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How do I deal with two parents who don't see the utility of science and mathematics while pursuing an education in science and math (while depending on their income to fund my tuition?). They come from a blue-collar background and don't think learning arcane symbols has anything to do with innovation or make big bucks in today's world.

My parents wish for me to go off to the industry ASAP or do some freelance or make an app that get them rich quick. I want to pursuit further education beyond that of a bachelor degree.

In the summertime I am preparing for some course work for next semester, but they keep on telling me that I should sign up for some fitness class or make money. I appreciate their viewpoint, but I can't bring myself to balance between studying and concentrating on course work while doing things that are a waste of time.

What should I do?

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    Going to a finess class or finding a work is not a waste of time. There are people who can do them both along with studying for a PHD, so I am sure you can do them along in your undergraduate days, during summer. Also private tutoring may make you some money, while practising what you learnt in your university e.g. in Math. Many of us have done it during our undergradute studies and beyond (MSc or PHD).
    – Alexandros
    May 23, 2015 at 12:26
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    Get a job. Get out from under your parent's money. Then do what you want. (But take a fitness class anyway.)
    – JeffE
    May 23, 2015 at 12:58
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    Second on the fitness class. I've found that the better my physical condition, the better my brain works.
    – jamesqf
    May 23, 2015 at 17:13
  • You call tell them about big data science, which is relatively close to maths and pays very well. You can tell them about how the finance industry and other big corporations are keen on science/math PhD (they are, including physics and biology!) and how such positions can pay very well. May 24, 2015 at 0:10
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    I voted to close this? I have no idea why. I have no idea why; I have voted to reopen.
    – jakebeal
    May 24, 2015 at 1:58

5 Answers 5

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If the goal of your parents for you really is that you become the next Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, or Mark Zuckerberg, then letting you go to graduate studies and letting you hang with all the other smart people is certainly more useful than telling you to "start getting rich now". This is akin to wanting to raise an Olympian athlete, and, rather than making him train, shouting at him that he needs to run faster right now. Of course the assumption that any specific person will break through and get super-rich is unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous, but obviously it will be hard to convince your parents of that (at least short-term), so you may need to work with what you got.

While the idea of Nox is generally useful (find statistics and show them), it sounds like your parents may be the type for which statistics are too abstract and would probably not work very well. Rather, you can try convincing them with anecdotes of well-educated people who "made it" (became rich, to use the terminology of the question). Of those there are many - opposite to popular opinion, most startup founders etc. are not random people off the streets who were selling sandwiches before breaking through. Rather, most greatly successful ideas and companies have been developed by people with degrees from top universities in, yes, math and science. There is a reason why Silicon Valley is in the Bay Area, and it's likely not the weather.

Concrete examples include:

  • The company Google sprung out of a research project by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two Stanford graduate students. Sergey is now the 18th-richest person in the world.
  • Facebook was not a research project, but (at least so the story goes) the original ideas have been developed by Mark Zuckerberg in a dormitory in Harvard in discussion with other students in breaks between computer science classes.
  • Bill Gates never finished, but even the founder and long-time CEO of Microsoft was in Harvard for some time. Incidentally, there he met Steve Ballmer, who became CEO of Microsoft after Gates - another case of a very wealthy and important person who happens to have great education.
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There is one thing you should actually do: listen to them, even if just a bit.

Your parents are funding your education and are not entirely happy with what you do. They are also proposing to you to get a job during your breaks. Try to do just that. To elaborate: I think there is a high chance that your parents will not be willing to help you later on (i.e. at M.Sc. level), thus you will need money.

Also, speaking from experience, the sports part is not to be underestimated. You do not have to be a pro-whatever, but going to the gym and keeping fit is certainly not going to hurt your brain.

Beyond this it is up to you to educate them. Look for statistics etc. which show that having higher education is beneficial for a job and then make it understandable for your parents (basically it should be easy to imagine for them). The latter part is actually the hard part. It seems to me that your parents may have a warped understanding of how difficult it is to actually "get rich quick".

Do not think that trying to educate your parents will be a waste of your time. You might lose some study-time now, but if you are successful you stand to gain much more in the long run (i.e. tuition for masters) – do not underestimate this.

