Sunday, April 20, 2014

Non-academic Careers and the Invention of Slow-roll Inflation

My friend and colleague Andreas Albrecht used his Facebook page to spread the word about this blog. He included these important remarks at the end:

"Many physics students undertake their studies with dreams of following an academic path. You should not take our efforts to communicate the alternatives as an intent to discourage you. Knowing there are alternatives can in fact be very liberating. That has certainly been the case in my own career. When I was in grad school there were very few faculty opportunities on the horizon. Knowing that there were many options out there allowed me to take risks and choose a research direction that matched my passions with out worrying too much about practicalities."

Feeling at liberty to take risks allowed Andy to pursue work that turned out pretty well, to say the least. Together with his advisor, Paul Steinhardt, they invented slow-roll inflation, a discovery also made independently by Andrei Linde.  This was highly speculative work at the time.  As the data have improved over the past 30+ years it seems to be what nature has chosen to do, which is quite amazing. As many readers undoubtedly know, Andy went on from this graduate work to a highly successful academic career.

If you want to pursue an academic career there is indeed bad news. Your odds of obtaining a tenure-track position at a PhD-granting institution are about 30%.  According to the AIP from 2010-2012 an average of 566 PhDs were granted each year while in 2007-08 only 160 people transitioned into tenure or tenure-track jobs at PhD-granting institutions, also according to the AIP. 

But the good news is that physicists go on to do a variety of interesting things that they find very satisfying, and they generally regard their education as extraordinarily valuable.  As Andy also wrote in his Facebook post, "The creative technical problem solving that we enjoy teaching and applying to the great puzzles of physics is highly valued in diverse careers."

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