On death and dying.

Today marks one year of Sushant’s passing, There are moments in life which are so defining that they partition your life into two parts- before and after. Sushant’s death was that event in our family. Everything has changed but still a lot remains the same. The incongruence of this statement is best explained with the dichotomy between the internalities and externalities. Externally, we are doing practical things like earning a living, raising our children and supporting our parents, which are same as before. But internally, we experience a big void which is devoid of everything but grief.

Everyone processes grief differently, even though it passes through some universal stages, not in the same order for everyone and also not all stages for everyone. Shweta, my wife, is processing it in complete isolation. This entire month, she is on a solitary retreat, deep into the mountains, with no human contact whatsoever. Not only human contact, she has no means of communication like internet or cell phone or even a car to drive back. All we know is the date and time when she would like to be picked up from her barebones cabin in the mountains.

Staying productive and taking care of responsibilities help me in keeping positive. Writing has also been very useful. I am writing this today in the public forum so that people can appreciate that getting justice for your family member is only one of the components of grieving. Justice is certainly important but tending to the broken hearts is also important.

I titled this post “On death and dying” because of many reasons. One of them is that it’s not just us who lost a loved one untimely in the recent past. Because of COVID-19, many of us lost our loved ones untimely. Talking about death, loss and grief are very difficult topics and I hope this post not only opens up this discussion but act as a soothing balm for the grieving hearts. I also understand that Sushant was a national treasure and hence his loss is a little different since it’s not only a loss for family and friends but also a loss for the nation.

Sushant Singh Rajput, a national treasure.

Before I write anything further, I would like to add that I am not a professional in the field of grief so whatever I write here is not an unequivocal gospel of truth but a summary of first hand experiences and amateur research.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her book by the same name as this article talked about the five stages of grief- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. As I said earlier, not everyone will necessarily experience all five stages and not in the linear order either.

Five Stages of Grief. Source: psycom.net

When we experience these stages, at the least we know that we are not alone in this and these are common across humanity. It’s ok to experience these things so that we grieve properly. If we don’t grieve properly, it will be very difficult to sustain our lives.

There is another feature which seems to be universally true. Death of a loved one leaves a permanent emotional imprint and void. Even after reaching a state of acceptance, there is a a complete understanding that the void will remain unfilled permanently. We can go back to laughing with our children and friends with time, but a deep knowledge of this undercurrent void persists even in those moments.

There is no right way to talk to people who have lost a loved one but there are certainly some best practices. When you communicate with someone who has lost a loved one recently, the best thing to do is to acknowledge their permanent loss and understand that life for the family members will not be the same as before. Time certainly heals but neither can it reverse the loss nor can it fill the void. This acknowledgement itself aids in the process of healing.

Sushant Singh Rajput is not only a source of pride for my wife’s family but also for his millions of admirers. Sushant was certainly gifted and special and honed his craft to excellence with hard work. He studied interesting books and worked and took interest in different areas. He donated generously and had big aspirations, not only for himself but for society in general. He was loving and kind, childlike and innocent, playful yet deep, a paradox of existence.

He leaves behind a legacy which matters for generations to come. All his positive qualities will be an inspiration for our youth and his rise in society from humble beginnings will be a model to be studied, not limited to the context of cinema but from the perspective of experiments and outcomes. His works in the performing arts are a treasure trove of emotions for his admirers to absorb, experience and to live vicariously through his story. And his name is now synonymous with Immortality!

Are we doomed? What is the future of education and work?

PS: No one knows for sure what will happen in the future. This is based on what most experts are saying about the future and my commentary on it.

I write a lot about the current education system and what needs to be done to succeed currently in different fields. Just in the last couple of months, I wrote about a career in law and a career in psychology.

However, today, I want to write a short note on the future of education and work. Is it all doom and gloom or do we have a bright future ahead?

Picture Credit: https://www.the-possible.com/

Why does the future look very different from today as far as education and work are concerned? The reason for this is the innovation in technology, especially in the areas of machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnology (BioTech).

What is this difference? The difference is that the skills of people can become more easily obsolete with these technological advances. For eg. in the past, people could reliably stay in one profession for decades, if not their entire lifetime. This stood well with our education system which took years to prepare us for a single profession. Think about doctors and lawyers; they require a minimum of 10 years and 7 years of post-secondary training to enter the profession. In future, with more improvements in AI and ML, the intelligence of the machine might replace many highly sought after jobs with new kinds of jobs. These new kinds of jobs are very likely to be around building, managing, maintaining, and improving these AI systems. Come 2040 or 2050, I don’t think it will make sense to spend 10 years of postsecondary life preparing for one career.

What should we do then? We should prepare for shorter careers in one area, unless we end up going into the fields with these new kinds of jobs which I mentioned in the previous section. For eg., if you are a doctor who looks at patient’s metrics and offers a diagnosis, you could potentially (not necessarily) be replaced in 20-30 years with AI doctors. So, if you are planning to start studying medicine (Bachelors/pre-med) in 2030, enter the field in 2040 and find yourself obsolete in a few years; it might not be the best use of your time.

