askingquestionst

Topic Contributions

Comments

How does Replaceability apply to overcrowded academic areas, such as theoretical physics, and how does it compare to other competitive careers?

To synthesize your point, you believe that replaceability and economics of scale ensure that individual impact in Theoretical Physics is small, unless you are able to be revolutionary, like Einstein?

I don't have access to the first paper you linked, though I can get an idea of what it debates by reading the abstract. The projects in science have been getting bigger, and that is specially true in Physics. A multi-billion dollar project, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), was needed to test the Higgs Boson. Now, some Physicists want an even bigger one. Papers have tens, sometimes hundreds of co-authors because that's the number of people involved in the operation of the LHC (and also because everybody wants to have publications so that they can get an academic job).

I have heard a few physicists, disillusioned with the realities of the academic job market, say that you can't act like an early 20th century physicist anymore. This was the time of Einstein, and Bohr, and Rutherford. Nowadays, it's impossible for a lone physicist working in a patent office in Switzerland to look out the window and have a revolutionary insight that will change Physics forever, like Einstein did. The low-hanging fruits are taken.

Besides, one could argue that the sacrifices needed make it a terrible career path in the personal level (years of postdocs, cutthroat competition, small chance of academic job without any choice of where to live). As 80000 Hours argues in https://80000hours.org/articles/personal-fit/ "the path would ideally be reasonably enjoyable and fit with the rest of your life (e.g. if you want a family, you may want a job without extreme working hours)". I don't think the academic job market allows for such considerations, specially in Theoretical Physics.

Other, more applied fields of Physics, of course, are somewhat different, such as Solid State Physics. Albeit still competitive, their job outlooks are better.