A Ben Torah’s Guide to Parnassa
Table of Contents
During Yaakov Avinu’s journey from the spiritual comfort of his father’s home to the faraway land of Charan he suddenly finds himself at the makom hamikdash. Chazal tell us that unlike other tzadikim, who experienced kefitzas haderech in the form of a miraculous increase in speed, Yaakov’s kefitzas haderech manifested itself as the makom hamikdash traveling to Yaakov. Why is the kefitzas haderech of Yaakov Avinu different than those of other tzadikim? Rav Moshe Feinstein answers (Dvar Moshe, Breishis 28:11):
Yaakov would soon find himself living with Lavan in Charan, a locale of tumah and reshaim, a far cry from the holy locales he was accustomed to. Yaakov was confounded as to how one can be a Torah Jew in such a place. Therefore, Hashem Yisborach had the makom haMikdashcome to him demonstrating to Yaakov that even in a locale of reshaim a fully committed person can bring about a hashro’as haShechina... and this is a great lesson to not despair and say that in this generation and this place it is difficult to fully serve Hashem, and thus lower one's standards such as to be satisfied with a little Torah and mitzvos! Even in such situations it is incumbent upon every individual to achieve complete perfection, to master Torah and good deeds.
"Harbei asu k'Rabbi Yishmael v'alsa b'yadan; k'Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai v'lo alsa b'yadan – many followed the path of Rabbi Yishmael and were successful; many tried the path of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and were not successful" (Berachos 35b)
We are neither smarter than Chazal nor greater ba'alei bitachon than Chazal, and "Chazal, in no uncertain terms, alerted us to the dangers and the nisayon of being poor, of not having enough parnasa, [and] of not making the requisite hishtadlus for adequate parnasa" (Rav Mayer Twersky).
Hashem is perfectly capable of making things work out for us. However, He requires that we play by His rules, i.e. we must make a realistic hishtadlus, keep our priorities straight, and trust that He will bless our efforts with whatever success we are allocated each year on Yomim Noraim. One who thinks that it is in his hands to earn a living ("kochi v'otzem yadi" - Devarim 8:17) is delusional. At the same time, one who does not play by Hashem's rules and expects things to work out on all fronts is severely misguided. Of course, our hishtadlus is not limited toparnassa! We must also make a realistic hishtadlus for having learning time and family time. We hope this essay provides insight into what comprises realistic hishtadlus in all of these areas.
There is a common, and unfortunate, desire among bnei
Torah to "patter up" college as quickly and as
easily as possible. This desire, when examined in the context of a life-long
pursuit of shleimus in avodas Hashem, must be seen
as nothing other than a powerful atzas Yetzer Harah. The modern
economy awards those with higher levels of skills and training. One whose goal
is to "patter up" college generally chooses an easy major
in college which may not provide professional skills that would be in high
demand in the economy.
The Yetzer Harah dresses himself up in the clothing of "tzidkus" and "hasmada," telling you that you need to over-extend your learning time for the three or four years you are in college by "pattering up" college. But in so doing he undermines your avodas Hashem for the rest of your adult life.
A talmid who seeks shleimus should invest the time to get the higher level of skills and training that will enable him to command a better work situation and thus more time for learning and other mitzvos. This means taking college seriously and, more often than not, going to graduate school.
Of course, one must also spend long hours in the beis medrash during his college years. After all, if one does not learn to correctly balance learning and college, how can he be confident he will balance learning with working, parenting, and more? A talmid in Y.U., for example, should strive to have at least a full morning seder, shiur, and a significant night seder, coupled with serious college studies that are relevant to his parnassa.
the priority of a ben-Torah to follow the will of the Ribono
shel Olam as outlined by the Torah and interpreted by Chazal.
Our priorities have an enormous affect on all of our life decisions: what
occupation to choose, whom to marry, and where to live. As early as high school
we start making priority-based, career-oriented decisions that will
significantly impact our avodas Hashem, be it our bein adam
lamakom (learning, tefillah btzibbur, etc.) or our bein
adam lachaveiro (being a good spouse, parent, etc.). If physical
luxury is primary in our lives, we will seek prestige and wealth through our
education and careers so that we can afford large houses, late model cars and
expensive vacations. We will pay the price of working long hours to finance
these luxuries. However, if spirituality is primary, then we can forgo these
luxuries in order to be better ovdei Hashem. These trade-offs must
be thought through, both individually and with any potential spouses, before we
make life decisions.