Which existing jobs will become more important? It seems that anything which requires comforting other human beings will become more important. While some (of course, not all) doctors could become obsolete, nurses won’t because they physically care for and comfort the patients. Competent teachers will be very important because they will need to retrain the workforce every now and then. Psychologists, Counselors, and Meditation teachers will be in demand because such churning in education, and career will wreak havoc for the mental health of human beings. Elder care and child care will also grow in importance.

Should educational institutes be restructured? Yes, they should be. Learning to learn new skills will be very important going forward. The subject matter should focus more on becoming resilient and learning and retaining new skills in shorter periods of time. Change is hard on human beings, especially when it comes with a pressure of performance. The future educational institutes will focus exceedingly more on the mental health of their students.

What strategies can we implement to be ready? Diversifying our interests is the first strategy I can think of. If our jobs become irrelevant and we derive all our identities from them, we are asking for trouble. The other strategy would be to keep our learning muscles in vogue by continuously learning new things.

Is there a silver lining? The silver lining in all of this is the fact that for the most part, the future will be “objectively” better for humanity. It’s only a guess but even if we become irrelevant, there will be some form of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to sustain our basic needs. We will have the time and opportunity to pursue our genuine interests if we are so inclined. The only problem with this is that this “objective” betterment is usually never the individual goal. It is the “subjective” satisfaction which human beings crave. Becoming somewhat irrelevant and not having an option to succeed in an economic marketplace can potentially undermine human satisfaction.

Despite all I have written above, I am personally very optimistic about the human resiliency. Although the challenges in the future will be more difficult, we humans will overcome them and emerge stronger on the other side, with new ideas and new strategies.

Stay strong!

Want to have a career in psychology? Here’s what you need to do.

If you are one of those people who has always been interested in human behavior and psychology, there is a way to channel your interest into a meaningful career. Human behavior stems from both the biological temperament (nature) and the environmental conditions (nurture). A career in psychology can range from sports psychology to correctional facility psychiatry.

Let’s look at the different career paths and the requirements for pursuing those paths. I will take the example of my home state of California and you can use this as a reference for your state or your country. Please consult local resources for accurate details of your region. It’s very important to break these options down since there is a lot of information and it’s not easy to find a single source which talks about this topic comprehensively.

Picture credit: Jaye Van Kirk, MA

Counselor/Therapist: Let’s say you want a meaningful career in psychology but don’t want to to get a PhD or a medical degree. In such a scenario, becoming a Therapist or a Counselor is a good option. The Board of Behavior Sciences (BBS) of state of California still requires you to get a Masters in Counseling and get a license before you can start offering therapy. There are four tracks supported by BBS: LMFT (License in Marriage and Family Therapy), LPCC (Licensed professional clinical counselors), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP). All the four tracks require Masters degrees and you can click on the alphabet soup above to look at the exact requirements and which schools offer these programs.

The main difference between these career paths is the kind of problems you will deal with. LMFTs deal with problems which have a relationship component to it, from social anxiety to marital issues. LPCCs offer treatment and counseling to those with mental health and substance abuse issues. LCSWs work in the social work setting while LEPs work in educational settings like schools and colleges. For LEP to work in a public school, they also need a PPS credential, which is offered by Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).

I know they are too many acronyms but the meat of the issue is that all these Masters degrees have a 60 credit requirement, which is twice that of a Masters degree in Engineering. My Masters at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Electrical and Computer Engineering (I went there nearly 15 years ago) required 30 credits. Hence, these degrees will take you more time to complete. One example of an institute which offers the MFT/LPCC track degree is WISR. Their current tuition is $700/month or $8400/year and you can complete the degree online. Let’s say you are the most efficient full-time student out there. It will probably take you a minimum of 3 years to finish the degree, a total investment of $25,200.

Psychologist: What if you are even more ambitious and are not satisfied being a Licensed Counselor/Therapist and want to be a Licensed Psychologist. Remember a Counselor/Therapist who is not a Licensed Psychologist cannot diagnose mental health issues. Becoming a Licensed Psychologist is even harder than obtaining one of the four counseling licenses mentioned in the previous section.

The Psychology license is granted by California Board of Psychology (CBP). One of the requirements is to get a PhD in Psychology (research focus), or Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD, clinical focus), or Doctorate in Educational Psychology (EdD). CBP publishes a list of approved schools here. On this list, there is EdD program of California Coast University. This is probably one of the cheapest ways of becoming a licensed psychologist. However, since it’s a EdD degree and NOT a PhD or PsyD, this kind of psychologist will be most useful in educational settings. This University charges $290/unit and you need to finish 66 units to get the EdD degree. This amounts to a total investment of $19,140. It will require a minimum of 3 years to finish this program.

Psychiatrist: Let’s say you are not satisfied with diagnosing mental illnesses or providing counseling/therapy but actually want to prescribe medication to treat the illnesses; in that case; you want to be a psychiatrist. I will only mention that becoming a psychiatrist is very similar to becoming a doctor and will leave it at that since medicine is already a well-understood path.

