There’s a tension between physics profs, students, and industry.

Many students who start physics PhDs want to do fundamental research as a career. But if they keep that mindset, they likely end up in trouble at the end of their PhD (or after a couple of post docs) because there are so few jobs in academia.

The natural next move is to try to join industry. Industry wants talented people like those graduating from PhDs. But it wants them to also have industry skills and an industry mindset.

This presents a challenge for the students/post docs, because often their programs/jobs don’t explicitly prepare them for industry. So they must take it upon themselves to figure out what opportunities exist, which new skills they need to pick up, and how to market their existing ones.

As a result, there is pressure on academic institutions to modify their graduate programs to incorporate development of industry skills and experience.

But at the same time, many professors working on fundamental physics research don’t want to do that. They did not sign up to train students for industry. They signed up to build a team that does fundamental physics research. This kind of research is hard, it’s time consuming, it’s all-encompassing, it takes commitment. From their perspective, summers between classes should be spent advancing the research program, not doing industry internships. Many prefer to hire students and post docs who are fully committed to academic research.

This then has a flow-on effect, where students don’t want to reveal to their profs (or even themselves) that they’re not 100% committed to academia, and shoot themselves in the foot by not getting prepared for alternatives.

Having friends in all of these situations, I have sympathy for each of these points of view.

I’m not sure how that tension can be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy.

What do you think?

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