Monday, February 15, 2010

This is why I am not going to Graduate School right now

When I was growing up, my parents used to tell me that I needed to get into a good university and a good program that ensures my future earning potential. For the longest time, I let them make my academic decisions and ended up in Electrical Engineering at university.

Looking back, I would say that this particular path is not a bad choice, since I did manage to learn some pretty interesting stuff while I was there, and I could do worse with than an Engineering degree. However, the earning potential never really materialized partly due to my lack of real-world experience combined with the untimely financial crises. I had a couple of contracts and while things are generally okay, I am not where I envisioned myself when I pictured my life post-grad.

If someone had told me that an engineering grad might be unemployed for months on end when I was in school, I would not have believed it. After all, every single professor and other adults keep telling you that there is a global tech shortage, and that engineers are highly sought after. However, I have found this to not be the case.

Right now I work as a contractor for a communications company as a test technician. While I'm thankful for a job and disposable income, I find the job monotonous and intellectually uninspiring. In fact, all my coworkers feel the same and most have left or are trying to leave. This plus the many months I spent unemployed, has led me to review my life decisions and how I got here.

It seems that since I did not understand why I was taking thing courses I was taking in university, or rather, why I wanted to take the engineering classes and the biology/chemistry sidetrack that took me an extra year, I was not a particularly good student. It made sense to me then that my then-girlfriend was more important to me than my grades, and when her brother died I dropped everything to be with her. This predictably had disastrous effects on my grades as I dropped from a B+ to a C average that year. In retrospect, this probably was not the wisest thing to do.

After graduating, my parents pushed and prodded me to go into medicine, or graduate school somewhere, and at first I relented. I took time off to take the MCAT and the GRE and had pretty impressive scores (at least 90% quantile on both) and sent out applications. I discovered, however, that I draw a blank when I had to fill out the questions on what I intend to do there and why I wanted to go to graduate school in the first place. It became pretty clear to me that I was doing it because that was what was expected of me. I was following the path everyone else in my family took. It also seemed pretty suspicious that no one talked about graduate degrees until other people's kids started going to them. I started to understand that, if I had kept going on that path, I would not excel because I wasn't properly motivated. That was definitely not what I envisioned for myself when I pictured how I spend the best years of my life.

I then decided that it was important for me then, to go out, try things and see for myself what I would do with my life. That was when I spent 6 months trying to find a job related to what I was trained in and I discovered that, unlike what I was told in school and by my parents, the market for people with Electrical/electronic degrees is skewed heavily since it was a popular profession, thanks to the tech boom, and many immigrant engineers are vying for the same jobs. I realized then, that it was folly to follow the crowd. If I followed my parents' directions and they got their perspective on what everyone else was doing, I was going to be one of many, and likely out-competed in this increasingly globalized economy. Subsequent relocation of the R&D centre in the first company I worked for to India only reinforced this view.

This left me with the profound question of what to do with my life. I tried to search for the things I want to do: I took up different hobbies, I volunteered, I helped manage a election campaign, I traveled, and I started paying attention to the world around me and learning everything I can that interests me. I also stopped talking about my future with my parents, for they don't understand why I have this dilemma. To be honest, I still do not know the answer to this day. The only thing I know now, is that I do not wish to live for anyone else, and that I will not stop until I find a path in life I can devote to. I know this may sound incredibly selfish, but I believe settling for anything less will do no justice for all the kind people in my life who give me support.

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