Will Scientists Leave Hedge Funds and Return to Science?

An article in today’s New York Times, “A Rich Education for Summers (After Harvard), caught my eye.  It talks about how Larry Summers worked (one day a week, earning nearly $ 5.2 million in two years) at a large hedge fund “advising an elite corps of math wizards and scientists.”

The company,  D. E. Shaw & Company, was founded in 1988 by David E. Shaw, then a computer science professor at Columbia University.  According to the NYT article, “As part of Shaw’s rigorous screening process — the firm accepts perhaps one out of every 500 applicants — Mr. Summers was asked to solve math puzzles. He passed, and the job was his.”

I’m disappointed that the world of science wasn’t able to attract and retain these brilliant individuals over the past two decades.  If they had put their creative and analytical minds to work investigating mysteries of nature rather than mysteries of high finance, I think we might be better off today.

I’m encouraged that the tide may now be shifting.  In fact, according to the Shaw Group website,  “the vast majority of [David Shaw’s] time is now devoted to his role as chief scientist of D. E. Shaw Research, LLC, in which capacity he leads an interdisciplinary research group in the field of computational biochemistry and personally engages in hands-on scientific research in that field. He also holds appointments as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at Columbia University and as an Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia’s medical school.”

Let’s hope that the values and traditions in the world of science (as compared to the values and traditions in the world of banking) do a better job of effectively channeling the talents, dreams, and energy of the next generation of bright students.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 4:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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