Friday, October 28, 2005

Why you probably shouldn't become a scientist...

Here's a good diatribe about Why You Shouldn't Become a Scientist. It's written by an American professor of Physics and i got to it by way of Information Processing. Sadly, everything he says is true. If i had to give some advice to someone 16 or 17 years of age who was interested in doing science at university it would consist of the following two points:
  1. Spend 4 years getting your 3 yr BSc (it's not a race) and make sure you get good advice on what order to do your papers i.e. if possible do first year physics in your second year after doing a couple of maths papers in your first year - this will allow you to think about the subject matter rather than the squiggly S's all over the board, similarly with physical chemistry
  2. If you want to study a classic science like chemistry or physics, make sure you have a marketable skill by the time you graduate (again, the 4 years should give you plenty of time) - at the very least, be able to competently program in a couple of generic languages, this will put food on the table when nothing else will. Science is a great discipline for analytical thinking but that tends to get you sweet FA job interviews.
  3. If you want to work in the technical field as oposed to the research side of things, engineering is a far better bet and will pay significantly more over your career (at the very least, you get a job by your early-20's rather than you late-20's/early 30's if you do research science)
  4. Regularly look for jobs in your discipline throught your undergrad. This will pretty quickly let you size up the number of grads/year vs the number of jobs they're going for.
Back to the essay, I especially like one sentence right at the end:
The funding agencies are bemoaning the scarcity of young people interested in science when they themselves caused this scarcity by destroying science as a career.
This is directly applicable to the NZ scene. I feel like lobbing a brick at the tv every time i hear yet another politician saying that NZ needs scientists and engineers to help the economy. If you want more scientists and engineers then employ more of them and if they're thin on the ground, start paying more for the ones you have, this is called... what is it?.... oh yeah, A PRICE SIGNAL which you're so fond of using as a panacea for debate in every other issue you sound-bite mercillessly. If you graduate too many sci/eng's, all you get is underemployed and pissed off call centre/office workers/sales reps - read my lips THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A LABOUR SUPPLY SIDE SOLUTION TO BUILDING A TECHNOLOGICAL ECONOMY the government (/industry hahahaha) has to invest in these sorts of skill sets. If there is no reasonable chance of a middle-class lifestyle with a sci/eng degree, over time people will not choose this as a career choice - it's not rocket science, i know because i used to be a rocket scientist.

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