conferences, travel, working with other world-class researchers--and a whole lot more money.

This is a fine attitude to have, but a Masters will cap your advancement in many sciences. Granted, your ambition will be your cap, but a Masters holding scientist is going to have a harder time than a PhD holding scientist convincing organizations to hand them buttloads of cash in order to continue doing research.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:22 am UTC

Part of it is increasingly onerous requirements and regulations from the government


I disagree with this- in the last ten years its become much, much easier to apply for grants. The problem is actually getting funding.

The biggest issue is that the number of postdocs has expanded almost exponentially since the late 1970s but funding and faculty positions have not. You get stuck in a prisoner's dilemma situation- everyone tries to work harder, but because everyone is working harder no one can get ahead. So postdocs are churning out tons of grant applications, as are early career professors hoping to get tenure. The problem, fundamentally, is a lack of opportunity.

Get a PhD for two reasons, and two reasons only: you have a good sense of what academia is like, and you really, really want to be a professor


This is a terrible reason- its like learning to play the guitar because you want to be a rockstar. The overwhelming majority of phds will spend a few years in postdoc limbo and then bounce into an industry job that probably doesn't even require a masters. This is doubly true if you get your phd in a science instead of an engineering field-careers in science rarely last longer than 5 years of postdocs. The only reason to get a phd is that you think getting a phd will be fun. Its not going to earn you more money, and its unlikely to earn you a career in your field.

Ironically, if you get a phd in math or physics you have probably diminished your odds of traditional tech career (engineering fields, etc) (vs just a math or physics undergrad. I know several physics undergrads who got hired by engineering companies- the only physics phds I know who got hired by engineering companies work in sales and marketing. Companies don't want to train you- so picking up 6+ years (maybe even 10+ years if you do some postdocs) of the wrong sort of training makes you harder to hire. Get a phd = career in finance, insurance, management consulting.

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:45 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I don't see eye to eye with you on this. While I don't feel the academia rat race is for me by any stretch of the mind, I think you've got to look to those who pursue it, and pursue it successfully, to understand why someone would dedicate 5+ years of their lives to pursuing a PhD. But lets backup;


I am someone who pursued a scientific career successfully. I won the job lottery. However, most of my colleagues and collaborators over the years did not. I admit readily that some of my much more talented colleagues did not win the job lottery. I'm at best a mediocre physicist and I know dozens of exceptional physicists who couldn't get jobs and now work for insurance companies and banks.

Also, you are under a misconception if you think its only 5+ years of a phd. Its 5 years of phd, but then 6 years of postdoc before you even have a shot at a tenure track position (at least in my field). Even still maybe 1/10 that go through the whole ten years has a shot at a full-time position.

I like my job, but I also have to be honest with myself- I was exploited by my mentors, and I now exploit my students. My students are being trained for academic positions that don't exist- I do my best to promote my students but I'm fairly certain none of my first-world students (no matter how hard working) will ever have full-time research position in physics, barring a revolution in funding. However, a few of my Chinese students might do well in Chinese universities- they seem to be ramping up and they are desperate to hire US trained Chinese citizens. Unfortunately, this isn't an option my American and European students.

I think we can all agree that if 0% of phds get careers in their field, the system is obviously exploitative (they are using you as low paid, highly skilled labor by claiming to be 'training' you for a job that does not exist). If 100% of phds get careers in their field, the system is truly fantastic- you get paid while you train for an exciting career in science. So what percentage is the cross-over? How many phds have to end up with careers in their field for the system not to be exploitation?

I am current a graduate student in the life sciences. My stipend is approximately 35k, health insurance included.


You make almost double the national grad student average (18k-20k). You are paid almost as well as some postdocs (a postdoc in high energy physics pays about 35k-40k). Your university is exceptionally generous, which probably colors your outlook a bit on your salary. You also haven't yet faced the job market- grad students are purposely insulated from the realities of academia by their advisers.

I recently talked with a colleague about what he told his students about career prospects, his reply "I try to dodge the question, or offer a platitude like 'all you can do to prepare is make sure you publish often' Look- if you are honest with potential students they'll just end up working for someone less honest, and the lack of students will keep you from getting tenure." Professors have every incentive to hid reality from graduate students- its part of the flawed system.

means that our training is quite useful.


Did you read what I said? I specifically stated that most of the phds I know work in jobs that don't at all require the phd training. Working in insurance,finance and management consulting doesn't at all use phd level training- you can tell because they hire micro-biologists and high energy physicists to do the exact same work. Talk to a phd in management consulting or insurance and they'll readily admit they don't use anything they trained for. Some physics/math phds in finance use some of the math they learned, but even thats rare. Generally, its complete retraining- the phd gives them no advantage over the MBA or MD. A chemistry/physics/bio phd working in management consulting is a phenomenal waste of training.

