It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
Here's a career question I got from someone:
Dear Prof. Baez,
Sorry for the unsolicited email, but I follow your blog and am hoping that you will be able to offer some guidance.
Within the next year I will finish my PhD on quark confinement/vortices, so it's time to think about what to do next. The usual HEP post-doc trail is not particularly appealing due to the lack of positions and overabundance of candidates. More importantly, I'm increasingly concerned with the global problems that we have and would like to use what talents I have help.
What chance do I have to transfer to the science of energy/resources or climate change? These are such important problems that I would be heart broken if the opportunities are as limited as in sciences that are more elective than necessary.
When I began my PhD in Adelaide I was the highest ranked applicant across all departments. I'm scared of ending my career in a high school instead of contributing scientifically to one of our urgent problems. I'd be extremely grateful if you are able to offer any advice.
Here is my answer, which doesn't seem as helpful as it should be:
Sorry to take so long to reply. I've been mulling over your question.
More importantly, I'm increasingly concerned with the global problems that we have and would like to use what talents I have help.
What chance do I have to transfer to the science of energy/resources or climate change?
It will take work, but the job opportunities in these areas are probably better than in more esoteric areas such as elementary particle physics.
Since I haven't tried getting a job in these areas, I'm probably not the best person to help you find one. However: did you read how Nathan Urban switched from quantum gravity to academic work on climate change? He describes it at the beginning here:
As you can see, his skill at Monte Carlo computations were transferrable.
Also, read how Tim Palmer switched from quantum gravity to work on climate modelling, near the beginning here:
Among other things:
JB: Thanks! I’ve been reading that book. I’ll talk about it next time on This Week’s Finds.
Suppose you were advising a college student who wanted to do something that would really make a difference when it comes to the world’s environmental problems. What would you tell them?
TP: Well although this sounds a bit of a cliché, it’s important first and foremost to enjoy and be excited by what you are doing. If you have a burning ambition to work on some area of science without apparent application or use, but feel guilty because it’s not helping to save the planet, then stop feeling guilty and get on with fulfilling your dreams. If you work in some difficult area of science and achieve something significant, then this will give you a feeling of confidence that is impossible to be taught. Feeling confident in one’s abilities will make any subsequent move into new areas of activity, perhaps related to the environment, that much easier. If you demonstrate that confidence at interview, moving fields, even late in life, won’t be so difficult.
In my own case, I did a PhD in general relativity theory, and having achieved this goal (after a bleak period in the middle where nothing much seemed to be working out), I did sort of think to myself: if I can add to the pool of knowledge in this, traditionally difficult area of theoretical physics, I can pretty much tackle anything in science. I realize that sounds rather arrogant, and of course life is never as easy as that in practice.
JB: What if you were advising a mathematician or physicist who was already well underway in their career? I know lots of such people who would like to do something "good for the planet", but feel that they’re already specialized in other areas, and find it hard to switch gears. In fact I might as well admit it — I’m such a person myself!
TP: Talk to the experts in the field. Face to face. As many as possible. Ask them how your expertise can be put to use. Get them to advise you on key meetings you should try to attend.
JB: Okay. You’re an expert in the field, so I’ll start with you. How can my expertise be put to use? What are some meetings that I should try to attend?
TP: The American Geophysical Union and the European Geophysical Union have big multi-session conferences each year which include mathematicians with an interest in climate. On top of this, mathematical science institutes are increasingly holding meetings to engage mathematicians and climate scientists. For example, the Isaac Newton Institute at Cambridge University is holding a six-month programme on climate and mathematics. I will be there for part of this programme. There have been similar programmes in the US and in Germany very recently.
Of course, as well as going to meetings, or perhaps before going to them, there is the small matter of some reading material. Can I strongly recommend the Working Group One report of the latest IPCC climate change assessments?
What else should I have told this person?