Smart and under 20? Peter Thiel wants to pay you to not go to school.

post by lukeprog · 2011-12-29T20:37:02.626Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments

Peter Thiel is offering another round of "20 under 20" Fellowships. The application deadline is December 31st. We know many of the current Thiel fellows here in the Bay Area, and it's a great opportunity. Here's the official letter from the Thiel Foundation:

 

We are delighted to announce that we are now accepting applications for the 2012 class of Thiel Fellows.  The 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship is a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 that lets extraordinary young adults skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. The deadline is December 31st.

The 2011 class of Fellows includes 24 people who are tackling breakthroughs in hardware and robotics, making energy plentiful, making markets more effective, challenging the notion that there is only one way to get an education, and extending the human lifespan. Several of them have already launched companies, secured financing, and won prestigious awards. As they’re demonstrating, you don’t need college to invent the future (you can read about their progress in a recent article in TechCrunch).

If you’re under twenty and love science or technology, we hope you'll consider joining the 2012 class. Go to ThielFellowship.org and apply to change the world. There’s no cost to apply. Fellows will be appointed this spring and begin two-year fellowships in the summer of 2012.

If you’re twenty or over, we have a different request. Think of the smartest, most creative person you know who’s 19 or younger. Sit down and talk with that person about her or his goals and interests. For some people, such as future doctors, the time and cost of four years of college may be worth it. But for those who plan to invent things or start companies, starting now may make more sense. Please send such visionaries and tinkerers our way.

Millions of people enjoy a higher quality of life because smart people like Steve Jobs, Muriel Siebert, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Zuckerberg, and hundreds of others skipped college to start a project that couldn’t wait.

We hope you’ll help us spread the word.

Thanks,

The Thiel Foundation

22 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by shminux · 2011-12-29T22:41:52.563Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Free money is certainly nice to have, but I have deep doubts that "a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000" will do what they hope to achieve, compared to a control group (say, the next 24 in their ranking, those who did not receive the funding). How many runners-up also founded companies, won prizes, etc.? I hope they are tracking this, as well as the progress of the recipients, before patting themselves on the back.

Millions of people enjoy a higher quality of life because smart people like Steve Jobs, Muriel Siebert, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Zuckerberg, and hundreds of others skipped college to start a project that couldn’t wait.

Funny how they use (cherry-picked) people who didn't use their funding as an example to support their point.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-30T00:20:21.967Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Free money is certainly nice to have, but I have deep doubts that "a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000" will do what they hope to achieve, compared to a control group (say, the next 24 in their ranking, those who did not receive the funding). How many runners-up also founded companies, won prizes, etc.? I hope they are tracking this, as well as the progress of the recipients, before patting themselves on the back.

I would expect that increasing the working lifetime of one of the people in question by ~4 years is worth way more than $100k, and so even if this just convinces these people to skip college it may be a net win.

(And that's ignoring the indirect effects: if one of the runner-up 24 decides to skip college and launch a startup without taking Thiel's money as a result of this offer, that's a win for Thiel, even though it would look the opposite in the metric you're proposing.)

comment by shminux · 2011-12-30T18:52:31.538Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect that increasing the working lifetime of one of the people in question by ~4 years is worth way more than $100k

It is certainly a possibility worth testing using a properly designed metric.

(And that's ignoring the indirect effects: if one of the runner-up 24 decides to skip college and launch a startup without taking Thiel's money as a result of this offer, that's a win for Thiel, even though it would look the opposite in the metric you're proposing.)

Or get discouraged by the loss and go into finance to work as a quant, or something similarly useless to society.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-30T15:09:32.861Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While it's true that Thiel didn't invest in the ideas of Jobs, Siebert, or Franklin when they first started Apple,Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc or Franklin's many ventures, It is true that he was an early investor in Facebook and sits on it's board of directions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thiel

comment by Solvent · 2011-12-30T10:01:07.802Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I looked into the Thiel scholarship, being age eligible. The problem is, it's so ridiculously competitive. I did fairly well in school, and certainly got in the top 1% of grades, as well as attending the NYSF. However, I look at the kind of people who won the Thiel fellowship and kind of wither. They're way out of my league. If LessWrong had many teenagers like that around, I suspect we would have heard of them by now.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-30T16:25:55.644Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't overestimate the competition!

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-12-31T20:06:03.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is, it's so ridiculously competitive. I did fairly well in school, and certainly got in the top 1% of grades, as well as attending the NYSF. However, I look at the kind of people who won the Thiel fellowship and kind of wither. They're way out of my league.

