Science and finance
In a recent column in the Huffington Post, Amanda Terkel wrote about America’s “Brain Drain,” how graduates in scientific fields work in finance rather than continuing with research. Instead of continuing with scientific research and development, technical majors often end up in the world of finance, working for a Wall Street investment bank. But rather than demonize the banking institutions for “taking” these graduates, demonize the research institutions for not paying enough to keep them. It isn’t Wall Street’s fault that it pays more, and when given the option people will choose massive financial incentives almost every time. Research institutions, such as universities and the government, need to pay graduates more if they want them to continue their research.
Science graduates are faced with a very stressful research environment that demands incredible devotion to a project that may not even be funded, and for far less compensation than a bank would offer. As a result, many decide not to even engage in such research. This is a perfectly rational thing to do, but one that harms most of the nation in general. As a physics major myself, I would certainly like to continue on to secure my Ph.D., but it is easier for me to go to Wall Street and make a little money rather than spend another four years in school.
While this may seem like a rather selfish act for those graduates, one must understand the perspective of those whose future is involved. From a rational, self-interested point of view, there is almost no reason to continue with research. This simple statement of fact makes those who dedicate their lives to technical research even more admirable, as they put the accumulation of knowledge above their own personal benefit.
Unfortunately, this is a difficult reality to change. While there is an intangible gain from a better understanding of the world, there is very little immediate economic benefit for research in fields such as planetary sciences or physics. While scientific research eventually leads to dramatic societal benefits—just look at the vast technological changes over the last 50 years that can be attributed, both directly and indirectly to such fields—such dramatic advances often take very long periods of time to reach the market.
This is a very difficult problem to address, as these tendencies are the most economically rational for all the involved parties. Ideally, we could restructure our view of the sciences, making them seem like a much more desirable career than they are currently. That is a long-term goal, however. In the immediate future, it would be best to see an increase in national funding for such groups as the National Science Foundation or NASA—a difficult pitch in these economic times. The real question is if we, as a nation, can afford not to fund scientific research. As each year passes, our technological edge, arguably the most important factor in American economic growth over the past 30 years, slowly erodes.
Don’t hate me because I’m going to work on Wall Street; hate everyone else for not giving me a reason to stick with science. I want to, but when push comes to shove, money talks more than the ability to solve differential equations.