Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

December 17, 2003:
Defining life:
In ethics and in careers

by Lauren Turner '04

"How would you define a human being?" asked molecular biology professor Lee Silver to 12 undergraduates from the Student Bioethics Forum one recent Wednesday night.

Sitting around a table in the Frist Campus Center, the students passed a plate of cookies, paused to think, then answered. "An entity with a soul," said one. "Something with the capacity for personhood," said another. "Human DNA," said a third. Pictures of embryos in various stages of development and a stack of books including Jan Bondeson's The Two-Headed Boy, Daniel Mannix's Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others, and a hardcover neuroscience textbook sat in front of Silver. Dog-earred pages featured pictures of conjoined twins that would spark debate among the students about the distinction between mind and body, which turns out not to be all that clear.

The upperclassmen who had taken courses with Silver and with philosophy professors like Peter Singer smiled, predicting the heated debate that lay ahead. They already knew that "human person" is not as easy to define as Webster's Dictionary suggests.

The Student Bioethics Forum, a group that raises awareness of bioethical issues by organizing campus-wide lectures and a biannual national intercollegiate conference, recently introduced the small discussion group to facilitate interaction with professors and stimulate intellectual discussion on campus. Each month a different professor leads a discussion, which is based on a topic specific to his or her field, and students debate perspectives.

"So you might think all of this is fluff," said Silver, closing one of his books, "but it really has important political and ethical consequences." Conceptions of personhood and moral rights, the students concluded, were important when evaluating practices like human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia.

Students in the Bioethics Forum, however, are not the only ones asking these questions. From the departments of sociology to hard science, at least 10 courses this fall are exploring issues in biotechnology or bioethics. "I think the over-enrollment in new courses about bioethics, applied ethics, and health policy shows that there is huge student interest in this field," said Allison Arensman '04, an independent concentrator in bioethics and an officer of the Bioethics Forum. Students in Postmodernism and Contemporary Culture, an English literature course, are even scheduled to read Margaret Atwood's new novel about human cloning.

Increased interest in bioethics has prompted students like Arensman to encourage administrative development of an applied ethics certificate program, but its development is hardly within reach. "Things get done when students show demand," she says. Creating a new certificate program, however, involves more than roundtable discussions and literary lectures about cloning. The interest is, of course, a good start.


Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, McKinsey: by the time the leaves have changed color in Princeton, even astrophysics majors know these names.

Throughout the fall, major financial companies descend on Princeton like locusts to entice, interview, and, ultimately, hire students. Some companies hold business-casual receptions at the Nassau Inn, where employers answer questions, encourage mingling, and serve finger foods like miniature quiche. Students attend these receptions as early as freshman year. The university's Office of Career Services also promotes the firms by forwarding recruitment emails and by hosting a "General Interest Career Fair" in October. This year's general fair featured 71 registered organizations, nearly half of which involved consulting or banking. Financial companies also encourage students to forward recruitment emails via eating club email lists.

Although landing a finance job is hardly a passive process, it is definitely a two-way street. "You're not just going after them," says Tim Fuzesi '04. "They're going after you." Fuzesi, a Woodrow Wilson School major, recently accepted an offer in the Investment Banking Division of Goldman Sachs.

Despite a rumored 100-hour work-week, the draw to banking and consulting is strong: Of the Class of 2003, 37 percent of students working full-time work in finances. Noting this fall's constant parade of business attire and the influx of finance-oriented recruitment emails, it seems many in the Class of 2004 will follow 2003's lead.

Starting salaries can go as high as $85,000 (including signing bonus), but excited students like Fuzesi say high pay and the ease of on-campus recruiting aren't the only attractions. "It is without a doubt the best place to start a business career," he says.

Sarah Kapnick '04, a math major who also accepted a position with Goldman Sachs's Investment Banking Division, agrees. "It's the high-intensity challenge of completing many different projects at once and working with clients that makes the field attractive," she says. Kapnick notes that many seniors enter the field hoping to use it as a springboard for other financial or academic endeavors. "Working in banking opens doors that would otherwise be inaccessible," Fuzesi adds.

With the exception of students entering financial services, few seniors have definite plans for next year. Some are beginning to hear back from law schools, others are interviewing for fellowships, and still others are gathering information for jobs that won't become available until the spring.

Cate Lafarge '04, an art history major interested in art appraisal, says, "The art world is much more spontaneous. It relies on chance meetings and serendipity." Although amazed some seniors already have job security, she adds, "I'm more excited about the chance of possibilities ahead of me."