As mjcurzi said, don't overestimate the competition. The very best Thiel fellowship winners will be given the spotlight and shown as examples, but you don't have to be as good as the best winner. You don't have to be as good as the average. You only have to be as good as the 20th-best (or however many end up being given). And only have to be as good as they actually are, not as good as a positively-framed blurb would paint them.

comment by Darmani · 2011-12-30T23:34:39.587Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a lot of people get put off because Andrew Hsu is first in the alphabet. A lot of them barely come up in Google searches (save for the Fellowship itself).

comment by timtyler · 2011-12-30T12:59:24.034Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, isn't this just a case of age discrimination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission isn't yet involved - because the Thiel Foundation is not technically an employer?

comment by mindspillage · 2012-01-02T21:41:15.064Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming this is a serious question: the Thiel Foundation may be an employer, but it's the other side you want to look at--fellows are not technically employees.

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-31T02:10:28.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I applied yesterday. (Too bad I accidentally skipped one of the questions. Oh well.)

comment by DanPeverley · 2011-12-30T09:39:20.151Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand not going to college if you've already got an idea for a company, have a skill, etc., but for those of us who still have yet to learn a trade (intellectual or practical) is college worth it? My intuitions say yes, but I've already sunk a lot of costs toward getting admitted so I'm suspicious of my own judgement.

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-30T09:31:06.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

such as future doctors

This is a tangent, but I wonder why Thiel assumes a "standard" education is useful for doctors but dismisses it for other specializations.

I'd love to have Yvain comment on this - I wouldn't automatically assume that medical school consists, in proportion, of more useful stuff than (say) a degree in software engineering (as opposed to stuff that you have to learn just to show that you're able to compete with your peers in areas of performance that are deemed to matter). I'd suspect, rather, that doctors - much like software engineers - mostly learn on the job.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-30T19:04:47.900Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do users of buggy software often sue coders on grounds of "practice of engineering without a license"?

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-30T22:46:18.705Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see the connection.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-31T17:03:46.824Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean that even if doctors and software engineers learn the same amount in school, a "standard" education would still be more useful for a doctor than for an engineer, because an officially recognized title of "doctor" has more legal implications (for prescriptions, insurance, reimbursements, lawsuits, etc.). A hospital that hires someone without a medical degree to work as a doctor is taking a much bigger risk than a software company that hires someone without an engineering degree, even if in both cases the person is as skilled as someone with a degree (I expect lawyers would be in the same basket as doctors here).

At least, that would be my answer to "why Thiel assumes a "standard" education is useful for doctors but dismisses it for other specializations."

comment by Morendil · 2012-01-04T09:28:57.974Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry. I've slept on this, and I still don't see the relevance of lawsuits.

Thiel says: "For some people, such as future doctors, the time and cost of four years of college may be worth it." That statement isn't about the people who hire future doctors, who can cover their collective asses by ensuring they have someone who has the proper sanction from the state. It isn't about the clients of future doctors either, or any other stakeholder population who might prefer that doctors hold a degree.

The statement is about the doctors, and what would be worthwhile to them.

comment by Emile · 2012-01-04T16:22:27.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we compare the education/career paths:

A) Go to medical school, become a doctor

B) Go to college, study engineering or business or whatnot, then work in a tech company or even start one yourself

C) Drop out and just start a company straight away

... then the same kind of people might be interested in B) and C), and for them, C) might be better than B). For doctors, there is no equivalent to C) (I don't think you can really be a "freelance doctor" without any degree). The path to 'Doctor' goes through A) only, the path to 'Tech Entrepreneur' goes through both B) and C) (The path to "Lawyer" isn't very branchy either).

Though if you mean, it may still be better for some people who were considering medical school to drop that and go do something else, then I don't disagree, I don't know enough about the advantages of various careers.

(I'm having trouble figuring out whether we are disagreeing, and if so, about what)

comment by Morendil · 2012-01-04T20:46:54.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think you can really be a "freelance doctor" without any degree

You can't, but basically I'm wondering whether Thiel means that as the only reason why "the time and cost of four years of college may be worth it", or if he also thinks that the educational value justifies it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-04T16:31:56.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For doctors, there is no equivalent to C) (I don't think you can really be a "freelance doctor" without any degree).

Well, of course it depends on what it is about being a doctor I value. If I want to help sick people become healthy, for example, there are lots of equivalents to C.

Admittedly, the most effective ones don't involve practicing medicine, which falls into the "go do something else" category. But even if I what I want is to help sick people become healthy by practicing medicine, there are still equivalents to C -- there are plenty of areas full of sick people who can be helped to become healthy through the practice of medicine without a degree.

There just isn't a lot of status or money in doing that.

comment by Solvent · 2011-12-30T09:57:55.215Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that a fair bit of the six or seven years of medical school is internship or case studies, so the "learning on the job" bit blurs with the university learning.

Also, the main point of medical school in particular, and many university courses in general, is not the learning, but the certificate at the end to prove that you know stuff and have experience.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-30T00:16:33.782Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The deadline is December 31st.

So... that's 2 days from now. (It doesn't matter to me as I'm over their age cap, but it still strikes me as odd to post.)