APS News

Letters

Perspectives on the Job "Crunch"

It was a pleasure to see Peter Abbamonte show the best qualities of a real physicist. I commend him for his analysis and his personal strength ("The Back Page," APS News, April 1997). A minor historical note, though: It is not true that the implications of exponential growth of the number of physicists went unrecognised for 80 years. There may also have been earlier instances, but I know that in the job crunch that occurred after the '68-69 downturn in funding, the propensity of systems to change from exponential growth to an "S"-curve as resource limits are approached was noted and discussed in Physics Today and elsewhere.

I also recall a brief article (or perhaps letter) wherein a recent Ph.D. presented a sequence of letters ostensibly seeking employment outside of physics. The first indicated his full educational background, followed by a reply rejecting him on the grounds of being overqualified for the job. In the second, third and fourth letters, he limited his resume to M. Sc., B. Sc. and high school diploma, in sequence, and with appropriately declining quality of language, with the same result. The final letter, written in the vernacular, merely indicated that he was qualified to drive a truck, which did produce an employment offer. (I may have the details wrong after a quarter of a century or so, but this catches the tenor.)

So while our younger colleagues may not be standing on the shoulders of giants in this regard, they should at least be aware that they can (and do) benefit from those that have gone before them.

Terry Goldman
Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Please congratulate Peter Abbamonte for his delightfully funny Back Page article entitled "The Crunch." At first I was infuriated by his naive attitude of self-importance, but once I realized it was an April Fool's article, it made my afternoon! The very idea that someone could be that whiny and ignorant was hilarious. I especially loved the "garbage can scene" and the idea that physicists breed exponentially like rabbits. What an imaginative gag!

Katherine Rawlins
University. of Wisconsin-Madison

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The April 1997 issue of APS News contained a well-written "Back Page" article on the employment crunch for young PhDs. Not included was the simple fact that the field of physics as one of productive employment did not exist before World War II. The reason for this is obvious: no product that required those skills for fabrication and/or sales existed. The field is sufficiently difficult - requiring math as its language before a beginning can even be made - that anyone who concentrated on it as a field of learning in college must have been independent of the job market, or not conscious of the facts of life, one of which is a reliable source of money.

Unfortunately the public, from which all new talent comes, was not made aware of the real joy found in creative activities of the technical sort, and many of us neglected to point them out. Things that demand knowledge and the ability to search nature with the tools provided by physics will always be in demand.

Carroll B. Mills
Kenwood, California

We Need an Inclusive Definition for Physicists

After reading them once, and with no reflection, I thought the APS goals outlined by APS President Judy Franz (APS Views, April 1997) all reasonable and worthwhile. I was especially pleased to see phrases like "throughout the world." But Goal # 8 struck me as especially important. I would think it an important goal at any time of the world (from the time of Thales of Miletus to the present). Physics is (or ought to be) a fellowship of those who have the passion for, and a talent sufficient to add to the knowledge of our field. Defining the community of physicists by exclusion, especially in these days, is selfish, and like all selfishness, stupid.

Keran O'Brien
Northern Arizona University


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