The only reason to get a phd is that you enjoyed the grad school process. You are very unlikely to do science for a living.

This is a fine attitude to have, but a Masters will cap your advancement in many sciences. Granted, your ambition will be your cap, but a Masters holding scientist is going to have a harder time than a PhD holding scientist convincing organizations to hand them buttloads of cash in order to continue doing research.


You need a phd to advance in science, sure, but hardly any phds get to have careers in science. The median physics phd has a career in physics lasting about 4.5 years (roughly 1.5 postdocs), the median bio phd is probably similar, but there might be more industry outlets. All the job talks I've seen suggest that bio is as crowded as physics. That means your training lasts longer than your post-training career.
Last edited by SU3SU2U1 on Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:03 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:58 am UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I am someone who pursued a scientific career successfully. I won the job lottery.

Yes, you stated as such, and that's pretty awesome for you. Out of curiosity, since you're offering the information as proof of argument, do you mind telling us what university you are faculty at? Or rather, if you don't wish to disclose, do you mind telling us if your position is a primarily teaching posting, or primarily research (I wager the latter from your other comments)? You said you had students who were preparing for faculty positions in China; how many years have you been a professor for?
SU3SU2U1 wrote:Also, you are under a misconception if you think its only 5+ years of a phd. Its 5 years of phd, but then 6 years of postdoc before you even have a shot at a tenure track position (at least in my field). Even still maybe 1/10 that go through the whole ten years has a shot at a full-time position.

I said nothing about the pursuit of a tenure track position. I was quite clear in stating I'm rather certain pursuing such a position is not for me. The average time of graduation in my program is on the long side at 6 years, and the department is currently trying to usher us out quicker. From my program and programs my friends are in, 5+ years is not a hopeful estimate.
SU3SU2U1 wrote:You make almost double the national grad student average (18k-20k).

I'm aware my school pays well, but every graduate student I've spoken to makes 28k+. Perhaps I only know people who goto prestigious schools, or schools in higher cost of living areas. And as for postdocs; every single post doc I work with makes more than myself. Evidently, physics is not a profitable field to be in academically.
SU3SU2U1 wrote:The only reason to get a phd is that you enjoyed the grad school process. You are very unlikely to do science for a living.

A rather curious claim; again, I know many PhD's who are still working in science. Perhaps not bench work, but they are certainly using their scientific training in their career.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:30 am UTC

I was a liberal arts prof. for five years at a small school before I was denied tenure (the primary mark against me was a blog). Luckily, I failed upward, and I now work at a middle-tier research institute (middle-tier in my field, exceptional in another sub-field of physics, which works out for me as I get very talented graduate students who decide to change subfields). I won't cite my institution, primarily out of fear once more losing my bid for tenure.

I've had a few more students and postdocs in my time at the research university than is normal, due to an exceptionally lucky funding situation in my first two years. I currently have two Chinese students early in their graduate school experience, and its my impression they both want to immediately apply for faculty positions in China after their phds. They expect to get them, but I have no idea how much of that is naivety and how much is their understanding of China's faculty market.

I'm also not suggesting my job is proof of argument, I just wanted to be clear that I do understand the motivations that bring someone into science. I could write eloquently about the joy of being able to pursue science. However, my joy has been tempered by knowing a lot of very talented people who sacrificed very productive years of their life to a system that ultimately doesn't value human capital that much. Surely all bio students are familiar with the story of Doug Prasher- its truly awful that the pursuit of something so good can be so cruel to such a talented scientist.

I'm aware my school pays well, but every graduate student I've spoken to makes 28k+. Perhaps I only know people who goto prestigious schools, or schools in higher cost of living areas. And as for postdocs; every single post doc I work with makes more than myself. Evidently, physics is not a profitable field to be in academically.


Of course every postdoc you work with makes more than you. Universities have payscales. However, there are also biopostdocs who only make 40-50k, which is a bit more than you, but not so much. Physics is probably one of the lowest paid fields in academic science only because we are older so our ramp-up and then decline in funding happened ages ago. Biology is still at the tail end of its funding-ramp-up. Now that the crunch is happening, expect conditions to steadily worsen, as they have in physics. If you read this Goodstein article: http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=16 biology is still at the end of its Golden Age. Physics is well-past.

A rather curious claim; again, I know many PhD's who are still working in science. Perhaps not bench work, but they are certainly using their scientific training in their career.