Our career and lifestyle decisions affect not only how much time we have to learn, but they also affect whether our children will grow up with parents that are involved in their lives on a daily basis, or whether they grow up only seeing us on the weekends because we spend all of their waking hours in the office. In the context of discussing how long work hours affect children turning to drugs and/or going off the derech, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski commented, "We sometimes are so busy that we don't have time for our children. We're so busy giving them what we think they need that we forget that the most precious thing that they need is us as parents, and we don't give enough of ourselves to them".
Pressure (at work)
While each one of us have some choice of work environment it is likely that some of our co-workers will have different priorities and will have chosen different lifestyles then we do. Pressures at work to change our lifestyles and priorities can range from a seemingly innocent invitation to a bar after work, to explicit requests or instructions to break the law or violate halacha. There may also be unspoken pressure to make work one’s primary focus in life or constantly ‘get ahead’ at all costs. To stand up against these pressures one must have the internal fortitude and conviction that one is doing what is right, and be courageous enough to act as an individual against the tide. As expanded upon in the Personal Accounts, living in a strong Jewish community, having like-minded friends and others to talk to will be invaluable.
Pressures to modify ones lifestyle do not only come from ones work environment, they may also come from inside the frum community. Choosing what is right for one’s own derech in avodas Hashem requires the will to be an individual even within the frum community. One’s ownderech may involve an occupation not traditionally considered "Jewish". It may involve living in neighborhoods that are not the popular ones or it may involve not being able to spend the money on the "right" camps for one’s children and the "right" method of celebrating varioussmachos. Indeed, a true ben-Torah will be willing to buck the trend of building additions onto one's house because everyone is doing it, inviting 500 people to a wedding because that is what is expected, or sending children on expensive summer adventures because their friends are going. The ben-Torah realizes that these things may not be worth the extra time needed at work to finance the expenditures and understands the concept of tznius, to walk in front of Hashem modestly not needing to make a social splash.
Experience is the best, but most expensive, teacher. However, the expense can be eliminated or reduced by learning from others' experiences. Ben Zoma tells us (Avos 4:1) "Eizeh hu chacham? Halomeid mikol adam". This includes looking at others for both positive and cautionary lessons. See who you want to be like, who you don't want to be like, and follow the path of the former and avoid the mistakes of the later.
In this section bnei Torah in different professions share their own experiences and approaches to balancing work and other mitzvos. Their accounts include both general advice as well as personal reflections. The general advice gives the reader the facts and insights he needs to make informed career decisions. The more personal reflections provide a glimpse into the decisions these bnei Torah made and into the role of yad Hashem in their careers.
There are a number of common themes that emerge from all of these accounts and they are highlighted below. At the same time, the reader is encouraged to review all of the personal accounts regardless of what field he plans to enter, as they each provide a different perspective on the realities and nisyonos of pursuing a parnassa.
I work in the field of intellectual property (IP) law with a primary focus on patents and a secondary focus on copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks. I live in suburban New York. My advice is specifically directed for those who are going into law, but others are welcome to take what they can from these tips.
I was a student in the Y.U./Columbia-Engineering 3-2 Combined Plan and graduated Yeshiva College with a B.A. in Physics and Columbia-Engineering with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. I then went on to Columbia Law School. After 2 years in specialized post-graduation government positions in Washington, D.C., I moved back to the New York area and worked at Big Law Firm A in NYC for 3 years. After that, I joined Technology Company B in suburban New York as an in-house patent counsel. Three years later when Technology Company B was undergoing tremendous problems, I returned to NYC as a senior IP associate at Big Law Firm C. Since 2006, I have been the head of IP for “Technology Company D” in suburban NYC.
Big firms have prestige. You get to work with smart people on challenging issues. Deals and cases you work on are covered in the newspaper the next day. It enhances your career and opens doors. If you stay late, you can have a nice kosher dinner and a car home. You get a nice office. It’s easy to get used to these trappings. But it comes at a price. After all, everything at the firm is directed toward making the lawyers comfortable so that they can bill as many hours as possible. And those who succeed at a big law firm have, for their own reasons, chosen to make their work their life.
