I Left Wall Street to Do My PhD in Sociology. Here's Why.
What drew me back to academia was the desire to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, to ask questions and think about how to answer them. This emphasis on education came from my parents, who are Greek immigrants. They would say, “People can take a lot of things away from you in life, but no one can take away your education.” I started looking into classes at Columbia’s School of Continuing Education to figure out what I was interested in and to prove myself as a student, after being away for so many years. I ended up taking classes in anthropology and sociology. I was interested in museums and their organizational culture, and was able to apply my course work to the Museum Anthropology program. I even interned at the Met in their Greek and Roman department for part of a class.
At first I wasn’t sure whether to apply to the Business School or GSAS, but ultimately, I decided on GSAS because I already had a business background, and I thought GSAS would give me a broader perspective. When I told my friends I wanted to study sociology and anthropology, they said, “What?!” The teachers also wondered how seriously I would take classes. But in the end I finished with a 4.0 GPA!
I took a class in economic sociology and wrote a paper related to Wall Street. Afterward, my professor, David Stark, pointed out that many sociologists don’t have my level of expertise in the banking industry, and that I could make an original contribution to the field in that area. At the same time, because of the financial crisis, people were starting to raise questions about Wall Street and Goldman Sachs’ culture. When I saw other Goldman alumni, we’d talk about whether the culture had changed. Everyone had an opinion, but I realized no one had a framework or had researched it in an academic way.
At some point, I came in contact with a literary agent, Susan Rabiner, who specializes in academic topics that have the potential to cross over to mass audiences. I met with her about my dissertation, and she said, “This is not a book about Goldman Sachs. It’s a book about organizations, and it would appeal to leaders of organizations.”
Steven Mandis spent 12 years at Goldman Sachs, co-founded a multi-billion dollar asset management firm and then, after 16 years on Wall Street, left to do his PhD in Sociology. He is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School. Read more about his unique insights into Goldman Sachs here.