DH Education: Making an informed career choice

It is important to not box yourself into a particular course or vocation.

The 2009 Bollywood movie 3 Idiots left us with a fascinating message: that when it comes to career choice, we should listen to our heart instead of running behind fads or acting under social pressure. As an academician, I find this message to be extremely relevant to the Indian context where most career decisions are taken under a herd mentality. As a result, we have too many incompetent engineers and a scarcity of real experts in various disciplines.

And yet, I raise a voice of caution against a careless interpretation of this message, something that I find happening far too often among young students. One example is the dual phenomenon of excessive susceptibility to mistaking public opinion and fads as one’s own passion (for example, ‘I am passionate about machine learning, but I have no idea what it is!’) and premature loss of interest in some subjects. All this often precipitates into low motivation, absenteeism, poor academic performance, and sometimes even more serious consequences like mental health issues and suicides.

The message for following your heart comes with a huge caveat: you must first know what your heart is telling you. And this capability doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Which is why we see some students losing interest in the field and facing academic setbacks. Here are a few measures that you can consider to avoid this:

Don’t give up too early

Learners come in all shades and colours. While some learn quickly, others take time. The current system of education often tends to favour quick learners. However, there’s no reason to believe that quick learners are any better than slow learners as everyone learns differently. Hence, it is important for students to understand that everyone has a different style and speed of learning.

Some students often get frustrated in the first few months of starting college as they are not able to understand a particular concept or pick up a particular skill. As this is too short a time to judge one’s calibre in the subject, it is important to hang on. During this time, make a conscious effort to solve the problems you may have in a particular subject. If you are stuck, take help from your peers and teachers. With time, you will be able to master the subject. Even if your grades sink in a course, there’s no reason to assume that you don’t have it in you to learn the subject. Persistence and perseverance are key to mastering a subject.

Find your passion

It’s naive to assume that we are born to pursue a career only in certain fields such as Engineering, Medicine or Law. Each one of us has our own inherent strengths and weaknesses, and these may create a predisposition towards certain activities. While a physically strong person may gravitate towards sports or another vocation that involves rigorous physical activity, a person with a way with words may become an author, a lawyer, a teacher an orator or an actor.

Hence, it is important to not box yourself into a particular course or vocation. Your calling should be an assortment of skills picked up along the way and should be unique to you. Don’t limit your possibilities by assuming an oversimplified and narrow-minded attitude towards learning.

Expand your learning

Two students who had joined our institute had left in the first year. While one wanted to pursue management, the other wanted to pursue mechanical engineering instead of Information Technology. When I asked both the students as to why they were so strong on their choices, their arguments were far from well-developed reasoning and were mostly based on naive presumptions about what these programmes entail.

On one level, all problems require some fundamental skills like analysis, logic and mathematics, and myriad soft-skills like communication, flexibility, broad-mindedness, and foresight. On another level, most problems which matter require specialists from all conceivable disciplines to come together to solve it.

If we wish to contribute to solving an interesting problem or be a part of an interesting solution, there’s no way to remain cocooned in a super-specialisation. What enables a person to play an important role in any success story is as much his or her ability to have a deeply engaging dialogue with different specialists, as to be a specialist in one.

An IT engineer leading a software development team in an automotive company will get to do all the management and learn as much of mechanical engineering as he or she could. In short, academic disciplines are too simplistic a categorisation to determine what real activities you would be doing in your professional life, even less what capabilities would be employed to carve out a success story of them.

Beware of catchphrases

It is very important to be self-aware to avoid ending up using statements like ‘listening to your heart’ as a mere catchphrase. Doing well in academics involves surmounting many hurdles. Many of them like laziness and lack of focus are internal to us. Before we dismiss a topic, a subject or an entire discipline with a sweeping ‘my heart is not in it’ statement, we should ensure that we aren’t using these words to rationalise a weakness within ourselves.

While taking your first few steps into a professional life, it’s important to keep an open mind, to soak in every bit of learning that comes your way with zeal. If you ask ‘What’s there in it for me?’, your first step is leaden with scepticism and negativity. Rather, say ‘Let’s see!’ and the world of limitless knowledge will open up before you.

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