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Should You Study Something You Love, or Something Practical?

Written By - The Young Vision Ambassador, Radhika Marwaha Global Disease Biology, University of California Davis, USA.

“Please tell us your career goals and any plans you may have for graduate study,” read almost every application I had looked at in the past hour. A Biology undergraduate degree with minimal research experience gets you almost nowhere in the career race, and that apart from passion happens to be the negative incentive, in applying to graduate school. While the above question is vague and tricky – the answer seems to be meandering somewhere between an applicant’s passion, and the challenges that our world today is facing. In this issue of TYV, we will try and deconstruct this decision-making process.

Pro tip: It is never easy (especially not when you are 17); don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Something you “Love.”

I’ve spent every year of the past decade envisioning myself in a different career position – these choices are often informed by events in the news, people I interact with, projects I am involved in, and my courses at school. Necessarily, we as students are interested in multiple fields because we are only starting in our careers. However, this also makes it very difficult for us to identify our calling. Furthermore, given the risk of being blamed for making the wrong choice, students seldom explore untrodden paths or their passion-potentials. ‘Making the most of our talents’ and ‘turning our hobbies into full-time jobs’ are concepts that still need to be normalised in our social circles, but can go a long way in motivating individuals to perform better in the workforce.

To track and better document the changes, nuances, and the direction your interests take, you should consider adopting tools like passion planning in your daily lives. In line with the bullet journaling trend that gained popularity a few years ago, this instrument allows you to create a roadmap and prioritise your involvements and strengths that are closest to your heart. Students must actively think about broader prompts like your purpose (this can be general, like ‘serving humanity’) and channels that can lead up to it (such as ‘starting a Mental Health club at school’ or ‘upcycling household plastic waste regularly at home’). These allow you to create short and long term goals. Once you map these out, you can weave your success in achieving these goals into your everyday life by spending a few hours with your Passion Planner every week.

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Something “Practical”

Defining a practical field of study is very challenging, given the interaction between humans and different biological, physical, and material ecosystems. Today, encouraging folks to become ecological conservationists and politicians is essential in achieving what leaders, worldwide, deem vital to ensure well-being and harmony amongst the global community in the United Nations. These are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that ask nations to address issues in, and achieve baseline performance in economic growth and the industry, while ensuring zero poverty, hunger, and strong institutions.

To become a part of the success stories that countries are writing at grassroots levels, in urban areas, and within traditional social structures, students must be made aware of these sustainable development goals. Private and public, social, and financial enterprises are working towards the implementation of the SDGs by the year 2030. My understanding is that for our readers applying to undergraduate and graduate programs in this year’s cycle or a year or two, the 2030 deadline is a crucial point in career planning. In the 4-8 years of study and work experience that we all will gain in our respective fields leading up to 2030, will open up new opportunities for students and highlight more unique niches in the workforce.

The sole responsibility, however, of exposing students to the importance of achieving these goals sustainably and understanding how they impact the everyday life of each global citizen, lies in the hands of educators. Career counsellors and success coaches at academic institutions must also be adept at helping students identify the intersections between student interests (that are nurtured with passion) and the SDGs. For one, I am consolidating my interest to work in community redevelopment for displaced populations with the SGDs that demand a reduction in inequalities and good health/well-being for all.

Although diplomatic, I believe that these intersections can help maximise our contribution to society at both a micro and macro-level. Individually, units of the workforce will be pursuing majors and working in the fields of genuine interest. At the population level, these units will be involved in several niche roles that interact fruitfully to move us a step forward – every day – in the right direction. I’d thus, recommend all students to give themselves space and time to deconstruct their emotions and understand how that translates into their vision for themselves while being aware of the global challenges that can impact the communities around them negatively.