I would postulate your sample is biased- you are currently a working phd student which means most of the phds you know are your collaborators. You are unlikely in your average day to run into the phds who didn't keep using their scientific training. Many of your labmates who have finished up are probably still in postdocs,etc. The attrition from the field generally starts 3-4 years after graduate school, which means around the time you finish you'll start hearing about postdocs you worked with who have left the field.

I'd estimate 4/5 of the phds I know (mostly physicists,mostly theoretical) are working far outside of science. My sample is also biased- theoretical physics has been the most competitive area of academia for most of my career, and there are very, very few jobs available for us in industry.

The APS numbers suggest (using their numbers for industrial jobs, and the national numbers for phd production) that maybe 30%-40% of physics phds get a job in physics. All of the talks on job markets I've seen suggest bio is in similar straights (industrial positions at pharma companies in biochem are drying up, fewer bio-related start ups,etc). Generally, if the length of time spent in postdocs is increasing in a field, its a sure-fire sign that industrial opportunities are drying up (its industrial demand that provides the release valve).

I'm not saying don't get a phd- I'm saying do a phd if you find the process fun, and only then. If you look at grad school as a necessary evil to get the job you want, you are doing it wrong.

EvanED
Posts: 4331
Joined: Mon Aug 07, 2006 6:28 am UTC
Location: Madison, WI
Contact:

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby EvanED » Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:08 am UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Get a PhD for two reasons, and two reasons only: you have a good sense of what academia is like, and you really, really want to be a professor
This is a terrible reason- its like learning to play the guitar because you want to be a rockstar. The overwhelming majority of phds will spend a few years in postdoc limbo and then bounce into an industry job that probably doesn't even require a masters.

Probability that you'll get a professorship if you go to grad school: admittedly fairly small. My "out of my ass" guess was 2-5%, (edit but according to mostly-uncited posts here it's actually well into the double digits; some measures are above 50%. This site quotes a book saying that 23% of physics PhDs have a tenure-track position 6 years after graduation, but then looks further at what people want, and discovers that if you're actually really looking for such a position, the chance you'll have at that six year mark is actually probably well above 50%. And that's just tenure track. :-) (Of course, who knows what'd happen when your tenure review comes up. That 6 years is inside that window.) So my out-of-the-ass guess was low by an order of magnitude.)

Probability that you'll get a professorship if you don't go to grad school: 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% (there's some quantum randomness that you will instantly acquire a PhD anyway)

If you "really, really" want to become a professor, which is the terrible decision?

SU3SU2U1 wrote:Also, you are under a misconception if you think its only 5+ years of a phd. Its 5 years of phd, but then 6 years of postdoc before you even have a shot at a tenure track position (at least in my field).

That is something that definitely depends on the field. In computer science, for example, my informal feeling is that new associate professors have about a 50/50 shot of having any postdoc experience vs being hired directly out of grad school. (I might be off by a bit, but the point is that hiring straight from grad school is not an exceptional event by any means in CS.)

Izawwlgood wrote:
SU3SU2U1 wrote:You make almost double the national grad student average (18k-20k).

I'm aware my school pays well, but every graduate student I've spoken to makes 28k+.

For another data point, I go to a (bottom of the) top 10 university in computer science, a well-funded field, and my 2011 university income was only barely above that level. When I was still taking classes (traditionally you get an effective and fairly large bump in pay when you transition from classes to dissertator status), it was rather lower; the AGI on my 2010 taxes was less than 25K.

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:24 am UTC

EvanED wrote:If you "really, really" want to become a professor, which is the terrible decision?


It depends on how much you want to be a professor- for most people who think they want to be professors its a bad decision. Still, if you like the experience of getting a phd, do it- you'll have a great experience even if you don't land that professor job. But if you aren't enjoying graduate school, its simply not worth it.

I loved graduate school- its a decision I would make again, even if I knew I wouldn't land the career I want. Its a decision I'd make again even though I know I was horribly exploited- after all it was my passion for the field that allowed me to be horribly exploited. But if you don't have that great love for the experience, even if you get to be a professor, it'll be hard to make up for all that time you've spent spinning your wheels- AND you aren't likely to get to become a professor which means its an even bigger waste.

That is something that definitely depends on the field.


Thats true, and also true in some fields of engineering. I should be very clear- my comments apply to the traditional sciences and mathematics, not to engineering and computer science. Literally every CS phd I know had a good faculty position at a research university right after graduate school. Using the terminology of Goodstein's article, CS and some fields of engineering might be in the middle of their golden age. I know some former physicists who took refuge in CS departments (which I think is basically unheard of now).

