The February 13 edition of Time Magazine had an interesting article that I think would make for some good discussion.
For a full reference, you can see the article here.
Basically, what I gathered from the article is that the US is no longer the superpower when it comes to scientific development. Other countries are becoming equally competititive in this new era where communication occurs rapidly and information is only a keystroke away.
There was one part of the article that made me feel a bit uneasy.
“If we compare what our best undergraduates get paid as a graduate student vs. what they get paid in investment banking, there’s no doubt that there’s tremendous economic pressure to suck you away from what is perhaps your first academic love.” As for teaching science at the precollege level, salaries and working conditions are even more dismal.
Students at elite universities are getting that message loud and clear. Melisa Gao, 20, is a senior majoring in chemistry at Princeton, but when recruiters from consulting firms and investment banks showed up on campus last fall, she went on several interviews, and she will take a job as a consultant after graduation. She says, “They love the fact that science majors can think analytically, that we’re comfortable with numbers.” Increasingly, science majors love those companies back. Gao says, “There are no guarantees if you go into science, especially as a woman. You have to worry about getting tenure. Or if you go into industry, it takes you a long time to work your way up the ladder.” If you go into finance or consulting instead, “by the time your roommate is out of grad school, you’ve been promoted, plus you’re making a lot more money, while they’re stuck in lab.”
Even at M.I.T., the U.S.’s premier engineering school, the traditional career path has lost its appeal for some students. Says junior Nicholas Pearce, a chemical-engineering major from Chicago: “It’s marketed as–I don’t want to say dead end but sort of ‘O.K., here’s your role, here’s your lab, here’s what you’re going to be working on.’ Even if it’s a really cool product, you’re locked into it.” Like Gao, Pearce is leaning toward consulting. “If you’re an M.I.T. grad and you’re going to get paid $50,000 to work in a cubicle all day–as opposed to $60,000 in a team setting, plus a bonus, plus this, plus that–it seems like a no-brainer.”
There’s a lot of validity in this statement. Teachers and professors make less money than those who go into banking. The life of a graduate student sometimes is less than glamorous.
I still love science.
One of the things I have been encountering lately is my engineering friends deciding that they want to leave the sciences and go into banking or consulting. This week alone, walking up and down the Infinite, I’ve run into a bunch of friends on their way to interviews with some of the world’s biggest banks and consulting firms. I won’t lie; I really used to want that for myself as well. I wanted to wear the pinstripe suit and walk down Wall Street into my office on the top floor with my own personal cappucino machine. Today, I want a some lab space and research journals to publish my findings.
I really don’t know. One of the things I’ve observed is that these days a lot of people associate success with $ucce$$. Research careers may not necessarily yield stock options and company cars; they probably won’t, but I still think these jobs are just as important as the person at Goldman Sachs. Without science, where would we be? What I consider success has dramatically changed. I spend countless hours in lab watching the hours go by until I get an interesting data point that highlights some feature worth writing a paper about. I’ve become paper-hungry but not with regards to money, but to how many journals I can get in before I graduate and the ultimate success, FIRST AUTHOR.
As for MIT students leaving engineering and the sciences for consulting and finance, to each his own. I’ll take my lab bench any day. Personally, my experience here has reaffirmed my unquenched desire to play with the unknown, and for me, I find that in science and engineering. Inventing my own equations and just going for it.
What do you think about this article?