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Why Science Is a Lousy Career Choice 694

Hugh Pickens writes "President Obama had a town hall meeting at Facebook's headquarters last week and said that he wanted to encourage females and minorities to pursue STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). However, Pastabagel writes that the need for American students to study STEM is one of the tired refrains in modern American politics and that plenty of people already study science, but they don't work in science. 'MIT grads are more likely to end up in the financial industry, where quants and traders are very well compensated, than in the semiconductor industry where the spectre of outsourcing to India and Asia will hang over their heads for their entire career.' Philip Greenspun adds that science can be fun, but considered as a career, science suffers by comparison to the professions and the business world. 'The average scientist that I encounter expresses bitterness about (a) low pay, (b) not getting enough credit or references to his or her work, (c) not knowing where the next job is coming from, (d) not having enough money or job security to get married and/or have children,' writes Greenspun. 'Pursuing science as a career seems so irrational that one wonders why any young American would do it.'"
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Why Science Is a Lousy Career Choice

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  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:18PM (#35931340)

    Think. Which job position will get outsourced more likely? Engineering or managing? Before you answer, consider: Managers make that decision.

    Do I need to write anything more?

  • Reward (Score:4, Insightful)

    by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:19PM (#35931364)
    The reward of solving a problem through hard work and proper application of knowledge is the feeling at the end. That is why young American's still choose to do it. There are a number of hurdles to get addicted to that feeling, not the least of which is that I can probably make more money doing something else.
  • by sdguero ( 1112795 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:20PM (#35931370)
    That is my main reason for sticking to Engineering.

    Sales guys, stock brokers, marketing people... Those positions are not rewarding, and you have to leave your soul at the door. Science, Engineering, Construction, Mechanics are the jobs for me. Always will be. I couldn't live with myself knowing that my livelyhood came on the back of others, earned by shiesting a percentage out of something I didn't build because I shuffled some paperwork and talked on the phone. Those people live empty soulless lives. They cheat on their partners. And they drive like assholes on the freeway.
  • by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:21PM (#35931388)

    doesn't matter how mediocre they are, why get 1 mediocre scientist in America thats going to bitch and whine about pay, when you can get 5 mediocre scientist in India who will suck your ass for cheaper all together

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:27PM (#35931488)

    And these days, that Chinese or Indian scientists will probably be of higher calibre than the American. There are still some excellent American STEM grads, but on average, their quality has been on the decline for at least a few decades.

    Guess what, America? If someone else is willing to do your job for a quarter of what you are, well, they are going to get the job and you aren't going to. That's what you get for pricing yourselves out of the market. There's nothing wrong with that - it's simple economics. Either you compete with the world's best, or you suffer the loss of those industries and all that they bring to your economy.

    America has made it's choice: STEM is not worth the bother. That's a valid choice to make. Over the next decades you will get to experience the consequences of your choice.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:30PM (#35931508) Homepage Journal

    While there are plenty of stupid people out there, not everyone is. The smartest are moving away from these careers in droves because of these outsourcing issues. The final result of outsourcing in the messed-up corporate mind is that *everyone* will become a manager and that's the only job that holds any worth and it is the only job worth doing. It's also the only job, therefore, that deserves a living wage. If we stubbornly follow this as a country then we're is MASSIVE trouble.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:35PM (#35931588)

    And these days, that Chinese or Indian scientists will probably be of higher calibre than the American.

    You obviously don't work in the sciences.

  • by macwhizkid ( 864124 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:42PM (#35931710)

    I work as a research associate at a name brand school. I've seen this article cited a few times, usually by discouraged graduate students.

    For me, I guess it all comes down to what you want out of life. Greenspun's argument basically comes down to the fact that science/tech is at risk of being outsourced, and people should instead be real-estate agents, doctors, and lawyers. Well, news flash, lawyers are being replaced with software, many doctors want a career switch, and real-estate agents, well, I'm not even going to go there. I just find it too insulting to compare somebody who's chosen to advance humanity's exploration of the world we live in with somebody who wants to make a quick buck by match-making sellers and buyers. Hell, if anything, the last decade should have taught us that the internet is rapidly doing away with middlemen. Go ask your local bookstore/pawnshop/consumer electronics store how business has been recently.

    Most people find it easier to follow in the footsteps of others (teachers at school, professional parents, etc) rather than ask the hard questions: "What am I good at?" "Will somebody pay me to do it?" "Can I be the best at what I do?"

    Work is work, and nobody said work is entirely fun. If you have a job you truly enjoy every minute of every day, congratulations. Most people go their whole life without finding it. But, there is a big difference between a job with some enjoyable aspects and rewards vs. a job you truly despise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:45PM (#35931770)

    This demonstrates the common strategy to achieve failure:

    But the problem is more general than one of outsourcing.

    As a company grows, it grows from a few engineers to engineers plus managers, to engineers plus managers plus managers of managers.

    As a company shrinks, it often shrinks from the bottom, because the decision power is top down.

    So a common failure state is a company full of managers, with no-one to do the work.
    The upside down pyramid structure will inevitably fall.

    Whether staff is reduced or outsource, the result is the same.

    Of course with outsourcing, the pretense is that the US management can sit on top of a larger remote pyramid, but eventually either the remote headless pyramid fails because of missing local management, or the remote pyramid becomes the company because it is effectively self contained.

  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:48PM (#35931826)

    Management can also be outsourced. Eventually those engineers in India will realize that having the manager in your own timezone is a good thing. It isn't like management requires years of training and heaps of intelligence. All you need is good people skills and some competence in assigning the right resources to the right problem. Most people have some of the former, and the latter can be easily learned by playing Empire Earth. Once the manager is in India, why bother having a US presence at all? The only thing it gets you is having to pay US taxes. India is not a bad place to live, when you have a job. The endgame, therefore, is to have everyone and everything move to India. The US will be populated exclusively by HFT traders, who will be too busy grabbing each other's money to notice.

