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.