Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jobs - Part I update

The first article in my series on jobs, mainly faculty jobs, in physics put its focus on the supply side of the job situation. My main objective was to show the origin of a weakly-damped cyclic pattern that started when the pre-Boomer generation earned PhD degrees in massive numbers and filled up the faculty positions needed to teach all of us Baby Boomers going to college. [Boomers are under-represented on most university physics faculties as a result.]

By an odd coincidence, a retirement party for two professors who were hired in the mid 60s led to the discovery of the advertisement shown below. This captures quite well the anger of pre-Boomers who got to the hiring party a year or two too late. Details and comments are below the fold.

This ad came from Physics Today. Based on what else was with it, I would guess it might have been published circa 1978 but I have not gone to a library to track it down. (It could be that it was published as early as 1976 and I just happened to look it up in 1978 or 1979.) If you go looking, it would be at the very end of the classified ads. In addition, a search through the annual index for letters to Physics Today by Robert Yaes, or through the Bulletin of the APS for abstracts he submitted, would turn up a lot more of the same.

Yeah, this guy was bitter. I have to wonder if he messed up and took a post-doc in 1967, planning to look for a job in 1969 only to find that they were all gone. Little did he know that the market was going away in 1967 and would only get worse. And he was not alone in his anger. It is a common theme when I have run into pre-Boomer grads of the same program at my Enormous State Graduate University, ones who finished grad school circa 1970. One, in particular, had a long and lucrative career with IBM (basically straight out of grad school) but is still bitter that his outstanding research work meant nothing once slots had been filled by people who never amounted to much but had one advantage: they graduated 3 or 4 years earlier.

And there is another side effect. When contacting people to have a lab reunion built around this retirement party, I could not help but notice who they found (and collected on their alumni list) and who they did not find - or maybe even try to find. The only PhD grads from my Boomer generation who are listed are ones who happened to be somewhere in academia. They just ignored all of the ones who are off in the real world (even ones at national labs), including ones who have done extremely well (key patents, that sort of thing). If a student does not end up in academia, they don't know what that person ended up doing.

This has important consequences for students even today. As I noted at several points in both part 2 and part 3 of this series, it is quite common for faculty today to know nothing about the two thirds of physics jobs that are outside academia: they don't know where those jobs are, what skills they require, nothing. It was also common when I was a grad student, although some (like my adviser) had kept in touch with all of their students and knew what kinds of jobs they had and how they were (or were not) using their physics skills in that profession.

PS - Yes, they were hired in the mid 60s. The guys who are retiring were on the faculty for over 40 years. I gave another example early in part 2 of the series. Those "retirement replacements" people expected in the 1990s are slowly appearing now, but it is far from clear if all of those lines will remain in physics departments. Budgets are being cut, research priorities are shifting, and the Boomer Echo will be ending in another 5 or 10 years ... and t-t faculty have to be paid for forty years, whether students are there in large numbers or not.


plam said...

Yes, "graduate fast" is key during boom hiring times. This happened in Computer Science in the early 2000s. I graduated in 2006. (Fortunately, I'm satisfied with my job, at least the first 6 months of it.)

In CS people have often gone looking for jobs before finishing. That only makes sense, I think, if the market looks like it's getting worse.

quantummoxie said...

Well, he also might have been desperate to get out of St. Johns. I love it up there but could see certain types going insane fairly rapidly.

Anonymous said...

Bob Yaes was not so desperate to get out of St John's that he didn't return to school at Memorial University of Newfoundland and graduage with an M.D. in 1980. He then went on to do a residency in radiation oncology and practise medicine for 10 years before taking up a position with the FDA (Federal Drug Administration). I don't think he's ever driven cab or wsshed dishes.
I ran into on the net when I first got the internet and he wanted people from Med '80 to send him memories. As an ex-girlfriend, I was glad to oblige. What's tht old saying, "Watch you wish for. You might get it!" Bob's now 66 and had a better career path than lots of us, right?
It is kind of fun watching a New York Jew from the Bronx with a D.S. from M.I.T. function in an Newfoundland outport. I belive in Maritans.

Anonymous said...

Bob says he wouldn't take a job in physics if you offered to him.

Also, he made more money in the first 6 mo. as a doctor than he made in 9 years as a post-doc and assistant prof. in physics.

If you want to listen to why Bob may have been kicked out of Physics, google his name with images "Bob Yaes". Goggle Robert Yaes or R J Yaes or Robert J Yaes.

Word to the wise: don't spill the beans until you have tenure.


Doctor Pion said...

Thanks for that insight.

The mention of radiation oncology brought back another memory: that he submitted an abstract advocating a switch from physics to medicine, particularly for those in the nuclear or particle physics fields.

Today he would have been a snarky grad student blogger!