[ASC-media] Reply To "Physics in Australia is booming"

John August johna at babel.apana.org.au
Sat Sep 9 13:10:19 CEST 2006

On the 30th August 2006, the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP)
issued a release from its president, David Jamieson, making a varied
number of misleading claims about the state of physics in Australia,
using jobs in "cutting edge discovery" as a promise which evaporates all
to rapidly under close examination.

Sure, it may be possible to point at high profile projects, but these
will most likely be taken up by the large number of post doctorates
frustrated and cooped up in universities around Australia awaiting

There are few entry level jobs _in physics_ for physics graduates.  In
spite of the claims, how many job adverts actually mention physics ?
When it comes to jobs leading towards high profile research positions,
the situation is analogous to the temple initiate who scrubs floors for
five years ...  till the next initiate signs up.

Perhaps physics and mathematics graduates may expect higher salaries,
but that's very different to saying they will actually be employed in
physics based positions.  Statements about this are misleading - in the
context of "cutting edge positions", it only serves to obscure the

Claims about the market booming are a strange notion.  If there is
sufficient demand for physics in physics related jobs, salaries go up
and the market can readily pull them out of current non-physics jobs
without the need to push more graduates through university.

If the market really is booming, then let us leave students
contemplating physics to assess the market themselves, without the
market being talked up, or cutting edge jobs being used to hide the
reality of how many jobs there actually are in physics.

The release has a faint echo of the 'imminent' shortage of physicists
promoted by the AIP a decade or so ago as retiring physicists were
supposed to generate a dramatic shortage.  It didn't happen.

While science/physics does have some positive associations going with
it, these associations are readily abused by vested interests.  A
retired physicist from a major Sydney university tells me that he was
disappointed at the way that graduates were pushed through the
institution so that an academic might have a few more years in the
position, as compared to the greater good outside that academic's

It does make you wonder to what degree the release is driven by vested
interests, as compared to outlining a reality.

Science/physics may be a noble pursuit, and if people can pursue careers
in that field which contribute to society that's wonderful.  Just how
much should it contribute to society ?  Maybe it would be worthwhile to
have it make a greater contribution to society.  But these are separate
issues.  It is important to be realistic and not mislead anyone about
the career possibilities.

Contact : John August, 0419 683 353

John August, convenor The Sydney Shove - www.sydneyshove.org

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