The placement season is just starting for the 2015 graduates. (In IITs, it will start on 1st December.) And newspapers are already talking about a crore+ salaries this year. That it would be for a very small number of graduates is lost on most people. And in this race to get the biggest package, one career that is often forgotten is that of an academic.
There are some obvious problems with the career options. You can't join it just after the under-graduate education, and hence your parents can't boast about it to their neighbors and relatives. In fact, even after 10 years, they won't be able to boast to people whose only parameter of success is money.
However, there is an equally obvious advantage. If you can monetize smiles, you will be amongst the richest persons on earth very soon.
Just to give an example of how our compensation package works, a couple of months ago I went to UAE on a tourism trip with my family. About 2 months before the trip, I posted on facebook seeking advice. We had lots of advice, but we also had lots of offers of hosting us, of taking us around, of arranging everything for us, many of them from people unknown to us. The only common bond was that they had studied in the same institute in which I am a Professor. (Not all were alumni. We had other wonderful people too, like my batchmate from school days who went completely out of his way to help us in so many different ways, my wife's co-worker who hosted us for two nights and made sure that we had all the comforts. But I am focusing on alumni because every profession will have friends.) We decided to still go ahead with a tour operator, but kept a couple of extra days to meet some of these wonderful people and enjoy their hospitality.
One of the IITK alumnus hosted us for a day. We had not known him. He just called us up one day and told us that we had to accept his hospitality. That he understood our reluctance and shyness since we did not know each other. But for him the fact that I was a professor was an excellent reason to offer that hospitality. When we reached his home, the affection that we received was tremendous. Our kids still would like to go back to this "uncle" and "aunt". They took us around for the whole day. My son only had to mention that he would love to see the Sharjah Cricket Stadium where India and Pakistan have played so many cricket matches, and this alum just drove all the way there. It wasn't exactly next door. Money can buy an overnight stay in Burj Al Arab, but money can't buy the affection with which a professor is treated by an alum.
The satisfaction that you get when you are able to explain a concept to someone who did not know it earlier is immense. Sometimes it could be straightforward, and sometimes it could be frustrating. But the end point is always the same - a smile on the faces of those students. Money can buy all the books, but can't buy that smile. If only there was a way to monetize those smiles, ...
You work on a problem that you want to work on, and not what would add value to the company in the next quarter. I am not trying to belittle the value of next quarter, but there are times when you want to think of next year, or the next decade, or the next generation. Sometimes you don't want to think of just one company, but of the society, of the nation, of humanity at large. Very few professions allow you to work on such a broad canvas.
As a professor, I end up meeting with successful people from all walks of life. When we invite such people to visit our campuses, they usually accept our invivtations. If you are a professor, you are more likely to meet such amazing fellows than any other profession (unless you have really been highly successful yourself and is in the category of people who get invited to campuses). Now consider this. What is the metric of success (other than money) - that you get invited by educational institutions. By this metric, all professors are successful by definition.
I can't think of any other profession which allows you to come home for lunch with kids, or even stay withing walking distance of the office. And if that does not impress young students (they obviously can't imagine what is the value in having lunch with kids), at the very least what must impress them is that I have a bigger area of the house than a majority of my batchmates (many of them don't even live in a bungalow - but in an apartment). Yes, I can't sell this house. But I can live in it for a large fraction of my life, and by the time I have to give it up, I would actually be happy to shift to a smaller flat.
If I compare myself with the top 1% of the countrymen, I guess I can call them rich, there is pretty much nothing that they would have in their household that I don't have. And as I have often said, if one is not happy being richer than 99% of the countrymen, one won't be happy being richer than 99.1% of the countrymen. If you think happiness is relative, you would never be happy. If you think happiness is absolute, then faculty salaries are actually quite attractive. So even in terms of what money can buy, this profession is not bad. But if you add what money can't buy, then this profession is absolutely awesome.
I can go on and on. Actually, I haven't even started to say how great is this profession. So before you plan for that placement interview, think about higher education - MTech/PhD. Give GATE, or any other relevant exam, if needed. But don't trade the wonderful world of academia with the instant fame in the batch of a high paying job.
Travels in Chennai-ancient signboards
3 days ago