Managing Expectations

Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists

However, difficulty finding a “long term academic position” is not the same thing as difficulty finding a job. Buried in those same articles is the fact that the unemployment rate for physicists (which likely mirrors that of astronomers) is between 1-2%. In contrast, the lab-based biologists and chemists (which are the focus of the articles) are not finding employment at all, or if they do, it’s frequently in a position that makes no use of their technical skills.

The problem in astronomy and physics is therefore not employment, but expectations.

[S]tudents should never be made to feel that they’re failures for not getting a particular flavor of academic position, and should instead always be encouraged to explore other avenues that could use their talents while bringing them greater day-to-day satisfaction.

Ah, someone who gets it. And by gets it, I really mean “agrees with me” and I’m applying a little confirmation bias, but I do find fault with the argument put forth by others that not finding a faculty position is proof (in and of itself) that we have an overabundance of PhDs. And I’m also much more familiar with the lay of the land in physics than with biology or chemistry.

As the post points out, some skills transfer well; technical competence and attention to detail are in wider demand than just the sciences, and I can’t imagine these are not part of biology or chemistry skill sets.

Do You Want to Play With the Box, or What's Inside?

Built on facts: Light, up to 11

How many photons can you stuff into a box?

[I]f you stuff enough energy into the vacuum you’ll eventually start creating matter (electron/positron pairs in this type of circumstance) via Einstein’s famous E = mc^2 relationship. In nuclear weapons we’re used to seeing the m turn into E very dramatically, but of course the other direction works just as well. Get enough E and you’ll start making m.

Normal, All Over Again

Infinities in quantum field theory, and renormalization. Living with Infinities by Steven Weinberg

[N]ew techniques of calculation were developed that manifestly preserved the principles of special relativity at every step, and it was recognized that the infinities could be absorbed into a redefinition, called a renormalization, of physical constants like the charge and mass of the electron. Dyson was able to show (with some technicalities cleared up later by Salam and me) that in quantum electrodynamics and a limited class of other theories, the renormalization of a finite number of physical parameters would actually remove infinities in every order of perturbation theory — that is, in every term when we write any physical observable as an expansion in powers of the charge of the electron, or powers of similar parameters in other theories. Theories in which infinities are removed in this way are known as renormalizable. They can be recognized by the property that in renormalizable theories, in natural units in which Planck’s constant and the speed of light are unity, all of the constants multiplying terms in the Lagrangian are just pure numbers, like the charge of the electron, or have the units of positive powers of energy, like particle masses, but not negative powers of energy.


Countdown to Doom

A little rant about that 2012 nonsense…

One reason the world will end:

The Maya, the world’s greatest timekeepers ever, say it’s all going to stop on December 21, 2012.

gg rightly points out that we are the best timekeepers. But I think this is not an issue of timekeeping. The Mayan calendar runs its course, and then starts over again. Does anyone seriously predict that the world will end on Dec 31 each year, because that’s when our calendars run out?

Besides, the world can’t end in 2012, when Rush has already foretold events of 2112

Video the Vote

I’m on a mailing list for a singer/activist named Dana Lyons (it’s more for the singing part than the activist part); Dana’s family moved to Niskayuna sometime in the 70’s and he and I were in the Boy Scouts together for several years. He popped back up onto my radar screen when he released “Cows With Guns,” a spoofy little song about resisting the man. Dana was in Washington state and I was living in Vancouver, so the song got a lot of airtime, and when I spotted the CD at the music store and saw his picture on the back I confirmed that it was the same Dana Lyons.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from the email I received, explaining an activity about which I had not previously heard: video the vote.


My Fellow Americans
It’s Time to Wake Up and Smell the Corruption
In Our Voting Booths

Democracy is Fragile: Educate Thyself:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast’s article in the current
Rolling Stone: Block the Vote
(10-minute read, free)

Bill Moyers Journal on Voter Protections
(15-minute watch, free)

“Free For All” Election Documentary
Watch entertaining and well-done free documentary about election
(80 minutes with popcorn)

Howdy Friends and Family,

I have two great adventures coming up. One which I wish I didn’t feel
it necessary to do and one which is the adventure of a lifetime.

Yes, traveling to Ohio in November is always on the top of everyone’s
vacation list, and I’m heading there next week. I’m traveling to
Columbus, OH to take part in Video the Vote, a movement of citizens
who are concerned about election irregularities across the United

It’s pretty easy. I signed up as a volunteer videographer on the
website. On election day, if they receive reports of election
irregularities (malfunctioning voting machines, ridiculous lines,
harassment, etc.), they’ll give me a call and I will head out and film
it. Then I upload the video to youtube (via and
voila, the situation is documented immediately. Thousands of folks
will be videoing the vote across the US. Can you help out? They need
volunteers in all 50 states.

I know some of you may think this sounds a bit like a conspiracy
theory (how could any of the nice people like Karl Rove even think of
tampering with an election?!), so I encourage you to read Kennedy’s
article and watch the vid and Bill Moyers and decide for yourself.

For me, this isn’t just about defending democracy: It’s about my own
integrity when I speak to children in schools about working to protect
the environment in our democratic system. I have a steadfast rule when
performing at schools: I don’t lie to children. And I’m not going to
take part in upholding a facade of democracy, making believe
everything is okay, when I’ve seen enough evidence that there is
serious corruption in our election system.