Edit:
This site quotes a book saying that 23% of physics PhDs have a tenure-track position 6 years after graduation, but then looks further at what people want, and discovers that if you're actually really looking for such a position, the chance you'll have at that six year mark is actually probably well above 50%. And that's just tenure track. (Of course, who knows what'd happen when your tenure review comes up. That 6 years is inside that window.)


That number jives with my 4/5 leave the field sample of phds I know. In physics (the field quoted), 6 years puts you at the START of your faculty experience (which is why the APS job studies pick that number). It takes 5ish years of postdoc before you can apply for a faculty position- so it'll be another 5-7 years before those people come up for tenure review. Also, bear in mind the most recent job market numbers with APS analyzed data ended their 6 year period in the mid 2000s, which was a fantastic job market for physicists, all things considered. A wave of retirements started in the late 90s and lasted until about 2005- so these are the numbers from a GREAT job market (and, thankfully, the numbers I experienced when I was looking for postdocs and then employment!).

The other thing to consider- according to the management study cited, more people wanted R&D (established firm or start-up) jobs than tenure track positions, and according to the APS jobs numbers more physicists work in tenure track positions than work in R&D. The highest category of desire seemed to be government labs- but there are less of those than tenure track and they are more competitive! The lack of industrial physics jobs pushes people back into the postdoc market, because most people value ANY job in physics (i.e. if its postdoc or leaving physics, they choose postdoc, even if they'd PREFER R&D or another industrial position to academic work). So if we broaden the question to 'get the job they want' we can guesstimate thats still only around 20-30%. Notice the desirable job survey didn't include management consulting,finance,insurance, etc- which are MAJOR employers of physicists. According to a former colleague, his bank employs more physics phds than IBM and Bell Labs combined.

As an anecdote about relative job market numbers- look at the comments on that post. There most recent faculty search had 300 applicants, 30 of which could have made the shortlist if they'd been in the pool of candidates in 2003. Thats a much, much weaker job market.

User avatar
Dopefish
Posts: 855
Joined: Sun Sep 20, 2009 5:46 am UTC
Location: The Well of Wishes

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Dopefish » Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:08 am UTC

I feel like physics is limited in job opportunties by its very nature more so then many other fields. People love their computers and their drugs, so employers have a direct need for CS people to do their thing, and the various flavours of bio/chem to do theirs.

Physics on the other hand, is perhaps a (purer and more awesome but) not terribly practical version of engineering, and so most of the jobs a physicist may be capable of are actually engineering jobs, and hence engineers get them. Most companies don't actually need a pure physics type, and that's kind of off putting if you actually enjoy physics. You can push at the academia route, but you need to be lucky and willing to be exploited for that to work out, and really what are your alternatives?

Theres the D-Wave folks who do quantum computing stuff, so they probably have a direct need for pure physics types, but thats just the one place I've heard of where physics seems directly applicable. I know at least one physicist who does some acoustics stuff which I don't know enough details to say if it's perhaps secretly an engineering type job, but that's pretty much the extent of it. That seems to suggest that if as a physicist you don't feel up to the lifestyle of academia, you'd better just accept that insurance or similar is in your future.

Also, crap, I only just noticed SU3SU2U1's edit which wasn't there when I first read his post, and I'm largely repeating him. It's somewhat unfortunate that what is being said is the same, since I'm in the recent graduate boat, and (since I'm a tool with regards to applying to grad school) I've got at least a year of not being a graduate student to squint at the job market and be terrified by the outlook. Wheres a magic physics based 'real' job that wants to further go on and pay for me to get a masters and then come back to it? That'd be really cool. Too bad it only lives in my dreams. :|

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:35 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Get a PhD for two reasons, and two reasons only: you have a good sense of what academia is like, and you really, really want to be a professor


This is a terrible reason- its like learning to play the guitar because you want to be a rockstar.


Yes, but if you really, really, really want to be a rockstar, you have to play the guitar (or drums, or sing, you get my point). So if you really, really, really want to be a professor, you have to start with a Phd.

Izawwlgood wrote:
gorcee wrote:My point that is that the Ivory Tower concept -- where academia this grand environment untouched by outside forces, where researchers can do what they want for the good of all mankind -- is a hopelessly naive notion, and one that academics like to pass on to their students, much like parents pass on their erstwhile dreams to their children.

There is some truth to what you wrote, but I'm curious why you wrote it; I never made any such claim that Academia is a glorious land of green grass and complete and utter intellectual freedom.


Because of earlier in the thread where other posters allege that academia is an ivory tower.