So now, instead of working at a prestigious big firm job with a nice window office in midtown Manhattan with a secretary and access to paralegals and junior associates, I work for a company in a windowless office in a boring office park in suburban NYC and I make my own copies. But I usually get home by 7 pm to help my kids with their homework and put them to bed. At my law firm job, working late into the night was routine. For my in-house jobs, it is a rarity. There is no question that my in-house jobs have provided more time outside the office for family and learning than the big law firm jobs. Not being in NYC also helps since the commute is shorter and there are far fewer people in the office that have made their work their life.
Unfortunately, there are far fewer in-house jobs than law firm jobs. It helps to plan ahead to land one of theses jobs. (It may also be possible to work at smaller law firms that have a better balance but I have no experience there.)
I humbly offer these pointers to talmidim on trying to find the best work/life balance as a frum lawyer.
1. Choose your undergraduate major and coursework wisely. If you know you want to go to law school while you are in college, consider choosing an undergraduate major that is not the typical pre-law major, i.e., not political science or history . While these are wonderful fields to study, the fact is that you will be competing against thousands of students with similar majors for very few slots in top law schools. Think about something different—biology or computer science or mathematics or accounting. This will make you stand out from the pack.
2. Get good grades and study hard for the LSAT. Ever wonder why medical schools interview candidates and law schools don’t? It’s because law school admissions is primarily a numbers game—GPA and LSAT. The rest (extra-curricular activities & recommendations) is just commentary. Study hard, get good grades, take lots of practice LSATs so you can ace the LSAT and position yourself to get into the best law school you can.
3. If you know you want to be lawyer, don’t wait to go to law school. Working in between college and law school certainly has economic advantages. But the longer you wait, the more expensive law school gets and the longer it will take to obtain the seniority that is needed to get the good work/life balance jobs that are out there. Even in a law firm, there is very little difference between the work given to a second-year associate with a Ph.D. who is 40 and a second-year associate with a B.A who is 27.
4. If you can, attend a first-tier law school. If you are admitted to one or more of Harvard/Yale/Columbia/NYU/Penn do not enroll in Cardoza/Fordham/St. Johns/Hofstra/Brooklyn even with a scholarship. By far, the students in the first group have more opportunities than the students in the second group. This is not to say that everyone in a second-tier law school will be unsuccessful, but the opportunities available to the top 75% of a first-tier law school often exceed those available to the top 10% of a second-tier law school. And can you guarantee to yourself that you will be in that top 10%? You can’t. It’s not fair, it’s just the way it is.
5. Get the best grades you can in law school, especially in the first year. The better the grades, the more opportunities you will have. So study hard, prepare for exams seriously and do the best you can.
6. Use the second and third year of law school to decide on a specialty as soon as you can. Remember, you will be seeking a parnasa not as a stam lawyer, but as a real estate lawyer or a corporate lawyer or a patent lawyer, etc. In most law schools, you can choose all your coursework in the second and third year. Use this time to help you decide what kind of lawyer you want to be. So avoid the “softer” courses that do not help that effort. You know the ones I mean.
7. Be prepared to spend the first years out of law school in a NYC law firm. There is no way around it. You have to put time in for a few years at a law firm in NYC in an environment that is not conducive to a good work-life balance to later get an in-house job with a better balance. Use this time to learn how to be a lawyer in your field and begin building your reputation. Find a mentor and learn from him or her. Pay off your student loans if you can now, too.
8. Word hard for your Kesser Shem Tov. While there are a lot of lawyers, the legal world in your chosen specialty will be very small, and people talk. Start building your legal Kesser Shem Tov the first day you walk in the door at your first job. How? Pirkei Avos tell us: Hevei Mekabel Es Kol Adam B'saver Panim Yafos! At your job, treat everyone—support staff, paralegals, secretaries, fellow associates, opposing counsel—with the same respect and dignity as you treat your supervisors. Within halachic bounds, approach men and women equally with professionalism in all ways. Make yourself stand out in this regard. Your legal colleagues, i.e., your potential future employers and clients, will notice. Not only will you be doing a Kiddush Hashem, you will advance your career as well. You will be shocked by how many people in our field don’t do this.
My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics, and I have lived and worked in the tri-state area for my entire career. While there are certainly opportunities all over the country as well as internationally, the tri-state area provides the most opportunities both in variety, financial incentive, and sheer volume.
I’ve worked primarily in property & casualty reinsurance, and find it very rewarding. At my previous employer, located outside of New York City, I was exposed to a combination of reserving, pricing, modeling, programming, and financial reporting work, while attaining an ACAS designation. The experience was fantastic. I could have explored new opportunities much earlier, but opted to stay there until I felt I was more than adequately qualified to move onto the next level at another company.
