There’s at least one thing about string theory that has changed dramatically since my book was written back in 2002 or so. At the time I accumulated various numbers showing the way hiring in particle theory at leading institutions in the US had been dominated by string theory hires. Overall, at that time about 20 people/year were getting tenure-track positions, roughly half in string theory half in phenomenology. This data came from the Theoretical Particle Physics Jobs Rumor Mill, and Erich Poppitz has done an excellent job of putting some statistics together based on this data (see here). In recent years Erich’s data shows a much lower number of such positions (10-15/year), due to some combination of the bad economy and lack of enthusiasm for particle theory by other physicists. The number of string theorists getting positions had come down to about 2/year, then down to only one last year.
The hiring season is not yet over and not all the data is in, but so far the Rumor Mill shows no job offers to string theorists at all. Job offers are going pretty exclusively to phenomenologists and cosmologists, with phenomenologists allowed to stray into formal theory if they work on topics related to N=4 SYM and its superconformal invariance (including the hot topic of amplitudes). Marcus at PhysicsForums has patched some of the Rumor Mill links for better accuracy.
One thing hasn’t changed though since 2002: there’s a much larger number of talented and accomplished candidates than there are jobs, and departments are playing it safe, offering the few jobs available only to people working in a small number of areas that are conventionally agreed to be “hot”. As always, if you’re working on some idea that’s not in the narrow mainstream, there’s no chance you’ll get hired into a permanent position at a US institution.
Update: There is one string theorist now with a job offer it seems, with Princeton making an offer to Simone Giombi, who works on the hot topic of higher spins. So, at least Princeton has not given up….
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