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Almost every theoretical physicist (string theorists) that I meet tells me that it makes no sense to try do a PhD. in these subjects since there are simply no jobs available and things are only going to get worse for those seeking faculty jobs 8-10 years from now.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Piotr Migdal, scaaahu, Charles Morisset, Peter Jansson, JeffE Jun 16 at 13:59

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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What you mean by "justify doing a PhD in it"? I mean, every decision depends on many factors; and most of them may be your own. You can ask about chances of getting professorship in string theory, or - if they are surveys saying if people liked their PhDs. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 15 at 12:49
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I am not sure what answer you expect. Yes, becoming a professor is competitive. Yes, many apparently still try. –  xLeitix Jun 15 at 14:43
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@user6818: The question asked in your last comment seems different from the one you've actually asked: "How can I know whether I should enroll in a PhD program in theoretical physics?" versus "I heard that no one should enroll in a PhD program in theoretical physics; is that right?" –  Pete L. Clark Jun 15 at 14:54
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@PeteL.Clark I didn't see them as being different :D If I want to be a faculty member in future then how do I know if its worth me trying for a PhD given that the prospects looks so bad in these areas.. –  user6818 Jun 15 at 14:59
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@user6818: The second question has a universal quantifier in it. The first question can have a different answer depending upon who is asking it. This is an extremely important difference. I would ask you to stop and reflect on this before you proceed. –  Pete L. Clark Jun 15 at 15:04
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2 Answers 2

Your question assumes that the only possible job destination for theoretical and mathematical physics is in faculty positions. This is not the case. There are many additional fields (finance, consulting, computer gaming, medical imaging, and so on) where the demand for PhD's with training in mathematical analysis is growing.

Now if your goal is a faculty position, that may be a different matter. But clearly the overall demand is still great enough that people continue to get doctorates in the discipline, which suggests that people are still finding employment.

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Could you elaborate on "the overall demand is still great enough that people continue to get doctorates in the discipline, which suggests that people are still finding employment."? A lot of people finishing PhDs mean great supply, not - demand. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 15 at 13:13
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@aeismail I am talking of getting teaching/faculty/research jobs.. –  user6818 Jun 15 at 13:25
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"Your question assumes that the only possible job destination for theoretical and mathematical physics is in faculty positions." I think it rather assumes that faculty positions are the intended job destination for someone who enrolls in a PhD program in theoretical physics. I find that assumption pretty reasonable: I believe that is the intent of the majority of students of such programs. –  Pete L. Clark Jun 15 at 14:35
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"here are many additional fields (finance, consulting, computer gaming, medical imaging, and so on) where the demand for PhD's with training in mathematical analysis is growing." Sure, but if your intention is to go into consulting, computer gaming, medical imaging and so forth, I don't see why you would enroll in a PhD program in theoretical physics: it is not designed to help you do any of those things. –  Pete L. Clark Jun 15 at 14:36
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which suggests that people are still finding employment - The majority of math/physics grads I know, myself included, did not consider employability when choosing to pursue a PhD. Probably because the "rational" decision is to not pursue one, as in all likelihood a faculty position isn't a whole 10x better than an alternate career, and so the opportunity cost is greater than the expected payoff. –  Chris White Jun 15 at 18:55
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I think aeismail made an important point, also when you didn't ask for jobs outside of faculty. I also started to study myself physics because of astro-/particle physics as many physicists do and did. But before choosing my master thesis, the question came up, how are the job perspectives in this field or other subfields of physics. Many students don't seem to think about this important question. I saw many of my old fellow students pursuing simply the field of their love and/or even doing a PhD in it, also the topic, or, even worse, the methods they learn are barely related to other fields in and outside of physics. Normally you don't have huge problems in finding a job nowadays with a PhD in physics, if your only criterion is finding a job at all.

Getting a faculty position or even professorship at a good university in Europe or US is an odyssey in this field of physics. You compete with very smart, very ambitious graduates from all over the world. If you are not very good, plan to have family life before 35, time for hobbies... I would not start a PhD in this field. Do a master thesis (in Germany you have to) in this field to see how good you are and what experts in this field think of your abilities. But after this really think about what you want to achieve/do the next 10 years in your life. If you want to work in physics research in any case, choose your PhD field and topic wisely. Average physics professor in Germany has around 20-40 PhD graduates during his professorship, so chances are 1:30 you achieve the same. I agree with Pete Clarks comment that most students pursuing a PhD and scientific career probably don't know this, but it's not so hard to find out. In US system, where many start PhD after bachelor degree, this is really a tricky decision so early in your scientific career.

Additionally, this is probably your actual question, the number of faculty jobs in this field is likely to decrease the next decades. Take this link as a start for google keywords.

Some of my friends did their PhD in astrophysics. Most now have well paid jobs in consulting and programming. Their knowledge of physics (higher math, programming languages, analytic thinking) helps them a lot to make career in their fields outside of physics research. For some it is great, some regret that they have only their spare time to read research articles still and cure their curiosity about nature, universe... You have to be honest, you cannot keep up to date in most physics research fields this way. This was the most important point for me to consider. I want to work my whole life in physics research and was sure I don't want to spend the time to try it and would never get a faculty position in astrophysics, so I did choose some other path. Fortunately there are so many interesting subfields in physics where one will have good options for scientific career and/or physics R&D later in industry that I don't regret my decision much.

This answer probably doesn't help you a lot, even if you have the will and abilities to pursue this odyssey, you need a lot of luck. But I know so many students that were talked into doing PhD in such risky and niche fields dreaming of a scientific career when the real chances are below 1:30 that I want to stress that this is a important, tricky, risky and life decision and that YOU should thoroughly think about it. Look at the CV's of some scholars with faculty position in this field and read the link above. Without a good plan B you stand behind I would not start or get talked into such an odyssey.

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