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Is there an upside? September 17, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in university.

I’ve been watching, with morbid fascination, this slow-motion meltdown of our financial system. My direct exposure is limited, which allows me to be philosophical about the whole thing. Many others are not so fortunate, obviously. I wonder if I will be singing the same tune next year, however?

I’m sure most people have heard that the number of students entering science, math, engineering, and computer science is down. During the .com boom we saw this. When the .com boom crashed, however, we saw an increase in the number of students interested in our science and releated programs. Reading about the candidates positions on science got me to thinking about this.

Now I realize that the fields of finance and physics and science aren’t all that closely related. But they are closer than one might realize – a lot of math and computing is done in the finance sector. People are basically economic animals – they will maximize their chances for success. So if finance isn’t so rich, they will look other places.

My advisor once told me “you aren’t in this for the money!”. I’ve used that same line with my students as well. I’ll never be hungry or worry about where my next meal comes from, but I’m not going to be making a huge sum of money either. But not all of physics (and computer science, engineering, etc.) is academic – industry needs lots of people like that for research as well as operations. So I think an increase is possible.

There is one (at least) flaw in this argument. The economy is slowing and one of the first thing that companies cut is research. After all, when you are in survival mode you worry about breathing, not about getting food 6 months from now!

I will watch student enrollment trends over the next 5 years with interest.



1. Gordon Watts - September 19, 2008

I got an email on this post which contained the following link to someone else who thinks there is an upside to all of this. A good laugth as long as you haven’t been hurt too badly by this mess.


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