Major ≠ Career

We often, make the mistake of associating majors to careers, like if the major the student picks would later determine his/her career. Although in many cases that is how it goes, it is not always the case. For example, we would normally assume that a psychology major will end up working as a clinical psychologist but it is hard to imagine that he/she will end up working as a marketing director. How can a psychology major work as a marketing director? Because he/she has the skills necessary to do it.

I met Dr. Sacha Kopp, dean of arts and sciences of Stony Brook, PhD in physics, when he came to my writing class to talk about career development. He talked about his undergraduate experience and how he ended up is in his position. What I got from him were two major ideas: college is an experience and majors develop your skills.

College is a collection of experiences that will later help us in our career track. Dr Kopp said that becoming a TA inspired him to be involved in education. He encouraged us to join a club or look for internships instead of just studying for our degrees. These experiences teach things that the course can’t such as: if the professional environment you imagined suits you or joining a club and finding your calling.


Continuing with Dr. Kopp’s ideas, a major develops your skills. He claimed that physics to him is not a major but a tool that later helped him. Every major offers a different set of skills. In my case –math major- I have developed critical thinking and problem solving skills, but my classmate Dana –an English major- has great communication skills. Of course, these skills later are more used in a career more than in another. This reason is why our previously mentioned psychology major can work as a marketing director: because he/she is applying knowledge about human behavior in marketing campaign.

It was this line of thinking that encouraged me to also pursue the applied mathematics and statistics major. Though the theoretical math track, offers my logical reasoning and problem solving skills, the applied math track shows me how to use math as a tool in data analysis or bio statistics. The same I could say about becoming a writing minor. I wanted to become a writing minor because I felt that it did not matter how good my ideas were, if I was unable to efficiently communicate them, they were not going to help.

I am really glad that I had the chance to meet Dr. Kopp -who is more accessible than I thought- in person because his talk inspired me to focus on developing skills. For instance, when I hosted the “Resume Workshop” event, I learned the value of teamwork, how to interact with recruiters and speak in front of an audience. Although it is really hard to keep up with having good grades, internships and other extracurricular activities, I am learning valuable skills that I can apply later in other situations.

Math and Its Applications

Sometimes when I meet new people and they asked me: “What is your major?” I answer: “I am a math major.” They always look amazed and compliment me like math is the toughest subject there is. Truth be told, I do not think that math is a hard subject but they probably had a very bad experience –professor with math-. Even myself –I am a math major- I still encounter bad professors. The key in teaching math is not making it look hard and complex but making it look easy and simple. After all, math is nothing but just simple game that anybody can play.

All the math knowledge we have till this point is based on two basic concepts: addition and numbers. Numbers are object that we use to count, measure or label. Addition is the combination of two quantities. These two basic concepts can define the rest of the mathematical definitions and theorems. For instance, subtraction is the addition of negative numbers. Of course it will take a big amount of time to rediscover the complex concepts such as calculus, which are just basic combinations of these two basic concepts. If math was a game this would be the basic rules.(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

However, math is not just a game but a tool with multiple applications. Mostly every science, even art, requires the use of math because mostly anything in our world is quantifiable. Physics uses math to make relations between phenomena. Renaissance artists used math to find the perfect proportions. All though these are general uses of math to me the most useful area is statistics.

I like to defined statistics as the most manipulative element of math. Mostly every marketing campaign has at least one data like “Nine out of ten dentists recommend this gum.” Although in the previous example is use as a rhetorical element there are more ways than statistics can be manipulative. Statistics are used by different, professionalism from economists to biologist, to make predictions. A prediction’s accuracy depends mostly on the rate of success – and of course you would have to define “success” in an appropriate context- but knowing just that it is incredibly helpful. If you know that you are not going to succeed think of ways that you can increase the success rate. For instance, if you want to increase the rate of success in passing an exam you should study for it.

Math has also offered me a great skill: identify patterns. In mathematics patterns are used in order to approach problems and then solved them. For instance, I barely know anything about computer science but this skill helped me to code my professional portfolio. However I intent to give this skills the purpose of deciphering codes. This skill is going to play an important role later in my career track since codes are written in specific patterns.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Math has infinite abilities to offer the application you give them is your choice. Although it might seem complex at first my advice for you is to think as math as a game and follow the rules. If you are able to see it this way then all those complex problems you had will become piece of cake.


The Writing Problem

Everybody knows how to write, not everybody knows how to write efficiently. I decided to become a writing minor because I wanted to communicate efficiently and later apply this skill in the workplace. However what many professionals understand as “good writing” is just basic writing: proper grammar and spelling; undervaluing other characteristics, like rhetorical devices. This is why many students also undervalue writing in college and so colleges have to face the “writing problem ”.

