As an academic it is natural that students and their parent think of me as someone who can provide reasonable counsel on higher education and career planning. However, as a hopeless romantic I am utterly incompetent (among other things) when it comes ‘guiding’ students on ‘what to do next’.
I cannot help being baffled by questions like, “which course is better to take”? or “which line of study has better prospects”. Hopeless romantic because I respond with stupid questions like, “what do you (or your kid) really want to do? Which activity gives you joy?”
I can only answer one type of question effectively, which unfortunately is rarely asked – “I would like to pursue XYZ career, please let me know how best I can go about it”?
I can think of three interrelated problems when it comes to college education. Some are related to how investors behave.
1. Most children do not know what to do with themselves after school. Most parents are not willing to give their kids some time off after school to think in peace. Just like many investors they do not have a goal. At least with investing the counsellor can point out goals like retirement and children’s education which are obvious. This is not possible with career counselling. In both cases, time lost, is time lost.
2. Just like investors who do not understand the instrument, but want ‘good returns’, parents want to know if the prospects are ‘good’ without understanding the nitty gritty involved. The kid has to like the course to start with. Even then, they may not like it later. The institute maybe good, but as luck would turn out, the teachers involved maybe crappy. The kid has to work hard, evolve into an individual capable of impressive potential employers. Simply too many unknowns. Just like I cannot start a SIP and hope it will turn out well in the end, I cannot a enroll a child in a ‘good’ college and expect guaranteed returns!
An education counsellor cannot guarantee success (= high paying job before graduation) just like a financial counsellor/advisor/coach cannot guarantee ‘high returns’.
To most parents good = strict/disciplined! How on Earth will dress code, avoiding contact with the opposite sex help the child at college level in any way! Beats me.
Would you believe if I told you that many parents are not comfortable with their child choosing unconventional career path?! Perhaps you would! Which is why the ‘good prospect’ question comes up!
Now would you believe that many parents are not comfortable with their child ‘studying further’ after a PG degree? In particular a Phd. I find this baffling. Kids are told to become engineers. No one asks anyone to do a Phd! Almost all the time it is self-driven. If I had kid who will do that, I will pat myself on the back for a job well done. Yet there are many parents – financial well off, with no compulsion for the kid to work – who are against their children doing a Phd. They are sacred that this would make them unemployable! They have a kid who does not want to become an employee working ‘under’ a chain of bosses and wants to follow his/her passion, but they think it is a bad career move. I don’t know how to react to this!
3. Individuality is stamped out by our society. You are considered a freak if you have independent thoughts, spend time on your own and do not hang out with friends. Our society as a whole does not have the maturity to handle people who do not conform. To me this is the root of all evil in our system. This is the reason we rarely do well in individual sports, the reason we have not produced pathbreaking scientific work in India. The sad truth is, Indians need to go out to spread their wings.
I admire a student who says, “I want to dropout of college so that I pursue XYZ”. If I see a strong enough individual, I will and have recommended that they follow their heart. I think we need more individuals to drop out of college or perhaps even school to follow their passion. We (the educational system and parents) need to provide them with the necessary support (say, with a pass to explore for a year and comeback to continue their degree).
Let us leave out those who are economically poor and are dependent on the kids to work. The rest ought not to treat college as ‘just in case’ insurance. The main reason that prevents parents from supporting unconventional career path.
To be unconventional should not be so unconventional. Our future depends on it.