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The High Energy Theory Job Market, Analyzed

The excellent physics-and-math blog Not Even Wrong, published by Columbia mathematician Peter Woit (who has a book with the same name as the blog), has an interesting post about an analysis of the job market in high-energy theoretical physics. The post describes data compiled by Erich Poppitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of Toronto. Poppitz’s analysis is available as a pdf download. The data were taken from the Theoretical Particle Physics Jobs Rumor Mill maintained at UC Davis; Poppitz insists that there’s no guarantee of accuracy. 

Among Poppitz’s interesting conclusions (most of them noted by Woit) are these:

  • A typical recent year brought 20 new faculty appointments in high-energy theoretical physics in the United States; over the last 16 years the average number of new U.S. appointments in the field is about 17. The best recent year was 2007, when 28 new high-energy theory faculty were hired.
  • Two years later, in 2009, U.S. universities made just 9 new faculty appointments. 
  • In the same year, Princeton University alone hired 8 new postdocs in theoretical particle physics, so that one university cohort could nearly fill all of America’s theoretical physics faculty slots in a bad year. The stats don’t say how many postdoc appointments there were nationwide.
  • If you want a job in high-energy theory, the numbers suggest, you’d better get your Ph.D. from one of a handful of universities, since that’s where most new faculty members come from. And all six are in America: Princeton (24 new Princeton Ph.D.s were hired into faculty slots over the last 16 years), Harvard (19), Berkeley (18), Stanford (13), MIT (12), or the University of Texas (10). Those six schools produced 35% of all new high-energy theory faculty members since 1994; the other 180-or-so positions were distributed among another 76 or so universities throughout the world.
  • Another key to getting hired is to choose your subfield carefully. “You pretty much have to work in cosmology or phenomenology to have some sort of job prospects,” since no one is hiring at the more formal end of the field, Woit writes.

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