I was having a conversation today about career choices, in which my friend and I realized that careers can be roughly ordered along a scale of what might be called “intellectual flexibility”.
The basic question here is “How much freedom do I have, in this career, to go wherever my mind takes me?”
There are some quite intellectually challenging disciplines, such as Law, where such freedom is sharply bounded. Yes you can have freedom (and the study of law contains fascinating intellectual challenges), but within a context in which 99% of the field is beyond your ability to change — since the law has a long established set of precedents.
At the other extreme, a writer can pretty much write about any ideas, and a painter can paint just about any image. There are virtually no externally imposed limits.
I can safely say, based on my direct experience, that being a professor of computer science at NYU is a lot more like being a writer or a painter than like being a lawyer.
I think this is a good thing. 🙂