There’s lots of stuff online but I don’t know what’s reliable (the stuff on payscale often only seems to have around 50 people as its sample).
I know what you mean about not knowing what numbers to trust. It's not the sample size that's the problem (50 is way more than enough to get a reasonable estimate); the problem is that you don't know the demographic information behind the people in that average (e.g., their percentile academically within the general population, their work ethic, hours worked, drive to make money, etc.). Carl mentioned some other problems
with the raw salary averages, many of which you just explained as well.
What to do? You can try to get estimates from several different angles and see how well they hold together.
- Use Payscale and the like, but don't put very much stock in them.
- I've found GlassDoor.com to be pretty good. At least, it's quite accurate for software-engineering salaries in the US. I don't know how well it handles Wall Street bonuses that represent much of the income of bankers and hedge-fund managers.
- Search for job ads and see what kinds of salaries and bonuses are offered.
- Get books targeted toward working in that career. For example, Vault has a series (and my college career-services department used to pay for student access to all of them for free). There are lots of other good one-off books about how to get into law, finance, software, etc. and what it's like to work there. Often these will have salary surveys or at least will quote a few offhand numbers about what you can expect.
- Write to people who work in these industries and ask them for ballpark figures. This is easiest if you're in college and have access to an alumni database, but until then, you can ask around among friends, including the 80K Hours folks. Often, just one or two salary point-estimates by someone who you know is at about the same ability level as yourself is better than all the data points in the world from a collection where you don't know who exactly is in the average. (It sounds like you've been asking around a lot already, which is great.)
It's great if you can get a few point estimates of pay at different levels of experience, so that you can do your own line-fitting of "income vs. years worked." I used to have an Excel spreadsheet where I would do present-value computations for various starting salaries, salary-growth-rate assumptions, and discount rates. Tables like these for actuaries
are really great if you can find them, but it's rare to get such clean data.
As far as education suggestions, here's one idea. Unless you want to do medical school or you're 100% certain you don't want to make money but instead want to go into cognitive-science research, you could study computer science and/or statistics, with some business/finance and maybe a few math/physics/engineering courses thrown in. (Okay, maybe I'm biased because that's what I did, but I didn't do it for no reason.
) This will keep your options open for pretty much anything: software and quantitative finance obviously, but also regular finance, consulting, business, law (which doesn't require specific undergrad preparation), and essentially anything else. I've heard several business/finance recruiters say they'll always take someone with a math-oriented background, because those people are clear thinkers and can do anything. A lot of it is just for signaling
, but that's how the system works.
Make sure to reserve time to study more about the options, attend college career fairs/visits, do industry internships, talk with upper-level classmates and recent graduates about their plans, etc.
If you don't like statistics/CS/math, there might be other options. In general, most of the hard sciences have the property of being a "master key" for careers, although I think it's more true the more quantitative the field is. Also keep in mind that some computer-science jobs can be pretty non
-quantitative as far as using math specifically, although I think CS uses similar brain regions as math overall.
I got in touch (do people who arn't Irish use this saying?
and then after that it seems likely to have a shot at academia one needs to get a good degree, probably a first?? So at the moment I'm trying to find out what percentage of graduates get firsts and then do the same thing as above.
Yeah, you need a good degree and a PhD for academic jobs, but I don't know much about the Irish system, unfortunately.
Finally if I want to I can try and get an internship in trinity college with a neuroscience academic sometime this summer, don't really know exactly what this entails but basically I'd get to shadow them and learn about stuff. But if I'm not gonna do neuroscience it seems like a waste of time, I might need to apply soon though, any thoughts on if I should go for it?
I think it sounds like a good idea to try because (a) neuroscience is a significant possibility at this point, and it would be useful to get early knowledge about how strongly to pursue it and (b) getting a high-powered money-making internship isn't as crucial now as it will be in your later years of college when you're getting ready to look for jobs after graduation. Many times employers just hire people who did a college internship, rather than looking for fresh graduates who didn't work for them before.