This week I was given an undergraduate research position in quantum sensing, an area that I’m quite excited about—I think that it has a load of potential applications in many areas. I’m not a quantum technology evangelist or anything—it has potential applications and uses, but it won’t be what companies and government bureaucrats want it to be.

I’m incredibly excited to start working in the lab. For the first time ever, I’ll be able to call myself a bonafide physicist—doing theory, experiment, computational work, and getting my name out there; I’ll kick ass for the next three years or so.

So, I have a research deal lined up, I’ll be on published papers as an undergraduate, and I’ll be getting payed for it too. What’s the catch?

The goddamn military.

The professor I’m working with is partially funded by the military. For most physicists, that’s nothing shocking—the military controls, counting in the DOE’s NNSA, 66% of America’s R&D budget for FY23—but for me it’s an ethical dilemma. The person I’m working with is one of the scant few physicists in the building doing anything I’m excited about—they publish good research in top-tier journals, and I’ll be able to get some strong letters of recommendation from them when it comes time for grad school. They get grants from a lot of other Federal agencies, like NASA, the DOE, and the NSF, but the DoD and its many subservient agencies appear in their papers constantly.

That military funding just rubs me the wrong way—it means that the military will use my research to make weapons; quantum sensing has the potential to help guide missiles for example. I know how to feel about this, but still I want to get farther in my career—this opportunity will give me a huge head start over other people getting into grad school.

But thinking that just makes me feel worse. I’m going against my own ethical principles for military money and career advancement. So I’m left to just rationalize.

The most astute thing I can say is that the world is not so clear-cut between military and civilian—the international monetary fund keeps former colonies in debt so their colonizers can continue exploiting them, the highway and internet (formerly ARPAnet) were made for decentralized logistical and communication networks for the military, and the modern field of electronics was created during WWII. The research I’ll be doing, as Tiqqun would put it, another facet of cybernetic government. Even if this entirely funded by the NSF, or the DOE’s civilian branches, the DoD could very easily use my research later—science does not sit in a vacuum.

Ultimately, I still won’t take DoD money for anything else—I won’t take the SMART Scholarship, I won’t take the NDSEG Felloship, and I won’t work in a DoD facility nor an NNSA lab. I will need to monitor myself though—if I can accept this, then I see a potential slippery slope into just working for Raytheon, the Naval Research Lab, or Los Alamos.

That said, I’m not beyond scrutiny. I’m aware that this is a selfish decision, at least by my ethical standards, but, considering the economic realities—and the amount of money the military spends on research—it is currently the best choice I have.