The experience there was so deep and comprehensive that I have been able to move to a new company in NY City which offers an improved commute and working environment, along with more promising opportunities for financial and career growth.
The designation is critical. Obtaining a designation will open many doors in your career. Headhunters, insurance companies, and perhaps even former co-workers will try to steer you to a new opportunity. Be careful, however, not to jump prematurely to another company for the lure of monetary gain, an easier lifestyle, and/or a promotion. If it’s not the right fit, and if you are still on the lower end of the learning curve at your current employer, a switch can likely be more damaging in the long-run.
For serious Bnei Torah navigating the world of actuarial science, I suggest the following:
My comments are divided into two sections - the first section outlines the career path I have taken thus far, and the second is advice for those considering going into computer science.
I am a
currently software engineer in the research division of a major technology
company in the NY metro area. I started my undergraduate education in Y.U. as a
Computer Science major. At the time I was under the impression that while the
CS major concentrated on writing and designing code, the MIS major in SSSB concentrated
more on databases and networking, which I was interested in at the time, so I
after a couple of semesters I switched to being an MIS major. By my third year
in Y.U. I realized that the knowledge gained from the MIS major was
insufficient to succeed in the field or go to graduate school, and that I did
need to go to graduate school if I was to succeed in the field. While at first
glance I had made a mistake by switching majors, the "mistake" was a
tremendous beracha from HKB"H in two
ways. First, because I needed to take more CS classes to go to graduate school,
I remained an undergraduate for a full four years, giving me another year of
learning. Second, had I been a CS major, I would have thought I
had learned enough CS and would not have gone to graduate school, which, as I
will explain, would have been a mistake.
When the boredom at BigTech-A reached intolerable levels, I decided to look for another job, and eventually started working at BigTelecom. BigTelecom was located in Westchester County, about twenty minutes North of Manhattan. Working in Westchester was an eye-opener for me. As an undergraduate student in Y.U., I thought that all jobs in the N.Y. metro area were located in Manhattan. I now discovered that one could earn a fine parnassa outside Manhattan and not have to put up with the penalties of Manhattan, be it the tense and money-hungry culture, be it the bad commute, etc. When you walk outside in Westchester you see mountains and trees instead of thousands of tense people. Like BigTech-A, BigTelecom allowed me to keep the schedule I wanted as long as I got my job done. Unlike BigTech-A, the work at BigTelecom was extremely interesting. I made use of EJBs and also learned a new area of technology – business rules engines (once again, hashgacha in action, as you will soon see). After about nine months the head of my department at BigTelecom announced that he was leaving for a start-up, and I decided it was time to look for another job because it was he who made BigTelecom an enjoyable place to work.
After being at BigTelecom for about a year, I joined the research division of BigTech-B (also located in Westchester), where I currently work. Hashgacha had it that one of groups at BigTech-B that had an opening was the group that had invented EJBs and was then working in the area of rules technologies. Having a master's degree made a big difference when applying for a job at BigTech-B's research division, since as an industrial research lab there is an academic side to the work there. Had I not ended up with a master's, learned about EJBs at BigTech-A, and learned about rules technologies at BigTelecom, who knows if I would've been able to join BigTech-B. HKB"H was obviously guiding my career every step along the way. BigTech-B allows for a very flexible work schedule, including working at home erev Shabbos and keeping a dailyseder, as long as one puts in at least forty hours a week and gets his job done.
Below is some general advice that I hope will help anyone going in to Computer Science.
Although marketing is not the most Jewish of fields, most of my remarks will be general thoughts regarding working in any field, rather than specifically marketing.
After graduating with a degree in economics from YU (not the most practical major), I worked for a number of large commercial banks in NYC in retail banking before going back for my MBA at Columbia for Marketing and Finance.
One of the first things I had to get used to was being called by my English name, which I rarely used in the previous 21 years of my life. Although today, with many other minorities having non-English names as well as many frum Jews deciding to use their Hebrew names, going by one's Hebrew name is much less of an issue now than it was 15-20 years ago. I would highly recommend keeping your Hebrew name since it goes with my overall theme of maintaining your Jewish identity and not being bashful at all about it. (In fact, as you will see, you will be treated with more respect.)
