Sunday, April 24, 2011

Advice to prospective undergrads who want to make the world a better place

Katja Grace quotes her friend Katla's "advice to aspiring undergraduates" on her blog Meteuphoric (which is definitely worth bookmarking):

Don’t use the apparent altruism of a course or degree as a strong sign of its usefulness for the world. Apparently altruistic courses are the ones concerned with climate change or poverty or species extinctions or social stigma or genocide or so on. Many people are apparently altruistic as an excuse for not doing difficult courses, and the coursework will be designed accordingly. Part of designing coursework for people who aren’t up to difficult courses is understanding that they do not need tools for solving important problems in the world, but rather for getting a job at all.

Also, courses about problems such as climate change or third world development naturally will not include much material on how to solve these problems, as they have not been solved. Instead you and your ‘altruistic’ acquaintances will probably have to discuss how to solve them yourselves, or if your teacher recognises that you are not up to this, to learn to describe how difficult and complex they are. On the upside, solving the problems will be easy because you are probably too ignorant to constrain them much. On the downside, your solutions will not improve the world.


Jason (the commenter) said...

Start a business that hires a bunch of people. Most useful thing you could practically do.

rcommal said...

Also, if you're deeply involved in educating a child or children, think about both the classical and the practical. And also consider CLEP and various other related sorts of things. No *should* there; I seriously do mean *consider*, then decide and do the best that you can to equip that child or those children for their own life/their own lives. Sure, you'll likely screw up in one way or another (no doubt in a number of ways, whichever ways). But that's all you can do. Given that, try your very best, and hope that the modeling counts for something.