I don't blame you at all (I'm sure your quality of life is magnitudes of order better, and I'd do the same in your position) and this isn't personal at all, it just pains me that our brightest graduates are working in finance rather than something like curing cancer.
Candidates aren't draining away—they're being pushed away, either at the selection stage or through terrible conditions. (When taking on real firm-wide risk with millions of dollars is less stressful than basic research, you know something's gone terribly wrong!) The macroscopic problem isn't that finance and industry are luring people away, it's that so many more people want to do research than the system can possibly support.
You could argue that finance is luring away the most qualified candidates, but I don't think that's true. More importantly, since research careers are so impacted, institutions can get away with really noisy selection processes—if you thought tech hiring was bad, just look at how faculty members are selected.
The other part, of course, is that trading is not useless. I recently started a job working on supply chain optimization, and the problems we solve and the models we build actually look a lot like what certain kinds of traders do. I don't think anybody would argue that doing math to eke out a 10% reduction on spoilage at grocery stores is socially useless, and yet that's very similar to the sort of efficiencies that come out of better markets—it's just that the value is more abstract, in large part because the public markets are much more decentralized and abstract than physical supply chains.
Look, I'm not saying trading makes a marginal impact on par with basic research, either at an individual or a global level. But it's not useless, and I wouldn't be surprised if a trader at some small firm was just as useful to society as the 10,000th engineer at Google. (Not that we can really measure that.)
The markets, after all, are a gigantic, distributed coordination system running large swathes of the economy. That's pretty important too!
Is it though? I got into the (top 2 or 3) program for my field with a middling GPA and a decent GRE. Compared to e.g. law and medicine, I think it was substantially easier for a given level of 'prestige'.
> just look at how faculty members are selected
In my experience, nepotism, later-career candidates, and some shiny publications. All the talk about hiring some younger candidates, even gasp someone with just a few years of postdoc, was just that: empty talk. I've seen tenured faculty threaten to leave if their girlfriend wasn't hired (seriously, fortunately he failed), candidates get fast-tracked because they were friends with the son of one of the faculty, etc.
Out of the 30 or so people I got to know decently well during my PhD, only two of them are off to strong starts. Interestingly, both of them have parents that are well-regarded senior faculty in fields identical and quite similar (respectively). Don't get me wrong, they are both very capable and, in their cases, have earned the positions, but despite being far from naive, the degree of nepotism in science has impressed me.
I think it is. That's certainly my experience with CS. You need some combination of GPA, recommendations from known researchers in the field, research experience/accomplishments and a strong undergraduate school. You don't need all of these always, but they all have an effect.
Most of the grad students I knew at Berkeley CS came in with at least one good publication and high GPAs. Similarly, some very capable people I know from less-well-known universities (in the US and internationally) were rejected from most programs they applied to. My observations combined with the low % acceptance rates lead me to believe it's definitely difficult—especially if you come from an even slightly non-standard background. And this is in a field where most people don't pursue PhDs—I don't even want to think about what Math and Physics programs must be like.
On the other hand, you can get some pretty deep (and well-paying!) positions in industry without having a degree at all, and people won't even look at your GPA. It's a lot more flexible.
Well that's exactly the problem. We as a society have decided that our brightest minds should be working in finance. I think that's outrageous, and that we should be utilizing their minds for the greater good instead. In other words, we need to increase the supply of these research jobs, and make them more attractive then working in finance.
Of course certain fields of finance benefit society. That doesn't mean their talents wouldn't be better off to society elsewhere. Also, certain jobs like proprietary trading are the equivalent of gambling and on a net basis don't make society any better off.
That's a fair summary. My core point was that it's far more a matter of constrained research positions rather than finance being so alluring. It's not hard to make a research position more attractive to most bright minds than finance: you just have to offer autonomy, a bit of prestige and working conditions that aren't absolutely terrible.