Trying to break into marketing was really tough. There are not too many jobs in this particular field, especially now, with the bad economy and, if you were interested in the financial services industry, all of the banks dwindling. If you are lucky enough to get one of the very coveted positions at one of the consumer packaging companies, great. Otherwise, try to get into a large fortune 500 companies’ marketing department. There is very stiff competition and everyone thinks they can do marketing, even if they have never done it before. It is a soft skill (as opposed to accounting, finance, law, medicine) that can be picked up easily with experience, but experience is the key!
My most significant experience was working for seven years at a large commercial bank in downtown Manhattan (which is a horrible commute if you are coming from anywhere except Brooklyn). My main responsibility was marketing financial products to our personal customers and potential new customers. I liked the job, and the people were nice, but it wasn’t a career - people would get in, do their thing, try to get out at a decent time, and trek home. The commute is what really got you, especially on days of rain, snow, ice, and accidents, all of which happen way too often. By the time you come home, you’ve mostly had it.
The best career move I made was deciding four years ago that I had enough of Manhattan and looked for a job in New Jersey closer to my home. It didn’t matter that it was no longer financial services, marketing is marketing, and if you can market checking accounts, you can market healthcare. You have to learn the industry that you are working in, but the principals are the same.
When that job came through, it was a michaya. I received a nice promotion, raise, stock options, bonuses, etc., and learned a whole new industry that I now call my new career. But the biggest gain was my 22 minute commute – that changed my life. My wife is no longer worried about me not getting home at the time I said I would.
The new job also helps out regarding taking kids to doctor appointments, going to school plays, staying home to assist etc. If I want to go in later or leave later, I hop into my car and go. There are no bus or train schedules to worry about and traffic is not an issue. And, I see my kids every morning and evening.
The people who work at companies outside of Manhattan also have a different mindset from those in Manhattan. Outside the city it is not only work, work, work. Most people who work out of Manhattan have families, are interested in a better work/family life, and have the same issues and concerns that we do.
So to sum up, a few tidbits of advice:
I am a Radiologist in private practice in NYC. My practice encompasses all areas of Radiology including tertiary care and interventional procedures. I live in a suburb of NYC and my reflections would best serve those who wish to remain in the larger NYC region.
I graduated from Yeshiva University completing all my pre-med courses while in YU. After college, I remained in YU learning for a short time prior to attending Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
In a nutshell, medical school is an intense four years which requires significant devotion of time and effort. A time commitment this large, especially for a shomer torah umitzvos, comes along with significant challenges. After medical school I completed a one year “shomer Shabbos” internship in Internal Medicine followed by a four year radiology residency at a local university hospital. I followed this with an additional one year fellowship at a major academic facility in NYC. Upon completion of my training, I worked as part of a large private practice at a community hospital and then left that for the “greener pastures” of private practice.
I found my initial hospital based job to be exciting. The hospital was well funded with a variety of subspecialties. I found this to be academically stimulating specifically due to my interactions with the other physicians; I felt like a “real doctor”. However, I felt I was unable to reach my potential in this setting, perhaps due to the amount of time needed to spend on bureaucratic detail.
As I left the hospital realm for private practice my hours and focus changed. As opposed to being pigeon holed in a specific radiology subspecialty, my practice now broadened with my cross covering other radiology subspecialties. Private practice however presents additional demands. In the hospital I was nearly always guaranteed an “exit time” of 5 pm, allowing me to be home for supper with my family; barring when on call. Conversely, as a private practice physician my work days are longer (though my weekends free). This forced me to develop my own management style, successfully balancing career, my family and avodas Hashem. Ultimately, this successful balance led to my personal satisfaction.
Radiology is a field which can lend itself to different modes of practice. Recently, the advent of Teleradiology has permitted many in the field to work or live abroad, such as in Israel. Although this sounds quite tempting, the rapid change in healthcare funding can sometimes put a crimp in your contract and therefore lifestyle. In addition, as the wired world is always at one’s fingertips, vacations and free time can also become easily blurred, challenging one’s balance of career and personal life.
So, prior to embarking on what I think is a great profession a few thoughts:
I am a cardiologist and I work at a New York hospital with a major medical school affiliation. My time is divided primarily between in-patient clinical care and an outpatient clinical practice. After completing an undergraduate degree in math and a M.A. in physics, I went on to HarvardMedical School where, in addition to the MD degree, I got a PhD in immunology. My internal medicine residency, cardiology fellowship, and interventional cardiology subspecialty training were all done at a Boston hospital. After an initial faculty position at the hospital in which I trained, I moved to my current position.
