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Don't Become a Scientist
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Kingfisher
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Post: #1
Don't Become a Scientist
Interesting read from a tenured physics professor:

http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html

Quote: I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs.


Thoughts? I'm especially interested in what Roosh and other science majors have to say on this.

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11-21-2011 10:37 PM
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Parlay44 Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I used to work with a lot of PHD scientists at one of my old jobs. They had PHDs in physics and photonics. We used to build high tech laser toys for the semiconductor industry.

I remember having a conversation with one female systems scientist about career or whatever. She told me to be careful what you choose for your doctorate because it's very specialized and you'll be stuck doing that one specific thing forever. Her PHD was in lasers and photonics.

I don't think she hated what she did for a living but she was recently married and forced to live in beautiful scenic New Jersey(which she hated) due to her limited career options.

Us Jersey folk are difficult to deal with if you ain't from around these parts.

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11-21-2011 10:57 PM
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Caligula Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
He's essentially complaining that there's no longer an incentive for the brightest to pursue a career in hard science any more.

He's partially right. If you're a bright physics PhD you're going to make way more on Wall Street than scraping along doing research. You can either struggle for years for a shot at making tenure one day - or you can take a Wall Street job building mathematical trading models and bank $200,000 + bonus in your first year.

It's a very real problem: funding for basic research has declined recently. Science funding is increasingly geared towards research that's likely to bring immediate commercial results. Incremental improvements on existing technology bring faster returns than fishing for something new that may or may not be possible.

South Korea is among the few countries increasing the amount of funding for basic research. Almost everywhere else this kind of investment is in decline.

Most earth-shaking scientific advances came from basic research (ie. research into uncertain areas, where there may or may not be a useful discovery at the end). Einstein's theory of relativity and the discovery of the double helix by Watson and Crick are two examples discoveries that came out of research that didn't appear to be very useful at first. There's just not enough funding for basic research any more. It's quite sad.

The economic incentive question will always be there. It will never be as profitable to apply your considerable brainpower to uncertain, basic research as it will be to apply it to trading and financial speculation. The latter will always make you more money.

At some point you have to decide whether you're really interested in research or whether you're more interested in making money. I've met plenty of scientists who were much more interested in the possibility of breaking new ground than in drudging away making money. They'll always be in the minority, but they'll always be there.

"A flower can not remain in bloom for years, but a garden can be cultivated to bloom throughout seasons and years." - xsplat
(This post was last modified: 11-21-2011 11:35 PM by Caligula.)
11-21-2011 11:21 PM
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ColSpanker Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I have to agree. After 25 years in a scientific field I now work on my own company and do retail on the side. I was sick of all the down-sizing, outsourcing and related bullshit. Constantly being told by the fucking bean-counters that the lab didn't make money (as if they did). So I finally got out.
(This post was last modified: 11-21-2011 11:33 PM by ColSpanker.)
11-21-2011 11:32 PM
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Basil Ransom Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Not really a science major, but have science related interests/occupation. As for basic research vs industry, it seems like those in industry are rarely working on the absolute cutting edge. Those in academia will see those in industry as intellectually inferior. Also, there's the keen sense that many of the industry jobs, like Wall Street, are bullshit that don't create value - math and physics majors are a modest, skeptical lot, and they don't care as much for status whoring like everyone who actively aspires to be an investment banker. I'm sure the bright ones are aware of their outside opportunities, but they still choose the rather thankless path of academe.

From what I've seen, it seems like one can effect more change by bringing one's intelligence to bear in industry, than by working on insanely hard theoretical problems in academia that may ultimately go nowhere. As an example, one of my colleagues got a Phd in math, and actually did serve as a professor at a very un-prestigious college. He moved into industry, and helped to revolutionize a small field in how it conducted its work by bringing his respectable intelligence to bear on this nascent field. He's very bright, but it seems like only a very small number of people are capable of contributing much that is truly novel and worthwhile to formal mathematics. All the easy gold has been mined, and only one in a million or less have the intelligence to contribute much there. So he took the big fish in a small pond route, and became very well respected in his own field, which brought him to greater spheres of influence outside his field.

Of course, it all depends on the specifics of how bright you are and what you're working on. If you are very bright and working in a great area, your fate in academe could be worlds better than anything you could achieve in industry.

If I had infinite intelligence and opportunity to work anywhere, I'd work on the things that I think will dramatically enhance the world within the next decade or so. Things like robotics, driverless cars, genomics or alternative energies.

