Laura at 11d has an interesting post and comments about giving advice to current grads about what careers to pursue.  There are comments trying to speculate about what industries are hiring, suggestions to do what you love, and suggestions to become a plumber.  I have a son in high school whose love of video games leads him to consider video game development as a career.  But, he has not done anything toward developing a game aside from a camp he attended back in sixth grade.  We bought him software, but he’s barely opened it.  And game developing isn’t the glamorous job most gamers think it is.  Yes, it can pay well, but the hours can be long, and if you’re at a start up, the risk that you won’t have a job when the launch fails is pretty high.  NPR had suggested that game development was a job that is surviving the recession.  May be true, but may not be cut out for everyone.  The thing that I’m aiming for when I talk to my kids (and sometimes even my students) is to keep their options open.  Don’t narrow your field of study too quickly.  Choose a field that you like, but that offers a variety of options.  Someone in the comments at 11d suggested math.  I suggested computer science.

I came out of college at the tail end of a recession.  I, like many of my classmates, escaped to graduate school.  Some went to law school or med school.  The ones who didn’t typically became accountants or worked for financial institutions.  I was vaguely aware that the economy hadn’t been good, but I didn’t think about choosing a career that was financially viable.  My biggest concern was finding work that was fulfilling.  That may have been a naive way to go into things, but I suspect that many a college graduate thinks this way.  Had I been thinking solely about money, I would have taken my English degree and headed off to law school.  Or I would have continued with my Business or Economics major.

I have never considered a career something that you do from 9-5 for money and then go home to other things.  It’s always been tied to my identity and values.  I couldn’t work at an investment bank because its principles are contrary to what I believe in.  I’ve always said, of course, that if I really needed the money, I’d do almost anything.  But first, I’d try to do something that I felt good about and that made me feel good about the contribution I was making.

That said, I don’t envy recent grads.  I think the advice of “do something you love” is good advice as long as a) they can find a job doing that and b) they understand it may not make them rich (unless they’re in love with working at a top law firm or being a doctor or something).  And quite frankly, what you love sometimes changes over time.  There are things I didn’t enjoy that I enjoy now that had I liked them back when I was 22 I might have made a career of it.  Like Intellectual Property issues.  There is a point at which the cost of retooling oneself exceeds the payoff.  I think I’m there.  Going to law school doesn’t make much sense for a 40-something washed up academic who isn’t at all mobile.  Likewise med school.  But maybe that’s just me putting limitations on myself.  The recession certainly makes one think slightly differently about doing things for money.

10 Replies to “Careers”

  1. The consensus among those who review admissions applications is that unless you’ve accomplished something pretty big, saying that you want to be a game designer is foolish. Game designer, marine biologist, . . . . all seem like jobs chosen from the movies, rather than real life, and actual practitioners are suspicious of people who say they want to do them without having proven that they know what that means.

  2. I have friends who are game designers, so I’ve been able to talk to my son about what it really means. He’s moved away from that mostly as a career choice, but who knows. He’s only a freshman.

  3. I wouldn’t dismiss re-tooling so quickly — I suspect we’re going to be working until a much later age than previous generations. And probably wanting to work part-time for as long as possible into our old age, for money and for mental challenge. So it may not be too late for law school if you think you’d enjoy the work. (A friend of mine around our age recently left consulting/business startup to go to law school with the intent of becoming a public interest lawyer, so not for the money!)

  4. I know I shouldn’t dismiss, but it makes me tired to think about it. I mean, good God, the Ph.D. was torture. Do I want to do something like that again? I think my husband would kill me.

  5. This is actually a field I work in and ‘do something you love’ probably doesn’t help many graduates who don’t necessarily know what they love yet. One thing I’d say is to remember that a career is something that can be made up of many jobs – or many different careers – and to focus on developing skills that function in any context – critical thinking, time management, team working – as well as more vocationally specific things. I ‘d agree that if your son hasn’t programmed a game yet, this is something that might not be for him! But the trick is to get graduates to acquire the insight to work that out for themselves – and then apply that insight to other options.

    Well, that and a library full of other approaches and theories…

  6. Dad–I agree! So many people, myself included, had no idea what they really wanted or liked to do even after college. I fell into what I do and have done so through a weird circuitous path that gave me lots of skills that I can apply. It’s hard to convey that to teenagers and young adults. 🙂

  7. Going to law school doesn’t make much sense for a 40-something washed up academic who isn’t at all mobile.

    Hee! Guess I’m doomed! 😉

    More seriously, I completely agree that most graduates don’t know what they love. I went to grad school partly to escape the same recession you mention and because I really liked research and writing and had no idea how else I might do it. I’m not sorry I went, especially because otherwise I’d have probably gone to law school by default and I think that would have been bad. But I think sometimes I missed out by not taking a bunch of crappy jobs to pay the rent, and, out of those, figuring out what I liked to do and where I might do it. I think one of the problems is that students with a certain level of academic achievement think they HAVE to pick a career, full of meaning, and rush into that, rather than just living from job to job for a while.

    (I mean, if you have a career that calls to you, that’s great. But not everyone does.)

    Don’t know how practical any of this advice is, though, with the whole recession and all. Or if any of it’s really advice…

  8. I was thinking of you, NK, as I wrote that about re-tooling. What’s funny, of course, is I’m doing the same thing, which has a cost, but it’s cheaper than law school. 🙂

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