Built on Facts


In the comments of yesterday’s post about the output of the sun, Carl Brannen brought up a good point:

By the way, in comparing your audience to cows and compost heaps is there some sort of message here? It’s been 25 years or so but I recall that there was a certain time of year around which I’d pretty much had my fill of grad school. The worst was towards the end of the 3rd quarter of a 3 quarter year. About that time, the Santa Anna winds reverse. The result is a wanderlust breeze off the ocean.

Aw Carl, you and the rest of my readers rock. I only mean that in terms of power output, the sun is actually pretty ordinary – along the lines of humble terrestrial phenomena. The fact that we can bat around the facts and numbers to discuss this comparison puts us a step or two above the ol’ methane factories.

But wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere in the wide world? Well sure. Not this early in the semester though. By the time you get toward the end and exams are coming up, homework piles to the ceiling, hours of TA grading have to be done, and research grinds to a snail’s pace… you start to wonder. So far though it’s been an easy decision. Physics is way too fun to stop before the Ph.D. And really the job market is pretty bad at the moment so I’d just as soon not swan dive into uncertainty even were I so inclined.

Not that grad student employment is guaranteed either. There’s a finite number of TA spots and priority goes to the new students. RA money depends on your advisor and even though they’d love to fund all the grad students they could fit, their funds are quite limited as well and vary from year to year regardless.

The world is what it is though, and there’s nothing to be gained by worrying about it. And don’t let me discourage you if you’re an undergrad wondering about grad school. It’s a pretty good gig, and though you’re going to be poor and overworked you’ll also be learning amazing things and discovering new science. To me, it’s a fair trade.


  1. #1 Carl Brannen
    January 27, 2009

    Yeah that’s what I thought too. Still do, I guess. The song that I associate with grad school is “Bargain” by The Who. Grad school is a bargain even though what you are trading is the only thing you have in life, time. (Uh, try to avoid 1+1 = 1 thingy.)

    As I’ve gotten older, one of the things that my mind has changed about is how difficult it is to extract money from the world. When I was a student I didn’t see the opportunities I see now. This was through inexperience (and not just because they hadn’t invented internal combustion back then).

    Becoming an expert on computer programming or electronics is very useful for keeping a guy employed as an RA working on experiments. In addition, if you get good enough that your reputation gives you the pick of experiments, you can switch to contract work and earn real money. To do this, you write up a little proposal to solve someone’s problem in return for a fixed fee.

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