Izawwlgood wrote:
gorcee wrote:A Masters will get you almost everywhere you need to go, both in industry and government. And if you want to keep doing research, you need to go out and do the legwork to find the money trail: see who's getting the money, and for what. Go work for them. You'll get all the idealistic perks of academia--publications, conferences, travel, working with other world-class researchers--and a whole lot more money.

This is a fine attitude to have, but a Masters will cap your advancement in many sciences. Granted, your ambition will be your cap, but a Masters holding scientist is going to have a harder time than a PhD holding scientist convincing organizations to hand them buttloads of cash in order to continue doing research.


I have a Bachelor's, and do research, and over the last two years, I'm betting that the grants/contracts that I've been a principle or a key on total as much, or more, than most junior faculty (which is a fair comparison, since if I had gone through academia, I'd be at the late stages of a post-doc now).

I think that you're unaware of how much money flows, and to where. Yes, without a PhD, you will have a much harder time climbing the ladder in academia and securing funding. But there's this whole big huge world of research funding out there that doesn't require a PhD. And that research funding is often no less cutting edge, puts you closer to the field in many cases, and you have just as much autonomy as you would in a university.

User avatar
freakish777
Posts: 354
Joined: Wed Jul 13, 2011 2:14 pm UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby freakish777 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:18 pm UTC

Dopefish wrote:Wheres a magic physics based 'real' job that wants to further go on and pay for me to get a masters and then come back to it?



Funded by the Department of Defense.

Take your pick:

Blow stuff up. (Missiles, Aircraft, Ships)
Blow up stuff that is trying to blow you up. (Ship/Aircraft self defense systems)
Talk with people who are very far away. (Satellites)

Note that funding by the DoD could also mean places that get contracts from the DoD like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, etc.

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:30 pm UTC

freakish777 wrote:
Dopefish wrote:Wheres a magic physics based 'real' job that wants to further go on and pay for me to get a masters and then come back to it?



Funded by the Department of Defense.

Take your pick:

Blow stuff up. (Missiles, Aircraft, Ships)
Blow up stuff that is trying to blow you up. (Ship/Aircraft self defense systems)
Talk with people who are very far away. (Satellites)

Note that funding by the DoD could also mean places that get contracts from the DoD like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, etc.


The DoD does a lot more than that.

For instance:

Aviation safety
Communications
Maintenance technology improvement
Health Care technology
Power systems technology
Image processing
Big data fusion and processing
Training and education
Material science development
...


Most of DoD's money doesn't go to weapons development and deployment. Remember, the DoD is responsible for a whole lot more than blowing things up. Much of the DoD's costs go to mundane things like maintenance, human resources, and the like.

A recent GAO study showed that advancing corrosion research can save the US Govt something like $800 Billion, with a B, over (I think) a 10-year time frame. That's civilian and military applications, combined. The DoD is really interested in things that can reduce its expenses. Cynical though you may be, the Department spends a lot of money, but it is actually *always* looking to spend less.

Most modern technology is derived from DoD funding. Fly on an airplane lately? There's hundreds of millions of dollars of flight control research and aviation safety research on that plane that came from DoD spending. Buy something made in China? Those ships can operate affordably thanks to marine engineering studies in materials science, many of which come through the Navy.

Even work on weapons platforms, eg, the F-35, is going to transition to the civilian market. In fact, much of that research is unclassified, because it is not necessarily platform-specific.

A physicist can do a lot with the DoD without designing weapons. There's a bunch of money being spent in space object location and tracking, for instance.

User avatar
freakish777
Posts: 354
Joined: Wed Jul 13, 2011 2:14 pm UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby freakish777 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:03 pm UTC

gorcee wrote:The DoD does a lot more than that.


I'm aware.

Aviation safety - lump in with Aircraft, or protect our aircraft, which can be seen as aiding either "Blow stuff up" or "Don't get blown up by the stuff that is trying to blow us up."
Communications - Encompassed in "Talk to people far away," the cryptography side is non-physics related, as per the comment I was responding too
Maintenance technology improvement - More engineering than physics I would assume
Health Care technology - Depends on the technology in question. If we're talking things like MRI scanners, yes
Power systems technology - I knew I forgot something, it was "Make Energy (to power things that blow things up)"
Image processing - This is typically more CompSci related these days, yes (and if I'm not mistaken Raytheon is one of the major players for this)? I mean I know there's still some signal processing involved, but for the most part if you aren't capable of programming software, you're far less valuable in this field.
Big data fusion and processing - Not 100% familiar with specifics here, but again, isn't this more CompSci related at this point?
Training and education - I suppose there are some physics related things here...
Material science development - The Material Scientists I'm familiar with that have worked on DoD paychecks are typically working on stuff that either affects communications (satellites, "How does this material withstand the extremes of space?") or Ship/Aircraft Self Defense systems ("How does this material interact with an incoming missile, can it prevent a hit and if so, with what frequency?")


