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 Quote by Thy Apathy My understanding was that the more the stuff you're working on is applied, the better. Is that correct? Are people working on very abstract math that doesn't have direct applications, essentially screwed? Or is that practically impossible, in that the PhD student will have to be using other skills in his work, like programming or stats?
It's tricky to answer that question, because it turns out that some things that people think are abstract as heck turn out to be pretty useful, and I suppose it could go the other way. For example, neutrino diffusion turns out to be very useful in finance, but I had no clue that this was the case when I did my dissertation.

It turns out that "do whatever seems interesting" worked out quite well for me, and probably a lot better than if I consciously decided to do something. I'm not sure why that is.

One thing that you do have to be careful about is that statements about what is and is not useful can end up affecting outcomes. For example, suppose I told you that some math was too abstract and therefore useless. No one studies it, and what will happen is that in a few years there is a desperate shortage of people that have expertise in that exactly sort of useless math. Remember that we are talking about 1000 graduates each year, and so if 100 people make decisions based on predictions that could flood the market or create a shortage.

I suppose what people are asking is someone to tell you to "do X or don't do X", but markets perversely adjust to counteract any sort of advice that you give.

 I think the problem with this is that manual labour does not have much respect. At least, not in the part of the world I live in. It's seen as "degrading".
Curiously, manual labor does have a lot of respect in my neck of the woods.

 Not everybody who goes to uni actually wants to. I suspect many go thinking they won't fall in that "trap" but turns out a lot of them end up in dead end jobs. I'd rather be a computer technician than work in an art gallery...cause I spent big  on my BA in Art History.
Except that in the end both of you are going to likely end up shuffling papers for some large corporation. Most people that major in things like art history or Russian literature don't actually end up doing anything that have anything to do with art or literature.

 College education doesn't necessarily mean you're going to somehow end up happier.
But I think it's better to be educated and miserable than uneducated and miserable.

 This is only anecdotal: lots of people I know tend to think going to uni and getting a degree is somehow going to make their lives easier. I don't know how true (or not) that is.
I think it is true. Also, money *does* buy happiness.

 It would be interesting to see what happens to the people who do go to technical schools. I bet they'd have an easier time finding employment than college grads.
I'm seriously, seriously skeptical of this. If someone that has an associate degree comes online and tells me that they are having no trouble finding work, I'll change my mind, but one thing that bothers me about hearing about the wonders of technical education, is that I don't hear that many real live students that say this.