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Wheelbarrows Full of Cash

Chad Orzel ’93 on the job market for physicists.

It’s not clear from this report what the increasing fraction of new Ph.D. physicists with potentially permanent jobs are doing. This will presumably be in the forthcoming report on initial employment of Ph.D.’s. If it reflects an increasing acceptance that the pursuit of a tenured professorship is not the only acceptable career for a physicist, that’s probably to the good.

Unless, of course, they’re going into finance. Interestingly, the only period in the dataset where permanent positions outnumbered postdocs lines up pretty well with the years of the dotcom boom, when anybody with technical skills could get wheelbarrows full of cash on Wall St.. Which led directly to the breaking of the world economy when the finance industry went nuts on complicated ways of hiding insanely risky investments. This was not a positive development, to put it mildly.

1) Most of the physicists that I know in finance seems as happy with their career choices as Orzel is with his. Why the hate?

2) I do not think (contrary opinions welcome!) that Orzel is joking. He really thinks that it is a bad idea for a physicist to work on Wall Street. Why? Does Orzel really know enough about other people’s hopes and preferences to offer informed judgment on the choices that they are making? I doubt it.

3) A professor who thinks that it is easy for “anybody with technical skills” to “get wheelbarrows full of cash on Wall St.” has never worked on Wall Street.