US HEP Demography

Late last week there was a meeting of HEPAP in Washington, presentations available here. Several dealt with the current budget situation, which is basically that the current FY2008 budget is a disaster, and the Bush administration has proposed huge compensatory increases for FY2009. No one seems to have any idea what Congress will do or when, so the future for US government support of HEP is completely unclear not only for the long-term, but even for the next fiscal year, which starts in a few months.

The NSF presentation noted that NSF funding for particle physics theory was down 4% in FY2008, to about $14 million, of which roughly $1.5 million goes to the KITP at Santa Barbara. The critical issues for the NSF particle theory program were listed as:

  • Need to involve more people in LHC-related physics.
  • Need new hires in phenomenology.
  • Traditional funding sources for students (being TAs) is becoming problematic. (need more funding for students)
  • You can see why string theorists these days are pushing the idea of “string phenomenology” and claims that somehow string theory is relevant to the LHC.

    At the DOE, funding for theoretical particle physics was flat for FY2008, at $60 million, with a proposed 5% increase for FY2009.

    There was also an interesting presentation about an on-going project to gather demographic information on the people working in particle physics. I was surprised to see that statistics show significant recent increases at all levels in the numbers of people working in particle physics. From 2003-2007 the number of graduate students went from 1129 to 1335 (making one wonder why the NSF is worried about not supporting enough graduate students…), postdocs and untenured research staff from 1331 to 1406, untenured faculty from 228 to 284, and tenured faculty or staff from 1343 to 1355. In particle theory, the total number of people went from 1292 to 1414, so this increase in numbers was not all in experiment.

    Also worth reading is a presentation from Robert Sugar about the present state of Lattice QCD calculations.

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    3 Responses to US HEP Demography

    1. Mike says:

      Gee, flat funding year after year and the number of people in the field keeps going up. Maybe Congress must know a good deal when it sees it!

    2. Peter Orland says:

      Academic employment is determined by more than
      simply the amount of generally available external funding.

      Theoretical particle physicists may have trouble bringing in
      money to universities, but they also cost those universities very little. Hence they don’t entail much risk. Though particle theorists obtain smaller (and fewer) grants, they don’t have expensive demands, hence universities get to keep much of the overhead. Of course, other theorists are even better in this respect – but unlike particle theorists, they sometimes can’t thrive without experimentalists in the same department.

      Despite the last decade’s funding difficulties, particle experimentalists
      could be considered a worthwhile risk – when they are funded, the
      university hauls in a bundle. A risk-benefit analysis may suggest
      particle experimentalists aren’t a good gamble, but universities
      usually ignore such analyses (a good example is football. Football
      teams are a money sink-hole in most universities. They are kept on because the teams which pay off, pay off big).

    3. Peter Orland says:

      P.S. It’s interesting that “Late-Night HEP TV” has many more comments than this topic does.

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