Although it has a self-explanatory name, the “writing problem” focuses on how to avoid “bad writing” -grammar and spelling mistakes – situations but also on the complexity of writing and later apply it in the workplace. The “current” solution is adding to the college curriculum a requirement called “writing in the disciplines”. I say “current” because when the problem first appeared, around 1870, it was decided that just an introductory course would be enough. In this “writing 101” course, many academics had tried to establish what “good writing” is.

However, instead of establishing “good writing”, academics should have focused more on the complexity of writing. Writing can never be established due to the fact that language evolves through time, and so writing evolves along. It goes without mention that jargon is learned through the courses of the field. Rather academics should have focused on the rhetoric effects of composition and vocabulary or contemporary speech patterns that they can latter apply in the workplace.

On the same line, applying writing in the workplace is not really hard. For instance, as the sponsorship of SHPE -Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers- I had to write grant proposals that help finance the organization’s event. In my writing, I try to use as many rhetorical devices as I can. For example, I try to write my ideas thinking about my audience: in an ambitious yet humble manner and always being professional. Although it is not the workplace I believe it is a good example.

Aside from the previously mentioned,  written communication plays, to some extent, an important role in almost every job. In the class “writing for your profession” that I took, every student had to analyze a written genre related to their field. Not to mention that written communication it is, in some aspects, more important than spoken communication. Anything that it is written, is recorded. Anything that is recorded, is important. Anything that is important has a significant purpose. In other words, the information that it is written in a document will later be useful -or not- to you.

Although the gap between academic writing and professional writing is really big, I feel that more and more students are trying to save it. From the writing courses I take, and as I write more, I feel that I learn how to express myself better. As a result, it helps me succeed in my goals faster and easily. Similarly, I believe that writing will give me the advantage in the job hunt because my cover letters are written more efficiently and so I can convince the recruiter easily. Writing, is indeed a hard subject to teach, and even harder to learn, it also has considerable benefits.


Intellectual Entrepreneurship

thinking-outside-the-boxA significant number of undergraduate students plan on attending graduate school to get either a master or a PhD, but you must be sure why you want to attend graduate school. In my first semester, I wanted to go to graduate school to get a PhD, ignorant of how this degree would benefit me, to end up teaching at college level and researching. At that time graduate school was very distant and I have realized that a PhD is only useful in the academic environment. Your PhD training will not likely be useful in the job market due to the incredible gap between society and academia.

It was in one of my writing courses –“Writing For Your Profession”- that I got to know more about graduate school. Writing courses are full of readings and one of the readings –“Intellectual Entrepreneurship”- is about the Intellectual Entrepreneurship, a PhD program of UT at Austin which differs from other graduate programs because is focus on saving the gap between society and academia. Graduate students are forced to think outside the box and apply their skills in real live situations. The principles of this program are:

  • Vision and discovery: clearly, needed for anyone who wants to do research or wants to become an entrepreneur
  • Ownership and accountability: you are responsible for your own discoveries and education
  • Integrative Thinking and Action: what makes the program special, put what you have learned into a good use, and not just leave it as something theoretical
  • Collaboration and Teamwork: this one is self-explanatory

Although my mind has significantly changed since my first semester –from wanting a PhD to not wanting to go to graduate school to wanting to do a master-, I am reconsidering getting a PhD in abstract algebra, which ultimately would help me to achieve my professional goal of becoming a cryptographer. With a degree similar to the one of UT at Austin I would not have to excessively worry to find a job, like many other PhD student. Furthermore, I would have the benefits of a higher salary than average that later is going to help me finance –or repay the debt- the PhD, which is not cheap.

This article also gave a clear idea of which universities I want to apply for graduate school. For instance, think about Harvard. Harvard is the best university of the world, with an admission rate of one percent. This fact drives a significant number of students mad, but they do not think that they can get a good, or even better, education at any other institutions. Ivy League universities’ exclusivity is based on their renown, but renown is not equal to a good education.

Even though I still have time to decide whether or not I attend graduate school, I will keep it in my mind as a possibility. Nevertheless, unlike before, I have a better picture of what graduate school is. As a person who likes to learn from its experiences, if have learned something from “Intellectual Entrepreneurship” is that I just do not to have a good education but I also want to put it into a good use. An Ivy League PhD can have all the renown of the world but it is going to be useless –and a waste of money- if you are unable to apply it in your job.