My life as a Quant

Dog years

n         Life as a graduate

n         Wonderful lectures

n         T.D. Lee, the brightest star in the firmament

n         Seven lean years

n         Getting out of graduate school only half-alive

 

If you did not mind wasting the best years of your youth, graduate student life at Columbia was paradise. Once you got over the first two hurdles-passing the PhD qualifying exams and obtaining a research advisor-no one seemed to give a damn about what happened to you. Being a graduate student was not a bad sinecure. The university just kept funneling you a small but livable stipend and hoped you stayed out of their way. I spent seven biblically-lean years in the physics department. One friend spent ten. We both got out alive.

Some did not. It was not long before we had all heard the legend about the graduate student who had shot his PhD advisor. Several years ago I read a New York Times article about two graduate students who committed suicide while studying in the Harvard laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Professor E.J. Corey. In a subsequent letter to the Sunday New York Times magazine of December 20, 1998, Linda Logdberg of Upper Nyack, New York, wrote in to comment on life as graduate student:

…perhaps even more now than then, graduate education is an extended adolescence during which highly intelligent young people see their world shrink to fit the dimension of their advisor’s laboratory…. With their identities bound to the outcome of their thesis project, graduate students are socialized to view other options (teaching, industry, even changing to another type of work altogether) with contempt. Wanting a decent wage and meaningful work that occupies, only 50 hours per week are considered signs of selling out.

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