I remember hearing about this guy when the oil spill happened, because Obama put him on a spill cleanup taskforce, then kicked him off because he defended homophobia: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrf..._obama.php
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2011 12:11 AM by Basil Ransom.)
11-22-2011 12:09 AM
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Stitch Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I have a PhD in physics myself, and I would have to agree that academic science (where a lot of the "hard research" is) is just not very fun. Very competitive, very publishing-focused. I'm not done with my present career yet, but I've already decided I probably won't follow that route. I'm not sure I'll choose to be a financial quant, but there are some science jobs (at national labs, etc) which can be very interesting, and some in industry which aren't bad either. Being a computational guy, I'd have more options since the state of scientific software engineering is pretty abysmal, but there are certainly physics options in industry which aren't bad pay-wise.

But yes--there are too many PhDs out there, just like there are too many lawyers (I have a good friend who is a lawyer, and she had hell on wheels finding any job at all after law school--after getting loads and loads of debt piled on).
11-22-2011 12:37 AM
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Chase Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Science can be a trap for idealistic people. It can also be like a cult that sucks you in. All that talk about “excellence” and so on.

A typical development goes like this: In your early twenties, you start getting your degrees; you really want to have a career in research. You want to create something of value, safe the earth; you detest the worthless Wall Street parasites.

At thirty, you decide to leave academia, because you are not that idealistic any more. You are bored. You want more attention. You want to earn more money. You want to fuck more women. You want more fun in life.

You realize that no one cares about your PhD. They want industry experience that you don’t have. You process your anger/disappointment and move on.

My advice for future scientists based on my subjective experience:

If you do not really love lab work, do not become a scientist.
From my experience, the vast majority of my former fellow students or colleagues would not choose that career path again. They regret it.

Read this:
http://www.rooshvforum.com/thread-5942.h...+different
11-22-2011 05:59 AM
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RichieP Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I suppose the main appeal of it for me is to contribute, to "stand on the shoulders of giants", to immerse myself in complex ideas and come up with something truly new and leading-edge.

It's sounding more and more like this is NOT what you do in science though. the people who are really innovating and changing the world arent usually research scientists. Reading science news is misleading because only the tiny minority of research scientists are making those big discoveries and working on great & noble projects.

At the same time, I really think there's huge value in being highly educated and widely read. If you want to really make a contribution to the world, I think that helps alot. But you can get that on your own - Joseph Campbell, maybe the world expert in his field at the time, got there by reading 9 hours a day for five years during the great depression.

It's an interesting subject. I've been deliberating on getting my PhD, and this is the sort of info that deters me. I may still get it, but I'll likely go into the private sector afterwards. I think you can do more good when you are free to innovate and learn and interact accross disciplines, rather than do post-doc research in someone elses lab for 10 years.
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2011 06:10 AM by RichieP.)
11-22-2011 06:09 AM
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Stitch Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Don't Become a Scientist
One important thing to realize is that in the current state of affairs, publications matter MUCH more than they should; "publish or perish" is the way of things. Thus, many things (hiring decisions in particular) are based on number of publications and how many times they have been cited (like the famous "H-index", which is a combination of the number of publications and how many times they've been cited).

What that means is you see a lot of work in fields which aren't necessarily meaningful, but are easy to write papers about. Hmm.

I think science IS important. It IS fun. And if you get into the right bits of it, it can be a riveting, rewarding career. But the academic-research treadmill is not one of the more rewarding ways to go about it.
11-22-2011 11:20 AM
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Menace Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Don't do it. I have a PhD in chemistry. Chemists are being fired left and right from pharma, and the work outsourced to China, India, and Russia. The opportunity cost of an advanced degree like a PhD is tremendous. Four to six years of your life where you are making a paltry wage (< $30K stipend), working long hours, and at the end you are actually have less career options.

PhD's are nothing but a Ponzi scheme. They are a byproduct of the way research is done and funded these days. Professors need endless pools of cheap labor to do their work, and you are "rewarded" with a degree at the end. Good luck finding an academic position. You need lots of papers and the correct pedigree (i.e. you worked in so and so's lab and you did a post doc with so and so). Oh, did I forget to mention the post doc? Yes, this is the $40K/year job you need to get after your 6 years in the lab so that you can supervise grad students and run the professor's research program while being worked like a dog (even worse than a graduate student, because at least the university sort of cares about your well being). Only in science can you have the most advanced degree possible and make as much as a manager at Target.

