"Don't become a scientist" discussion at HN

Hi all,

The article "Don't become a scientist" (http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html) started a long and interesting discussion on News.YCombinator.com/Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=122106

Everybody there seems to agree with the general terms with the article... however, considering that the majority of the people there are startup people and not people who works at the academy, such vision on the subject could be very biased. So I wanted to ask what your opinion on the article is, considering that the target on this site is very different than the one at NYC.

Do you agree with it, and is the academy so severely hurt as shown in the article, or is your research experience actually different from it?

Sorry for my English, I'm not a native English speaker...

Best regards,


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Sounds like sour grapes...

...even though it may be true that the wine market is presently flooded.

Whether or not one wants to become a "scientist" depends on what one's goals are. You don't need to be a full professor in order to advance knowledge--and it seems to me that the article's beef (which may be legit) is not that one cannot do research--there are plenty of opportunities for that as a grad student, a postdoc, an industry researcher, etc.--but that cushy, secure jobs in academia are hard to come by. One of the nice things about CS is that much original research can be undertaken by someone with no more equipment than pencil and paper (or at minimum, an inexpensive PC). Contrast this with many of the empirical sciences, where cutting-edge research requires access to scarce and expensive equipment, laboratories, and an army of research assistants to make sure that the sample is measured at 3 in the morning.

This, of course, leads back to the debate as to how society should fund pure research programs, and what society should expect of them.

The paper could be re-written as "don't become an actor", pointing out that most theater majors, should they choose to pursue a career in acting (stage or screen) will never be marquee or a-list stars, but will instead struggle for years waiting tables, serving as understudies, or moving on from bit part to bit part. ("And last year, I played the role of 'Man In Elevator' in that big Spielberg film"). Likewise for many other fields of endeavor (sports, entrepreneurship, etc.)

It is interesting--that some of the claims in the article (glut of PhDs in the sciences) seem to contradict some of the alarmist stories heard elsewhere (that US universities are producing too many graduates in allegedly "useless" disciplines, and not enough in the sciences).

Re: Sounds like sour grapes...

Even if there are too many physics PhDs for the available academic positions, that doesn't mean that doing a PhD is physics is a waste of time.

We certainly view physics PhDs on par with finance PhDs when recruiting at my bank.


Thanks a lot for your replies, they were very interesting to me.



I only approve of mad science, and physics is still pretty cool.