By Linnan (Rooney) Zhuang
During the first couple of years in my undergraduate study in China, I had always had this thought, “Oh, I will naturally take an engineering-related job right out of college because I chose it in the first place.” And with that thought in mind, I was so shocked when a friend told me that I could also end up with a position at a corporate environment doing something outside of the realm of engineering. Up till now, I am still wrestling with that thought from time to time, and I constantly ask myself, “Can I, or should I break out of engineering?”
I guess this kind of career-identity question might seem insignificant to most Canadian college students, as they’ve figured out what they want to do early in college, or even before they start it. I don’t have a solid statistical survey behind this point, but based on my conversations with some undergrads and my personal experience with the on-campus career counselling service, I have a strong feeling that students here, both high school and college students, get enormous help from the community to map out their career path. That said, it wouldn’t matter that much even if a senior college student hasn’t figured out where his/her near future career lies. And it’s all going to be alright even if things don’t turn out the way they had in mind. Because I firmly believe that everything you do prepare you for your future, and once the true passion hits you in the future, you would think to yourself, “things I have been doing out of my gut feeling along the way have prepared the ground for me, and it all makes sense now.”
This might sound like a cliche, but I really think it takes time and life experiences to come to this realization (and I want to use this article to convey a message to those people, and most importantly to the timid and trepid me), “do those things that you currently enjoy and care less about what might happen afterwards.” I was quite inspired by the well-known Japanese writer Haruki Murakami a while ago, and the impact is still there motivating me. In his recent sort-of autobiographical book of his, he opened his heart and described what it was like to be a novelist, what he went through to get there, and how he coped with all kinds of inner struggles and adversities. I strongly remember that he said during those days when he felt lost and didn’t have a clear clue of what to do next with his career, he turned to books and music which he already found a passion for, and really took a liking to. I was impressed by his calmness and confidence when he said, “in a couple of decades when I look back, at least I can tell myself that back then I was doing things that I enjoyed and that’s enough.” And as he read more and more, he discovered his true passion for literary work and naturally took on the Herculean task – writing novels. Of course, this wouldn’t apply to everyone and we should all take it with a grain of salt when pondering upon it. Besides, I’m not encouraging you to spend all your time nurturing your interests only. You also need to prioritize things.
I have been in this kind of career-choice crisis for so long. Having lack of useful career counselling at high school, and being a relativist without particular interests until a rather late point in college, I rashly choose engineering as my major and went further with it. It took me a really long time and lots of courage to admit that engineering is not for me. So when my friends ask me when can I get an engineering job, I often don’t know what to say, and I guess they just assumed that me choosing this field was resulted from careful career planning and experiential learning.
Now I’m a full-time job seeker after graduating from McMaster University with my second Master’s degree. Funny, eh? A man with two degrees still hasn’t figured out where to go next. I mock at myself all the time, and believe me it’s no fun. But I tend to find the silver lining out of my academic career up till this point. With this gap time, I get to really grill myself with life and career questions, and yep I grill myself real hard. I constantly feel lost and depressed because of my ultra-serious and super-cagey personality. My state of mind is like a sine wave constantly oscillating between peaks and troughs. That said, I still feel positive about the future since I believe it’ll make sense eventually.
Oftentimes, I would hear people complain to me, “I don’t see the point of this damn course and its assignments, and I don’t understand how it would help me in any way.” I used to have that kind of doubt and frustration too. But the way I see it now is that college coursework is designed to strengthen the mental muscle. It serves to cement the “muscle” memory, just like shooting basketball day in and day out helps to forge an ever-impeccable sculpture-like shooting form, and it also serves to forge an ideal way of thinking in a certain field. After countless independent, yet complementary and overlapping exercises, it will be much easier to come up with a solution to a problem. Those seemingly useless exercises are also designed to help students become more adaptable in and that they know how to research, what information to glean out of the overwhelming resources, and what skills/knowledge to brush up on whenever they realize there’s a gap of knowing. It’s not surprising to find that many jobs prefer college students even if the job description states that the minimum requirement is a high school diploma. What sets college and high school students apart? To me, it’s their adaptability and learning ability. High school students are often told what to learn in order to pass exams. It’s a rather passive way to impart knowledge, whereas college students know how to actively carry out a task precisely just because of the open-sourced and collaborative college training.
It’s also not surprising to me that MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are popular now. To me, it’s a great platform where people of different interests can learn through whichever course they want at a low cost or no cost at all. Its modular course design helps people better their learning experience and adjust their schedules. I wouldn’t go any further gushing about this beautiful thing as it might seem like an ad. What I’m saying here is that the very idea of MOOCs is embodied in the spirit of university training, which is to teach a person the ability to learn things himself or herself in an effective and efficient way. College training never fails us or wastes our time. And it should be noted that whether or not you take a job “closely aligned” to your major, it doesn’t matter as much as it was in the era where information.
Granted it’s great to map out a short term career path and work your way towards the goal, don’t be afraid if you’re still lost and looking for the right place where you fit and shine, and don’t be afraid to chase after what you want even if it’s not exactly in line with what you planned before. Embrace the unpredictable, be fearless, and venture into the unknown world. This is to me, and to those who are wrestling with their career choices.
About the Author
Linnan (Rooney) Zhuang: I finished my Master’s degree in Urban Railway Transit (under Mechanical Engineering), I moved to Canada for another Master’s program in 2015. Born and raised in China, I have been so impacted by western culture and practices that my friends called me a “xenomaniac”. Being bilingual and exposed to two starkly different cultures allowed me to perceive things in a more open and inclusive way, and it allowed me to understand the reason behind what’s on the surface better. I consider myself as an up-and-coming networking machine, lover and observer of culture and society, voracious reader and researcher of unknown things. I will always keep learning and moving forward.