Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has a post on a Harvard economist's article about how the top-end salaries of the financial sector were pulling the brightest students towards Wall Street. Klein writes about the smart young folks who become financial wizzes:
If the financial sector is somehow shut down, or radically shrunk, they'll just go to the next most profitable industry. Doctors get paid a lot, but there are sharp constraints on supply, so you'd just have more competitive medical schools, as opposed to more doctors. We'll have a lot more lawyers. Many more management consultants. Potentially more engineers and researchers, though those gigs require specialized graduate education -- frequently in the hard sciences -- and I'd imagine there's not too much overlap between college kids interested in organic chemistry and college kids who end up in finance at 23. (emphasis CJ's)
And in the comments, a Harvard chemist (Ph.D.?) (post-doc?) sez:
As a former organic chemistry graduate student, I can say that finance/ consulting are hugely popular alternatives to academia/pharmaceutical research. I think about 25% of PhD students went in to consulting from the Harvard chemistry department during the years that I was there (2005-2008) (emphasis CJ's), and McKinsey had a very strong recruiting presence, which made it seem that consulting was the main alternative to a lab based research career.
Twenty-five percent? One in four? This can't be right, can it? Those who've been around Harvard folks or in the department itself -- is this true?
Frankly, I don't really have a problem with this, but it does seem a waste of NIH funding (where the taxpayer gets the public domain science and the trained scientist, too.) Readers, what say you -- true or just a bit of blog comment hyperbole?
UPDATE: I e-mailed a knowledgable insider who replied as such (answer slightly redacted for privacy):