Communication is difficult when you are talking to people with different backgrounds.
For example, what does being a Ph.D. mean? People aren’t Ph.D.’s assume that it’s just a like a masters or undergraduate degree, where you go through the factory assembly line and come out at the other end with a piece of paper that gets you some money and prizes.
But that’s not the case. You don’t *get* a Ph.D., you *become* a Ph.D. If you have a Ph.D., it’s not a statement about a piece of paper or certification, it’s a statement about who you are, what you have seen, and how you look at the world. The certification really doesn’t matter much. My degree is almost useless as a ticket for money and prizes, but it is a statement about who I am and what I’ve seen. If you want to erase my degree, go ahead, I don’t think it matters that much.
Being a Ph.D. affects all of my relationships. It affected who I married, and what my children are like. I can’t separate my “work life” or my “school life” from my “personal life.” As you can see, being a Ph.D. affects my feeling toward other people, and it’s part of my marriage. My wife is a Ph.D. candidate in early childhood education. An essential part of our marriage involves professional collaboration and respect. I learn about educational theory from her. She uses me as a peer briefer to look over her data. We’ve created more together than children, we’ve created some new insights as to how the world works. (See next year when her dissertation comes out.) The professional collaboration I have with my wife is part of our love, it’s part of our marriage, it’s part of how we are, and it’s something that people on the outside of academia don’t quite understand.
Let me give you an example of how bizarre my world might seem to someone who isn’t living in it. Right now I’m studying the dynamics of volatility smiles. I’m getting any grades or certifications from this. I’m not taking any formal courses. I’m just reading and learning. Now the stuff I’m reading is also stuff that MFE’s can read, but suppose some were to tell me that the obstensible purpose for what I’m reading is “useless.” In other words, someone tells me that I’m destined not to have a job on Wall Street.
I…. wouldn’t…. care……
If it turns out that it is *impossible* for me to make any money on what I’m studying. I’d still study it about as hard. Because it is interesting. It’s cool math. It challenges my mind. It makes me a better person when I understand how foreign exchange volatility smiles work. And in my life, the important thing isn’t destination, it’s the journey. When I think I understand something, my first reaction is to go and find something new that I don’t understand. When I seem to have mastered a skill, I go and find something I’m incompetent at.
None of that has anything to do with whether or not I become a quant or not, and it’s really hard to explain to headhunters and HR people.