Don't think for a second the private sector is any better, it's just a different kind of BS. Companies are cutting jobs (at least in chemistry), management makes horrendous decisions, and no one gets promoted based on merit, if they even get promoted. Then, after you work for 10-15 years, you get fired, because they want to replace you with a much cheaper newly minted graduate student. Good luck finding a job with your 10 years experience and your PhD. Check out this web site: http://pipeline.corante.com/ (it's a chemistry-related blog) if you're interested in this sort of stuff.

Scientists are respected in our society but paid like shit. Don't go into it for the money. I like science (and chemistry), but I don't love them. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have done something different. I'm not in science anymore.
11-22-2011 11:40 AM
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Parlay44 Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
You can always become a freelance chemist out of your garage. I hear that's pretty lucrative. Wink

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11-22-2011 11:43 AM
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Menace Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
(11-22-2011 11:43 AM)Parlay44 Wrote:  You can always become a freelance chemist out of your garage. I hear that's pretty lucrative. Wink

Oh believe me, I've thought about it, but really just to see if I can (and I can). Wink
11-22-2011 12:01 PM
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Parlay44 Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
(11-22-2011 12:01 PM)Menace Wrote:  
(11-22-2011 11:43 AM)Parlay44 Wrote:  You can always become a freelance chemist out of your garage. I hear that's pretty lucrative. Wink

Oh believe me, I've thought about it, but really just to see if I can (and I can). Wink

I have some friends that are freelance pharmacists and they make some bank. I can't even think about getting into activities like that. I have kids. Not worth the risk for me.

My background is Engineering so I'm the go to guy for fixing my friends' PCs and game system modding. That's about as "freelance" as I get.

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11-22-2011 12:11 PM
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RichieP Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I wonder if it's the same for social science or health-related fields like psychology, neuroscience etc?

You might think the whole system for these subjects would be more heart-centered, e.g. people in these fields are less stuck in their heads & more connected with helping people, the whole thing is more humane and sensible maybe?

Or is it pretty similar I wonder - pressure to publish, overly rigid intellectual BS, no freedom to do what really matters, etc?
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2011 12:16 PM by RichieP.)
11-22-2011 12:13 PM
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Stitch Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Health-related fields? Would expect that's not only high-interest but getting moreso with the aging population of baby boomers. Always seems to be lots of interest in bioscience these days.
11-22-2011 01:31 PM
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RichieP Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
For sure, I'm just wondering if it's any different in kind from the hard sciences. From what I can see, at least part of the problem in the hard sciences is the intellectual elitism and the overspecialisation... the sort of culture that develops when people are "too stuck in their heads". Wondering if there's a difference in the more human subjects, where the end goal is actually helping people. Then again some doctors are prime dickheads, so what do I know Smile Be cool if anyone has 1st hand experience.
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2011 04:15 PM by RichieP.)
11-22-2011 04:15 PM
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ColSpanker Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Nice to see another ex-chemist on here, Menace. What you talk about mirrors my own observations. I use a small chemical plant to do work for my firm. Just walking around the place is depressing. They have an old laboratory building which is staffed by a skeleton crew, just enough to turn the lights on every day. Although it can be fun looking at the 60's-era testing equipment and finding old text books in their library from the glory days of chemistry (the 1950's).
And fuck the ACS. Buncha professors who care more about their precious grants than the profession. They did fuck-all for chemists I know who got the sack.
11-22-2011 04:44 PM
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UrbanNerd Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I always liked Physics but in the back of my mind, I had doubts. At our Student Services Center (which posts which companies were coming for interviews), you just didn't see enough requests for Physics or Chemistry majors. My undergrad degree is in Applied Mathematics and you didn't see many opportunities for doing strictly math jobs. Since I also took a sh*tload of computer science courses, I would get all the interviews and job offers I wanted although I INITIALLY did not set out to do the software thing.

Having a sister 4 years younger than me and my parents using their money for her (and them basically telling me that the "funding" is over) pretty much forced my hand to go the software route.
11-22-2011 08:00 PM
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Leonidas_B Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
I think that was about 10 years ago. The pharma industry has been declining the last few years, and with politicians trying to save money, it gonna go down even more

(11-22-2011 01:31 PM)Stitch Wrote:  Health-related fields? Would expect that's not only high-interest but getting moreso with the aging population of baby boomers. Always seems to be lots of interest in bioscience these days.
11-26-2011 07:05 AM
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Menace Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
If I was going to go into a health field, I'd do nurse anesthetist. I think you need a BSc in nursing or equivalent and then a 2 year certification degree. Salary is like 120-190. Move to Florida and tap ass until you die.
(This post was last modified: 11-26-2011 03:10 PM by Menace.)
11-26-2011 03:09 PM
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Vitriol Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
This phenomenon isn't limited to science. Most degrees are pretty much worthless now. There are so many unemployed people with degrees and experience or gradutes coming out with new degrees that employers really don't have to pay anything more for someone with a degree. They'll be able to find someone desperate for work who will take a job that pays just as much as if they never went to school at all.

