Friday, August 5, 2011

Physics PhDs: How Many? How Long? How Worthwhile?

I regularly sing the praises of the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics, so forgive me if you've heard this song before.  The latest data release from the SRC has a couple interesting tidbits profiling the newly minted PhDs in physics and astronomy.

First of all, the number of PhDs awarded continued its decade-long rise since the low of the late 90's dot-com boom.  The last time the US produced this many PhDs in physics was the mid-1960's when the space race, the nuclear arms race, and dozen of other defense-related Cold War initiatives drove hoards of students into PhD programs. 

The second interesting tidbit is the distribution of time-to-PhD for recent graduates.  I have seen averages previously, but it's great to see the histogram.  It's clear that the "5-year PhD" model is really a myth more than anything at this point.

Finally, the last tidbit is a fun little question that the AIP asked.
Interestingly only 22% of American students would change anything about their PhD experience while half of non-US citizens would.  Perhaps American are either too proud or too complacent to admit they would have done something different if they had it all to do again.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting how non-American students have rebounded after the 9/11 lows.  In some ways that's a pretty positive sign since high capability immigration is good for the country.  Of course not all the students stay but I suspect many do.

    The drop in American students is a little troubling,  but then I think there probably is a glut of PhD scientists. I think it is completely rational to look at the number of jobs and then ask whether spending years upon years for graduate and likely post graduate degrees is worth it.  (I asked myself that which is why I didn't do it and I don't regret it in the least)  If you are just going to learn that's a different matter.  Although honestly you can always find textbooks and people to study with without being a student.


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