Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Physics and Economics

I sat next to a physicist from Israel a few weeks ago at Shabbat dinner. I mentioned that I studied physics as an undergraduate but was likely pursuing a PhD in Economics. She lamented this change in focus (despite the fact that I left physics a few years ago to go into consulting).

I should have remember the following quotation, which my senior project adviser in physics recently quoted to me (as he had also chosen between physics and economics):
During his senior year of college, [Larry] Summers was considering graduate school in both theoretical physics and economics. For weeks, he anguished over whether to pursue his passion (physics) or the family business (in addition to his economist parents, Summers has two uncles--Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow-- who won Nobel prizes in the field). After he finally decided on the latter, he explained his thinking to Rollins: "What does a bad theoretical physicist do for a living? He walks into an office, sits at a desk, and stares at a plain white sheet of paper." "But," Summers added, "there's a lot of work in the world for a bad economist."
I'm also of course reminded of the great Jed Barlet quotation about why he didn't go to law school (another choice that I've made):
President Josiah Bartlet: [later] [The White House Counsel] looks down his nose at me 'cause I'm not a lawyer.
Leo McGarry: Yes.
President Josiah Bartlet: I didn't go to law school. I got a PhD in economics instead.
Leo McGarry: Your parents were very proud.
President Josiah Bartlet: Yeah, and all that happened was I won a Nobel Prize and got elected President so I guess that decision didn't really pay off.
Leo McGarry: Yeah.
President Josiah Bartlet: Should I run back and get my Nobel Prize?
Leo McGarry: I think he knows you've got one.

"The West Wing: Bad Moon Rising (#2.19)" (2001)
Fiction of course, but amusing fiction nonetheless.

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