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Intellectual spoiling, career options depression.

  1. Oct 25, 2013 #1
    Does anyone on here fear the math that you study in academia (particularly graduate school) is just so useless to most of industry. Clearly, that's why people become professors, but I just get discouraged when most things i'm interested in are purely algorithmic or mathematical in nature but and when you look at the slew of related jobs available, it's just applied, super-dumbed down version of what you did in school.

    I always sort of knew this. But what's got me down now is that in school, there's at least some pride in ensuring that we discuss whether our solutions and methods make sense. We emphasize learning. But in industry, all of the meaning is lost. We make things (in my case, software that does some stuff ) using our brains and work hard but noone cares how it works, just that it works and they can make their money. When all people care about is the money in front of them, I question - why work hard to make it better? Often times advancements in technology are *more* expensive initially (i.e. take longer to make). Maybe I just don't find it as rewarding as doing research or homework... and actually getting it vetted with a grade or otherwise!

    To be fair, I've only had one industry job, and I'm almost surely suffering from low sample size here, but I don't see why any other job would be *very* different. All companies have to make money.

    And now I feel unemployable. I've been intellectually spoiled and now I don't think most jobs interest me. I just want to sit in a corner and study dynamical systems.

    At this point I think there are optimal two career paths for me - 1) become a professor. I don't necessarily want to do this because of my high levels of introversion - I don't think I have the interpersonal skills necessary (although I realize this required in both industry and academia)

    2) Work for wallstreet - If it's about money, then why not cut to the chase when normal engineering industry is feels empty? Also then I could actually get that *vetting* that I crave by watching how much money my algorithms gain- I can quantify my success. It's also way more mathematical than any normal engineering job - more interesting. And no hardware to distract you from the math!

    3) Alternative careers that basically involve abandoning my field in various ways, which I've thought about but am not ready to commit to.

    If you read all that, kudos to you. Anyone feel the same? Thoughts/Opinions welcome.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2013
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  3. Oct 25, 2013 #2


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    You should look for work that you enjoy doing. If not available at work, then do something outside of work.

    When I got tired of programming business systems, I switched to real-time feedback-control engineering systems. This used more of my math and physics background. Over time I became more interested in how sensors work, and so took some electrical engineering courses to expand my skills.

    You can also take up hobbies - perhaps building robots (programming, mechanical design, electronics) as part of a club, or as a FIRST Robotics mentor. You can improve your interpersonal speaking skills by joining a local "Toastmasters" club.
  4. Oct 26, 2013 #3


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    I will agree with the approach suggested by ultrafastPED - if your job does not supply the intellectual stimulation that you need, then use some of your time outside of work in a way that is satisfying to you. I certainly do that during the "dry" times at work. At the end of the day most of us spend most of the hours at work doing things that we would not have chosen for ourselves, but that is why we get paid for it! I try to keep a positive attitude - it helps to remember people I know who have jobs even less interesting than mine that pay waaay less than mine.
  5. Oct 26, 2013 #4


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    i agree with UltrafastPED: computer programming as an end in itself it not very challenging (at least, not over a timescale longer than the 2 or 3 years it takes to learn to do it without having to think much). IMO the intellectual challenge comes from understanding the applications.

    As for "sitting in a corner and studying dynamical systems" - well, nobody is stopping you from doing that, except you will need to get out of the corner and "sell" your ideas to somebody if you want to get paid for doing it. FWIW, I finished my university education before anybody had even drawn a computer image of a Mandelbrot set (if Wikipedia is to believed). But I've spent a significant chunk of my working life convincing people in industry that in some real world engineering applications, nonlinear behavior was not just an irritating departure from linearity which messed up the accuracy of linear models, but a fundamental aspect of the way the system worked - and the end result was replacing poor models with thousands of degrees of freedom with good ones that were a hundred times smaller.

    Quite a lot of computer programming got done along the way, of course, but that was just a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  6. Oct 26, 2013 #5
    The reality of the working world is that we don't get to do research very often. But if you stick around, you will get that opportunity.

    My engineering mentor told me years ago that if I was getting in to something that I couldn't solve with a straight scientific calculator, then I was doing something wrong. Someone before me has done this work and proven the results. Follow that work because if I attempt to replicate it, I'll probably get something very wrong.

    This advice wasn't wrong. I have seen what happens when someone re-invents the wheel, and it ain't pretty. The working world sticks with what is known and working. That said, we do encounter opportunities to use such mathematical skills every so often. So this education is hardly a waste. But it isn't and every-day thing.
  7. Oct 27, 2013 #6
    You're not alone - I had the same mindset but as I tried to strike it out on my own, I quickly realized that people who insist on the liberties of avoiding interpersonal communication in the course of their jobs are no different from people who insist on working at home and making millions from clicking behind their computer screens. That's nice and utopic, but largely unrealistic; most of these people struggle to make $40,000 per year, blame their wife and kids for distracting them from their grand success, and sit around complaining about big banks, '1 percenters' and so on.

    You need good interpersonal and communication skills all the more if you are on Wall Street. Besides, finance doesn't seem to the right fit for you seeing that the type of activity that you are describing sounds more like LaSalle Street/Jackson Blvd than Wall Street.

    For example, a huge problem of working in buy-side finance is that your boss or team leader can steal your PnL. Other people in your firm must be informed about what you're doing, and be able to measure your value to the team qualitatively, not quantitatively. Yes, if you end up being a embedded systems developer or something esoteric, well, it can be a very lonesome job but the minimum level of interpersonal interaction that is required of you is still considerably greater than that expected of a professor. I know professors who were absolute douchebags and wouldn't meld into such an environment. In contrast, all of the people I know in finance would be much loved and welcomed as professors if they had the right technical skills.

    Rather than deliberating what kind of job suits you, why don't you spend that time gaining some confidence about your interpersonal skills?
  8. Oct 27, 2013 #7
    meanrev - Well my interpersonal skills aren't actually that bad. I simply am introverted and find comfort in working alone without worrying about the well being of a group. I don't insist on avoiding interpersonal communication as that would get lonely if that were my only philosophy. I do think however that college and grad school slightly less so has trained me to be a bit of a hermit in my studies and I have some very strong working habits to break if I'm to feel comfortable working in groups again.

    However, I think I would get silly excited about HF trading. Being more motivated, I think my interpersonal communication would improve. It's one of the most interesting controls problems in the world. At my current industry job, I'm not really being employed in a manner that hardly takes advantage of my specialties, because "engineering" is such a broad field. HF trading would.

    I'm still keeping my options wide open about careers. It will be several more years before I finish grad. school.

    JakeBrodskyPE - What you've said sounds very honest, and from what I've heard my primary interests might be in consulting if I stayed in the engineering industry. But I don't believe I'd find most jobs too interesting and as a result, unfortunately I don't think I would be very good at them (I don't think I am very good at the one I have now). It's just hard to stay focused/motivated ata job I both don't find interest in a priori and then turn out not to do very good at since I'm not working as hard as I could and then don't do very good which also demotivates me.

    AlephZero - I definitely plan to spend a large portion of my career writing code, specifically for complex computation of things. I just hope whatever I get interested in hasn't all ready been done.

    UltrafastPED - while I could do this stuff as a hobby, I just think it's insane to give up looking for these kinds of jobs. I know it's not simple.
  9. Oct 27, 2013 #8
    I'm sorry to hear the extent to which you prefer working alone. One of the best parts of this job is the diversity of people that I get to interact with. All the advice I can give you then is that there are a few silo environments in the buy-side that may suit you: Chopper Trading and Bridgewater come to mind. These compose the exception, not the norm - given the backend complexity of quantitative trading today, it is nearly impossible to find what you're looking for. (To raise a crude example, it's as though you are seeking a job in the porn industry, presumably based on very myopic view of the upsides and none of the downsides, and insisting on a position that has no exposure to any STD.)

    I spend 60% of my time talking to people on the phone or in person - that despite my unofficial title being "Quantitative researcher".
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