Menace Wrote:Only in science can you have the most advanced degree possible and make as much as a manager at Target.

That's not just science, it's also humanities, social sciences, and other fields. This is a reality of the U.S. economy now. But no mainstream sources will acknowledge it because lots of big universities want little Johnny's tuition money before he ends up fulfilling his dreams by working at Starbucks after college or grad school.
(This post was last modified: 11-26-2011 05:08 PM by Vitriol.)
11-26-2011 05:05 PM
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tallglassofmilk Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
Thanks for posting this, it reconfirms my decision to skip the PhD in physics and get a masters of engineering instead down the line.
11-26-2011 05:21 PM
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Samseau Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
The university research system of publishing work in reference to other papers is the reason why the university system today has produced so little of value.

Our universities do not promote creativity or innovation. They only reward the status quo and only stagnation results.


The PhD is a joke because the people who employ PhD's are jokes. The next major scientific/philosophic breakthroughs to come forward will not be from the university, but from people's private homes or businesses.

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(This post was last modified: 11-27-2011 01:29 PM by Samseau.)
11-27-2011 01:29 PM
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Tuthmosis Offline
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
(11-26-2011 05:05 PM)Vitriol Wrote:  That's not just science, it's also humanities, social sciences, and other fields. This is a reality of the U.S. economy now. But no mainstream sources will acknowledge it because lots of big universities want little Johnny's tuition money before he ends up fulfilling his dreams by working at Starbucks after college or grad school.

(11-27-2011 01:29 PM)Samseau Wrote:  The university research system of publishing work in reference to other papers is the reason why the university system today has produced so little of value.

The same factors that have fucked everything else up have fucked up the university: too many idiots crowding the field and an increased corporatization of the academe. People see an advanced degree as nothing more than a rubber stamp toward a job and schools (especially shitty ones) have responded by positioning themselves as such. The "publish or perish" axiom is also a major contributor. People produce so much bullshit just for the sake of publishing.

The humanities and sciences are similar in all those ways. They're also different in some significant ways. For one, the humanities are less outsourceable. You don't need a person to speak good English to do engineering work for an American firm. A humanities degree was never a road to riches, but it remains insulated from the foreign factor. As long as there's a need for supremely literate people (not much longer), the American higher degree in the humanities will be worth something.

Anytime someone asks me if their plan to go for an advanced degree is a good one, I tell them to consider two very simple factors: (1) the cost to them; (2) the prestige of the university. The X Factor no one ever considers in these threads is that there is markedly different value to the same exact degree from a top-rate American university (say Yale) versus Eastern Kentucky School of the Mines. I don't know how many of you guys have been through a hiring evaluation process at a corporate office. The top-school degree always gets extra attention, an almost guaranteed interview. So the answer to "should I become a scientist?" depends. If you get a PhD from Yale in Chemistry, you have a good chance of landing a good job somewhere near the top of your list. Your education may not be any better, but that's the world we live in. That's a lesson we all know very well.

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(This post was last modified: 11-27-2011 03:15 PM by Tuthmosis.)
11-27-2011 03:14 PM
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RE: Don't Become a Scientist
(11-27-2011 01:29 PM)Samseau Wrote:  The university research system of publishing work in reference to other papers is the reason why the university system today has produced so little of value.

Our universities do not promote creativity or innovation. They only reward the status quo and only stagnation results.

The PhD is a joke because the people who employ PhD's are jokes. The next major scientific/philosophic breakthroughs to come forward will not be from the university, but from people's private homes or businesses.

This displays little perspective. One generation ago, finance professionals thought stock returns were predictable based on patterns or ratios. Academics developed the efficient market theory, portfolio theory, and option theory. Now we have index funds, risk management, and a rich derivatives market supported by this academic work.

The internet came from academic research. Of course some important developments occurred outside academia. The transistor and public key cryptography come to mind. Also, the muppets. But I'm not sure those examples help your argument.
11-27-2011 03:27 PM
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