Most of DoD's money doesn't go to weapons development and deployment.


Absolutely. It would, however, be naive to not recognize the point of the research. To be able to defend the nation's interests when necessary (for varying definitions of the word defend, keep in mind the DoD used to be called the Department of War, but someone decided that was a bad name and re-branded). Please note, I am not anit-Department of Defense.

Cynical though you may be


Cynical I am not (although some of my dry sarcastic comments may appear to paint that picture).

Most modern technology is derived from DoD funding. Fly on an airplane lately? There's hundreds of millions of dollars of flight control research and aviation safety research on that plane that came from DoD spending. Buy something made in China? Those ships can operate affordably thanks to marine engineering studies in materials science, many of which come through the Navy.


You left off the internet/arpanet! How could you?

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

freakish777 wrote:You left off the internet/arpanet! How could you?


Too cliche. :D

Yes, while many of those things do have, somewhere down the line, an application to possibly blowing things up, I find it strange that this jump always gets made.

Let's say you get paid by the Army to more efficiently schedule maintenance on their trucks.

Well, see, those trucks are used here in the US, so that they can ship things between bases. So, those trucks might be used to ship uniforms to a base. And then those uniforms get sent to soldiers. And those soldiers might get sent to places. And a percentage of those soldiers are infantrymen. And a percentage of those infantrymen might blow something up.

So, by figuring out a way to better service a truck, you're really just being complicit in blowing people up!

Instead of working for the DoD, maybe you could work for a university and study RF communications.

So, you study a way to transmit RF signals better. You do a really good job, so now you publish your findings! So the defense department reads your publications, and then they pay someone to build a radio. Those radios are given to soldiers, who use them to communicate with their commanders, who order them to blow something up.

Working for a DoD contract does not really bring you any closer to the end of the kill-chain. It all depends on what work you do. You could do something without DoD funding and be much closer to the kill end of the chain than if you worked with DoD funding, and vice versa. The flow of money and resources does not match the division of authority that we like to conceptualize based on current and former departmental titles. It's just... the way this economy works, for better or worse.

User avatar
Dopefish
Posts: 855
Joined: Sun Sep 20, 2009 5:46 am UTC
Location: The Well of Wishes

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Dopefish » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:36 pm UTC

I'm Canada based, so some aspects of all that may not directly apply to me, but thanks for the heads up as to that area being a potential viable avenue of opportunity. Although a number of those roles (but not all, which is cool) do sound more engineering themed, it does make things seem less hopeless, granted I don't know how competitive those roles are in practice.

Still, I'm skeptical that the DoD and those contracted by it are sufficient to change the fact that physics is perhaps worse off then many other fields in terms of job options. Maybe not as bad off as I first thought, but still the underdog of STEM fields I think. (Although I might just be suffering from a "grass is always greener on the other side" type of mindset.)


(As for possible moral issues with DoD things, I'm inclined to feel like killing is inevitable as much as I might want to think otherwise, and more technology is apt to push things more towards unmanned things and/or precise enough to avoid innocents and/or sufficiently effective stuff that'll act as a deterrant. Possibly a naive line of reasoning, but perhaps an academia rant thread is not the best place to debate the morals behind DoD type research.)

gorcee
Posts: 1501
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:14 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby gorcee » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:42 pm UTC

Ah, thought you were in Massachusetts for some reason. My mistake.

Physics is kind of bad-off in terms of immediate job prospects. But then again, you just have to know how to apply yourself. Physics underlies everything, so if you have an area of specialty, find what it most applies to.

Even take materials science, for instance. When you talk about alloys and coatings and things like that, there's a lot of chemistry happening, but also lots of physics, as well. And there are definitely people and places studying those things. Yeah, you're not going to be solving the same kinds of problems that you solved as an undergrad, but to be honest, no one ever does (that's why we give them to undergrads; they've already been solved).

SU3SU2U1
Posts: 396
Joined: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:15 am UTC

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:50 pm UTC

Dopefish, in a tight job market (like today), physics undergrads will fare best in non-traditional tech disciplines (consulting,finance, insurance,programming). When a company cannot find an engineer to fit a job, they might grab a physics or math major and give him a bit of training- but right now most companies can find engineers relatively easily (the overall unemployment rate is still relatively high). At least you don't have a phd- which is the kiss of death. No one wants to hire someone who has the wrong experience and re-train them. If you have to train someone you hire the fresh undergrad.

I wouldn't say physics is worse off than other STEM fields, I would say all science fields are worse than all engineering fields (you should look up the salary disparity between a chemist and chemical engineer). The whole STEM idea does more harm then good- its bundling dissimilar things together. Be flexible, don't insist on a job in science, and you'll be fine. Find out what other alumni from your program are doing, give them a call, build your network.

User avatar
sam_i_am
Posts: 624
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:38 pm UTC
Location: Urbana, Illinois, USA

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby sam_i_am » Wed Jul 18, 2012 8:44 pm UTC

Imagine the very computer you're reading this on right now.

All the theory and all the precision you described seems downright crude next to the precision required to create the very machine you're using right now

ImagingGeek
Posts: 380
Joined: Fri Aug 06, 2010 6:41 pm UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Wed Aug 01, 2012 5:31 pm UTC

Arrrg - forum lost my reply. Lets try thing again...

This thread is somewhat distressing - people in the midst of grad school with no apparent understanding of what universities do, or how research works. I'll try to to be to bottle up my inner a-hole, but here's how it works from both sides of the job market - i.e. from the mouth of an actual ivory-tower elitist (i.e. prof) and a sometimes-biotech-startup owner.

1) University is not job training. You come to university to receive a detailed knowledge base, and the intellectual skills (research, synthesis, etc) to apply that knowledge to a broad range of careers. From my own lab, students have gone into biotech/pharma, government work, business, law, medical school, investment banking, and one is even on-route to academia. Those are the kinds of opportunities university education offers you.

If you want job-specific training, go to college.

2) In regards to the OP's "papers for papers sake" comment, lets just say I'm dismayed. Science is advanced by incrementalism - those "papers for papers sake" represent the small steps forward that drive scientific advancement. If they didn't exist, science would end. Big discoveries are rare, incremenalism is the norm. To extend the OPs wheel example - only one person gets to invent the wheel. But that first wheel is a piece of shit - an off-round log held onto a wood axle with a bit of spit and wire. Turning it into something useful - a car tire, a train wheel, a cog in a machine - takes the incremental work so readily dismissed by the OP and many others here.

3) The complaints about most research not having an obvious application come, I hope, from people who've never done research before. Applications of science are rarely obvious when research is first undertaken. And even when applications appear obvious, they are rarely achieved (as your actual findings rarely match up with predictions). Our modern technological world is almost entirely a product of blue-sky "application-less" research - the laser, when invented, was derided as an "answer in search of a problem". Transistors, antibiotics, plastics, and x-rays were all inventions based on science, which at the time it was undertaken, had no apparent use.

EDIT: forgot to add - all three of the companies I've started were based on "accidental" inventions we made while trying to address completely unrelated scientific questions. I'm interested in atherosclerosis, I'm trying to find drugs to prevent it from happening - I own a company that makes microfluidic devices.

4) Publish-or-perish is real - if you don't publish, even tenure won't protect your job. But the concept that you can keep re-publishing the same thing, over and over again, is a concept born in ignorance. The people who review your grants, and sit on the tenure and promotion committees, are not idiots. They'll quickly see such derivative works, and you get punished quite strongly for it (fake progress is treated more harshly than non-progress in most institution's). Incrementalism is fine - we cannot all be super-stars - but stasis and fake-progress are career-killers.

5) Anyone who thinks grad students are cheap labour is either oblivious or insane. They are the most expensive form of labour as they are untrained and therefore consume 2-3x their wages in training costs and lost productivity. I budget ~$70,000/yr for a grad student, 1/3rd of that is wage, the remainder is the cost of having them in-lab. I pay my tech, including benefits, a little over $55k, and she's worth 3 or 4 grad students in terms of productivity. You're being paid to get an education - count yourself lucky.

6) The inevitable "there are too many PhDs for the science jobs out there" comment was made. All I can say is:
  • yes, we are training more PhDs then there is demand for in the sciences. We are not training as many as are being demanded for by non-science applications (at least, as the demand was pre-recession; all job markets are crap now)
  • not all PhD's are equivalent - a PhD with 7 years training and a dozen papers is more qualified than a 4 year PhD with two papers. PhD's are not communism - the job still goes to the best candidate. Do a sub-par PhD, expect a sub-par job afterwards
  • academia isn't responsible for PhD's poor life decisions. If you have a PhD and cannot get that science job you want, and remain stuck in a poor-paying position as a result - its YOUR fault. There are a lot of jobs outside of science for PhDs, many going unfilled. Instead of whining about your poor pay, move to a job you're more qualified for (the non-academic ones generally pay much better).
  • In many cases, having a PhD is an entry into non-science positions otherwise inaccessible. For example, investment banks will often look for PhDs to advice them on investments into companies within the relevant scientific area

7) Being a prof doesn't pay all that well, compared to most other positions you can get into with a PhD. And we certainty don't get paid $300/hr to write white papers for industry. My own companies aside, I've had a few contracts with industry - most are a set service for a set price. Writing a book chapter or white paper will net you a few hundred bucks, lab-based contracts generally pay a lot more, but also incure lab-expenses. You're not going to get rich being a prof - even contracting out your services whenever you can. What you need to do is start companies - at least, that's what I keep telling myself...I'm on my third company.

8) Grants suck. The regulatory burden is huge and ever-changing. I'm not sure if the burden is worse than before, but it is different enough each time as to make for a lot of work. That aside, getting a grant is a lot harder - more people, smaller pot of money. As such, the quality of the competition (other grants) is way up (which is probably a good thing), meaning that most successful grants were awarded more on luck than on any significant metric.

9)Dogfish wrote "How much original paper writing do professors who have grad students under their wing actually do themselves?"
The answer is "it depends on the prof". I have my students write their papers, I edit/direct the process. I also have them write sections for grants. This incurs a lot more work on my part, rather than saving me work. Most students are not good writers, so it takes a number of drafts, meeting, etc, to get the paper right. I'd say an average of 8 to 10 drafts (even with me frequently writing large parts), whereas I'd only need 2 or 3 drafts if writing on my own.

Other profs save themselves the extra work, and write these things on their own. It saves a lot of time (I do it on occasion, if speed is of the essence), but IMO, doing so deprives students of what is probably the most important part of their graduate education. Learning to write good technical literature is by far the most useful skill a PhD can get. Far more important than bench methods - even for those who stay in science.

10) I hope I haven't deterred anyone. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a prof - just be warned that its not an easy job market to break into, and isn't as financially awarding as you've been led to believe. But the perks (IMO) far outweigh the not-industry-huge payout; its exciting seeing students mature, and good students will challenge you and keep you intellectually stimulated - there is rarely a boring moment. And where else can you pursue the things that interest you - and get paid for it?

Bryan
I have a new blog, on making beer.

Not that anyone reads it...

User avatar
KestrelLowing
Posts: 1124
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:57 pm UTC
Location: Michigan

Re: Some general academia rant

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Aug 01, 2012 5:49 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:Arrrg - forum lost my reply. Lets try thing again...

This thread is somewhat distressing - people in the midst of grad school with no apparent understanding of what universities do, or how research works. I'll try to to be to bottle up my inner a-hole, but here's how it works from both sides of the job market - i.e. from the mouth of an actual ivory-tower elitist (i.e. prof) and a sometimes-biotech-startup owner.

1) University is not job training. You come to university to receive a detailed knowledge base, and the intellectual skills (research, synthesis, etc) to apply that knowledge to a broad range of careers. From my own lab, students have gone into biotech/pharma, government work, business, law, medical school, investment banking, and one is even on-route to academia. Those are the kinds of opportunities university education offers you.

If you want job-specific training, go to college.


I actually find this thinking odd. Higher education is just more specialization. If specialization isn't job training, what is? Perhaps this is because I come from engineering and our university (yes, it's a university) is pretty much 100% engineering and focuses on teaching students so they can be productive in their jobs almost immediately.

ImagingGeek wrote:5) Anyone who thinks grad students are cheap labour is either oblivious or insane. They are the most expensive form of labour as they are untrained and therefore consume 2-3x their wages in training costs and lost productivity. I budget ~$70,000/yr for a grad student, 1/3rd of that is wage, the remainder is the cost of having them in-lab. I pay my tech, including benefits, a little over $55k, and she's worth 3 or 4 grad students in terms of productivity. You're being paid to get an education - count yourself lucky.


I find this troubling. Grad students don't get paid a competitive wage for the work they actually do. Yes, they have to be trained, but so does every single employee ever. That's the cost of having someone do work for you. If you were trying to get the same work done in industry, it'd be a heck of a lot more expensive as you'd have to pay a better wage and still have the training. The only reason the tech is any good is because she had training before. In industry, that would mean her salary would be higher. (at least in engineering, 55K is a good starting salary and there are benefits on top of that). So they might be more expensive than your tech, but they're still pretty cheap, relatively speaking.


Return to “School”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests