Career Guide for Engineers and Computer Scientists

by Philip Greenspun

Created 1994; updated very slightly and occasionally since then

Site Home : Careers

Chainsaw Juggler; Venice Beach, California.
"We dangle our three magic letters before the eyes of these predestined victims, and they swarm to us like moths to an electric light. They come at a time of life when failure can no longer be repaired easily and when the wounds it leaves are permanent ... "
-- William James, "The Ph.D. Octopus", 1903

Aid to Evaluating Your Accomplishments

If you are one of MIT's 25 Nobel Laureates, or in CS at MIT, Stanford, or CMU, at the MIT Media Lab, or if you are in any department at Harvard University, please click here or here.

If you'd like to know the value that members of the opposite sex put on your advanced training, try playing The Game.

Market Street, San Francisco I am fascinated by the 30-year decline in the relative salaries and prestige of engineers and scientists that has been accompanied by 30 years of statements by politicians and university administrators that there is a shortage of engineers and scientists.

Could the source of negative stereotypes be conditioning of youth by toy manufacturers? What about the thoughtful critiques of Artificial Intelligence research that have appeared in the media?

Naturally, the ever-expanding MIT Administration does its best to ensure that there isn't an oversupply. They've spent twenty years, for example, trying to increase the number of "underrepresented minorities" in MIT graduate school. Perhaps it is the dignified manner in which the MIT Faculty comports itself.

Of course, many computer science graduates have happy experiences, but on the whole you may be better off staying in graduate school.

[Note: I hope you don't feel, after all, that you chose the wrong college major.]

The first Two Commandments of Computer Science

Serious Stuff

Not So Very Serious Stuff


     !                                          **
     !                                        **  *
 $40K!                                      **     *    Any Questions?
     !                                    **        *
     !                               *****           *
 $30K!                           ****                 *
     !                       ****                      *
     !                  *****                           *
 $20K!             *****                                 *
     !        *****                                       *
     !     ***                                             *
 $10K!  ***                                                 *
     !**                                                     *
     !                                                        *

     no       high       some        Bachelor's   Master's  Doctor
     high     school     college     Degree       Degree    of
     school   diploma                                       Philosophy

Achievement Gallery

Portraits of people who are putting their advanced training to good use.
Rachel, PhD Biology UCLA 1992, enjoys the wealth of material comforts that she has accumulated during 10 years of hard work in science.

(click on the photo for a 500x750 JPEG; click here for a 1000x1500 screen-filling image)

Though the Superconducting Supercollider project was never finished, many of its research teams have stuck together in their new careers. At the upper right is a team of high-energy physicists, still hard at work on their discretized version of Quantum Chromodynamics. At the lower right, medium-energy physicist Dr. Albert Meyerstein notes that, "I miss working with Dr. Gerald Abelson on more efficient sources of pulsed spallation neutrons but I'm glad that we can continue our collaboration on the polymeric properties of automotive pigment in a detergent-rich environment." Physicists working on Quantum Chromodynamics

Chip, PhD Chemistry Princeton '90 says "I never thought I'd be writing papers for the Journal of Root Vegetables (Fried) This career is so exciting!

Note: "Root Vegetables" is a registered trademark of the MIT Media Laboratory; not affiliated with the Journal of Root Vegetables (Steamed).

Joe, PhD Physics Stanford '86, and Mike, PhD Biochemistry UC Berkeley '88, have become entrepreneurs in Times Square.
Albert, PhD Electrical Engineering and Computer Science MIT '84 relaxing on 15th Street in New York City. "I had a tenure-track position at Carnegie-Mellon but after seven years they said it was unfair to keep me from the great opportunities outside the university."
Bob, PhD Physics University of Chicago '65 working on 5th Avenue and 20th Street in Manhattan. "The experience I had publishing in Academia has been very helpful in my new career, distributing information to the public." Of course, it was pretty tough to land any sort of position at all until I took advantage of a PhD expunging service.
Vijay and Rama find that the teamwork that got them their Harvard PhDs in astrophysics continues to pay off as they work together in the "real world".
"Ten years of graduate school is more formal preparation than is strictly needed for most musical careers, but I find the PhD gives me the confidence I need to perform before large audiences in important venues," John, Mechanical Engineering PhD. Purdue '93
Hearst Magazine Building.  New York. David, PhD 1985 Artificial Intelligence MIT notes that "while my knowledge engineering skills don't seem to be worth much in today's C-hacking world, I'm learning Java and hanging out around the big New York publishers. I'll be a multimedia developer soon."

Java Monkeys

Stammbach, Eduard. (1988). "Group responses to specially skilled individuals in a Macaca fascicularis." Behaviour, 107 (December 1988), 241-266

Does the staggering wealth of particular engineers and programmers mean that there is any chance for nerds to rise socially?

Stammbach worked with a colony of longtailed macaques. In the paper cited above, the running header is "Responses to Specially Skilled Java Monkeys." Stammbach took the lowest-ranking macaque out of the society and taught him to operate a complex machine and obtain food. When the nerd monkey was reintroduced to the society, the higher ranking macaques stopped kicking him out of the way long enough for him to complete operation of the machine and obtain food for the community. I.e., society cooperated to create the conditions under which the nerd could toil for them. However, the monkey who acquired these special skills and provided for the society did not achieve any rise in his dominance status.

The Last Word

"A chorus of voices exhorts kids to study science. No one stops to ask whether it is inhumane to force adolescents to spend the bulk of their time studying subjects most of them hate."
-- Unabomber Manifesto, Ted Kaczynski

Other Internet Resources

Arbeit Macht Frei.  Gate to Dachau Concentration Camp, just outside Munich, Germany

Text and pictures are copyright 1990-1998 Philip Greenspun

Reader's Comments

I don't think it's funny that you make fun of people much less fortunate than yourself by attaching to your photographs of them lofty false quotations and degrees you made up. Unlike you, I bet none of those people grew up in Bethesda Maryland.

-- Tim Darling, August 9, 2000
I feel so disappointed to see those photos... I think I have made a big mistake about putting my time on science eduaction...

-- TIn Lok Wong, August 9, 2000
I feel so disappointed to see those photos... I think I might have made a big mistake about putting my time on science eduaction...

-- TIn Lok Wong, August 9, 2000
A very "Onion"-esque piece, Phil. Strange that of all the satirical points I can imagine you trying to make with this piece, I didn't consider the one where you were making fun of the people in the pictures.

I'm glad Tim pointed that out or I would have thought it a funny, witty article. Now of course I know it to be the work of an elitist arogant Terrapin who has no sympathy or empathy for the less fortunate. You ought to be ashamed!

-- Kevin O'Neill, September 28, 2000

As a frequent user of, I must express my reservation from using a picture from a holocaust concentration camp in a "humoristic" way in The picture and the words ( "arbeit macht frei" ) are a symbol of the Nazi concentration camps, and represent to many people the mass murder of 6 million innocent people by the German Nazi régime. Using this picture in a humoristic way, and out of its context, is highly inappropriate and tasteless. I urge you to remove this picture.

-- O Yuval, September 30, 2000
Hi! Im a student in High school and I thought by coming to this page that I would get good information on making my decision on becoming a Computer scientist. But instead I came onto this page and found pictures of people less fortunate than us. Posting pictures of the less fortunate and making stupid quotes that probably aren't true is very immature to the cyber world. I suggest you make this WEB site a little more EDUCATED.

-- Ashley Wissmann, October 10, 2000
Although Phil uses pictures of people in various destitute situations, he is doing so to make a point: This is what YOU can expect to earn if you take up a career that involves an advanced science or engineering degree. The use of these pictures is not (IMHO) designed to poke fun at the people in them. Anyone who thinks this is the case is missing the forest for the trees.

For those who didn't understand the point of the above: Certain people "get" satire, and certain people don't. If you get it, you will see the humor in the gross exaggeration of the essay/pictures. If you don't get it, then just forget it and move on with your life.

-- alan mandel, October 10, 2000

We are all migrant workers in the data fields...and yes there are days I feel dejected and frustrated...So I'll give a hand to the next homeless drifter down and out...i'll persevere and push ahead grateful until I depart...My laughter came identifying with the photos !!!

-- Kevin Cooke, October 20, 2000

Maybe I'm missing the point of this item. Sure it's satirical and its primary purpose is to be funny. Some of it is. But isn't satire meant to convey some deep and biting point? Are we meant to feel sorry for people who are smart enough to get a Ph.D. and yet so lacking in initiative they can't do a little bit of legwork to find out if a Ph.D. will actually help them and so gullible that they believe the self-serving propaganda that is fed to them by other interested parties?

Appearing on the web pages of a successful MIT researcher also serves as a reminder of the rewards that are available to Ph.D. students. Sure some don't make it. But then in almost any worthwhile career path there are those who don't make it. Besides, the 2.4% of physicists and 2.7% of chemists that are reportedly unemployed hardly constitutes a crisis.

For those looking for some serious advice: go ahead and do a Ph.D. Just remember that the world still won't owe you a living, and that money is a poor reason to get an education.

-- Alan Dyke, November 22, 2000


I find this page morally offensive, elitist, and inaccurate- I only came here, to give the page a 10 rating, because it gets the greatest number of 0 votes of any on  While I see none of my fellow alumni represented here, the picture of "David, PhD 1985 MIT" is actually me.  I was indeed well on my way to becoming a multimedia developer when a lovely lady (Raquel, above) walked by one day, asked me where I graduated from, and ever since, well... I've just been too busy.  (Rachel, PhD UCLA, isn't bad looking either, by the way.)

Finally, I have to add that I find your black-and-white photos of women (as if the use of grayscale somehow promotes them to high art) sexist and degrading.  Women should be appreciated for their minds, and I'll be the first to tell you just how smart Raquel is.

-- Thomas Fly, November 29, 2000

Wow, Phil. You're really getting reamed on this page. Some balance is in order.

First, I think the message is that getting your PhD doesn't mean anything; first stop and ask yourself why you'd want one. What problems in this world are you going to solve? I've known too many people go for their PhDs for the sake of getting their PhDs - what's the point? Figure out what problems you want to solve, the figure out what you need in time, money, other people in order to solve those problems, and do it. Normally you don't need the PhD.

As for the pictures, I don't find them offensive. They're satirical. No, they aren't pretty pictures, and it's understandable that some would find offense in them. I am thankful for the Constitution of the United States on an almost daily basis.

As for the comment about black and white pictures of the female form as sexist and degrading: bullocks. The female body is only one aspect of a woman, and I find it incredibly attractive. I also like the statue of David (though I'm not as attracted to him :); does he look stupid? So how are we to convey a woman's or anyone else's intelligence in a photograph? Should she holding a book, maybe? Give me a break. These pictures are snapshots of one particular aspect of a woman; they aren't intended to portray all aspects, which is probably impossible anyway. My girlfriend for one agrees, but then she comes from an Hispanic background, which is usually less inhibited and puritanical than what I've seen in the U.S.

Art says more about the viewer in their response to it than about the art itself.

-- Scott Goodwin, November 30, 2000

I guess I'll just add you to the pile. I graduated in CSC from a university in Canada (BSc only) and worked for my last two years in the AI lab there. The PhDs that I met were the biggest bunch of losers I ever came across ... big stupid children who stayed in school 1) cause they had an incredible amount of school inertia built up and 2) the desperately needed the PhD to give them a sense of self worth.

Do what I did. Get a REAL job. I went out and built REAL software that provides REAL benefits to REAL people. I did this cause I could ... the last I heard of the guys in University was that they were put in a paper bag, asked to program their way out, and haven't been heard from since.

BTW ... you a millionaire yet. WOW! A PhD AND a millionaire .... you must get lots of pussy (well ... at least the digital kind)!

-- R... D..., December 15, 2000


I think that the comment that "Thomas Fly" left was supposed to also be satirical. (You may have missed the joke here because he's kind of subtle.) Did you notice that although he rants against portraying women in B&W, the picture he posted is itself in B&W? Also notice in the last sentence how happy he would be to tell you how 'smart' she is, as if that's what the attraction would be in this case.

(Also: Notice how the lovely young lady's name goes from being from Raquel to Rachel?)

-- alan mandel, January 1, 2001

Phil, you are one provocative guy. Not only here, but in other threads, such as those at the ARS Digita community.

This type of humor (when done once) is referred to as "Bathos". I always wonder when it is over-done, or there is too much. Saturday Night Live tries it too often, with mixed results - much like what is happening here. If these are your personal photographs, you are quite accomplished. I wonder if you are commenting about Ph.D.'s in general, or just MIT. Click and Clack do a darn good job of putting lofty MIT degree holders in thier proper place (verbally, of course). Do you really think that gaining a Ph.D. from an highly (over?)-rated school is likely to result in destitution? I don't think so.

Anyway, keep up the provocation. Heck, someone has to. 'nuff said.

-- Thomas Williams, January 25, 2001

Do MDs also qualify for food stamps?

-- Bu Mato, January 26, 2001
Depending on how you see it, a work of art can be funny or offensive. If you go for the 'negative' aspect of it, then you will probably be offended. If you are more open- minded and try to see the more 'positive' or 'creative' side of it, then you will probably enjoy it. I certainly did get a pretty good laugh out of this page!

-- Ricardo Espinoza-Ibarra, January 26, 2001
I wonder does this qualify as an Applications Server (Kiva)?

-- Steve Karvanis, February 5, 2001
1. You are breaking my heart, "only" making $50,000 a year. I thought one went to school for an education, not so they could make more money than they could possibly need to live on. And don't tell me about how many hours you've devoted to it. How many hours do mothers devote to raising their children, without getting a dime? How many years does a musician devote to learning his art, and most of them make diddly squat. (Check the average salary of a symphony player, and then think how few make it into the symphony) Look at it this invested in a business (yourself), and the business isn't working out the way you thought it would. You misjudged the market. Happens to lots of people in lots of businesses. The world doesn't owe you a living just because you work hard. In a perfect world, maybe.... 2. If the pictures of women are "art", then why don't you see more pictures of men? After all, the human body's beautiful, right? You can dress this up in fancy language, but it's still sexism, still the objectification of women. If you're just trying to "show the play of light on the human form", or somesuch, then take a picture of a naked, wrinkled, 70-year old, 200 pound woman. Hey, it's art! p.s. sorry about the signature, for some reason it wouldn't let me sign in today.

-- I'vealready donethis once, February 7, 2001
To all those folks concerned about the effects of the Bethesda environment on the ego, have you ever visited? It's really not such a great neighborhood. The only place I was ever illegally relieved of my personal property.

If you're still interested in a PhD after reading this page, you're probably doing it for the right reasons... I worked for an electrician in college (still there) who has a PhD and a ThD and lives on welfare.

The "Unabomber" quote in the modern context of "random" school and workplace shootings leads one to suspect that there is something to the supposed dehumanizing effects of academia.

-- Nathan Carlson, March 7, 2001

When I started web programming in 199x, I found phil's site to be the absolute bomb. It rocked. It was fresh. I was fresh. Phil was fresh. Aol server was fresh. The web was fresh. The VC's were gullible. Wired was fresh. Nowdays, we've all got that "not so fresh" feeling and the VC's are on the sidelines, soon to be followed by the investment community. I'm waiting for a 1750 Nasdaq. I sold at 5000, so I'm ok. But the dreams of web company ferraris and superstardom is pretty much over in the dot com world. Highly inflated salaries for anyone who could could define "subnet mask", code a little script and jiggle a mouse in photoshop are going fast. Sooner or later you're gonna expire anyway. So now, the question is: Should you become an IT slave(or driver) or go for the P(iled) H(igher)and D(eeper)? In fact, it doesn't matter, as long as you're happy. If you're happy in the world of academia, be there. Don't whine. If not, try fixing an old car or amateur litigation. But at least be nice to your fellow fleas. You will survive.

So get out there, take a little vitamin C and do something interesting. You can sleep when you're dead. And for god's sake, do something about that gut. It's really slowing you down.

-- TheReal Slipshady, March 23, 2001

Obsolete ?

This site is interesting, but I'm not sure I belong here. I am an unemployed bum in Wyoming. My love of music led me to the studio, which led me to the computer, which led me to pursue higher education, which led me to be an unemployed bum in Wyoming. After a short but brilliant career, I have concluded that it takes no more than $412/month for a person (and his dog) to be happy. You must eat simple food, wear simple clothes, and spend most of your time in the woods. You will have a bashed-up old truck, and your Harley will be an old wreck - carefully restored with coat-hangers and duct-tape. Your new skis will be made of wood, lovingly rescued from a dumpster. You will find a form of happiness that could never be understood by most Ivy-Leagers, Wall-Streeters, and other "civilized" people. And you will forever be free from the bondage of technical obsolescence.

-- Frank Roncalio, March 28, 2001

self portrait of a wingnut

What follows is an entirely true story, so you'll have some idea of the reality that might actually be behind the images in your photographs. The images are great. The text beside them shows how disconnected from humanity a soul can become if he takes the illusion of technology too seriously. This is not a troll, but is written directly from my heart. Here is the tale:

A few years ago I stole a large amount of money from people dear to me, people who completely trusted me. I spent it quickly while trying to meet the role models set forth in this culture: I bought a cellphone, several leather jackets, some nice clothing, a portable computer, a $500 lighter made in Russia, a Swedish army backpack, and a few plane tickets, along with some other odds and ends. I discovered how quickly money which is stolen gets spent, I discovered the incredible pain which comes to the soul from such broken trust, I discovered that I had enhanced most of my dastardly habits and trampled right over my sensitivities to ethics and morality, and then I discovered that I missed them tremendously. One of the most astonishing realizations came when I finally saw through the illusion that this culture paints. I will return to that point, but first I will describe how it happened: Within a few short months, all the things I purchased were gone; stolen or given away in shame, and I was homeless, having been discovered as the rascal and thief that I was by my friends and family, who were hurt and had no reason to think well of me. I did not fare well in the gutter, and soon I was addicted, sleepless, and bouncing from mental hospital to jail to the streets and back again. I was beaten a few times, I lied and stole like any scoundrel, with no mercy. It was when my addiction, a harrowing thing I mention briefly but which tore my soul to shreds, took complete control of my body, and I found that I could not stop myself from it, by no force of will, prayer, or action, that I began to haunt the streets like some kind of corpse. I will not describe the scenes further, but it took a tremendous amount of love to bring me back. When my brother finally intervened and checked me out of a mental hospital to come live with him, I threatened to kill him and promptly ended up in jail again. He patiently waited until I was released, and again gave me a room in his house to live. I cried for weeks and weeks, sleeping and crying in desolation 20 hours a day and watching television for the other four. I was in this sort of frame for about six months. I tried getting a job, to break the monotony, and I went to make pizzas. I really tried hard at that job, but I was organically depressed, and could barely function. My co-workers sent me to the dishwasher often, but even there I couldn't keep up to speed, and they had to come help me wash dishes from time to time. Finally one day I could not make it to work on time, and turned home in desolation. When I finally was able to make it in to work a few days later, they were pleased to tell me that I was not welcome. A similar situation had already happened to me once before while living on the streets, and I had no reason to expect that my life would be any different ever again. I resigned myself to 70 years of being stupid, having to be cared for by relatives, and then dying in fear of the Judgement before God which I knew awaited after death. I had no real vocabulary, I could not write, and any task more complicated than tying my shoes was an incredible labor for me. I dragged myself to state-mandated doctor's appointments until finally one doctor prescribed some new antidepressants, and I began to piece together my thoughts enough to apply for yet another job, this time as cashier at a busy new Texaco. The job was excruciatingly difficult at first, but slowly it became easier. I was still quite depressed months later when an old friend sent an e-mail, wondering if I was even alive. I was living in Texas at the time, and he wrote me to move back to Missouri. Scene of the crime for me, but I had to face my friends and relatives some day, so I started making plans to leave the job I had grown to love, as cashier of Texaco, where I never stole anything the whole time I worked there, which was a milestone for me. With gratitude for the care and tolerance of my brother and his wife over the preceding year, I moved back to Missouri, owning a single suitcase, still quite depressed but not crying 20 hours a day. I began searching for work, and applied for a job in programming at * Technologies. The owner of the small company looked across the desk at me and said I was not what he was looking for in a programmer, but what about this web page work I'd done? He hired me on a part-time basis to refresh the company's website. I soon found that a few of my friends were able to forgive me, and I traveled across the country with my old friend Adam, whose blazing mania countered my desolate depression, and together we two manic-depressives found the middle ground shared by most common folk. By the time three of us drove back into town a couple of weeks later, among our adventures we had been carjacked, where a bullet hole in the license plate showed how GodÂ’s angels had guided the hands of the cracked-out gangsta who emptied his handgun at us, and I don't think we ever did accomplish what we set out on the 2,000-mile journey for, but I was no longer deeply depressed and Adam was no longer wildly manic, and that was good enough. His girlfriend, missed by five bullets, was convinced that both of us were nuts, and she was right, but I think she's one of us, because she's still with him today. Still too unstable even for the patience of my good friend who emailed me back into Missouri, I moved into Adam's gigantic warehouse near downtown, and began working at a local herb and vitamins store. Learning about alfalfa, goldenseal, frankincense, and myrrh brought a good deal of stability to my soul, and I highly recommend the therapy of working next to David, my manager whose tolerance for my faults brought me back yet another degree closer to the world of normal people. I continued to work on marketing material for * Technologies, where the owner also extended tolerance time and time again as I missed deadlines but somehow showed enough effort that he was willing to pay me. I shambled together a website, slowly gaining my former intelligence. In the evenings, I wrote and wrote, and, having seen God twice during the desolate times, I wrote a book about my relationship with God, by whose grace all this healing was coming into my life. The preceding paragraph is a quick summary of enough material to fill a couple of thick books, so I won't pretend to say it captures the tale, but it is accurate, and makes the point that I set out upon earlier in the paragraph when I said that the most interesting realization that came to me was the broken illusion of this culture--all the money I had stolen, all the neat toys I got to play with, from the keychain laser pointer to the cellphone to the $500 lighter, all of them came and went while the real journey was in my soul. I came to realize that none of the things held forth in this culture as desirable were actually worth anything, and the real substance was in honesty, which I've been pursuing steadily for three years now. I should mention that I've never stolen anything from * Technologies, although I have installed software from there on my home computer, and sometimes I've printed more color laser pages than the owner probably had in mind when he made the resources of the company available to me. The point of this tale is not to isolate the heroes who've made it a true American comeback, for I haven't even mentioned my family, the romance and marriage with my new wife, my new son who was born into my hands a few months ago, the very unusual book which I recently completed, nor the fact that I'm now nearly as capable as I was seven years ago before I began to go insane, nor the fact that I have a passion for honesty which all the deception on earth cannot shake, for it has come to me direct from Jesus Christ, who is a close personal friend of mine, as well as being creator of the universe. If you think that last line was a troll, you missed the point. Could I use some of your photographs of homeless people for a book I'm working on?

-- Jared Daniel Johnson Smith, April 4, 2001

I am quite pleased to see alternative points of view vis a vis the "scientist shortage". Although my PhD is in chemistry (1985) I think all PhDs should take a serious look at:

Although I am not seeking anyone's solicitude or assistance, I have always struggled with my career in chemistry. Right now, I am an adjunct professor of chemistry at a local university and an Internet consultant. I do not ever expect to be very financially successful.

It is probably far too late to help me and many others like me. However, I believe the real answer lies in graduate school reform.

In a nutshell, graduate students in all technical fields are in a "barter system". That is, you supply a tremendous amount of skilled but cheap labor to the school. In turn, the school waives your tuition, gives you a small stipend to teach and/or perform research, and hopefully eventually grants you a PhD.

The problem with all this is that, because schools want highly skilled yet cheap labor, they tend to "pack the house" with graduate students. Hence one of the origins of the so called "scientist shortage".

Therefore, I would recommend that we make PhD programs much more similar to programs in law and medicine. A structured PhD program would be instituted where research techniques would be taught. Tuition would be charged, and a student would not be able to obtain any job with the university he or she attends while a graduate student (although a job outside the university while enrolled might be acceptable).

"Natural Barriers" (such as tuition payments and "tighter" admission standards) are needed to reduce the tremendous "glut" of graduate students, and fewer PhDs will ultimately lead to higher PhD salaries.

-- Frank Feldmann, April 24, 2001

Your observations about formal higher education in Science or Engineering and its apparent irrelevance for the value generating activities of the business world seem right on track not only for those in the world of Science, but also for those in *any other* world of formal education. It is unfortunate that many of those ensconced in the comfort of the 'elitist degree seeking mode' do not evolve the survival skills and expertise, technical or otherwise, that are necessary for thriving in this fiercely competitive world that puts premium on performance valued in the business markets.

Envision a world where many of these highly educated and highly qualified individuals will be able to capitalize upon the free knowledge markets that are evolving within the new world of business! Envision a world where they would be able to not only develop skills and knowledge relevant to the real world of business out there, but will also be able to get the top dollars (or satisfaction, happiness, joy, whatever else they yearn for), where each of them has to take the final responsibility for their own fates. I hope that from the ashes of the world of yesterday... a new world of business will arise which will provide the opportunity for many such 'experts' to be able to pitch and market their 'expertise' to the markets for the new capital - the knowledge capital... to finally take responsibility for what they have to deliver and to get what they really deserve... a world that levels the playing field regardless of the higher education that buffered many of these individuals from the market forces.

"Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself. " - John Dewey

Corollary: "Live!!!" - alter ego of NeoInTheMatrix

-- Neo InTheMatrix, June 13, 2001

This page saved my life.

I was going to do a Ph.D. in Physics. Worked very hard towards it - studying, taking GREs etc.

However, seeking this page was a revelation

Thanks Phil.

-- Janaka Goonasekera, August 3, 2001

-- hgjk jhhj, September 9, 2001

I believe that this page raises some legitimate concerns regarding higher education. The graphic depiction of some of the fictional (and a few nonfictional) people and situations could be considered a cutting way to send an important message to many students who feel that they will be assuring themselves large future salaries by going to University. I would commend some content that promotes entrepreneurship rather than only focussing on the derogatory elements of it. We are living in a time of opportunity for those who can add value.

-- George Molson, October 8, 2001
How strange the comments that I read here. As a student about to embark on a PhD, I found this page funny. The PhD's I know would find this quite amusing. Then again, I am Australian and so are many of the PhD's I know. Somehow, I think that we get satire much more quickly than Americans. Any of you see "The Dream" during the olympics?

-- Matthew Kerr, October 22, 2001

mmmm...Waste time you do

You guys have nothing else better to do then to waste time? I sat here and read every single comment and realized that you guys waste to much time, after all you could be out taking B&W photos of women. How disgusting!

-- Dave Wilson, November 8, 2001
I live and work here in a third world asian country, which I will not name in order to protect the innocent. I am posting this comment because I think I may have a perspective on Science and Engineering that is different from yours, being as you are, from a wealth country. I have a BS degree in Physics and was intent on getting an MSc and finally a PhD when financial conditions forced me to leave the University and get myself a paying job. I was offered a teaching job in a small private high school near my hometown and I took it because mathematics tells me that I would be able to save more in this job than a higher paying, but higher cost-of-living job in the city. When I took the job, I was still intent on finishing my studies and get that PhD attached to my name.

That was ten years ago. Now I am still a teacher, but I also own and operate an internet cafe, a small ice-cream factory and a photocopying center. I have become an entrepreneur and a businessman. I will not call myself well off, But my living is comfortable and of a higher quality than many of my former professors. And I don't have that PhD attached to my name yet.

So what is my perspective you ask? It is this: having an advanced degree in science is no guarantee of financial success. The university never promised it, and should never promise it. Your web page may be a satire, but it is biting as one of the commentors said it. Science by its nature is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge that in many cases may have nothing to do with the mundane tasks of living and surviving. How much survival skills would knowledge of cosmic strings impart on a human being anyway? Absolutely none. Any scientific knowledge that turns out to have an effect on our ability to survive, compete, attain financial success or improve our standards of living did so only by accident. If we judge science by its sole ability to improve the lives of men, the list of sciences would shrivel indeed. Where would cosmology, particle physics, paleoastronomy and general relativity go? I have yet to hear of any practical uses for these subjects. But just as man does not live on bread alone, so man does not live on an MBA alone. The attainment of knowledge is what distinguishes us from animals whose sole objective is the attainment of resources.

Your web page should be read by anyone contemplating a life of pursuit of knowledge. A PhD in science is a certificate that whoever holds it has made the advancement of knowledge his main objective and philosophy in life. Any teacher who advises his students to take a PhD in order to become rich is deluding himself and his students and advocating a life of disillusionment.

-- Robert Pascual, December 31, 2001

Heck I have been an engineer in the silicon valley for ~15 years, and I dont know why anyone would enter the field. Its just white colar labor...

-- herbe chun, January 6, 2002
I'm perplexed at the amount of negative comments this page is getting. I think people are missing the point. Ok people here it is: This page is a satirical comment. A satire, in case you don't know, is supposed to be Ironic, Sarcastic and Ridiculing, but behind all the commentary there is a basic true. The point that Phillip is trying to make is that Ph.D. holders do not make enough money and he is absolutely right. I agree with Robert Pascual in that a Ph.D. holder has made the advancement of knowing his main objective and philosophy in life. In other words you switch from being a “Master” of your craft to being a “Spiritual Leader” to others in your field of study, sort of speak. I personally don’t think that “spirituality” should necessarily be a lucrative pursue, but more of an enlightening quest.

-- Willie Gonzalez, January 11, 2002
This page is funny in a "painfully true" sort of way. As an MIT grad (course 6.1, EE, not CS, way back in the mid-1980s) I have often found myself in the odd position of explaining myself with respect to my education. People have an expectation of MIT grads, and I do not meet that standard.

While the coursework at MIT was certainly not difficult, I found myself at odds with the reclusive, introverted and often immature personalities I found both at school and in the engineering workplace. It was very difficult for me to make friends among those crowds, though not elsewhere.

I am by nature a gregarious person, more interested in "big picture" connections than details; I love art, history, music and poetry. I am bored to death by sports and science fiction alike. While at MIT, I connected with few kindred souls and found the place quite unpleasant and unstimulating; intellectually most students were mono-focused and lacking depth. Generosity was rare and the humor juvenile. By placing so many of these people together in a very isolated and highly competitive environment, few were encouraged to expand emotionally or socially - not the harbingers of a happy adulthood.

I wound up working as a musician around the Boston area for quite a few years, because I found the social conditions far more favorable. Musicians are as a group bright, outgoing and tremendously funny - most engineers are barely any of these, I hate to say (of course there are exceptions!).

Now at 43 years of age, I work combining as many of the things I love as I can, and I am quite successful with a loving family. My education was good in that I learned to think about technical problems in a fluid and imaginative way. But thinking back on the unhappy and uncommunicative people I encountered in my college years, I cannot help but wonder just how content many of them are now. I do not wish to claim some superiority here, that is not the point of the contrast. Rather, I call into question the value to one's life that a technical education may have. My opinion, shared by Dr. Bill Siebert at MIT: it is not enough.

- Brad, Portland OR

-- Brad Price, March 15, 2002

In reply to "I've already done this once," who said, "I thought one went to school for an education, not so they could make more money than they could possibly need to live on." Nope, bad thinking. I'm going to school to make $ and not have to get a real job so :) there! And, she also said, "How many hours do mothers devote to raising their children, without getting a dime"? Folks, here we see the logical fallacy of 'false analogy.' Investing the time and effort into getting an education, I start out exPECTing (and for good reason!) to be paid more, which is almost the entire point; investing time and effort into raising a child should be done out of an overflowing of love, not in the petty hopes of making money off of that child. If you really want to make money off of your children, you could take a few pointers from McCauley Caulkin's parents :P.

Keep up the good work Dr. Phil!

-- Seth Michael Dix, March 15, 2002

"Text and pictures are copyright 1990-1998 Philip Greenspun."

There was some discussion above as to whether Philip just searched around and stole some pictures of poor people to make fun of. I would like to point out that Philip *created* the community, and the quote above would indicate that he took the photos himself. I think this demonstrates a great deal of photographic and artistic talent, and I thought the comments were funny.

The heart of satire, and indeed any humor, is incongruity. MIT PhDs living on the streets is, like it or not, incongruous. The infamour Greenspun subtle message was that careers in engineering/science are not all that they are made out to be. This is an important message. Ask anyone who has toilet anonymously in the cubicle bowels of IBM developing useless software for obsolete hardware. Ask Dilbert.

And when these idiots say that it isn't fair to make fun of people less fortunate, they're not just being full of shit, but they're also missing the point entirely. Philip was making fun of the PhDs, the engineers, the scientists, not the poor people.

Not fair? Fair is overrated. The world isn't fair. Fairness *would* be equality of financial opportunity. In a *fair* world, there wouldn't be poor people to make fun of. But anyone with an IQ higher than their golf handicap knows that fairness is a fantasy for the stupid. Grow up and see the world how it really is.

-- Alex Campbell, April 9, 2002

amen!.... alan mandel and seth

-- brian hartman, May 4, 2002
One of my lecturers in electrical engineering has the following string of qualifs after his name "BSc, MA, MSc, PhD, DSc, DSc(hon),MIEE,MIEK, MSEEK" and when guys gradute with a Bsc, they earn four times his salary! A PhD is not the ticket to wealth, is wealth a ticket to happiness? NO! Let us not confuse the two, if i will be happy with a PhD, let me get it(even if it doesnt pay well), if a BSc is enough ,please leave me alone. this is because my lecturer is very happy with himself and were it not for people like him, the owner of this site would not be in MIT, who would be lecturing you there? the use of pictures of less fortunate members of society is bad especially if you did not pay those guys for use of their photos.

-- ukii iiiiity, June 14, 2002
Is it possible that these people who have achieved such high academic standing have evolved beyond the point of being motivated by money like the rest of us sheep in the far western world? We are only farmed by the richest of rich.

Perhaps these folks are motivated by accomplishments, achievements and simply jobs-done i.e. research, discoveries and invention which benefit all of mankind. For all we know money is worth nothing at all. It's simply a loan on something that doesn't exist. And with the capitalistic system going belly up, the biggest corporations collapsing, the American dollar plummeting we are about to see that the only true units of wealth are human capital (labor, intelligence, know-how) and God's gifts (sunlight, water, soil, food).

In short. Money doesn't mean jack. What happens when the power or hot water goes out? We all but fall to pieces right? What will happen to you when it all goes out? Will you be able to grow your own food to feed yourself let alone generate your own electricity? Make your own clothes? Build your own shelter? Find clean water? Will there BE ANY clean water left to drink? Maybe we need to re-evaluate our "modern" system. We are only living an experiment; like all experiments of its kind before it, it's doomed to fail. Maybe...If we live in harmony with nature and one another, perhaps it won't.

On the other hand this is a good satire of people who are honored too little in our society. I mean sports stars making millions and not contributing anything to society? They are just black holes of wealth. I wish I had made the extra effort to be a scientist. Money sure doesn't fulfill me anymore or make me feel secure. Contrary to brainwashed opinion you don't need to live like a bum if you live for accomplishments, job done and close to nature. If you know how to do it all yourself, or if you have friends that can fill in the rest you can live in luxury without ever seeing a dollar bill and working far less hours. Don't believe the myths of $$$

-- Marcus Roe, July 14, 2002

There are two reasons why PhD holders have not much chances in job markets. First, PhD holders often expect a lot more money than M.Sc. or B.Sc. holders. Therefore, if the boss finds that the work does not need a lot of technical potential like research, then the one having M.Sc. will be more appreciated. The second reason is the following: a lot of employers in industries or companies dont have PhD. Therefore, SOME of them have inferiority complex if their employees are smarter than them.

-- John Smith, August 8, 2002

I think this web site is hilarious. I was having pains in my stomach because I was laughing so hard. I think the author(is author the right word?) of this web page has a very valid point. That the pursuit of knowledge is a huge financial sacrifice. You hear a lot of rubbish about how money isn't important and that the pursuit of an education is all you need. That's baloney!! Money is very important and only those who don't have it can appreciate it.

I've had the unpleasant experience of being poor for most of my childhood. My goal throughout high school and university was to get a career, which was stable and would provide good financial compensation. A lot of my friends from financially stable backgrounds could afford to dick around in university and get their PhD's. And if they didn't get a lucrative job then rich daddy would let loose his purse strings and make things better. I'm not bitter because in a few years I'm going to be rich daddy. However, if you are in the same situation I was in, don't dick around with your future. Set realistic goals for yourself. I spent most of university eating one meal a day. Going hungry is not fun. It's hard to study when your brain is in need of glucose. Think about what you want in life. Do you want to get married? Do you want to be able raise children in a clean environment? Do you want your parents to be taken care of when they are old? Or do you want your life to culminate in a dissertation on quarks, photons...etc.? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Don't get me wrong though. A post-secondary education(B.Sc, B.Eng, B.A, B.Com, M.D.) is worth almost any sacrifice, however, when considering post-graduate studies, one must question what they truly want in life. A Ph.D. is a huge risk. Can you afford take that risk?

-- Malcolm Shabazz, August 24, 2002

I'd started off with n' finally ended up here. Its a good work that the author had put. The turn off in your site is that you are providing so much of links. for eg:, a 20 word sentence seems to have 10 or more links, which highly distracts the flow of reading(atleast for me!!!). I was laughing all the way untill the comments section. some of the contributions are really worth thinking and especially the one by Brad(if i'm not wrong!)Even i'd done my bachelors degreee in Computer science and continuing my masters. I should say that i've got the same experiences with engineers as that of brad. Recently only had i come in contact with the students of other majors and they are much more fun to talk and mingle with. To my worst nightmare i'm losing motivation and interest in my graduate work. Even i'm pulled more towards arts kinda thing. But a career change at this point is would be quite risky, isn't it? hope that i would get over it. I'm trying to regain my long lost love of programming.

-- Tek Yogi, September 13, 2002
The sole objective of a doctor's degree should be the quest for knowledge, nothing more, nothing less.

In this age and time, at least in my country (spain) this means working your ass off 10 to 12 hours a day for four years for a miserable salary (around 840 euro/month)until you get your phd, after that if you are exceptionally lucky you might just find a junior professor's post open (profesor adjunto), if not, the only way to continue researching is to look for research posts in other countries. After some years hopping around the planet from project to project, if you are brilliant and LUCKY enough, you might find a real professor's post when and if you come back.

In any case before embarking on a PHD you have to realize that you will NOT get any other satisfacion from it other than the intellectual one, and you must be ready to make many sacrifices. (There are exceptions but they are truly rare, sucess stories happen to hard-working exceptional people, whatever their backgrounds)

For some people this satisfacion alone is enough to justify the sacrifices, but in my experience it is a rare gift.

-- Bernardo Abello, September 28, 2002

I am not an engineer, but while researching job opportunities for my mechanical engineering husband, I came across this web page. The comments ranged from funny to sad to enlightening to prophetic. I felt compelled to comment.

I have pursued various careers at various educational institutions before finally "settling" on the one that I was heartily discouraged from both as a child and as an adult: art. Discouraged from it on the grounds that all I would be is a starving artist. Well, I'm happy to report that I am not starving and more importantly, I am able to find great joy in the artful expression of things I see in the everyday world. My dear husband has been unable to feel joy in his profession, and for that I feel sad as that is unnecessary. His "passion" was to to be a golf course architect. But I am sure that he, too, was discouraged from pursuing such a "frivolous" venture. I tell you this: there is honor in all professions when pursued with joy and integrity.

I like engineers, having worked with them in nearly all of my various corporate lives. They have a rather satirical, practical, humorous and sometimes a somewhat discouraged outlook on life. And I think that many of them pursued their interests in the hope of being financially rewarded only to find out the grim reality: money doesn't always come when expected. Throughout our society there is constantly an underlying message: obtain money at all costs, then you will be happy with the things it will bring you. Poor is bad.

I have learned that the words from my dying father (who found this out too late) were indeed true: do what you love, and the money will come. All of his life, he longed to be an artist. Instead, he was an electrician and supported the raising of five children. Although deeply loved, he died full of regret.

I was inspired by my father's discovery and decided to pick up where he left off: with art. For that is one of the things that I loved and was good at. I love art and the act of creating. I also love science in it's purist form (the pursuit of knowledge) and I use science every day in a practical form: how to find better/more efficient/more satisfying ways to do things. Now, as an artistic entreprenuer, I find that I make more money per hour than I ever made in the corporate world. I choose my hours, my clients and I pick my jobs. I love what I do. Did you choose your career path because someone alluded that if you selected "this field", there was a great demand and you would surely earn a great deal of money? Rubbish and poppycock. Instead: create your own niche, be it engineering or learning, or launching spacecraft into the outer realms of our galaxy. Find your dreams and pursue them with your whole heart and all of your strength. It doesn't matter how foolish an endeaveor it seems. Just do it and you will discover something amazing. You'll actually be happy.

I am also the mother of two incredible children. A five and a half year old son and an eleven month old daughter. They help remind me of the pure joy one can have when you look at something with fresh eyes. They show me the joy and wonder of life. And that in turn helps me to stay young and creative.

So if I may be so bold: I will advise only this: pursue not money, for it is elusive. Instead, find your joy, pursue it, and you will find the richest rewards that you can imagagine. Money holds false promises. Joy and love are the real harbingers and sustainers of life.

Good luck to all of you in your life's pursuits.

-- Kathleen Hutter, November 6, 2002

The quest for "fresh (inexpensive) young blood."

I appreciate Phil's use of satire to describe some of the career problems facing scientists, engineers, and programmers with advanced degrees.

I am an activist working to develop positive solutions to these problems for over two decades. The best web resources that I have found are Professor Matloff's website, the website, and I have lobbied for reform in Washington, DC many times. I'm working on a book.

An American Scam : How Special Interests Undermine National Security with Endless "Techie" Gluts

Please contact me via email at c0030180atAirmaildotNet to obtain a 22 page September, 2002 special Congressional summary. (Please note that the email address above must be converted into standard form by replacing at with @ and dot with . I do not wish to be spammed by robots.)

Best wishes, Gene A. Nelson, Ph.D. Dallas, Texas, USA

Image: mxd_nuts.tif

-- Gene Nelson, Ph.D., December 2, 2002
Getting Ph.D. as a way to contribute to knowledge in the modern research world? Maybe, if you’ll be extremely lucky you may contribute to the knowledge once or twice per lifetime and then you'll need to start play game according to the crazy jungle rules out there. People, how far are you from the modern science? Me and all my postdoc acquaintances share one opinion. Modern science is a gigantic mill producing mostly useless papers/proposals of the zero value both to practice and to the pure knowledge. Modern science is for 80% or more waste filled with scam bags writing bogus proposals sheer purpose of which is to put that highly despised (by proponents of the pure knowledge) bread on the table of a PI. The matter of the inquiry is secondary, if you will try to pursue knowledge instead of stamping plausible papers/proposals (which you barely believe in) you are out of the proposal game, out of science whatever it’s now. The more I observe science within the less respect I can find for it. Being a robber is nobler than being an academic grant proposal guru who cheats not less than the last criminal in a prison trying to get his research buck. Fresh Ph.D.s and not so fresh postdocs are so worthless these days that they are frequently hired to do purely technician jobs as boring as teeth pain because they are way cheaper/dispensable than a person with community college degree. You may think that you are smarter/wiser/realistic/hardworking person and you’ll be luckier than those whining losers, but, unfortunately, the System working on the cheap labor to cheat government buck is more powerful than an individual and I do not see any light in the end of a tunnel. Considering inevitable transformation of the US in a banana republic with service economy, attaining any kind of education beyond community college or trade school is big waste of time and life. I do not believe those hypocrites telling that the joy of acquiring knowledge/doing science will make them to forget that they earn the same salary as a janitor (but without benefits/8hr working day/minimal security) and they will not be able to do even that in 5 years upon graduation. Doing science will not make you to forget that you are a human who wants family, roof and not to die on a street. After all doing science will suck all your time and even washing tables in burger king will not be an option to support your thirst for the knowledge. There is no question that some few may succeed in landing professorship/research position at some point, but will it be a reward? From that information I have many of those who “succeeded” do not think so.

-- Paul Lee, January 7, 2003
I think it's unfair to brand engineers as a bunch of boring people.

They are fun and intelligent and aren't paid very well, just like most artists!!!

Next time when you get on a plane, train, elevator; turn on the light, hifi, computer... Think who design/invent/build these modcon. Not an artist.

-- Ivy Boesky, March 13, 2003

Wow - there has been so much said here in such an articulate manner that it offers me a feeling of reassurance that there are actually a few people who not only possess the reductionist knowledge in order to obtain a PhD, but have not lost a critical perspective as well. Without getting too maudlin, these are the sort of people who have shaped history.

Now, if you've read this far - and are either in graduate school, are thinking about graduate school, or can't understand why people who are posting here are upset - you need to read this book: _Disciplined Minds_ by Jeff Schmidt.

If you'd often wondered how the seemingly most soulless, uncreative and uninspired students often seem to have less "problems" than those with bigger ideas, you need to read this book. (It's written by a real physics PhD, to boot.)

If you want some insight as to how the "aerospace" (i.e., war) industry's intellectual trickle-down effect has managed to all but stop the continuation of pure science, you need to read this book.

If you just can't wait to put your M.D. or PhD to work for Pfizer developing yet another use for pre-existing anxiolytic drugs involving 5-HT1A receptors so you can get published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, you really need to read this book, but you probably won't. This web site should, however, ensure that you'll have continued growth in the SSRI market well into the future.

-- Jonathan Armstrong, March 31, 2003

I think the problem with scientific careers, and engineering careers can be boiled down to three basic issues.

1)We recieve mickey mouse eduacation in high-school. How can you know if you want to be an engineer if you havent been exposed to the type of discipline early on. American high-schools are weak, and they are definitely not college prep institutions.

2) Is that people go to school for too long. Especially at research institutions. They get used to the beer and books lifestyle of TA life, and loose all initiative. Im going to school for a MSEE, and working concurrently in industry. I feel a huge gap in reality spectrum between my professors and graduate students, and I. There is this ego that tech people are beneath them, but when you ask them to impliment any of their ideas there seems to be a real lacking. They seem to be specializing in the thinking process rather than the doing.The smartest engineers, and the most successful ones financially, dont have degrees.

3)Is this internationalism crap. First off companies and universities select the slave labor from asia. (For all you asians who are about to send me a comment, you're selling yourselves too cheaply) Engineering and science positions, just don't exist here like they use to.My university seems to cater to the visa carrying students in all aspects. A little cross hybridization I think is good but its gotten out of hand. The flooding of the gates has filled the market with a surplus of labor.

We have to as a country reinvest in our technical capabilities. If you dont think so realize that WallMart is called the best company in america to work for (avg. salary 7.00/hr), or look at NASA's outstanding recent track record.

-- John T, May 17, 2003

Phil's satire was indeed interesting. What was more interesting were the comments. Some people here actually are taking this literally. let me add some "serious" comments

2.7 % and 2.1 % unemployed chemists and physicists.. cmon hows that a crisis? Evere heard of the bell curve? I dont understand why we are confusing making money with a PhD. I am in grad school and i am here because i find it fun. If your only aim in life is to accrete money and procreate, u dont do it simple as that! some grad students definitely confuse i with higher pay and they certainly find their life unsatisying. too bad for them they didnt think iy through.

Someone was criticizing that grad school is more of a thinking process. Dont we need that? Hell if computers werent researched in the 50s through 80s where would that C-hacker be? Cellphones, computers, CDs were developed by PhDs not by highschool dropouts. true some highschool dropout might be making more cash off of a porn site than an AI researcher. It goes on to prove that higher ed teaches u to expect more from life than just resource gathering and procreation.. The comments by the ZaZoga guy i find particularly disturbiong. Blaming immigrant workers for the job shortage. How ridiculous! how many immigrant workers stole ur mcdonalds jobs, how many do u see at home depot? how many janitors? It is only a loser who instead of recognizing the obvious faults in himself tries instead to blame someone else. Why so many H1Bs it is most obvious economically. wake up, economics rules!! It reminds me of the union pacific railroad construction and the opposition to asian workers then. U pathetic whiners, how sorry is ur lot!

-- ravi h, May 31, 2003

I agree with everybody who says that academic pursuit does not necessarily mean financial benifits. But it certainly does not mean that one has to solely go in either direction. A Phd student should also learn the tricks and trades of the industry and become street smart. He should learn to use his knowledge to make profit and at the same time contribute something to the society. I know this is all idealistic, but then - nobody is gonna pay you just on the basis of your means nothing to him. A dissertation will probably mean more to you and possibly your advisor and few other people who actually understood what you wrote. Earning money and gaining education can never be intertwined with each other.

-- Vinay B, September 8, 2003
Two Observations.....
1. If you decide to enter a PhD program motivated by "high salaries" or by the desire to get "rich", you ARE a naive fool. In fact, if you believe those are the motivations for ANY intellectual pursuit, then you clearly JUST DON'T GET IT! PhD's are pursued by the love of the field, a passion for excellence, and the excitement of pushing the boudaries of knowledge just a little bit.
2. It is pathetic to hear these supposedly "intelligent" folks "crying in their beer" because their PhD didn't get them enough money. I guess they weren't wise enough to realize that no one "owes" them anything, PhD or otherwise. This all-too-common American attitude is a substitute these days for hard work, the pursuit of excellence, and living whithin one's own means.

Joe Blazy
BSc, PhD - University of Chicago

-- Joe Blazy, September 15, 2003
Joe, You are greatly simplifying the problem as for a Ph.D. Smart choose "intellectual pursuit" and are happy "stupid" chose "money" and are disappointed, how simple. It's NOT true. You may chose "intellectual pursuit" and get quite disappointed (add there $ disappointments also). Here is why: 1) Having a Ph.D. greatly limits your real world options to "intellectually pursue" things outside of academy. You are automatically being considered as a loser for applying. To be polite, they will use the word "overqualified" instead. 2) Modern science is not as much "intellectual pursuit" as brain numbing grunt work. Low market value of fresh Ph.D.s in postdoctoral trap invites the increase of the ratio "grunt jobs"/"intellectual pursuit" beyond any reasonable limits. An example from the national lab (not the last place to be): $55k/year technician (HS! graduate) does NOTHING all day long for weeks (3 weeks in a row was a record) because "he's too expensive" for PIs compared to the "prepaid" 10K cheaper!! postdocs. As a result, all grunt jobs are done by the people who have gotten their Ph.D.s to pursue the knowledge. Lots of intellectual excitement indeed. And it's not an isolated case. After getting out of the postdoc swamp (if you are lucky), you'll find out that writing countless proposals/papers just to survive is as much mind numbing as your postdoctoral "pursuits". 3) To "succeed" in modern science, one needs to be single-minded zombie with limited interests beyond his narrow field and work 24/7 (or somebody else will submit that paper/proposal 1 day earlier). Somehow, I fail to associate zombies with "intellectual pursuits" and "creativity". 4) Joe, you forgot to mention that science related jobs are not only low paid, but they are difficult to get hold of (except for postdocs, first 5 years upon graduation). Without that job, it's hard to "intellectually pursue" a lot even if you do not need those despicable $. 5) The saddest thing in my life is seeing postdocs in their late 40th. It's sadder than seeing a bum. Walking cemeteries of dreams/wasted youth/lots of work. Those people have no future anywhere, and they know it. And, trust me; "intellectual pursuits" is not #1 on their minds.

-- Mike S, October 29, 2003
Why "intellectual pursuits" should be always made on janitorial salaries? Is there some law stating that well paid scientist cannot do science? Some posters described the importance of "intellectual pursuits" for society. Then why its market value, on the average, is so low? Nobody owes Ph.D.s a living, but why they "owe" a living to the fresh community college graduates better "appreciated" than the average Ph.D. graduate? BTW, I think market does not lie, but it's a different subject.

For optimists: few Ph.D.s indeed get lots of $ with or without "intellectual pursuits", quite a few Ph.D.s "pursue the knowledge" and make decent $. However, I think that optimists on this board are either very young (and did not taste science well yet) or very old who made their careers in absolutely different conditions/had easy ride.

Seekers of "intellectual pursuits" beware of science. Great chances are that you'll be byproduct (i.e. waste) of the big, greedy machine. Nothing is 100% efficient. I would estimate the chance of the average Joe to "succeed" in the science as 20%. 80% will "perish" for 20% to succeed.

Below is excerpt from Popular Science article as an encouragement for knowledge seekers/world improvers. Those people got it right. But they were too nice, I would use the word "scientist" instead of "postdoc"

Sure, some Ph.D.s do enriching work in their postdoc "year" (this limbo between earning the doctorate and getting a real job has in fact grown to a more typical two, three or four years) but in an obscene number of cases, it's just drudgery leading to dashed dreams, for the simple reason that we produce many more science and engineering Ph.D.s in this country than we have professorships to fill. The academy line is that, overall, the postdoc is a beneficial "winnowing-out time": The fittest scientists are selected, while the rest flee to lesser callings (like picking randomly here science journalism). But, to extend the Darwinian metaphor, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that the postdoc limbo selects not for intellectual fitness to be a scientist but for sheer endurance to put up with 80-hour weeks of, say, sticking electrodes in rat brains and getting bitten. People with interests in family, art or recreation are the most likely to bail. As well-rounded minds, they're also potentially the best scientists.

-- Mike S, October 29, 2003

Having dropped out of two degrees in Pure Mathematics, I would like to re-invigourate this topic with an entirely new perspective. If you look closely at the photo of Rachel, you will find that a ghostly figure is climbing through the back window.

-- Julian Kennedy, January 23, 2004
What I see missing is the distinction between a PhD and a professional education like medicine or pharmacy.

For many science college graduates, getting an MD is a way of attaining a middle to upper middle class lifestyle working as a physician. Medical schools also track the residency placement success of their graduates and as a whole, limit the number of entrants to help maximize their respective placement rates.

On the other hand, PhD programs indicate minimal interest in finding employment for their graduates. Instead, they drop them into an endless cycle of postdocs and adjunct professor jobs with a faint hope of finding a full time permanent position down the road. This is clearly a lot more like an art or music program where self-promotion and some luck is needed for any kind of viable career. Unfortunately, what's not happening is that our society/govt isn't acknowledging this parallelism and is continually touting the merits of a science PhD without fully disclosing its true picture.

-- Rob Colby, May 26, 2004

Thank you for the site. I was recently pursuing my MS in Software Engineering, for no better reason other than it seemed the best way to advance. Then I looked around at my peers, who had taken the path to get their MS and PhD, to see how much good it did them. The answer turned out to be: very little. Few of them were able to leverage their credentials into any sort of personal benefit. A friend of mine in the Software Engineering program were out having drinks one night, and he told me he had almost completed his MS. And I said "What For?". Because that and $1.50 will buy you a ride on the subway. Every tech employer I've spoken to wants the perfect engineer, AND a pony. They want you trained 10 years with 50 cutting-edge tools that have only been around for 5 years. God forbid they have to TRAIN you to do your job. All an MS does is overqualify you. I recently switched to an MBA program, and I think it's the right choice, at least for me.

-- Finneas T Flubberbuster, July 14, 2004

To quote from this above article, "the effective premium for acquiring a PhD may in fact be negative."

Of course this web site is blowing things out of proportion for humor's sake. However, the prospects for PhD graduates are getting worse in all ways, not better. Second of all, it has been well documented that the "pursuit of knowledge" factor in modern science is completely bogus. But you know, there are always going to be people who think it's fun doing the same mindless repetitive tasks for 80 hours a week. Good for them. Our wonderful modern era needs people like that. However, lots of things that are "fun" at a certain age become markedly less so as you move into your 30's and 40's and sweating the rent becomes a lot less fun and going to the pub with your buddies (sorry to you gals, but we're talking engineers & scientists here) for a beer and darts just ain't what it used to be. Trust me, when you are living on $15k a year, $100k a year seems like a fortune. However, add six figures of student loans, a mortgage, and a couple of screaming kids and you'll be doing a lot of second-guessing.

The whole "pursuit of knowledge" thing deserves special attention. Sorry guys, but it just doesn't pan out. The vast majority of scientific "research" now consists of working for either the government (probably the military) or some soulless multinational, neither of whom give a rat's ass about improving the world or increasing knowledge. Maybe you'll get lucky. But the odds aren't in your favor. Everyone likes to think they'll be one of ten percent.

How many people maintain a passionate interest in their field of interest when it stops becoming essential to their career? Do you know how many physics majors from MIT get lured to Wall Street every year? Do you think they maintain an interest in physics outside of perhaps reading the latest issue of _Science_ or anything like that? (The same could be said for any field of study.) The answer is that they don't. People tend to be passionate about things like art, music, and politics - HUMAN interests - if they are passionate about anything at all during their "off time." The whole game - "good" Ivy League schools, the "right" graduate program, etc. is all just a shell game so people can land the trophy wife and the seven-figure house in the 'burbs. Nauseating? You betcha. Realistic? Same. Physics, or chemistry, was never really interesting to the vast majority of these people to begin with. Once they figured out they could make way more money with much less work there's not much question in most people's minds.

Some of you really seem to be living in a fantasy world. How many of you, honestly, if given a job paying $150k a year writing, say, directing data mining software development for the insurance industry (a "smart person" job that would allow your brain to shine through, yet in no way requiring a PhD) would stick out your white dough 'n Chinese takeout lifestyle in return?

With all that being said, if you're happy, stick it out and go for it. However, you should know what you're up against. Most graduate students, I've found, have lived in the academic environment their whole lives, and have no real bearing on reality. They naturally think this nanny is going to nurture them their whole lives, and when life doesn't work out well, they get really, really bitter. "But I worked so hard!" Yes, you did. Given that, you at least owe it to yourself to honestly consider some of the mistakes of people who went before you.

-- Jonathan Armstrong, August 3, 2004

-- Tom Hutchinson, December 1, 2004
Like others before me, I take offense to the idea that there are only two types of people in this world: A. Shallow materialists who get their MBA through copying some stupid nerds homework solutions and hence finds plenty of time to network with his frat brothers. Upon graduation this person gets a job in his uncle's broker firm and makes $150k a year. In his 60s he has a brief spell of regret that he didn't get a PhD in science, which he found kind of cool in highschool, but his Porsche and young mistress manage to console him. B. True scientist with nothing but the best of humanity in mind goes straight through grad school after getting his science BS. Since he puts in 70h work weeks at 30k/yr in his postdocs, he manages to land an assistant professorship after only 4 years. Recognizing that he will need to bring in the funding, he decides grant proposals must take the place of family in order to get tenure. He is a little baffled that there is a lack of correlation between Saving humanity and Bringing home the bacon, but thanks to secure lavish airforce funding for perfecting the homing algorithm for laser guided bombs, he is granted tenure. At 40 he has an ulcer, bad conscience, no family, but a permanent job that nets him about half as much as A made at 25. Does B regret that he did not take the path of A or that he didn't stick to his guns and found the solution to world poverty in an unheated hut in Montana?

I'm a 33-year-old PhD in engineering working in a postdoc position at 35k/yr. My tasks today were - delime the cooling system of a mass spectrometer, get computer support staff to reinstall software, order equipment to make the lab meet the PIs ideas of 'professional impression' and other 'secreterial duties'. Since I don't even know which continent I will be on in a year, I can forget about having a family. It is not unlikely that I will be unemployed or have a burger flipping job. I did choose this life and could have informed myself better about the different options after highschool graduation, but just bought into the official truth (shortage of engineers/scientists etc). I did not expect a life of riches, but I hoped for a reasonably stable middle class lifestyle where having a decent car, multiyear employment and family in ones mid 30s wouldn't be considered proposterous.

There may be money to be saved for universities and the government today through replacing permanent research positions and unionized janitors with cheap grad students and postdocs, but I doubt that they will find "the best and the brightest" lining up for these positions after the word gets out...

-- Poor Postdoc, September 14, 2005

If I knew 15 years ago what I know now, I would have become a construction electrician instead of an electrical engineer. I never knew becoming an engineer includes a vow of poverty.

-- M V, July 6, 2006
I think, there's a bit a sweet and sour true around this post. Certainly, after 14 years of work as a computer professional, holding a Master in Computer, things haven't come any better. And young professionals are rated with low salaries as well.

if things are like that in the future I won't let any of my sons to study exact sciences like me but Medicine, Economics or something like that. More rewarding with the same stress or less.

-- Juan Carlos Flores, May 26, 2007

Here's a link to a 2004 American Chemical Society talk that the author presented, "There is no looming shortage of Chemists."



Note Slide 14 in the presentation documents that the peak earning years for a Ph.D. are between 45 and 55 years of age, based on median income. Furthermore, between 25 and 35 years of age, a Master's degree holder earns more than a typical Ph.D.


Contact the author at c0030180[at]airmail-dot-net for a gratis copy of his article "The Abramoff Visa" which provides extensive documentation about "things of value" provided by Microsoft Corporation in exchange for "official acts," contrary to Federal statute. The article will be appearing in the Spring, 2007 issue of The Social Contract.

The official acts were legislative actions regarding the controversial H-1B visa program in 1996, 1998, and 2000. Key lobbyists were Microsoft lobbyist Jack Abramoff and about ten members of "Team Abramoff." Jack was retained by Microsoft in 1995 via Bill Gates's father's (William Gates, II) law firm, Preston - Gates.

This author believes that it was no mere coincidence that Bill Gates, III became the "World's Wealthiest Man" in 1995 - a title that he still holds in 2007. The author further believes that Federal RICO statutes, with no time limits, should be applied to all participants in this criminal conspiracy that has harmed millions of experienced American citizen technical professionals.

Image: Gene Nelson.JPG

-- Gene Nelson, Ph.D., May 30, 2007
Anti-intellectualism has been a cultural trait of the United States since the early nineteenth century when the ideals of Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams were overtaken by the desire for economic stability, military defense, and then unbridled growth and empire. I'd define intellectualism as the pursuit of pure knowledge without necessarily any pragmatic consequence. I'm sure if you wrote a doctoral dissertation along the lines of 'The Potential Economic Growth Contributions of Doctoral Students in Physics,' you could get a high-paying job in any corporation. There is a plethora of books on the subject. A good short one is 'Invention of a Nation' by Gore Vidal. One observation by the sociologist/Jesuit Priest Jacques Ellul is that the more highly educated a person is, the more he or she is liable to be swayed by propaganda (an interesting thesis although I think it's a bit of a generalization).

-- al gerstle, October 20, 2007

Why Employee Retention Strategies Do Not Work

An overly optimistic article by a headhunter


"The long and short of it is that U.S. government, economists and business leaders are predicting that the country is heading for another severe talent shortage. In 2007, technology companies were already experiencing the resurgence of a ‘Candidates market’ with fewer skilled candidates than positions to be filled. We are currently seeing this in the areas of software product development, healthcare, information technology, high technology (i.e. electronics, software, semiconductors), biotechnology, research, engineering and other fields."

I am not sure what this guy is smoking?

-- Javed Alam, May 4, 2008
The lot of what I read above is some first-rate highbrow, no little bit of it impressively catty. For my own part Phil, I miss the Christina page terribly! :)

-- hialeah deerhunter, November 7, 2008

Five years ago I was a graduating from my Master in EE and went through decision making process of more school/more research, or financial stability.

I chose to enter the workforce. The idea working on my PhD into my thirties knowing that to ever become a full time researcher in my field I would have to move "somewhere undesirable" for a less than comfortable wage was the deciding factor.

By "somewhere undesirable" I refer to the random higher education destinations that await for PhDs who apply anywhere and everywhere in the hopes of getting on somewhere.

-- Arnold MacKay, December 7, 2008

In my own personal experience, Phil's page grossly UNDERstates the situation. Many/most of my associates from college went through this phase and then subsequently DIED.

One typical case is Seppo Sari. When I was the top honors freshman math student at the U of W, Seppo was the top honors physics student there. Seppo went on to demonstrate the first variable-frequency tunable laser to earn his PhD. Then, Seppo worked on Stealth Paint and the Boeing Free Electron directed energy weapon. Eventually, unemployment hit and Seppo lost everything, including his family through divorce. Seppo then had a physical breakdown that left him unable to walk. Seppo struggled for several years to come back, but eventually died broke and depressed.

In the 1970s, the Contract Entineering Weekly started publishing stories of its members who had lost everything and died or committed suicide. Everytually, complaints forced them to stop publishing these accounts. Thereafter, people died for absolutely nothing at all, not even the recognition of what they had died for.

More recently, the IEEE had a survey regarding employment experiences. They found that the AVERAGE period of UNemployment between jobs is 2 years - long enough to destroy almost anyone's finances. In short, a high tech career is a nearly sure route to economic disaster.

People here are complaining because Phil pulled back the curtain and exposed the truth - a truth that almost everyone who has commented here seeks to keep hidden, as though hiding it will change anything.

There is a form of personality disorder where people think that saying something that is wrong can actually changes the reality of a situation, if only everyone will believe the lie. I suspect that many of the negative responders to Phil's page are afflicted with this personality disorder.

Keep up the good work, Phil.

Steve Richfie1d

-- Steve Richfield, December 17, 2008

Funny and sad, still true years on. I was lucky, my environment forced me out to work at the age of 13. Where I grew up, you had to survive.

Unfortunately a qualification is not some suit of armour or ring of protection that somehow disqualifies you from needing to go out and do something. Tinkerers, no matter how qualified, will always be that weird geek monkey in the backroom.

Let's face it, on average people are, well, average. So you don't actually have to try that hard to swing the odds in your favour. In fact I think that trying anything at all will get you somewhere as most people just don't bother, they sit back and expect things to come to them or simply do nothing because they don't know what to do next. Well life is tougher than that, but not much.

Qualifications prove very little ... unless you leverage off them, the network they bring, they open doors. Being smart is a lifestyle, not a one off effort. Work hard at it everyday. Get up and do something smart today, then do something smart again tomorrow, just make sure that each day you move forward a little, momentum will build up quite rapidly.

-- Paul Gresham, December 18, 2008

Add a comment

Related Links

Add a link