  • Re:They don't. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:52PM (#35931890) Journal

    As a Comp. Sci. PhD I have a slightly different point of view.

    I went out of my country (Mexico) to do my PhD with a scholarpship from my government. However, due to the lack of jobs in my own country, I chose to stay in Europe to do a Postdoc.

    In Germany at least (in the Science circles I am moving now) there is quite a lot of money for research. In fact, in my institute there is more money than researchers (because generally people do not want to live in the city where the institute is).

    However, I can see that the main problem in USA is the same as in Mexico; the government wants people to study science but does not want to impulse job creation for those scientists. In the case of Mexico (and other underdeveloped countries) we have the option of going to other countries, but in the case of the USA (mainly due to cultural limitations) people may not have that option.

    The problem is how can the government *impulse* such job creation. The private sector will never offer a lot of research jobs (specially theoretical research), and as someone else said, they want useful, commercial results in a very small amount of time... because they do not know how science work.

    The other option is for government funded research institutes. This is how Germany research assassinations work (Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Leibniz, UFZ, Helmholz, etc...) and to a lower degree how Mexico works (Cinvestav). But in a country (like the USA) where government "control" is seen as being a bad thing, I cannot imagine this approach being accepted.

  • by Yold ( 473518 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @02:10PM (#35932170)

    I was hoping to see some intelligent discussion of the pros/cons of choosing careers in science, but of course this is Slashdot, and all career discussions must degenerate into bashing mangers, finance, and boo-hooing the dangers of outsourcing. So let me inject some positive and rational comments into this mess.

    The financial industry is full of climbers, and it sucks to work with those people. Smart people get jammed into confining roles with no ability to solve problems or exercise creativity. I know some really smart people who have left finance to return to academia, leaving behind $500K+ salaries. Almost everyone I know who works in finance/accounting hates their job or boss.

    There are plenty of jobs outside of management that pay livable wages. Live within your means, and find a spouse who makes a decent living too. Americans are so damn greedy they don't understand that driving an economy car and living in a normal house doesn't mean that you are poor.

    Finally, outsourcing. HAHAHAHAHA. Having seen it in action, I think it's hilarious that people feel threatened by it. Sorry folks, American and European universities still churn out the best qualified engineers in the world. The people willing to work for $5 /hr aren't nearly as competent, and you have the global economy to thank for that. Would someone please offer some evidence of a outsourcing success story?

    My friends who work in science (PhD candidates, receiving full-tuition and stipends) get drunk on Tuesday nights. They travel to conferences in San Francisco and Prague. They set their own hours and work on stuff that means the world to them. There is some guidance in their research but they call the shots and decide what to research. That is pretty damn cool. One of my friends has parents who are professors and they sure do alright.

    If you want to work in science, or engineering, don't listen to the Slashdot haters. There is plenty of opportunity left in this world, just work hard and get your stuff done; you can make a living doing something that you enjoy.

  • by mrnobo1024 ( 464702 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @02:12PM (#35932192)

    Guess what, America? If someone else is willing to do your job for a quarter of what you are, well, they are going to get the job and you aren't going to.

    I would gladly do the job of the CEO of Goldman Sachs for one hundredth of his (8-figure) pay.

    But it doesn't work that way, does it? The ruling class doesn't have to worry about losing their own "jobs", simply because they're the ones calling the shots. Capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich; that's what we have in this country.

    That's what you get for pricing yourselves out of the market.

    Yes, clearly it's all our fault that a Chinese or Indian salary won't even pay the rent here. Do you seriously believe that in America, a worker gets to set the price of all the things he needs to live?

    America has made it's choice

    The tiny portion of Americans who control the country have made their choice. The rest of us get to suffer the consequences.

  • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @02:25PM (#35932396)
    It isn't just that the science grads aren't good enough, its that the science itself it harder than it's ever been before. All the low hanging fruit that could be figured out by an individual or small team as already been done.

    "It was a game, a very interesting game one could play. Whenever one solved of the little problems, one could write a paper about it. It was very easy in those days for any second-rate physicist to do first-rate work. There has not been such a glorious time since. It is very difficult now for a first-rate physicist to do second-rate work." -- P.A.M Dirac, DIRECTIONS IN PHYSICS, 1978, P. 7

  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @02:29PM (#35932474)

    Backstabbing and underhanded happens rarely in Engineering, and not usually by Engineers. Rather, its the people that don't have the brains to hack it, and/or don't understand the feeling of reward that comes from building something.

    No true Scotsman!

  • by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @03:02PM (#35932966) Journal
    I'm sorry, but it shouldn't be the job you direct ire toward, it should be the people themselves and their work ethic. As a financial advisor and ex IT person, I found IT to be completely unrewarding. There was no meaningful interaction with people, I got no recognition, and the hours were awful!

    Now, by working very diligently to inform my clients about their benefits, researching investments and applying strategies to help them make more money than if they'd hired me, and finally presenting it to people in a manner they will understand *follow through on* (something IT could stand to learn from), I have 1) Meaningful interaction with people, 2) occasional recognition and self-satisfaction in the short term, with long term results and recognition that i can get someone to/through retirement or their kids to college, and 3) Even longer hours. But I sort of like doing those longer hours, and I have the flexibility to tell my boss (mostly me) to shove off.

    Yes, you have to talk to lots of people, and you do lose a little bit of your soul, but that happens in EVERY job out there and I dare anyone to show me otherwise.

    In closing, blame charismatic lazy people (a lot of advisors) for screwing their clients out of dollars. There ARE those of us working to help everyone who will listen be educated and, one hopes, do business with us to have a better future and less worry.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling