By Jeff McMahon, Opinion, Forbes
The real money in engineering and technology is on Wall Street, an emeritus director of Argonne National Laboratory told a roomful of engineering students Monday at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Argonne Director Emeritus Alan Schriesheim was asked whether students should go into nanotechnology because of that emerging field’s future. The question reminded him, he said, of the scene in “The Graduate” in which Dustin Hoffman’s character is told there’s a great future in plastics.
“If you are planning to go into a field, you ought to go into it because you’re interested,” Schriesheim said. “I think it’s a mistake to go into a field because you think there’s a lot of money in it.
“If you want to make a lot of money, then I suggest you get your degree in engineering, work two years, then go to business school and become a Wall Street banker, or a private equity fund or something like that, because they’ll pay you a lot more money.”
Schriescheim studied chemistry at The Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, now part of New York University, and then Penn State, where he earned a PhD in 1954. He went into that field because he was interested, in it, he said, and not to make money.
But money had some influence over Schriesheim’s career. After Penn State, he first worked for the National Bureau of Standards. He earned just over $5,000 a year there, he said, and a colleague who had worked there for 40 years earned just over $8,000.
He decided he’d better find a job with better prospects, he said, so he sent out letters to a number of companies, including the Standard Oil Company, now Exxon, which was then developing a corporate research laboratory. Schriesheim became the director of that laboratory before the University of Chicago hired him in 1983 to lead Argonne National Laboratory. Now in retirement, he serves as president of the Chicago Council on Science and Technology.
Schriesheim did praise the prospects of nanotechnology and superconductors, and he mentioned battery technology as a developing field in technology that will remain important for the foreseeable future.
Asked about the advantages of industrial jobs vs. academic, he said, “Industry will always find a problem for you.
“No matter what industry you go to work for, there’s a bottom line connected to your activity…. So you don’t have to worry about writing grants, getting peer reviews. The company will find a problem for you to work on that’s important and uses your talents.”