Before commenting on my specific position, it is important to recognize that there are a huge number of possible career choices for people who graduate medical school. The choice of a specialty is perhaps the most important career (and lifestyle) choice you will make after the initial decision to pursue a medical career. Not only will there be choice as to specialty training, and the degree of specialization to pursue, there is also a major choice between pursuing a private practice-based or academic-based position. While people do certainly start out in academic positions, and switch to private practice, examples of the reverse, namely going from private practice to academia is remarkably uncommon. In addition to clinical careers, there are a small, but significant number of people who pursue basic research (with no patient contact or responsibility), pharmaceutical industry, public health, or even business careers. The vast majority of people finishing medical school do continue to complete clinical training.
The hours of an interventional cardiologist are highly variable. I spend at least two full days weekly performing cardiac catheterization and angioplasty or stent procedures. In addition, to seeing patients in my office two days per week, any patient of mine admitted to the hospital becomes my primary responsibility. These patients must be seen on a daily basis. On weekends, I am a member of a coverage group. This means that a number of physicians rotate the responsibilities for seeing the hospitalized patients on weekends. In addition, since we are primarily responsible for treating heart attacks as early as possible after one is recognized, days or nights on call, require a maximum radius of 30 minutes from the hospital. At any time, a beeper call indicating an ongoing heart attack requires immediate response. The degree of intrusion or stress engendered by this responsibility obviously depends on the frequency of on-call responsibilities. During my career, I have had years where I shared call with three other interventionalists; more recently, I am one of 11 people responsible for covering this responsibility. Academic physicians typically also have teaching commitments as well as research interests. The actual expression of these responsibilities is, again, unique. In my case, I teach medical residents in the coronary care unit 4-6 weeks per year, as well as teach cardiology fellows by allowing them to assist me with the procedures I perform.
As an academic cardiologist at an outstanding medical center, I can rely on highly skilled residents and fellows to minimize the times I have to return to the hospital. However, minimally several times per month I will have to return to the hospital for an emergency procedure. This can occur during my on-call periods. In general, I am able to count on being home most evenings between 7 and 8 PM. My colleagues in private practice tend to work longer hours, and generally are on call with a higher frequency.
As a person intimately involved with emergency situations, I spend time planning my career to specifically carve out time for my family and for learning. The relative time commitments will vary tremendously during your career. During residency training, current on-call schedules in internal medicine are somewhere between 1:4 to 1:5 nights on call. The length of residency will depend on your chosen field: three years for internal medicine or pediatrics, five years for general surgery, etc. This is only a down-payment. In internal medicine, should you choose to specialize, there is further fellowship training of 2-4 years, depending on the specialty. Finally, many people choose to get further competence in a more defined field. Interventional cardiologists today must do a dedicated one-year fellowship; there are those who believe that this training period should be increased to two years. Thus, the training for interventional cardiology is 7 – 8 years post medical school. I dwell on the length of training to communicate that one should be highly motivated to embark on this career prior to commencing. In addition, given the length of time spent in training, you should not view these years as time to get through as quickly as possible. Typically you will spend your late 20s and early 30s in training. This a critical time for your personal, family, limud hatorah, and ruchniyos development. During this time you will likely see your family begin to grow, and you will be making decisions that will impact you and your family throughout your working life. The portion of your time outside of classes and clinical activities should center around your family, your shul, and/or your frum friends. People who have successfully [from the point of view of shmiras mitzvos and yiras shomayim] navigated the long training period in medicine have had their social and family life anchored by individuals and institutions who share values they wish to reinforce. Conversely, people who developed their primary friendships with individuals whose values are not defined by Torah were rarely successful in staying frum.
The quality of life in a medical career, as measured by time available for family and learning, varies tremendously. In fields where the physician has direct patient care responsibility, the frequency and intensity of patient care tends to be more intense than those areas with either less acute illnesses or those in which you are not directly responsible for the patient.
While many physicians complain about the difficulty of making a parnassa, I think that the complaints really revolve around reduction (over the years) in physician autonomy, increasing litigious patients, and reduced insurance payments with the consequent increase in pressure to see ever-greater numbers of patients. Further, the pressure to see ever-increasing numbers of patients is substantially driven by expectations of how much one will make. There are also very great disparities among different fields in medicine with regard to compensation. A neurosurgeon and a pediatrician cannot expect to draw the same incomes. Suffice it to say, that physicians tend to continue to find work despite the general economic ebb-and flow in the rest of society.