> certain jobs like proprietary trading are the equivalent of gambling
The proprietary trading firms I'm familiar tend to be risk averse and specialize in things like market making and arbitrage. This is probably some of the most unambiguously useful activity on the markets: it's companies like that that make things like ETFs and less liquid securities work efficiently. Without market makers, various useful but niche securities would be significantly more painful to trade in practice.
Regarding prop trading, prop trading itself is the betting of the firm's own money for profit. I equated it to gambling because that's what it is. On a net basis, this doesn't really benefit society because it's essentially a zero sum game.
Market making on the other hand does benefit society by providing/ensuring liquidity.
That's not it at all. The best and brightest people have decided what they'd really love to do is take a tenured position at a prestigious university and do research.
Since finance companies that need really smart people can't offer that kind of life they have to compensate with cash.
This says nothing about what "we as a society" have decided. What this tells us is finance is boring.
Except we are slowly getting rid of tenure, and "that kind of life" is in no way glamorous for 99% of researchers. You have to be passionate about research to the detriment of nearly every other aspect of your life, or independently wealthy, so live comfortably (again, for most people).
The amount of people who recommend that is staggering.
Lesson learnt: I need to get into finance...
but what can I say? We're a culture that in 1969 went to the moon, but by 1974/5 we were cutting everything we could.
"society" hasn't decided anything. Under capitalism, money flows towards where it is allocated most efficiently and gets the highest rate of return, which is apparently to employ researchers in the finance sector. If you have an issue with that, take it up with capitalism.
> we need to increase the supply of these research jobs, and make them more attractive then working in finance.
Barring the revolution I vaguely implied above, these two things would require lots of money and lots of money, respectively. Have fun asking for it in 2016's political environment.
We don't necessarily have to move off capitalism. We simply need to address the flaws of capitalism, say by increasing research funding or not bailing out large investment banks every time they make awful bets.
Plus, they typically only post openings once a year. If you miss the fall interview rounds (to start the following fall), you pretty much wait until the following year. So, you're looking at 2 years out if you don't have something lined up after your postdoc, or if you "finish" (whatever that means) your postdoc in late winter.
Working a prop trading firm is nowhere near "making rich people richer via gambling in the financial markets".
Furthermore, the majority of software/engineering jobs out there are not doing "something more beneficial to society". How many companies are really just ad-driven, marketing-driven.
Yes, it would be nice if the entire world could focus on "something like curing cancer", but other things need to get done. And the majority of people have bills to pay.
I am very similar to the OP, except I bailed halfway through the PhD, because I realized that, in academia, I will work 80 hours a week for $40k, or I can go into finance and work half that and make multiples more.
I can now donate/spend my money to causes like "curing cancer" or "making art" and let somebody who really wants to devote their life to that craft do so.
Some people think research or science is the only path to a better society but in all honesty it may just take paying people in a poor country to plant trees.
That said, research is seriously underfunded.
"When I was a little boy, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised, the Lord, in his wisdom, doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me."
Sometimes to get what you want you have to sell out or otherwise find an unorthodox means to your desired end state.
The list is extremely partial. I'd be much happier seeing other contributions to it than sniping about significance.
Yet, every time finance work is mentioned, someone brings up "I can't believe you work in finance instead of curing cancer."
Guess what? I don't want to work on curing cancer. I used to. I went to school for biomedical engineering and wanted to work on big problems. I realized I would rather do as little work as possible (but still be challenged), and spend time with my family and friends. And I'll happily give money to people to cure this problems.
And those big problems that I wanted to work on before? Well, I'm sure there's somebody that really cares about that. The best way I can help is using my time in ways that I enjoy, and giving my money to those who will actually enjoy finding that cure.
A friend of mine almost died from some disease when she was in her teens. She survived, and is now a researcher for that specific field. She has a personal interest in that research, even if it means she might have to sacrifice other things. And she was also the one who convinced me to bail from the PhD program. She said "if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, do something else."
That's when I realized academic research is long, painful work, but you have to be excited for it. If I'm not excited, I should do something else, and then give money or help increase funding to make it less painful for those who still want to be there.
tl;dr - Go short on PhD salaries!
I was simply addressing the absurdity that our smartest minds are incentivized to go into finance rather than work on the most difficult and important problems in the world. The modern day Albert Einstein is probably working at a hedge fund. If we allocated humanity's resources differently, then we could be so much more technologically advanced.
This is a big problem in itself.
> make rich people richer
It is prop trading, so we are making ourselves richer, technically. We do a lot of charity work and donations with schools, etc.
> Doesn't it feel like a waste of your talents
Absolutely. However, I also like not having to beg my toddler to eat the food in front of him because payday is 10 days away, every credit card is maxed, and who knows how we will get to the grocery, which is what happened sometimes during my postdoc 3-7 years ago. Student loans were coming in at ~$1500/month when I'm making $2500/month. It was very difficult, and I was deeply depressed. When I finally landed that professor position, my workload got worse, and while there was a pay increase, I still wasn't going to be buying a house anytime soon. This was NOT an expensive area. We ended up living with my parents for a while (me, my wife, and 3 kids). The math just wasn't adding up, and there wasn't an end in sight. Adding in trouble getting grants, not wanting to restart the faculty job search, I started looking at industry. I applied at a few prop trading firms on whim, and mine ended up being a great fit.
I was pretty successful doing the actual research, but my particular niche (neuroscience+software methods and tools) isn't really funded by grants. I even got several rounds of good publicity for some of my PhD work, and did international interviews, etc. I was a very good scientist, but that doesn't cut it any more; new investigators are competing with established labs and members of the AAS who are submitting 30 grants per cycle. I was doing some very cool work with kids with epilepsy, which would greatly improve outcomes. I was a very valuable member of our collaboration; that research more or less came to a halt when I left, though I have been able to help out through consulting from time to time. So, what I did was in high demand and highly worthwhile, but there was a disconnect with getting the funding.
Am I being greedy? Maybe. There is that saying "you have to love yourself before you can love others." I think that might apply financially as well, particularly with regards to your family. It wasn't worth seeing my kids live in the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, going to crappy schools in crime-ridden areas that we can afford, with the added possibility of losing their dad because everyday he wonders if today is the day he drives off a bridge on the way home or something. If that means that my epilepsy research doesn't get done...then so be it. Vote for people who will increase research funding. So, when the offer came in and it was 3X what I was making as a prof, without considering bonuses, the weight of the world left my shoulders.
This. You don't owe anyone anything for being smart and diligent. If you were a lone wolf and enjoying your workload there would have been nothing wrong in your previous situation if you felt it wotrthwhile yourself.
Family changes everything. Having to fight to reach ends meet is not beneficial to anyone. Raising three kids means you are responsible for their future. There is nothing more important than caring for your kids. Someone might say that you are responsible for the reduced outcomes of epileptic kids whom your research helped but that would be completely lacking in human perspective.
Humans cannot live like supermen. That's why we have organizations with long term goals and mandates to affect society wide effects. An individual can make a difference, but that individual can be anyone.
A person who claims you should have stayed in the academia can do that if they will pay your loans and provide you with a sufficient life time grant. Otherwise they are full of excrement and lack a sane perspective.
I certainly would have preferred research, but given that most people just go voting for the same political parties that vehemently defend the current financial establishment, I have no remorse. (Yes, I am a huge Chomsky fan...) From my POV, we are only doing what is necessary to enable our families to have a normal life in a world getting more imbalanced, without any critical mass of people seeming to notice or care.
Hopefully, people will wake up soon enough and finally stop voting the non-options they are presented with (HC vs DT...)
That's the big question. In addition, when a professor gets a grant, the university takes a large chunk (40-60%) for overhead.
Anecdote: When I started as a postdoc recently, all new faculty and staff had orientation together. This was the middle of the semester, and there were about 20-25 of us. Of that group, there were no new professors (beginning of semester, wouldn't be unusual), 2-3 postdocs, maybe 5 facilities people (janitor, electrician, etc). Everyone else was administration/communication/finance/etc.
Universities, particularly large ones, are very, very, top heavy (with part of that due to compliance with regulations).
For the most part, both increased tuition and falling research grants are symptoms of the same underlying cause: reduced government support for higher education and R&D.
With fewer funds for education, tuition rises. But that tuition is filling in the hole created by a subsidy gap. Not increased research.
Furthermore, firms such as DE Shaw and Renaissance Technologies directly impact research by funding parallel non-profit science organizations (DE Shaw Research and the Simons Foundation respectively).
So it's not really a zero sum game at all.
This type of question represents one of the things that really turns people away from getting into science, or makes people leave. You are expected to give up your ENTIRE PERSONAL LIFE to "the good of society" and make these sacrifices, for...what? To get denied tenure in 5 years (if you're lucky enough to be tenure-track)? This is even more true for women, though this isn't unique to academia. I was thirty years old, had been married for 6 years, just finished my PhD, and thought starting a family sounded like a reasonable thing to. And, my next two kids were born after my postdoc. So, fuck that, and anyone who thinks that waiting until you're 40 to have kids sounds reasonable.
The last time I looked at science there was no vow of staying childless required.
Waiting for kids until you're 'settled' just isn't a justifiable demand for a career that takes 30 years to become established.
I also believe society as a whole is being shortsighted in creating such a wide spread, but its not within his power to correct it; it's societies failure to think long term and his duty is to his family first.
Now I work on trying to get more clicks to my company website.
The play chips are not imaginary, the rich have better lives in almost all aspects.
I know very well communism as such does not work, and that at our current stage of development we need prices and markets for resource optimization. And laws and judicial systems and so on.
The play chips are imaginary. We play by the rules due to convention, not due to a law of nature.
The rich are better off not because only a marginal percent of population can be better off, but because how the current economic system stochastically distributes the captured value from various economic processes.
Their main happiness comes not from being "better" than anybody else, but because their resources enable them to avoid the lower rungs of maslow's hierarchy of needs and focus on self actualization.
Society can change. Anything else is misogynic fantasy. USA was born out of hate of kings and aristocracy and the taxes imposed thereof, of the hate of existing status quo of hereditary benefits and cronyism of state power.
Sure, it was not better for a large category of population, but it was a society designed, that functioned differently than anything else before it, and remains functioning to this day. It was born into a world where anything else but a strong monarchy was a whimsical daydream.
Change happens. There is no reason to accept status quo if it seems unsavory. One must remain a realist and a humanist while one is at it.
Saying "nothing but the current system is possible" is delusional denial of empirically proven changes societies and economic systems can go through.
The British Empire continued into the "sun never sets" level. The effects of the British Empire on the colonies has been a mixture of good and bad. They thought about it hard, in a John Stuart Mill way about it. They were often wrong, many were horrifyingly venal about the colonies and it all ended soon enough.
The fundamental problem is that the ability of people to be terrible is a real challenge to counter. It's simply not easy. And the classic Conservative trope is that we really don't know how we got here in a comprehensive fashion.
We live in an utterly amazing time.
I'd also dump Maslow soon. There's too much hubris amongst the rich and powerful for it to work well.
Sorry, I was a bit hyperbolic. I did not claim the founding fathers were anything but what you say.
From historical perspective, what they achieved, was an exceptionally good outcome. Namely - they created a new system of government that did not degenarate into a dictatorship despite the tumultuous beginnings and enormous popular and military support for some of it's leaders (e.g. Washington).
My purpose was to point out that designed changes on how a society operates can be implemented and the change can be implemented in good form. The USA was perhaps a bit too extreme example, as there are many others, less radical as well.
