Sunday, April 12, 2009

Work to Love

Two articles in today's New York Times address an issue I've been thinking about, we all have, for some time. Meaningful work; work that fits into life as you dream it, not work as a wage slave. you know what I mean. Check them out:

In the bubble decade, making money as an end in itself boomed as a calling among students at elite universities like Harvard, siphoning off gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors. The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries. The figures were similar everywhere, from Duke to the University of Pennsylvania. Dan Rather, on his HDNet television program in December, reported that at Penn this was even true of “over half the students who graduated with engineering degrees — not a field commonly associated with Wall Street.”

Clearly the last person to serve as an inspiring role model for alternative values would have been Summers. But in her first baccalaureate address last June, his successor as Harvard president, Drew Gilpin Faust, stepped into that moral vacuum, zeroing in on the huge number of students heading into finance, consulting and investment banking. “Find work you love,” she implored the class of 2008. The “most remunerative” job choice “may not be the most meaningful and the most satisfying.”

This same note was hit a month earlier by the commencement speaker at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama. “The big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy,” he said, amount to “a poverty of ambition.” He wasn’t speaking idly. As America knows, Obama turned down the lucrative career path guaranteed to the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review to pursue the missions of service and teaching instead. The potential rewards for our country, now that that early choice has led him into the White House, are enormous.

But it’s hardly a given that the entrenched money culture has evaporated along with the paper profits it generated. One skeptic is Howard Gardner, the Harvard education professor who has created seminars at several elite colleges to counsel students in the notion of pursuing meaningful, ethical and effective work — “Good Work,” as he has titled it. He believes that many students may still be operating on the assumption that the world of finance will just pick up where it left off in a few years. “But we’re not going to be back there,” Gardner told me last week, “and we shouldn’t be back there.”

He notes that while the New Deal was built from ideas developed in the Progressive Era and that the Reagan counterrevolution was the culmination of the conservative movement of the 1950s and ’60s, there is as yet “no counternarrative to replace ‘money is king.’ ” The post-crash influx of graduates into Teach for America, while laudable, may be transitory unless there’s the political vision and leadership to make altruistic values stick after our crisis has passed. “It’s completely up in the air what’s going to happen,” Gardner said.
From an opinion piece in the New York Times. Read More...

“In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

What will the new map of talent flow look like? It’s early, but based on graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, a new pattern of occupational choice seems to be emerging. Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners, while fewer shiny, young minds are embarking on careers in finance and business consulting.

For the highest-paid business fields, the outlook is for a tempering correction instead of an all-out exodus. At Harvard, for example, about 40 percent of undergraduates in recent years went into the most lucrative corporate arenas like finance and consulting, based on surveys at the school year’s end. “That certainly won’t be the case this year,” observed Lawrence Katz, a professor and labor economist who has studied undergraduate career choices at Harvard going back to the 1960s. “We’re seeing students who would have been part of the Ivy League pipeline to Wall Street in the past considering very different career paths.”

Kedamai Fisseha, a 21-year-old senior, is one of them. An economics major, Mr. Fisseha says he always assumed he would go into finance, and his summer internship last year was at the investment bank Morgan Stanley. Yet after Wall Street’s meltdown, job prospects there have withered. Instead, he is interviewing with Teach for America, a nonprofit group that recruits college graduates to teach in hard-to-staff schools for two-year stints. (After that, only one-third stay in the classrooms, though two-thirds remain in education.)

Mr. Fisseha regards the turn of events as an opportunity to broaden his horizons. “It’s been liberating, and lucky for me,” he said. “But your situation does dictate your preferences.”

Graduate schools of government and public policy are seeing a surge of applications. In a survey of its members released last week, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration found that 82 percent reported an increase in applications this year, and many saw the largest percentage jumps in several years, or ever. The most-cited reason was the expectation by students that government will be hiring.

Still, the appeal of public sector careers extends beyond job openings, say school officials. The laissez-faire presumption that government is not the solution but the problem, dating back to the Reagan era, has been cast aside, they say.

The government’s need to step in with financial bailouts and recovery programs to steady the economy is seen as the immediate proof, they say, but not the only one. The environment, energy and health care also pose huge, complex challenges. “Young people today understand that government has a powerful role to play in solving these problems,” said Sandra Archibald, dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where applications this year are up 26 percent.

Government school officials also point to an Obama effect: his election as an endorsement of government activism.

From "With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?" Read More...
Well, there's always Nigeria etc. In Africa there's raw talent. There's high population. There are problems. There is a great need for competence in several fields. There is low-hanging fruit, so you can with little effort make a huge impact. There's often not the huge pay that you can expect in the West, although that can be arranged sometimes. It's worth a try.

P.S. Ask me about my own time in Nigeria (July 2008-July 2009) sometime.

P.P.S. Maybe we can arrange a chat between Africans returned to Africa and those thinking of returning...Shall we?

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