> 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.