APS News


Non-PhD APS Members Need to Speak Up

For the past three years, the APS Committees on Membership and on Career and Professional Development have sent me a Junior Member survey. I have diligently filled it out and returned it, and yet every single year, I am frustrated with the survey report for the same reason: not enough (other) non-PhD degree replies to be "statistically significant" and so the data isn't even reported. Regardless of the reason, this only serves to isolate some APS members from their professional society.

Does it matter? Perhaps there are so few non-PhD members of APS that it is not worth changing the PhD-academia mentality of the APS (and thereby the Physics community in general). To me, the actual breakdown of current membership doesn't matter. We already know from countless pipeline surveys that there are alot more Bachelors and Masters level physicists in the world than PhD physicists. Undoubtedly, we all don't "do physics", at least not in the PhD-academic sense of the word. But doesn't the APS need to know what we are doing?

First step, report all the survey results with the appropriate statistical caveats. People are more likely to fill out a survey if they think it is going to be used and not discarded. After all, how many of us have worked on experiments and drawn conclusions from only a few data points!

Secondly, let's talk more with the non-PhDs to find out what is really going on. Who are we as a group? What are we doing with our educations? We didn't we continue on for a PhD? Talking to people who have gone through the Physics PhD pipeline isn't nearly as informative as those of us who "seeped out" if you want to fix the pipeline problem. Also, as physicists and potential physics majors question their career options, showing them a larger variety than getting a PhD and teaching/researching in academia is certainly more enticing.

Thirdly, let's involve industry and research laboratories. If non_PhDs are doing scientific work, this is probably where we are. Let's find out how the academic institutions can modify their curriculum to more match employers' wants and needs. Finally, those of us with non-PhD level degrees must be at the forefront of this activity. Perhaps getting a list of people with various degrees who are willing to talk to students and academics about career options is crucial. For many years, I have done outreach activities to encourage girls to consider science as a career option. I think those of us with Master's/Bachelor's should also be willing to let people what we (and they) can do. We also need to be more involved with the APS itself. Have we ever had an APS officer who didn't have a PhD? Even the industry nominations always have a PhD.

I am told that there is a real concern in the APS about this issue and that actions are being taken. I have read several discussions on this topic throughout the years, and yet in practice, the situation hasn't changed. As a group, those of us with terminal Bachelors/Master's degrees (which sounds like a rather frightening disease) really need to speak up about what we do and how we promote science. In reality, once a person has "real world" experience, the actual degree matters less than one's accomplishments. And isn't that what is *really* important? Some of us were much better in a lab than we were in a classroom and we have valuable skills to offer both the physics and world communities.

But the real day of inclusion will be when I never have to hear the phrase "just a Master's degree" or "only a Master's degree". Even if said in a way clearly meant to be a compliment, the connotation is rather insulting. If those of us non-PhDs start being more vocal, maybe others who have remained silent will join in and feel more included (both in the APS and in the physics community). I think if we can show what a physics education (regardless of degree level) can do and be used for, the PhD-centric community, over time, can and will change its opinion. After all, we are all involved in APS to promote science and physics. We just have different ways of going about it.
Sandy Fletcher
Masters of Science in Physics

BELTWAY Becoming Too Partisan?

Michael Lubell's commentary ("Inside the Beltway", August/September) is taking on an objectionably partisan tone. "Conservatives" have their "ideology" and "adhere to their populist credo"; they are "anti-Washington ideologists." Republican leader John Kasich's (R-OH) ideas are "contentious." Nary a pejorative word is applied to any liberal.

Lubell is farthest afield, and out of his expertise, in his gratuitous comment on Social Security. He speaks of "the Social Security 'crisis'," and says, "Whether there is a crisis, of course, is still a matter of debate." Economists know that the Social Security system is actuarially unsound and is technically insolvent now. If we were to offer it for sale to a private insurer, no one would bid. We'd have to pay some company a vast sum (the unfunded liability) to take it. People who are denying this are pandering politicians, not scholars.

Our President is in disgrace, and congressional leaders, as Lubell says, are disposed favorably toward science. Shouldn't we restrain our natural tendency to bite the Republican hand that might feed us? Shouldn't Lubell's columns be placed on an inside page and labelled clearly "opinion"?
James E. Felten
Greenbelt, Maryland

Michael Lubell Responds:
I certainly didn't intend a partisan tone in my last "Inside the Beltway" column. I simply stuck to the facts.

First, on populism, there is no doubt that the Republicans have taken away the populist issue from the Democrats, who held it for most of the last century. That is not a criticism of Republicans. Indeed, populism served the Democrats extremely well, from the time of Andrew Jackson. Many Democrats, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have chastised Bill Clinton for abandoning it in favor of a pro-big-business agenda, as evidenced by the administration's China, NAFTA, and banking policies.

As regards John Kasich's budget plan, it was as contentious as any I have seen in years. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici slammed it, as did House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, both prominent Republicans. House Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to bring all sides together, but had little success. As of September's end, the Senate and House were still unable to agree on a Budget Resolution, which was due on April 15.

Finally, we come to the Social Security issue. Whether there is a crisis depends upon your frame of reference. Most economists predict that current formulas will put the system in the red as the baby boomers retire, about twenty or twenty-five years from now. That's a serious problem, but twenty years gives us some time to deal with it. Therefore, most analysts argue that the situation is not yet of crisis proportions, provided we make the necessary changes - privatization, means testing, or later age start. Ironically, if you want to read any partisanship into the column, you might possibly conclude that I was really knocking the Democrats, not the Republicans, for making the Social Security issue into a crisis to achieve a political and electoral end - although that, too, was not my intent.

From my vantage point, the column was well balanced. I am sorry that it wasn't from yours.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin