What if Albert Einstein became an Investment Banker?
Every day, young people are graduating from high school, facing tough decisions about their future. Do they choose a career path in STEM with uncertain prospects or choose opportunities in a field with better financial outcomes like business? For those looking at STEM careers, there will undoubtedly be struggles to achieve notoriety, success, and to make an impact. For some their aspirations to affect the world positively may ultimately fall short and they may end up updating radiator cap specifications for the rest of their life instead of solving the world’s most prolific problems like cold fusion. Alternatively, recent graduates could pursue a corporate job in business like marketing, sales, finance, accounting, or human resources, where the prospects are much more certain – even for the mediocre. Admittedly, business is not easy by any means; however, by rolling up your sleeves and working hard you can achieve moderate levels of monetary success. To put this whole thing in context, let us take an extreme example and play it out as if instead of pursing science, he or she decided to choose a career in investment banking. Enter Albert Einstein.
If Einstein became a banker instead of a philosopher / physicist…
What impacts would this have on science?
Until Einstein, there was no explanation how act / react in the universe relative to one another. His intellect and contributions also led to key advancements in the United States arms race to the nuclear weapon, although he did not personally participate in the project. Modern science would have changed in a big way and it is debatable if many modern physical theories would exist today in 2017. Even today, his unifying theories are the underpinning of such concepts as string-theory, which aims to interconnect all physical theories of the universe.
What impacts would this have on the course of history?
Einstein did not directly work on the Manhattan Project; however, he did have significant contributions via his theories. Additionally, it is debatable whether the United States would have explored uranium options, if Einstein did not draft a letter to Roosevelt warning him of the German weapons program progress. If the nuclear bomb were delayed, the United States would have been on the opposite side of history. Undoubtedly, Germany and / or Japan may have established themselves as world powers and we likely would not have the EU as it exists today.
Would someone else have stumbled on the theory of relatively, potentially reshaping our understanding of the universe, as we know it?
This one really depends on your perspective. A fatalist would believe that Einstein himself would ultimately stumbled on the ideas eventually because that was his fate. I am not a fatalist and therefore, I do not believe he would have established his intellectual curiosity had he not worked in the patent office. The patent office, was a formative experience for Einstein and without it, one could seriously question whether he would have ever become the physicist that he became. Access to all that knowledge and insight, inspired him to create and run his own experiments and challenge existing hypothesis. Would he have gotten that experience and exposure as a banker? No
Would have been any good at banking?
This one is debatable. At points in his life, Einstein became incredibly isolated and reclusive. While this may work well for a while, it is a recipe for disaster in business, where people have expectations and interpersonal relations are expected. Banking may be one of the more individualistic fields, which may suit his ego well, but I am pretty he may have gotten bored charting basic formulas all day, and likely quit to become a trader. As a trader, he would be mildly successful and free to apply his own logic and intuitiveness to making decisions. I do not envision Einstein working for others for very long without autonomy to some degree. Monetarily, he would have done well for himself, although to what extent is hard to say.
While this example is extreme, the reality is that the next Einstein may be currently siting in a classroom somewhere weighing their options on what to do with their life. The sciences, particularly in the United States are no longer as attractive as they once were, and people are making point in time choices to choose careers with more certain prospects. In my opinion, this view point needs to change, and we, collectively need to provide better economic incentives to ensure that the best and brightest are funneling into STEM careers and not undervaluing their skills and potential in overserved fields. We cannot go back in time and run scenarios on what would happen if Einstein took a different career path, but we can help shape the future generations of inventors by encouraging and promoting intellectual curiosity and STEM professions.
I chose a career in business and am now trying to rekindle my interest and passion for the sciences through some home experiments (which I hope to share in future entries) and readings. I am not Einstein. Nor am I a banker. I am I. And I reserve the right to wonder what my contributions could have been in a different field. Virology, mycology, or botany may have been in the cards.