Iron Blogging - Ridiculously Complicated Degrees

This post is a part of the GroupLens Iron Blogging effort, so take that for what you will.

Ezra Klein (formerly of Wonkblog, now Editor-in-Chief at Vox) has a relatively new podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, wherein he interviews interesting people, from across the political and policy spectrum. One of his most recent interviews(link to the episode) was with Jim Yong Kim. In their conversation about how Jim Yong Kim got to be President of the World Bank, he was telling the story about a colleague of his during their MD/PhD years (both Jim Yong Kim, and his friend, got MDs and PhDs in Anthropology). Jim Yong Kim, with a particular focus on social justice, framed some of their conversations this way:

Given the nature of our ridiculously complicated degrees, what is the nature of our obligation to the world?

This is a very interesting framing to me: as one is successful, what obligations to society come along with that success?

I’m not an MD/PhD student, nor am I the President of the World Bank, but this question is something I think about a lot, and I’m intrigued by the concept of obligatory contribution to the betterment of the world, as one gains more eduction or professional capacity. However, it is also not clear that the incentives of computer science academic career (and probably many other fields) align with the obligation that Jim Yong Kim says has driven his career. I really believe that contribution to social change is an important thing, and Jim Yong Kim’s “obligation” is an idea that really resonates with me.

I don’t know that there is an answer to how one pursues identifying their obligation to the world, but this is something I think is critically important as an academic, and it’s something I want to be a fundamental aspect of any career direction I take.

I’d love to have conversations about this with people, so if you have thoughts, please reach out!