A New Career Phase

[Dec 21, 2012 — End of the World (not)]

This year also marks an end for me — an end to my years at Rutgers University.  Although my faculty colleagues at Rutgers have been very supportive, the various  impacts of the Great Recession have made my scientific goals impossible to achieve there.  On the face of it, it’s crazy to walk away from a tenured professorship at a research university, but with both government funding and university support decreasing and unstable over the last five years, well…

For the short-term, I’ll continue doing some amount of research.  Going free-lance has its challenges, but hey, it isn’t the end of the world.

[UPDATE: For at least the 2013-2014 academic year, I am a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University.]


35 thoughts on “A New Career Phase”

  1. Matt: May we know more? Leaving a tenured position is not necessarily smart for an intellectual. It’s a wild, very anti-intellectual world out there. People who are not professors are taken less seriously. Tenure allows to probe deeper. Plus, in a more selfish teint, what is going to happen to this site? Feel free to expose publicly the interrogations you are sure to have, deep inside! Publicly debating helps, as you know.

    • Tenure is supposed to allow you to probe deeper, yes. To some degree it does; I’ve been tenured for ten years, and without it I wouldn’t be as deep into LHC physics as I am. But tenure is not enough, by itself.

      The website will continue indefinitely; indeed I started it in part because I saw the writing on the wall regarding my future. This decision was a long time coming.

  2. Does this mean you will now have time to pull all the stuff in this blog together in the form of a book on particle physics with just the right amount of math?

  3. Good luck in the new phase of your career.

    Although you say you’re not leaving physics entirely, thank god, it’s still interesting to have a look at the reasons why people do leave:


    So in your case, numbers: 2 Job security, 3. No creative outlet; seem to be the main reasons.

    I think the general problem faced by everyone in any profession is they simply need to do new things eventually, which is part of the human condition to eventually become bored and dissatisfied with the present, and to seek out new experiences, even if it means downsizing in some way. Hence you get lawyers wanting to become cooks in their own restaurant, or ex-Microsoft executives moving to Nepal to help put books in the school library.

    • john, thank you. but actually I have lifetime job security. If anything on this list, it’s 3 or 4 — and a bit of 6 over the years — but even that’s wrong. My real reasons aren’t on this list. And that’s because most people who leave physics do so as students and postdocs, with a few leaving as assistant professors because they didn’t get tenure at the place they wanted or at a place which worked for their families. I got tenure in 2002, so I’m in a completely different age bracket and job bracket.

    • Thanks for the link! For me it was number 2 but (fundamental) physics is a great lifelong hobby and you always find reasonable other jobs as a physicist (and being a mathematician and computer (programming) expert at the same time).

  4. Dear Prof. Strassler,

    I wish you all the best for the future, whatever you want to do.
    And many thanks for continuing this site, I like and appreciate this a lot :-).

    Maybe the future will bring some better times for (particle) physics and physicists some day …

  5. I repeate bob:
    Wishing you good fortune with the “new career phase”. Its scary having to leave a secure position but its that same security that chains you down too so here’s to great things for you in 2013.

  6. Professor Strassler, wishing you the best success in your new career path, and hope funding for fundamental research improves.

    After seeing this post I was curious what we have spent on our wars from Vietnam to the present, versus the cost of building the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) in Texas. According to The Congressional Research Service recent conflicts “Total Post 9/11-Iraq, Afghanistan,/Other” cost a total of 1,147 billion dollars in constant FYI2011 dollars. Using the same dollar scale, the Vietnam conflict cost 738 billion dollars. In 1993 dollars the projected cost of the SSC was 12 billion dollars.

    Looking back in time we were fortunate that under Reagan’s two terms we avoided long protracted ground conflicts. If, somehow, that circumstance could have continued, there might be an extra trillion dollars floating around available for funding fundamental research.

  7. Every truly great inventor has acknowledged that his or her achievement is built on the achievements of others, and recognises that often similar breakthroughs would have happened elsewhere because science has an ineluctable logic. Its findings at any moment are available to all. In reality????
    Intellectual property rights are casting a long dark shadow around the globe. Innovation is potentially being stifled and intellectual property rights used to protect incumbents and insiders(Collective Mentality).
    The current rules of the game for IPR are about securing a share of the pie, rather than growing it.
    Knowledge Capitalism curb Innovation- which interpret Democracy as a simple demonstration of Collective Mentality.

    It is also true for fundamental research. Knowledge about proton-electron mass ratio of methanol, half way in the universe may not create immediate profit, but discovery of change in masses of the Known (Apparently-) Elementary Particles…… ?

    Happy Holidays Professor.

  8. Veeramohan: I do not agree that Intellectual Property Rights have anything to do with it. If anything is published in the public domain, IPR cannot be asserted.

    Europeans are very hostile to IPR, and the result is that the innovation in practical high tech (computers, tablets, etc.) comes from the other side of Atlantic. And then Europeans crave what Apple makes.

    If nothing else, it would be better if fundamental science breakthroughs with quick applications could see the innovators, and their labs, being rewarded financially by more than the Nobel Prize (I am thinking of Optical Pumping here, which led quickly to the laser). All over the West, right now, plenty of fundamental research, especially in biology, cries to be done, but there is no financing… While (and because!) the (private) banks got somewhat more than 10,000 billion dollars in so called “Quantitative Easing”… From the machine that generates public money.

    It’s clear the financing of blue sky research was greater before the 1980s… (Under Reagan the upper tax margins were divided by up to a factor of five…)

  9. Thanks, Mr Patrice Ayme,
    nature go forward in only one way. whether finance can decide it is an issue.
    Knowledge Capitalism(it is not Intellectual Property Rights only, it goes deep into Roman law of private property history and evolution of citizenship and democracy) curb Innovation- which interpret Democracy as a simple demonstration of Collective Mentality – may be a dead end- not the way in which the nature does?