"I'd also dump Maslow soon. There's too much hubris amongst the rich and powerful for it to work well."
I've found the hierarchy of needs a fantastic model in simplicity and power in exploring human condition. What specifically is wrong with it?
Example: there was much meddling in the 1930s with farm production. It took until the 1970s before the modern version of farm subsidy latched in - call it 4 decades. ( See the film "King Corn" for an excellent treatise)
I've just never been able to use Maslow to make predictions. It just doesn't explain things like poets at all. People who "move up the Maslow hierarchy" often become duller and duller - all the weight of maintaining that drags em down. I've known too many people who didn't know where their next meal was coming from, and for some of them, that was a sort of freedom.
I think the magic of the Founders was all the shuffling off to The Colonies of all the malcontents and radicals, in a time when that produced favorable results. You'd get more current theory at Harvard than at King's College.
I would still hold not replicating a familiar monarchy or degenerating into a dictatorship was an achievement. I'm not saying anything about any other aspects.
The thing with psychological models is that they are models and as such cannot replicate all observed phenomena. Just like physical models can't. In general we can observe that poor people lack the resources for doing what they like and struggle unhappily while rich people need something else than just wealth to keep them happy - a long term goal, a hobby and so on. I think Maslows model captures this phenomena on the level of human populations. It does not explain art. I doubt no model understandable to humans could capture all facets of human life.
The US model hasn't really been all that replicated - the Parlimentary model has proved to be more common ( possibly because of the extent of the British Empire ) . The US has advanced the idea of democracy but it's done differently. I would say we do not really know why the US has worked out as well as it has.
I just think Maslow is too reductive. There are some really happy poor people out there. To my eye, a lot of outcomes for especially, say African Americans in the US depends on much more ephemeral factors - like strong family ties - than Maslow would predict.
Meanwhile, wealthy people can be quite anomic and neurotic. I've done medium well, and I spend my time as if I were a student and trying to connect with family. The people I know who have done better seem more isolated and feel more trapped than I do.
Happiness is as much a chosen thing as a matter of resources.
The comment to which I replied chaffed at thinking there could be any other system than what there currently is. To me this is a dangerously rigid way to view the human life. Everything should be questioned, if only to find answers.
Yes, historically we are doing pretty good. This proves sometimes changes in systems improve things. This is why questions that generally lead peoples to think of other systems should be approached with kind questioning and inquiry rather than scoffing them as rubbish off-hand - we should amswer why they often are impossible.
"That's a profound problem. We're limited now by artifacts of human cognition."
Yes, this is a very good summary of the other half of the problem. The other is figuring a dynamical model of the economy (which might or might not be impossible).
Anecdote: Many of my high school friends and peers went on to pursue medicine. I pursued engineering. Multiple times I was asked by these people, "You're smart so why aren't you spending your life making a difference?" Your comment and its ilk remind me of that question.
Your friends were delusional. In the world, there is a pool of change agents driven by intrinsic drive, and some of them can make an actual difference, but I don't think there is any way to choose becoming the specific agent who matters - rather, one can only join the pool and do ones best.
As you describe it, your friends thought they asked why you don't want to be the change agent who matters (which is a non-sequitur). They could have asked why you don't want to jump into the pool and dedicate several years of your life to a possible dead end career (which they probably didn't ask).
I asked why it's bad to whish for different economic environment for those in the pool.
I may have misinterpreted the discussion before my comment, though.
The crapton of data is produced and relied on because of broken philosophy of system. That could be changed as well (I don't know how).
"We are quite in danger of sending highly trained and highly intelligent young men out into the world with tables of erroneous numbers under their arms, and with a dense fog in the place where their brains ought to be. In this century, of course, they will be working on guided missiles and advising the medical profession on the control of disease, and there is no limit to the extent to which they could impede every sort of national effort."
Fisher, R N (1958). "The Nature of Probability". Centennial Review. 2: 261–274