Friday, April 20, 2012

Thoughts on Trends in PhD's in Physics

There's an interesting article on The Back Page of APS News (Vol. 21, No. 4) written by Dr. Geoff Potvin from Clemson University. The article discusses the current plight of physics PhD's—trends in graduation rate, factors for success, and inherent biases against women and minorities. I'm not offering a full analysis here, just jotting down the first things that came to my head as I read the article.

Dr. Potvin states that the growth in the number of PhD's in physics is stagnant and that this is a problem for the US as it tries to remain scientifically competitive in an increasingly global community. However, other STEM fields have grown at much faster rates. Claiming that the stagnant growth in PhD's awarded in physics is bad for US technological competitiveness seems to be a weak argument for enhancing physics graduate education. After all, the number of independent STEM fields has grown enormously (for example I am working on my degree in optics), so any argument along these lines should look at the total trend in all STEM fields.

Dr. Potvin's research has shown that students' motivations for attending graduate school often determine their level of success as measured by publication rates and funding. All too often, graduate advisors assume that their students inherently possess the interest and motivation to perform research. However, the interests and goals of the advisor and student often differ. Dr. Potvin suggests that proper attention paid to graduate students' motivations would enhance their productivity.

There is an inverse relationship between doctoral completion time and future salary for men; higher pay goes to those who took less time to complete their PhD. Unfortunately, completion time is almost entirely uncorrelated with factors that students can control, and is instead determined by things such as the riskiness of research topics or becoming involved in multi-group projects. The pay for women PhD's is uncorrelated to almost all factors in their graduate education and is lower than their male counterparts, on average.

Faculty mentors tend to replicate their graduate school experiences. In my opinion, this keeps them out of touch with their students since they do not adapt to changing attitudes towards work, social life, and career choices for their students. As managers of new work-force members, it would behoove the greater community to adapt their advising style towards these new attitudes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A resource for volume visualization in Matlab

As many engineers may already know, visualizing scalar or vector volume information is difficult. Examples include the heat distribution in a room (scalar) or the electromagnetic field around a complex-shaped scatterer (vector). There is a good set of resources on how to do so in Matlab here: I haven't tried volume visualization with any Python packages (see Python x,y for a collection of useful scientific packages), but if I find the time to play with it, I'll compare and contrast the two.