Posted by: scott | May 29, 2010

decisions and flight

For those of you who know me personally, you probably know that I have spent the a significant portion of my senior year in college deciding on whether I wanted to pursue a future in investment banking or as a [math] PhD student after graduation. I thought it might be interesting to point out that one of my close friends was very incredulous about the fact that I would be faced with such a decision because the two fields are inherently different.

The common perception of investment banking is that it is a very boring job that requires extremely long monotonous hours but pays pretty well. The common perception of being a PhD student is that you are at working at the forefront of a particular field, trying to solve and explore unknown questions, and yet you get paid just enough to not be a starving homeless person (although one of the two might have to give way).

So why would someone ever be at crossroads with two so seemingly disjoint paths?

I think it’s because I could see myself being satisfied down either road with everything that I would potentially grasp and get a hold of.

If I were to work in investment banking, I would have a relatively stable job, make a decent salary, and be able to marry and support a family by the time I’m in my early thirties. I would also potentially have enough money to accomplish some of the philanthropic and social goals that I have my eyes set on before I get too old. On the other hand, if I were to become a PhD student, I would be able to learn a lot of the math and science that I am regrettably still deficient in, work on some very interesting problems with some of the most brilliant academics in the world, and hopefully gain a much better understanding of how many things work in both theory and life. I would also have the opportunity to either work in a research lab/university or to go back into finance in a more lucrative investing-type role. In the latter capacity, I would also potentially be able to make enough money to support a family and hopefully carry out my philanthropic ideals. One option is probably safer and the other is arguably more interesting.

But I struggle to say that either is better than the other. Channeling the inner economist in me (I apologize in advance for the nerdiness that is about to ensue), isn’t life is all about trade-offs? I guess that both scenarios just lie on the same indifference curve that I have, albeit near different ends. I (perhaps ignorantly) feel like the important thing is pick one of these paths and fly into it at full speed and with no regrets. After all, to quote Lady Macbeth, “what’s done, is done” and “what’s done cannot be undone” right?

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