Miscellaneous careers in psychology: What if you don’t have the time (bare minimum 3 years to just get the Masters degree in counseling or the EdD degree and bare minimum of many years to get the medical degree) to invest in pursuing the above paths but you still want to do something in the field of psychology. In that case, you can go for a vanilla Masters (MS) in Psychology, not leading to any license or certification, A degree of this kind will take a minimum of 9 months to get at the California Cost University. The cost of this degree would be $8970 (39 credits at the rate of $230/credit). This university is accredited by DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission) and the coursework is self-paced and completely online. Some private companies and universities might not recognize this degree as equivalent to a degree from say University of California, but most public institutions recognize this degree.

So what can you do with this degree? You can take up a job in HR (Human Resources) Department of a private sector, work in administrative positions in all industries or become an adjunct lecturer/professor/faculty of psychology on the side. For eg., an adjunct faculty pool job posting shows that the minimum requirements for this position are: Master’s Degree in Psychology OR Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology AND Master’s Degree in Counseling, Sociology, Statistics, Neuroscience, or Social Work or the equivalent. The starting salary range specified as follows: Salary Range Hourly Lecture: $72.76-$108.77; Hourly Lab: $62.47-$93.39 DOE (Depends on Experience).

Show me the money: The more practical of my readers would actually want to know how much can they make with these licenses and degrees. This website shows that the median compensation (including the value of all benefits) of a Psychologist PhD is $165,000 in California. The median compensation for a Psychiatrist in California is $348,000. A Mental Health Clinician (LCSW/LPCC) gets a median compensation of $102,000 in California.

Conclusion: While a career in psychology is not as high paying as Hi Tech (exception Psychiatry), it could be fulfilling for those who enjoy helping people and revel in the intricacies of the human mind. The other disadvantage of this career choice is that it requires a lot of investment of time (especially the licensed tracks of Counseling, Psychology and Psychiatry) and hence opportunity costs. Such an investment is worthwhile if you know for sure that this is what you want to do in your life. If you want to pursue this as a part time profession, I would not recommend pursuing the three main tracks and instead recommend pursuing the Miscellaneous Careers track.

I hope you enjoyed this article. It took me a lot of effort to collect all the data and present it in a digestible form and I hope it will help someone who wants to pursue a career in psychology.

Coronavirus and investing

Amid the Pandemic, this is a great time to remind ourselves of the long term thinking when it comes to saving money and investing. The keyword being “long term”. Those who have started very recently might be getting dissuaded by the humongous drop in the market and I am very mindful of that.

I started earning reasonable money in 2008. Anything I earned before 2008 was mostly stipends from Graduate school and minor internships here and there. When the 2008 financial crisis happened, I did not have any sizable portfolio invested in the market. I had just started a family (my daughter was born in April 2008) and my wife had started school. We were paying all those bills and were still saving money. That first year, we just saved money in our savings account since we wanted to buy a house ASAP while the market was at its knees. We bought our first home in December 2009. The next couple of years went mostly in paying the bills, child care, wife’s tuition, traveling and the new mortgage. We started stock market investing seriously only in 2012, although I was still buying ESPP (Employee Stocks) at a discount from my employer before then, which can be considered single stock investing. In December of 2014, we sold our first home and signed the contract for the new home we live in now.

StockMarket

As of March 21st, 2020, Dow Jones in the last 40 years has grown by 2365%, yes you read that right- two thousand three hundred and sixty-five percent. If we were crunching this number on Feb. 12th,2020, this number would have been 3700% since Dow Jones was at its peak ever of 29,551.42

I want to share from the experience of these 8-9 years of investing so that people don’t lose faith in this downturn. Yes, there will be a big reduction in everyone’s portfolio and it will hurt. But, we will still turn out to be winners in the long term.

I will use my 401K account to bring the point home. My 401K shows me that my portfolio’s return this year (YTD) has been -27.3% and that sounds horrible. Despite that, there is a silver lining. Every pretax dollar I ever contributed to my 401K is still cumulatively up by 45% (as of March 21st, 2020). There are two victories here. One, the fact that I have not paid taxes on this money and two that instead of keeping this money in my checking account (or under the mattress) or worse yet spending it away, this money has grown by 45%. If I use simpleton Math and average out my marginal tax brackets since 2012, the taxes would still have been close to 35% (remember California has high taxes). This is an 80% victory despite today’s low market valuation. For all this gain to be wiped off, the market has to fall 45% more (close to 2010 levels), which is extremely unlikely, although not impossible.  For the Math folks, the reason it only takes 45% fall to wipe off 80% gain is that 45% of 1.8 is ~ 0.8.

There are a few things to remember here in summary. Always have some portion of your portfolio in cash so that during a downturn, you won’t have to touch your portfolio invested in the market. Second, money invested for the long term in the market will always win over not investing or not saving altogether. If someone started investing in 2018, their portfolios will be showing negative results since inception but if they ride out this bear market and keep investing during the bear market if they can, there will always be a bull market on the other side of the horizon (over long periods of time, the stock market only rises cumulatively (see the image), despite the peaks and troughs on its journey)). So unless it is an emergency, please don’t pull out of the market at this time.

This is a message of hope to all my readers. Take care of your health and well-being and don’t touch your 401K and your face :-), unless necessary.