December 7, 2013

"Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today's academic system..."

"... because he would not be considered 'productive' enough."
He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."

25 comments:

Freeman Hunt said...

"He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn't impressed."

Heh.

Smilin' Jack said...

"Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today's academic system..."

Of course not. What could he contribute to the only significant purpose of universities today: diversity?

YoungHegelian said...

Go read the article. Higgs is one cranky old fellow who just happens to be a brilliant physicist, which is a blessing for him, because it means other people actually have a reason to put up with him.

There is no corporate organization that someone like Higgs is ever going to "fit" into, so it's pointless to try.

David said...

Not even Google?

EDH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EDH said...

Notice what was completely left out of the article?

Whether he was a good teacher.

The administrators want celebrity professors to do research and publish journal articles cited highly by other celebrity professors, the academic equivalent of is Ashton with Demi or Mila.

Professors what the freedom to think.

Nobody gives a shit about the students.

themightypuck said...

High School is for the "students".

B said...

If you believe the signalling model of education, students are there to get an exclusive piece of paper. They don't want attentive faculty. They want famous faculty to increase the value of their diploma.

PB Reader said...

You can't live solely on past achievements. There are bills to pay.

Tom said...

"Never confuse activity with results" -- John Wooden

Joe said...

EDH hit the nail on the head. At plain face, it appears that Higgs did some groundbreaking work decades ago and then sat on his ass collecting a salary while doing nothing else.

Publish or die has negatively affected academia, but so has the notion that academia, specifically government funded academia, is where scientific research should be done.

Zach said...

10 papers between 1964 (when he published the Higgs paper) and 1996 (when he retired)? You're darn right nobody will employ you to do that.

Papers are the end product of research. Every project you do should lead to at least one paper. That's the way that other people benefit from your thoughts, and how the people who are paying you know they're not wasting their money.

It's one thing if you're Andrew Wiles, who took 6 years to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, and only wrote a few papers in the interim. That was probably the most famous problem in mathematics, and had been worked on for centuries by the greatest mathematicians in history. Six years to solve that problem is doing pretty well. But for any other project, you've got to ask yourself some hard questions about whether you're getting a year's worth of production in return for a year's worth of work.

madAsHell said...

He needs to focus on global warming.
It's all the rage!!

MadisonMan said...

So maybe people won't do ground-breaking research the way he did it. But it will be done in other ways, he just can't see how because his imagination is limited, I guess.

He seems pretty full of himself. His way of research or the highway, I guess.

Eli Blake said...

I dropped out of a Ph.D. program in mathematics in 1986 to go teach at a community college.

The reason was because while I LOVED the graduate teaching assignments I had, I had already done a master's thesis (hated it, but did it) and would have hated a Ph. D. thesis (but would have done it) until I figured out the following:

Having a Ph.D. would have qualified me to teach at the university level. At which time I'd be expected to do what? Research, publishing, and presenting papers. All the things I hated, but that would have been more important than what I loved (the teaching.)

And then I realized, that Hey, I could just teach and MAKE A LIVING AT IT TOO!

NEVER have regretted that opportunity. And I'm good at it, something that some math professors at universities, being focused on their research, are not.

William said...

From what I understand physicists like lyric poets and rock singers do their best work for a few years in their twenties and then they mostly go on imitating themselves. Einstein spent his later years circling around blind alleys. I wonder if Higgs gets royalties on every bison. Einstein never made a buck off the A bomb.

gadfly said...

"The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space. Everything else is merely thought to exist." — Democritus of Abdera

And that goes for cranky old British physicists.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@EDH:Notice what was completely left out of the article?

Whether he was a good teacher.

The administrators want celebrity professors to do research and publish journal articles cited highly by other celebrity professors, the academic equivalent of is Ashton with Demi or Mila.

Professors what the freedom to think.

Nobody gives a shit about the students.


Universities have other purposes besides teaching.

Research pays for teaching. When a professor gets a a grant for research two things happen:

The university takes about half, off the top, to do whatever they want with.

The portion of the professor's time that is spent on research is now paid for from the research grant. The university has that portion of the salary to hire someone to teach.

Every researcher that is bringing in grant money is subsidizing the teaching mission of the university.

There are hundreds of universities in the US and millions of scientists. It is numerically impossible that any significant fraction of them are able to have "celebrity" researchers.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@William:From what I understand physicists like lyric poets and rock singers do their best work for a few years in their twenties and then they mostly go on imitating themselves.

This is false. The vast majority of physicists who are successful at research, and are over 35, are running labs full of postdocs, writing grants, and training graduate students, who along with the postdocs are doing the bulk of the actual research. They become people who are in charge of research, and have little time to participate in research themselves.

sykes.1 said...

It's true that nobody cares about educating the students, but it's not true that nobody cares about the students in other ways. Administrators want their tuition and fees, and the faculty want the opportunity to brainwash students and humiliate white males.

But the students don't care about learning either, just the credential, and the opportunity to meet a suitable mate.

So, all in all, everybody gets what they want, which is the definition of a fair deal.

handworn said...

"Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface, but to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing." (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

I imagine Higgs might privately agree.

Dr Weevil said...

Writing tip: In a context that includes prostitution, it's best not to use the word 'nonsucker' in a totally nonsexual way - too confusing.

Jupiter said...

"It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."

Peace and quiet aren't hard to come by. A good living for doing nothing is hard to come by.

Unknown said...

Boy, there sure is an awful lot of invective here from people obviously lacking the first clue what modern physics research is like.

ken in sc said...

I dropped out of my PHD program because I realized the university was not interested in me graduating, but was interested in collecting fees. I did use my credit hours to get a Education Specialist teaching certificate, which I used for increased salary for a few years before I retired.

They wanted me to pay tuition for 15 hours of classes I didn't take while working on my dissertation—they called it dissertation research. My faculty adviser made a point of telling me he did not get paid for advising PHD students. So, where did that money go?

The University was Clemson.