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.

Who is bribing their way to college?

This article is in the wake of Hollywood celebrities buying their children’s way through college admissions. It is probably not surprising at all. However, its egregious to cheat the system, at least until these institutions change their rules. It’s like it’s acceptable in America for lobbyists to literally propose laws so we cannot question the lobbyists since they are not doing anything illegal. Just like that, there are countless such schools where it’s pay to play. However, the schools on the list are not pay to play. They are some of the better private and public schools of America. And that’s why this is so problematic. These schools are not NPU, Fremont but Yale, Stanford, UCLA and USC. However, it is not the schools themselves that committed crimes, it’s the people employed in different areas of the entire college admission process and the parents of children who played foul.

LoriLoughlin

Not to single out Lori but she and her husband Mossimo Giannulli agreed to pay $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC

So, are there any better solutions than the subjective American college admissions scheme? It depends on the objective of college. Is the objective of college, life experience and networking? Or is it strictly building hard skills and employ-ability? Or is it a mixed set of both? Most will agree that it’s a mixed set of both and that’s why we have landed at this subjective college admissions procedure in America.

To throw some international perspective, when I was growing up, there were clearly three kinds of colleges- the pay-to-play types, the strict admission criteria types and the admission criteria types with pay-to-play under the table.  I went obviously to the “strict admission criteria type”. There used to be a college entrance exam for this college with 1% selection rate. In my year, 300,000 students appeared for the test, 3000 got selected (strictly based on the test score) and my rank was 981 (in the top 0.33%).  To compare, Stanford and Harvard have 5% acceptance rates. Let’s say if Harvard and Stanford just look at SAT scores and GPAs as admission criteria, somebody like me can get in with my work ethic and education focused mindset.

However, the story is different in America. There is no strict formula for undergraduate admissions. It’s a combination of SAT scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, personal essays, legacy and a more holistic resume with volunteer/entrepreneurship/leadership experience or otherwise some exceptional talent/performance in one area. I could have still eked into Stanford or Harvard, based on SAT scores, GPA, letters of recommendation and personal essays; had I applied for undergraduate admissions in the US and had I taken the SAT. I can say this because I have always been good at academics and understanding how things work conceptually has never been a problem for me because of my reading habits. However, to achieve this, I should have gotten perfect scores at SAT and an extremely high GPA to balance out my lack of holistic resume. Most kids from my socioeconomic and geographic background lacked the holistic resumes we speak of today. The only “paid” extracurricular classes I ever went to was “cricket practice classes” at the neighborhood park for a season or two. In contrast to that, just to check out my daughter’s interest, I have taken her to ballet, voice lessons, basketball, cross country, track and field, golf and martial arts, to name a few and she is just 10. Of course, I am not imposing any of these “paid” extracurricular activities on her. We are taking her for the experience to see if she can develop interest in anything particular. From trial and error, we did find out that she truly enjoys “long jump”  (and track and field in general) and does very well at them.

Despite the lack of this holistic resume, I was able to attend the best engineering school in India and this is because the school’s admission criterion was extremely objective- the test score of their entrance examination. This makes sense since the objective of the school was to produce technical engineers. However, once we were at the school, we realized that the school had much more to offer than a great engineering degree, it offered us life experience, holistic education and awesome networking opportunities in addition. The school has since (I went there in 2002) changed it’s admission criteria but I am sure it’s still somewhat more objective than American schools.

So which schools in America are somewhat like my school in India? I think the schools which come closest are California Institute of Technology aka Caltech and Massachusetts Institute of Technology aka MIT. I am not saying that these schools don’t look at subjective things but their objective criteria are so strong that few students make the cut. I am adding some videos to this post to make the knowledge gathering session more “holistic” instead of an objective reading.

60 minutes segment on IITs

Shashi Tharoor’s somewhat exaggerated take on IITs

So the premise of this post is that if the objective of a school is specialization, the admission criteria will be more objective than subjective and if the objective leans more towards a holistic well-rounded education, the admission criteria will be more subjective. Foul play can happen with objective criteria as well (you can pay someone to fudge the scores, who knows) but it is more likely to happen with subjective criteria since “subjective” is a matter of perception. One of the universal rules of life is: “whenever performance is not clearly measurable, networking plays a bigger role in success”.

So every society is free to decide what kind of schools they want and what kinds of graduates they want. We need both kinds- we need the well-rounded, people savvy sales guys and we also need the uber specialized engineers, doctors and scientists. We either send them to the same schools with same criteria or different schools with different criteria, that’s our call. There are other things to think about though- privilege, legacy and endowments. Social currency has always been one of the most important currencies since humans existed; hence we will never be able to eliminate the “who we know” phenomena. But we have to think creatively about leveling the playing field. Ideas are welcome. Remember, life is not fair but we can try to make it fairer, not always, not everywhere, but at least when and where we can.