Looking beyond conventional options

niche courses

Looking beyond conventional options

Shireesh likes Science, and wants to be successful and rich. While all his friends are keen to take up engineering courses, he is constantly asking the question to everyone — does every Science student have to become an engineer or doctor?

Shreeja has another dilemma. She was fairly good in Biology and her parents decided that since there is no doctor in the family, she should become one. She completed her Class 12 with fairly good marks, but did not qualify for the NEET exam in 2016. Her parents decided that she should take a year off, go for extensive day-long NEET coaching and appear again this year.

As the exam is nearing, she is getting scared whether she will be able to clear the exam, and more so, if she does get into MBBS whether she will be able to handle the rigorous studies for five years. In fact, whenever she looks at doctors or hospitals she gets put off and cannot imagine herself in that role.

Emerging fields

Hence, the pertinent question: is there life beyond engineering and medicine, or are all other careers very mediocre and uncertain? One cannot blame the parents who have struggled hard to give their ward a good education and have placed all their hopes on him or her. Reflecting from their days, they remember how those who were admitted to these professional courses  landed better paid careers with high social respectability. But 2017 is not the same as 1987, the world of work and professions has changed considerably – and will continue to change at a rapid pace.

Our country is progressing steadily despite many ups and downs. The economy is showing healthy growth, and making a decent living in any profession that an individual is capable of and skilled in is not at all difficult. Yes, competition has increased tremendously. When I joined IIT Bombay, 20,000 aspirants had competed for entry to a thousand and odd seats. Today, tens of lakhs aspire for the 10,000 seats available.

But this does not take into account the fact that we have 40 NITs, three BITS, and at least a hundred other excellent engineering colleges all over the country. Similarly, dozens of proven challenging careers have emerged that are likely to grow continuously at least for the next few decades. Many people are not aware that some professions have long overtaken engineering, and even medicine, in terms of income and status that is available to successful candidates.

Traditionally, engineering was sought after as it was one of the very few ‘professional’ courses that gave an all-round education due to which engineers excelled in fields as diverse as civil services, banking, politics, human resources etc.

The alternatives to engineering earlier were three-year degree courses that could not be compared with engineering courses in width and depth of training. Today, there are dozens of equivalent four- or five-year professional courses that produce very competent graduates.

Some of them are: BDes (design), even offered by IITs; LLB, particularly from the National Law Schools; integrated BS and MS at the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research; Bachelor of Hotel Management; four-year paramedical degrees in more than a dozen specialisations; Architecture; Agricultural Sciences; Veterinary Science; Social Sciences degree offered by IIT Chennai etc. At the postgraduate level, the field widens much more.

Similarly, many traditional fields that were not preferred due to low income levels have picked up to great heights in the past few years. People are earning very lucrative salaries as school teachers, musicians, artists, sports professionals, psychologists and journalists, to name just a few. Even the salaries in the Defence Forces have increased respectably and military officers can hope for a decent lifestyle and secure retirement.

Another factor not known to many people is that newer careers that have just started making a mark are likely to offer very rewarding careers for those who are just entering into them. A few worth mentioning are data analytics and sciences, product design, app development, event management, translations, environmental sciences and sustainable development, electronic media, facilities management, child development, corporate training, and social work.

Here are some exciting options not many people are aware of:
Those interested in being in the health sector can look beyond MBBS to
alternative medical streams, paramedical professions, bio-medical engineering, hospital administration, and nutrition or clinical psychology. Those interested in technology can opt for cognitive science, Internet of Things, Digital Society, Data Analytics etc.

Observing the above, it looks as though there is a problem of plenty. So if a person is willing to look beyond engineering and medicine, what does he or she opt for? Is it not possible to get enamored by something new and jump into unknown paths that may not yield a reliable career? Yes, that is very possible if one takes impulsive decisions or goes by the herd mentality.

Many may remember how every second person was jumping on to the bandwagon of Biotechnology a decade ago. Dozens of colleges had sprouted up offering BSc and MSc in this field, and soon those who had no aptitude for the profession and had just opted for it because they were told it is picking up fast, were in for disappointment.

Choose wisely

The lesson to be learnt is that one needs to have a mind of one’s own, and select the career most suited to the individual. And this selection process needs to go far beyond over-simplistic thoughts like ‘good in Biology, take up Medicine’, ‘good in Maths and Physics, take up Engineering.” Every career requires certain personality traits for instance. An extrovert, social and people-oriented person may do very well in marketing, law, HR or teaching, but not in fields that require extensive concentration on the computer terminal. A person with out-of-box thinking can do very well in design, product development or market research, but not as a chartered accountant or software tester.

Career selection should take into account all these factors: interest (never take up a field you are not interested in), awareness about what the field entails (not just the courses) and lifestyle in the chosen career, personality traits of the candidate,
multiple intelligences required for that profession, ability to study, aptitude (which is the potential to develop the necessary skills to be successful in any specific career), financial resources available, probability of cracking highly competitive exams, and finally the consistency and passion to succeed in the long run.

With annual exams getting over and the lazy summer months ahead, this is the time to sit down and explore each of the above factors, even if the student needs to take a decision next year. Speak to knowledgeable people, browse on the Internet, if possible get a feel through internship, and then carefully weigh all pros and cons before taking the plunge.

(The author is founder and chairman, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)

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