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    @JeffE that very much depends on the country you're in.
    – terdon
    May 23, 2015 at 15:16
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    @JeffE I think you are biased. By (overstated) extension of your argument the only research to be pursued is one that pays for itself! In Germany for example it is generally expected to do an M.Sc. after B.Sc. and that requires living funds for 1 or 2 years (setting aside available student loans from the state).
    – Nox
    May 23, 2015 at 16:01
  • Do we actually know that the parents are funding her education? Though she doesn't give her location, in the US it is (or was 30 years ago) possible to get a degree without any parental support.
    – jamesqf
    May 23, 2015 at 17:17
  • @terdon I suspect the OP is American based to the phrase "blue collar"
    – jakebeal
    May 23, 2015 at 18:55
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    @JeffE in many countries--most, probably--there are no graduate degrees that offer funding. In other words, if you can't pay for your graduate degree, you're not getting one.
    – terdon
    May 24, 2015 at 1:08
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As long as your parents are in control of your tuition, you need to deal with the question of whether they approve of your choices. If you want to make an argument to them that getting a higher education is worth it then here is a really useful chart:

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STEM education in particular is even more valuable than general higher education (a good summary may be found in this report), though the percent benefit is less for higher degrees, where non-STEM folks tend to make good money and have very low unemployment as well. Your STEM undergraduate degree, for example, is worth an expected 25% gain in salary vs. a non-STEM degree.

Now it's also possible that your parents aren't actually concerned about your ability to make money in the future, and so you won't be able to make an argument to them in this way. For example, what they might really be concerned about is their own current debt (e.g., if they are on the brink of bankruptcy or foreclosure and hiding from you) or about non-monetary issues (e.g., if they are religious fundamentalists or anti-government conspiracy theorists).

If something like this is the case, and they aren't receptive to a respectful presentation of your case for STEM and higher education, then you're going to need to think about going along them as part of obtaining your STEM education, i.e., a price you have to pay, not unlike putting up with annoying dorm-mates, in order to remain at college.

Once you finish your undergraduate and move on to a graduate program, any good graduate program will give you a sufficient stipend to live on, and you need not be dependent on your parents finances or approval any more in any way.

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So some advice and a personal story. TL;DR: Take advice tactfully, and make your own decisions.

I feel a connection between your brief explanation and my own life story. I went off for business school and studied economics, only to get very depressed and decide to drop out to travel a bit. I eventually went back to school, graduated with a double bachelors in Spanish and sociology and am working on a masters degree right now. But let's focus in on the middle of the story.

My parents were very convinced that this 'travelling' would only be a setback, that I might die, and even if I didn't I would regret the wasted time for the rest of my life. I heard them and accepted their comments, but knowing that only I could know what was going on inside of me, I left anyway. I rediscovered what interested me, and in two years I was back in school.

How does this relate to you? Your parents are different people than you, but they are still people. This means they have opinions and views about everything, just like you do. They will freely offer all the advice you can put up with, but in the end it's you that has to make the decision for your life. Having them pay for your education can complicate things, and some of the other answers have some advice about that, but perhaps try talking to them. Explain to them that a) you do hear them, b) you have some of your own ideas, and c) you have a plan that will incorporate what you feel is the best of all the advice you have received, from them, from yourself, and from others.

Parents have opinions, and often, money. But your life is yours, and you have to make the decisions for you. Listen to your parents, and even ask them to go deeper into the whys of their advice. But in the end, make your own choices.

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In this recent Numberphile video, James Simons (who, incidentally, build his billion-dollar fortune in large part by being really good at math) comments that in the United States, if you know enough math to teach it well at the high school level, you can probably get a job with Google, Microsoft, or some other big tech company. That is a pretty good career prospect, if you ask me. Depending on the type of science your other major is on, the same applies (for example, if you are studying Chemistry and get good grades, you can possibly get into a MSc program in Chemical Engineering, which will also open the door to a number of good careers in industry).

As xLeitix mentions, your parents have to understand that higher education is a long-term investment. You may not get rich straight away (very few people do, and they will be the first to admit that a lot depends on being in the right place at the right time), but you will be reaping tangible benefits for the rest of your life.

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