The intensity of career commitment can be varied according to the job you seek. In general, a solo practitioner will work longer and harder than a member of a group. It is generally believed that academic physicians work more controlled hours than private physicians. There are certainly exceptions to these generalizations, but there is enough truth here, that you would have to be astute or lucky to defy these averages. There are also wide differences in terms of time demands among the various medical specialties. Clearly an obstetrician can expect more emergency trips to the hospital than a dermatologist. It would be wise for you to speak to several people in the specialty you are considering to get a flavor for both the lifestyle during training and once you are done and independent. Careful consideration should be given to your career choice at this point. There is a huge difference in the amount of time available for your family and for learning depending on this choice. Frequently, also, this will require a monetary trade-off in terms of what you might earn. Speak to lots of people who have taken the various routes you are considering. Speak to your spouse, your parents, and your Rav to help you come to a decision you will be happy with.
While it is extremely difficult to generalize, I have found a number of thoughts which I repeat with people considering medicine as a career
"What's a good Jewish boy going to do as an engineer/physicist?" I cannot tell you how many times I heard variants of the above question from various relatives and friends throughout my years in high-school and college. Now, more than 15 years later, I still hear the same question.
I once went to a career-fair in YU and told the representative of one of the companies I was a physics major. He did not realize that major existed in YU. Another time I went to the YU career guidance counselor for help finding a summer job. I said I wanted to find an internship is physics or engineering, she looked at me as if I came from Mars and muttered something about some lists of jobs she may have...
Under pressure from my parents I sought out Jewish engineers to find out what they do and get tips for being successful. I was told go to the best college you can - that was excellent advice, I went to YU anyway.
But I think I was right (ok, my grandmother is sure I'll be in medical school soon enough, she doesn't buy the PhD = doctor equation). Physics or engineering can be good jobs for a Jewish boy but before I tell you some pros and cons let me tell you what I did.
Despite the suggestion of going to the best school you can I wanted to go to YU so I could continue learning under the Roshei Yeshiva there. Ok, no problem, YU has a 3-2 program with Columbia University (a better school) that's what I'll do. Then I realized I really liked physics so I stayed in YU for three years (rather than using my credits from Israel and going to Columbia), majored in physics and applied to graduate schools in engineering. I did pretty well in my physics courses, which engineering graduate schools apparently think is very positive, and was accepted to a top graduate school. Since the engineering program I chose was very broad in the areas it covered I basically studied physics anyway. While in graduate school I got married and had a couple of kids. This actually is not as monetarily irresponsible as it sounds since my wife worked and in science and engineering you get paid for going to graduate school (not much but we survived). After school I did a post-doc at a government laboratory and I now work for a government contractor. We are a one salary family but, B"H, we live in a nice neighborhood and pay full tuition.
Enough about me, let's get back to Jewish physicists. In May I actually met a religious graduate student at a physics conference. That had never happened to me before. There are very few religious Jews in these fields (and most of them are Israeli). In shul, at Shabbos meals, atsmachos I've heard law conversations, doctor conversations, business and accounting conversations but (outside of MIT Hillel or a carefully planned event) no physics conversations. Ok, so at least you daven in shul instead of talk but typical job conversations for me are:
"So, what do you do?"
"I'm a physicist for a government contractor."
Really though, that's trivial. More important is that you will not be making doctors, Wall Street, or lawyers salaries. Based on that likelihood you should forget about living in certain areas, going on expensive vacations, and sending your kids to their dream summer adventures. But, if you budget wisely you'll do fine. You get paid while in graduate school (so if you can wing the expense of undergraduate school you don't have to start off owing money) and then make a decent salary after finishing whatever degree you're going for.
Most importantly, you have more free time. I have yet to get called back to work due to a quantum mechanics emergency. I don't have any email capability on my cell phone (which I never use anyway outside of family) and I don't check my email at home. I eat dinner with my family basically every night and have time to learn, do things in my shul and spend time with my kids even during the week.
So, what's my advice for any future Jewish physicists/engineers out there? Do what you like, go to the best school you can for your final degree, talk to people for advice, build and keep connections, assume you will never be rich and so start budgeting and saving early.
Editor's note (November, 2017): Those considering science/engineering careers should research which areas have the most realisitic career prospects. See, for example, this November 1, 2017 article from the New York Times.