    Happy Holidays.

  10. Matt, I´d like to thank you for all the time and patience you have invested in this web site, and I hope in some way it will be continued, although you now have to concentrate on new challenges.
    I wish you all the best for your next steps, and a peaceful christmas season.

  11. “For the short-term, I’ll continue doing some amount of research. Going free-lance has its challenges, but hey, it isn’t the end of the world.”

    Umm…actually, for most of us, it *would* be the end of the world. Are you independently wealthy or something? Sorry to be so impudent, but I’m genuinely interested, as I too [as a tenured full prof with a small child to support] dream of getting out. I know this is very personal, but I think it would really be a public service if you could be more clear about what you will be doing henceforth. Thanks!

    • To be honest, if I had a small child to support, I probably would have made a different decision. The balance between job security and job fulfillment is one that always has be considered, no matter what kind of job one has… in this regard there’s nothing special about academic life except that job security is exceptionally good. (But with the changes coming to academia from the on-line revolution, it’s not as good as it once was — and it would not surprise me if a lot of academics will lose their jobs in the next ten to twenty years.)

      • Thanks for your honest reply! Well, as far as the on-line revolution is concerned…. I am one of those people whose lectures are supposedly so good that they get recorded and archived… so I will be one of those people putting academics out of work, I’m sorry to say…. anyway, best wishes, and do be assured that many people will be intensely interested in hearing about how things work out.

  12. Matt:
    Thank you. I am a believer in the old adage, you reap what you sow. You have sown wonderful seeds on this website and I am sure elsewhere. You will reap accordingly. Be well and continue to do good work.

  13. Dear Professor. As a layman, I can say today at the end of 2012, that I know more about the world I live in thanks in great part to you, and others like you. Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, Jim Alkhalili David Attenborough, that grand, late Gentleman, Sir Patrick Moore.

    Though I haven’t cracked it totally yet, I have the beginnings of an insight into the concept of spacetime, photographs of the moon, an ongoing and growing interest in the prospect of life on other planets, an understanding of the way life grows from its beginnings, and now, with yourself, an appreciation of particle physics that permits me sensible curiosity in the nature of matter, and then back to space time………

    Accompanying you on a short part of your own journey has been an exciting experience for me, and I feel very grateful for the effort you have put into this blog, to possibly educate people like me, who left school with very bad marks in maths, and no sciences. It’s been such an inclusive experience, to almost be present when great things were being done, and with a voice too.

    I want to thank you very much for prompting me to pay attention, to the axtent of finding out why atoms are different from each other. Thats pretty much where I had to start, the periodic table. They were right at school. I could have worked much harder. This has been fun.

    If your next position involves motivating people to do more, I’d say you are on a winner. Good Luck, a happy new year to you, and thanks again.

    Ali Duncan

    • Thank you, Ali. It’s very rewarding to hear that my colleagues and I, who are doing our best to communicate the excitement and complexities of real science to non-experts, are having an impact, especially among people like yourself who do not have a math and science background of any sort.

  14. Matt, good luck in your new endeavours. Please, PLEASE do continue writing articles for this blog. You do an amazing job! Happy new year.

  15. Best of luck in your new direction.

    This reminds me of Julian Barbour, who chose to forego the traditional path to theoretical research, because he did not think that environment was conducive to advancing the types of non-mainstream ideas he wanted to explore. In the back if my mind, I’ve frequently amused myself with the thought of changing careers to one in which I could use my day job to fund doing what I love unconstrained.

  16. Matt,
    Congratulations on taking the plunge- I am sure you won’t regret it. Just out of interest- are you moving into high-tech or computing? Feel free not to answer if that is being too nosey 🙂

  17. Professor, I wanted to ask you which college I ought to apply to, is Simon’s rock a better choice than the university of Houston? I couldn’t find the minimum grades required for applying to Simon’s rock.

    • Well, I can’t tell you or advise you where to apply without knowing much more about you and your personality and goals, but I can tell you this: Simon’s Rock is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, with a rigorous and intense academic program, yet it has unique features that you should know about before you apply; most students (not all) go there after 10th or after 11th grade, rather than after 12th, so they are very highly motivated, but also a bit younger on average than the usual beginning college student. Also the college is small — that means that students get a great deal of individual attention (there are no large lecture classes of 100 people, for instance), but it still might not be what you want. Also, unlike the University of Houston, it is in a rural area (though an interesting one). So I would say it is an excellent school, far better than most (certainly after I spent some time at Princeton I appreciated how much better Simon’s Rock is, in a number of ways — students get far more feedback from faculty at Simon’s Rock, and write far more papers) — but it still isn’t for everyone. I am sure if you contact the admissions folks at Simon’s Rock they will be happy to tell you all about it. http://simons-rock.edu/admission, and 413-644-4400 (just ask for the admissions office).

      If you want further advice after you’ve had a chance to talk to them, feel free to ask — at which point you’ll have to tell me more about your goals. But you should talk to the admissions people directly first.

  18. I am deeply grateful for your rare ability to make the complex, and sometimes hidden, leading edge of particle physics understandable to so many of us who are not in your field.

    With my best wishes and Congratulations on your new adventure. May it be even more fruitful than the last.

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  20. Goood day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this sie before bbut
    after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new
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  21. Matt,
    I am a retired employment job-training specialist. It’s been a while since you posted anything. So, if you you don’t mind me asking, where are you now? What are you doing?


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