That job after that degree

Not too many years ago I was a teenager who shared the dreams of many other teenagers of getting a well-paying job after I completed my degree. I hoped, as many do of that age, that such a job will help me settle down, make enough money, raise a good family -in short, enable me to live happily ever after. It is a dream worthy of desire, but one that may only rarely ever turn to reality.

What brings such notions to young minds I do not know, but it is one that I have seen year after year as the newbies begin their professional education. It may be because of stories perpetrated by parents and relatives or may even be real life examples of people who pretend to be in such positions. Or perhaps it is the financial situation that most youth find themselves in.

If I have learnt anything, then it is that working towards a happily-ever-after future may be as futile as a dog chasing it’s own tail (may be that’s an exaggeration but you get my point). Wanting a job that will allow one to lead a life of stability without much struggle might just be dream, especially in today’s economic climate.

Many students come to read the ICT awareness pages on this blog to find information that may help them decide whether ICT is the right place for them. In the comments or by email, I get asked a question over and over again that pertains to the ‘placements’ offered to it’s graduates.

“I have admission for BChem at LIT, Nagpur and BTech Dyes in ICT, Mumbai. Will I get a better paying job if I choose ICT? What is the average salary offered to the graduating students?”

It is a vital question indeed, but should not be the only one on which the decision is made. It is not a bad thing to think about what one may achieve from studying at an institute, but it would certainly be unfair if money earned from a job after is considered the most important criteria.

As I mentioned before, I also, as a teenager, dreamt of an elusive job like the one you seek, but I am happy that I did not decide to come to ICT solely on that piece of information. Because within a year of my time in ICT, I had rid myself of that notion. From wanting to be a graduate with a fat pay-check, I decided to pursue higher studies at a student salary.

Many factors played a role in this change of direction. Today, I am glad that I took that step and can cite many reasons to discount the high-salary job as one of the decisive factors of one’s career.

It is important to remember that education of any kind will serve its purpose only when it opens doors for you that you did not know existed (by teaching you things that you did not know about before!). I certainly wasn’t thinking that I can become a scientist when I chose to do chemical engineering. Many things can happen when you spend time being educated with a group of smart people. That should probably figure as an important factor in deciding where you would like to get educated or where you would like to work when you finish.

Amongst all these news articles about IITians being paid huge salaries and IIM grads getting into the world’s top companies, one forgets about the day to day stuff. Behind all those big salaries and names there is a job which one needs to do everyday. A job that will involve going to the office, mixing up with colleagues, working on projects and delivering results. That daily stuff will be really hard, if you choose a job for the salary it offers and disregard your interest in the work. You may be able to survive the job if you are capable enough, but all that money will give you no satisfaction if the job is not of your liking.

Daniel Pink describes three things that give us great satisfaction and help us perform better: autonomy, mastery and purpose. You should go watch this talk to learn more and probably that will make it easy for you to see why people leave a very high paying Goldman Sachs’ position to work for a start-up.

It’s like the MasterCard line, ‘There are some things that money can’t buy, for everything else there is that high-paying job’.

Can academic pursuits and money not go hand-in-hand?

This month’s C & EN editorial by Allen J. Bard argues that ‘the culture of academic research has shifted over the past 50 years from research evaluation based on teaching, creativity and productivity to one based simply on the amount of money raised.’

Allen goes on to note that ‘I’ve been to party to tenure discussions that have centred on “scoring two major grants” rather than on the quality of work.’ What is more worrying is that, ‘the fact is that the final decision to fund really comes from the project officers who have often become remote from the frontiers of research and often fall prey to the fad of the mouth’.

He also points out that this has led the universities to focus on demonstrating the ‘economical value’ of the research and their ‘critical mission’ becomes getting more intellectual property (IP) or start-up companies. He concludes by saying, ‘If working closely with students and doing long-term fundamental research is not the goal and money is the important thing, there are more lucrative professions than academic ones for them to pursue.’

If it is true that academics spend 70% of their time writing research proposals then I do agree that Allen has raised some very valid points. But I can’t seem to agree with him that academics should be a pursuit devoid of money.

I think if it’s possible to be an academic who is good at commercialising ideas then one should be. All those monetary benefits of IP that come along with it are a good thing for a university, especially in the economic climate that we are in, where we face major cuts to research spending and increased tuition fees.

Also blaming this capitalistic view of a university for not being able to attract the right talent isn’t right. Academics tend to believe that all the people who do research do it because of the love of the subject and nothing else. Well, they might, but more often than not they may have other reasons. In that respect, the fact that an academic pursuit can lead to a good commercial idea, may actually lure more people than just the subject nerds.

And yet, I cannot agree more that it shouldn’t become the ‘critical mission’ of a university. It may have happened that universities started small, trying to align with the capitalistic nature of the market, by asking academics to ‘think about’ commercialising ideas and over the years reached the point, that they have now, where it has become their ‘main aim’.