Nobel-winning physicists discourage young people from physics as a career

From a CNN article on the latest Nobel Prize in Physics:

Peebles, who is Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, had a message for budding scientists.

“My advice to young people entering science: you should do it for the love of science,” he said at a press conference following the announcement.

“You should enter science because you are fascinated by it.”

In other words, “Don’t do it for the paycheck or the working conditions, as you might for most other career choices.” (Nobody says “You should train to be a dental hygienist because you are fascinated by teeth”; the stress will be on the $75k/year median wage following a two-year degree and on the flexibility to work anywhere in the U.S. and any number of days per week.)

[Apropos of nothing, CNN goes on to note

In 2018 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a woman for the first time in 55 years, and for only the third time in its history. Donna Strickland, a Canadian physicist, was awarded last year’s prize jointly with Gérard Mourou, from France, for their work on generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. They shared the award with an American, Arthur Ashkin, who at 96 becomes the oldest Nobel Laureate, for developing “optical tweezers.”

The preceding year’s Nobel had nothing to do with astrophysics, but it continues to be newsworthy because of the gender ID of one of the winners? (If, indeed Dr. Strickland identified as a woman at the time of the research or award, is there any evidence that Dr. Strickland continues to identify as a woman?)]

Related:

  • In countries that empower women, they are less likely to choose math and science professions. https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2018/06/14/losing-the-nobel-prize-on-careers-in-science/ : “There is a fierce competition that begins the day you declare yourself a physics major. First, among your fellow undergraduates, you spar for top ranking in your class. This leads to the next battle: becoming a graduate student at a top school. Then, you toil for six to eight years to earn a postdoc job at another top school. And finally, you hope, comes a coveted faculty job, which can become permanent if you are privileged enough to get tenure. Along the way, the number of peers in your group diminishes by a factor of ten at each stage, from hundreds of undergraduates to just one faculty job becoming available every few years in your field. Then the competition really begins, for you compete against fellow gladiators honed in battle just as you are. You compete for the scarcest resource in science: money.”
  • https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2018/09/20/75-percent-chance-of-career-failure-considered-in-a-positive-light/
  • “Women in Science” (compare to medicine, for example)
  • “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM” (Atlantic): “In countries that empower women, they are less likely to choose math and science professions.”
  • An academic career need not be entirely bleak: “College professor spends nearly $190K in federal grants on strip clubs, sports bars” (USA Today), regarding an Electrical and Computer Engineering professor who spent tens of thousands of dollars of grant money in strip clubs and then wasted the rest….; Philadelphia Inquirer story on the same guy says “Once confronted, Nwankpa decided to bare all” and noted that his colleagues had selected him to be department chair

4 thoughts on “Nobel-winning physicists discourage young people from physics as a career

  1. > College professor spends nearly $190K in federal grants on strip clubs, sports bars

    He was just doing field research in “Women’s Studies”?

  2. «In other words, “Don’t do it for the paycheck or the working conditions, as you might for most other career choices.” » – no one will deny that salaries aren’t great and that you have to fight for grants. But the majority of people I saw quit academic careers didn’t cite money as the primary factor. It’s because it’s hard, and having incredibly difficult career prospects (the precariousness of the positions and the uncertain outcomes) doesn’t make it easier.

    Oh, and especially if you’re doing is experimental science, the majority of your work is dealing with failure. On the contrary, dentists can easily find a job on the subject matter they trained for and everyday they tend to solve the vast majority of the problems they encounter.

  3. “professor who spent tens of thousands of dollars of grant money in strip clubs … noted that his colleagues had selected him to be department chair”

    As long as he’s willing to share and let the good times roll, why not?

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