I had a discussion with another graduate student today about overspecializing ourselves into obscurity. She was lamenting her last several years as a spectroscopist and what is has done to her job prospects when I reminded her, she could always be in a worse place. She could be a theoretician.

To the scientific community, and society in general, we theoreticians are very valuable in that we hold a mastery, some better than others, in the knowledge base that our current perception of physical laws is based upon. When someone wants something explained properly they come to us. We explain things. How noble.

On the other hand, we are of almost no use to industry and commerce as we can’t really do anything. We can tell you what is happening, but we can’t make it happen if our tenure depended on it. Even a rudimentary understanding of basic physical concepts can produce a good experiment that outputs data. Whether or not meaningful information regarding the physics behind the data can be gotten is another story, and is where we come in. So in a perfect world every experimental group would have their own in-house theoretician, and every theoretical group would have their own little experimental whipping person.

But alas this world is not perfect (shocker), and experimentalists make stuff. I just think about stuff. Apparently there isn’t much of a market for thoughts these days.