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McGoldrick '12: Feeling the brain drain

The graduation frenzy is palpable at Brown. Exams are impending. Senior dinners are happening. Families are visiting. Four years of hard work are finally culminating in this grand achievement: a degree from Brown University. We're entering a new phase of life in which our decisions are entirely our own and the full weight of adult responsibility falls on our shoulders.

Like many Brown seniors, I don't know exactly what I'll be doing after all the hype calms down - and, honestly, I'm not in much of a hurry to figure all that out yet. While at Brown, I've explored a diverse spectrum of academic and artistic interests, and I don't plan to lock myself into any one thing for some time. But unlike me, some students have had their minds made up since they signed employment contracts back in the fall. Though the numbers aren't in yet, I suspect that an overwhelming number of these contracts were signed with large financial and consulting firms.

My suspicion is based on the Center for Careers and Life After Brown employment statistics for the class of 2011. Out of a class of 1,552 students, 1,260 responded to the survey. Students had the choice of replying "employment," "full-time graduate or professional study" or "other endeavors" to the question of what they planned to do after graduation. A little more than half of the class responded with "employment." Twelve percent of those employed reported working in finance and banking and 8 percent in consulting. In other words, one-fifth of the employed class of 2011 is working in finance, banking or consulting.

But Brown is by no means an exception when it comes to this trend. Ivy League and elite universities are the most heavily recruited schools for the financial industry. According to university polls of the class of 2011, 52 percent of graduates from Penn, and 29 percent from Harvard are employed in financial services and consulting.

The rising number of promising college grads entering the financial and consulting sectors should trouble all of us. First of all - let's be honest - few students enter college with their eye on the financial industry. Somewhere along the way, many of us are giving up our original career aspirations. Students should be sticking with their first instincts, because recent studies have suggested that Wall Street employees tend to be some of the most mentally unhealthy individuals. In a study done at Florida's Nova Southeastern University, 23 percent of young male stockbrokers were clinically diagnosed with major depression - troubling, since nationally, only 7 percent of young males are diagnosed with major depression. Another study done in Switzerland found that professional stock traders were more likely to engage in risky, competitive behavior than a subject pool of diagnosed psychopaths.

Even worse, we're losing some of the best minds to an industry whose social credentials are spotty at best. Goldman Sachs - the third largest employer of Brown students  - played an instrumental role in the financial crisis that began in 2008. Instead of feeding the homeless, some Brown graduates were actually a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that led to the millions of evictions we've seen in the past few years.

The financial and consulting sectors truly are America's greatest "brain drain." At a time when we need social problem solvers and innovative scientists more than ever, many of our fellow students are entering a field that may be actively harming the stability and sustainability of our society.

Why are so many attracted to a career in these industries? Of course, there's no way to answer that question without oversimplifying and leaving out the nuance of each individual's personal decision. But after doing some informal research, I've found several common reasons. First, attending a prestigious university increases the pressure that students feel to leave college with a well-respected and financially secure future ahead of them. Making six figures immediately after graduation is a nice way to assure oneself that the education was worth it. This is especially true for individuals with burdensome student loans.

Another common theme I've encountered is that most people plan to go into the financial industry only temporarily. They see it as a way to hone real-world skills that will prepare them for something more meaningful in the future. Judging from anecdotal evidence, however, I'm afraid this is something of a self-delusion. Working for an investment bank isn't going to tell you much about how to run a nonprofit.

Most concerning of all, though, is how easy it seems to be to choose this career path. I have applied math-economics friends who tell me that every day their inbox is filled with invitations to interviews and events with big-name banks and financial firms. The process of applying for these jobs is basically like applying for college all over again - just send a transcript, resume and a cover letter in before the deadline.

I challenge all you non-seniors: Before you decide to spend some of the best years of your life in a Manhattan office, strung out from stress and sleeplessness, make sure you know what you're getting into.

 

 

Rebecca McGoldrick '12 will decorate your Manhattan office with her artwork - for a fee, of course. She can be reached at rebecca_mcgoldrick@brown.edu. 


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