Thursday, February 23, 2012

Change Career Path, Lose Passion?


"Does changing career goals mean forsaking your passion?" It might if you're an English major (like I was)! But is the either/or choice, a sucker's choice


Not All College Majors Are
Created Equal
, Washington
Post
New research--pointing out 9% unemployment among new college graduates--highlights problems with choosing the "wrong" major in college means low income AFTER college, and results in an inability to pay off your education loans...apparently, a lot of people don't think of that BEFORE they take out loans. 
Over a lifetime, the earnings of workers who have majored in engineering, computer science or business are as much as 50 percent higher than the earnings of those who major in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology, according to an analysis by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. (Source: WP
Simply, Will my degree in Fine Arts get me enough income to pay off the debt I incurred while earning the degree? The question popped into my head as I considered the following scenario I'd painted:
If my daughter pursues her creative writing expertise, she is doomed to being an English major and penniless for the rest of her life. If she goes into Engineering and pursues internships, she will be able to amply provide for herself. Her choice: Pursue Writing & English major to capture your passion OR pursue Engineering and sideline what you truly love doing.
Not surprisingly, this is the kind of scenario I've built up around lots of different careers. For example:
  • Custodian/ConstructionWorker vs Certified Public Accountant
  • Fine Arts vs Math & Science
  • Being a writer and poor or being something else and having more money
  • Studying political science or being a lawyer and having more money
As I was chatting with my college-bound eighteen year old daughter yesterday about life choices, it occurred to me that I'd set myself up for a sucker's choice:
Either / or choices are Sucker’s Choices. The best at dialogue refuse Sucker’s Choices by setting up new choices. They present themselves with tougher questions that turn the either/orchoice into a search for the all-important and ever elusive and. (Source: Crucial Conversations as cited at Sources of Insight)
The insight prompted me to ask, How many times, as parents help children plan for education that will earn them a wage that can't support them after they get the degree? And, is there a way to get ahead that combines talents rather than discards them (e.g. writing)? Of course there's a way but you have to keep your eyes open and be alert to the opportunities...which is what I want to encourage my daughter to be. How can you combine what you are proficient at (e.g. Math) with what you love (e.g. Writing)?

All this was swirling in my head as a result of reading two Washington Post articles on the subject that are well worth reflecting on as parents and educators. Consider the following:
“If I had been any better at math, I might have gone into engineering — I would have liked to have an automatic job right out of college,” said Stephanie Kerner, a recent graduate with a degree in political science and psychology from Oglethorpe University. “Because, let’s be honest, no one wants to struggle like this.” Kerner became unemployed in March after a brief job as a medical receptionist was cut. She has about $50,000 in student debt. “I think you should go to school for what you love, but you should understand what you’re getting yourself into,” she added. 
Erin Hayes graduated in the spring of 2010 with a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Saddled with $28,000 in college debt, she is now again living with her father. The difficulty of the job market led her to seek a master’s degree in the fall, more quickly than she’d planned. Her recent job-seeking efforts have included a first interview at Barnes and Noble, a “no, thank you” e-mail from Target and attempts at temp agencies. She remains unemployed. 
Unemployment rates were generally higher among those with degrees in non-technical fields, the authors said. (Source: Washington Post)
The similarity of these choices for my daughter are all too familiar--Engineering or something soft like Political Science, Psychology, and/or English. Imagine starting your life with $50,000 in debt. It's like giving a K-12 student a zero on a test that they can't recover from. As an educator, son of an educator, husband of an educator, I want my kids to go into their life's work with their eyes open, clearly aware of what they may endure...and factoids like the following call attention to it:
Median annual earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts. Education, psychology and social work majors have relatively low unemployment, but their earnings are also low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education. (Read Source)
I also shared the following with my daughter and wife...it recounts a scenario of a person chatting with college students:
An English major with no internships or any plan of what she might do with the major to earn a living? No job.
A political science major with no internships that could lead to a specific job opportunity? No job, I think.
Engineering major with three relevant internships in the engineering field? Ding. Ding. We have a winner. Job.Certainly a college degree is the ticket to many jobs. The unemployment rate for people with only a recent high school diploma is 22.9 percent, and it’s an astonishing 31.5 percent among recent high school dropouts. Nonetheless, the lack of career planning before a school is chosen, a major is selected and debt is borrowed is shocking to me. Not enough students — and their families who are also taking on student loans — are asking what their college major is worth in the workforce.  (Read Source)
My daughter, who has written a first book and has made more progress on her second book (several chapters written, outline of the whole work completed) than I have on mine (need to write a prospectus and do an outline), points out that Michael Crichton and Robin Cook certainly were able to combine passion and careers.

"Yes, that's what I'm counting on," she replied when I asked if that was her hope. 





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