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Big Crunch and Academic Job Prospective January 17, 2009

Posted by keithkchan in Philosophy, Whatever.
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In the past I thought that the job opportunities were insensitive to the general economical environment. Now it seems to me that this is not true. The credit crunch in the financial sector has non-minimal coupling to the academic job market.

Now it is the season of post-doc hunting. Around this month, many institutes are selecting their prospective post-docs. It seems the competition for post-doc position is veeeery intense. Let me give you an example. There are 500 applicants for a post-doc position at NYU CCPP. A colleague here at Room 538 is also looking for post-doc. He told me that he applied for more than 10 post-docs. He have several papers already but so far he only got negative reply. He seems not so optimistic about his job hunting.

There are several reasons for the strong coupling between the financial sector and the academic market. First the money in the academic sector shrinks. Many positions are in the academic sector are funded by some endowments, foundations, or government agencies. The returns from the sources is dramatically reduced after the the economy turns bad. Many institutes have started to reduce costs. For example, MIT is making 5% cut in expenditure. One of the easy ways to cut cost is to reduce the number of new openings.
A common path for the graduate students from theoretical physics is the financial sector since it offers much higher salary and the numbers of opening are much more. However, ever since the big crunch, the competitors from MBA, laid-offs from the other financial companies have increased dramatically. The financial market path also becomes very difficult. Some graduates may then think it would be better to stay in the academia in this difficult financial situation. The increases the number of applicants for the post-docs. Since many people have anticipated the bad situation, they try to maximize the chance of success by applying as many as possible. These cause the huge number of graduates fighting for a job.

I still have several years to go, and by the time I graduate the economic situation will probably have recovered. If possible, it is better to stay in the current, for example delaying the graduation. For the friends who are applying for post-docs or whatever jobs, good luck, Nature bless you.

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