Friday, December 13, 2013

Would You Hire Peter Higgs Today?

This is a rather thought-provoking piece on how competitive it is now in the physics job market, especially for academic position. Peter Higgs was asked if he thinks that he could get a job in today's environment. His answer was "No".

Low productivity, Higgs believes, would sink his chances for an academic post in today's job market. In the 49 years since he wrote the papers laying out what physicists now call the Higgs model, he has "published fewer than 10 papers," The Guardian notes.

Fortunately for his career, at the time Higgs did his groundbreaking work he had a faculty post at the University of Edinburgh, where he is now a professor emeritus. His scanty publication record made him "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises," he says, as quoted in The Guardian. Only a 1980 nomination for the Nobel Prize kept him from being let go, he told the paper.

We need to keep in mind that times have changed. Things that used to work, or things that one can get away with a couple of decades ago, may no longer work now. I cringe every time I hear advices being given to people by using the examples of Einstein and Galileo and Dyson, etc. as indicating that something can be done that way. This totally ignored the reality of today and how things no longer work the way they did back then.



Unknown said...

The thing is, his publication list is really weak. He more or less stop publishing right after his papers on the boson.

The question is : what did he do during remaining years before he got emeritus ? Just stayed in his office playing Majong ? Then he should have been fired. But maybe he was a very good professor or advisor, and in that case it can be ok to keep him, though he was still having a position that could have been of better use for someone else.

In the end, remember that if Higgs had been fired before his work, that would not have changed the history of physics (other than the name of the boson), since seven other people were publishing the same thing at the same time... So I don't think that Higgs is a good example of the problem of today "publish or perish" : to me, he should have perished.

S.D said...

please note that Einstein, Newton or Dirac all contributed much more ..., and they had been productive throughout their careers.

John P said...

By all accounts, Newton was an odd, socially inept man. He never married, and he died a virgin. He would probably be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by a modern psychiatrist. Dirac was taciturn, also socially inept, and an oddball who went for long walks by himself on Sundays. I wonder if either of them could he hired for an academic position today?

Is anyone ready to argue that academic physics is a model for social equality and fairness in hiring and promotion? I have my doubts. I believe that is what Prof. Higgs is hinting at in his comments.