At the moment I'm a high school student, who is passionate about the High Energy Physics areas, especially Phenomenology, String Theory, QFT and so on. I would like to pursue a B.Sc. degree in Mathematical Physics in the future in my country (central European country with a lot of famous string theorists ;) ). After that I would like to move to the USA to get a PhD in the one of the areas show above, but I heard that getting a post-doc and then a permanent job is quite hard.

Is it true? Would I have better success if I wouldn't limit myself only to the US, but include here, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

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    At present, yes, the academic job market in most fields is very tight. But it is very hard to predict what it will be like 10 years from now. Apr 28, 2014 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


Currently, yes, it is quite hard. Assuming you go on to get your PhD in some field of HEP theory, you'll graduate with a very specific skill set that qualifies you for maybe about 10 available postdoc positions in the entire world, of which perhaps 3 or 4 will be in the US. (Obviously these numbers vary by perhaps a factor of 2 year to year and from one specific subfield to another; take them only as rough estimates.) But there are typically hundreds of people applying to each of these positions, so in the absence of other information your chances of getting one are not good. If you do get a postdoc, then your chances of getting a tenure-track faculty job are lower by perhaps another order of magnitude.

That being said, high school is way too early to be planning your future based on the chances of getting a postdoc. In particular, the difficulty of getting a postdoc should not dissuade you from getting a PhD in high energy physics, if you decide that's what you want to do when you finish college. There are plenty of other things you can do with a PhD in physics, especially if you have supplementary skills like computer programming. And by the time you approach the end of graduate school, you'll have a better idea of whether you are more qualified for a postdoc than the average applicant.

  • 1
    I think sites.google.com/site/postdocrumor gives a better idea of how many jobs are available. It's a lot more than 10, although if one specializes in too unusual a corner of theory one might not be in the running for many of them. I think a lot of people are positioned to apply for more on the order of 100 of those jobs.
    – Matt Reece
    Apr 28, 2014 at 21:58
  • @MattReece exactly, I'm not claiming that there are only 10 postdocs in HEP theory available worldwide. I'm saying that an individual candidate will only be seriously considered for O(10) of them, and will be immediately dismissed from consideration from the others for not having the right skill set or experience. This is based on my experience and that of a few other people I've talked to.
    – David Z
    Apr 28, 2014 at 22:01

In many respects any career in academia will be quite hard. Positions are very dependent on funding so there is often little choice in location and wages are often quite low compared to similarly skilled people in industry.

However, I wouldn't let these things put you off. If its what you enjoy and you are half decent there will be jobs out there. Also I wouldn't worry too much about post-docs at your stage. After 7-10 years of undergrad and PhD you might conclude you don't really enjoy HEP so much, you enjoy something else more, or even that you just aren't good enough - theory type subjects at high school/undergraduate/research level are all very different (my view is slightly biased here, I did a masters level QFT module and then realised it definitely wasn't for me).

I would focus on doing well at your undergrad studies and preferably getting some research experience, for example via summer placements. Work out want you enjoy. If you find something try and do a PhD in that. Then you can worry about post-docs.

  • The advice to "just get a PhD and then worry about where it will get you" strikes me as... unwise.
    – ff524
    Apr 28, 2014 at 13:41
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    Maybe that was poorly worded. Obviously you should worry about what your going to do before you actually finish your PhD but I think worrying too much about where you want to go after before you even start is a bit pointless too. Many people I know changed their opinion possibly several times over the course of their PhD.
    – nivag
    Apr 28, 2014 at 13:45
  • I admit that no matter what subject I'll study (so i.e. I'm interested in it) - I'll try to do my best at it. To fully understand it.
    – Gerian
    Apr 28, 2014 at 14:14

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