What 20 years in academia taught me about my finances

  • There is no such thing as an unbiased expert outside the Mathematics department. When your banker told you to borrow money and to invest it in the stock market, you did not really think he had your best interest in mind, did you? I am always amazed by how definitive the financial advice bankers give out. Ask to see their mathematical models and question their assumptions! Most often, you will find out that they have no model and they are just repeating corporate lines.
  • Reproducibility is a lot harder than it sounds. Times and times again, I have been surprised by how difficult it is to reproduce the results of a given research paper. Financial experts often base their advice on case studies and they assume that these are reproducible. If people twenty years ago managed to get rich by buying cheap houses and reselling them for a profit, can we reproduce this scenario in 2008? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • Long-term plans are much less useful than you think. As a researcher, I often make up plans. I am forced, every 5 years, to plan for the next 5 years so that my funding agency will give me some money. However, these plans always fall flat. The truth is that I am terrible at predicting the future reliably. Feel free to set goals for yourself however. Just do not be surprised if you have to reinvent your plans and your goals every 3 months.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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