With the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic still relatively unknown, it has become harder and harder to predict what the future will hold. With that in mind, it is equally difficult to plan ahead, whether your plans are for schooling, job prospects, or even something as personal as one’s own health concerns. Especially with the current status quo of American politics, it is very difficult to formulate a game plan to tackle future obstacles. While the future has in the past been a lit street with diverging paths, this same future is now a foggy street with low visibility and there is no one to rely on but yourself and your ingenuity. How can you take advantage of the resources around you to light your path?
Some things that I have found that are of great value during this time did not seem like an option for me during less stressful times. But now that most outside activities are prohibited, the only thing people can do is utilize the online resources we have at our disposal. The first thing that I found very helpful in relighting my future path was Linkedin Learning. Previously known as Lynda, this has been a resource that was available to anyone who seeks it; the only issue was the amount of time we had on our hands. Now things are different, and we do have the time to manually relight the path to our desired future.
Linkedin Learning is available through your USC account and comes with a myriad of courses that ranges from business skills to creative design, and even more technical computer skills. So whether you had your eyes set on one specific goal or you had no tangible goal yet, there are many concepts that can be explored on Linkedin Learning. As a matter of fact, the resources on the platform could very easily help you narrow down your desired path. I, for example, had the opportunity to explore various types of computer programs that I would have not had the opportunity to explore from just my core courses alone. Therefore, not only can you find new resources to explore personal interests, but this tool can also help give you some direction and skills to follow your desired career path.
Starting something new can be quite daunting – whether it is starting a new job after quitting your first, settling in with a new roommate after moving out from your old college dorm, or declaring a new major after leaving your former field of interest. While those who are motivated by new challenges would be thrilled to charge into the great unknown, most people would feel apprehensive about stepping outside of their comfort zone and walking down a new path in their life. Let’s face it – fear is a primal human emotion that everyone has felt at least once in their lives, and facing uncertainty will arouse a degree of fear in anyone who is about to start something new. However, if you were faced with a situation where you had to decide whether to stick with the familiar ways of life that no longer interest you or to take a leap of faith towards a path untraveled, what would you do?
The year 2016 was a crucial yet tumultuous year in my academic career. Back then, I was a Ph.D. student in the field of Organic Chemistry. It was not that I was performing poorly academically, but more that I was losing interest in the field that I was working in. Having studied chemistry for 4 years throughout my undergraduate years and excelling academically in that field, I was convinced that chemical research was the right career path for me and remained in that field through graduate school. However, after my first year into the program I started to feel something was amiss. Even though my experiments and projects were going smoothly, the fervor I had when I first undertook my research project for faculty labs was no longer there, and nothing in this field seemed to stimulate me as much as it used to. In short, I was losing interest in the academic field I had centered my life around.
The loss of interest must have been quite obvious to others: My Primary Investigator (the person guiding me in my research project) and I had a long talk about this, and he suggested that maybe organic chemistry was not the right field for me. He proposed two options – if I truly thought chemistry was what I wanted to study, I could stay in his lab, but I would have to put more enthusiasm into my work; otherwise, I could switch disciplines to some other field in chemistry or find another academic field that interests me more. If I were to go with the latter option, I would either join a different research group of my interest in the chemistry department or leave the chemistry department altogether and join another department. That meant I would have to start over with a different project or delve into another unexplored academic field.
Throughout the 10 months after that discussion with my professor, my life went through a sharp turn of sorts. I would get into intermittent arguments with my family over my decision, fervent discussions with my friends in New York about possible options, and numerous advising sessions with various career/academic advising officers on campus to seek advice about what to do. For nearly 6 years of my life after high school graduation I had been studying only chemistry and related scientific disciplines and had no experience in any other field. Oftentimes I got conflicting suggestions from everyone: I had one person tell me that starting over completely in an undergraduate institution for a second bachelor’s degree could work out; another source told me that I should jump straight into the job market with a master’s degree in chemistry; a third suggestion was to seek a job in a different field other than chemistry after completing some useful certificate programs. Ultimately, the decision was up to me – I had to make a choice from all the options available to me based on my interests, priorities, and any constraining factors.
In the end, I decided to stick with advice from a close friend of mine and a family friend who worked as a software engineer in a Banking firm based in Manhattan: Learn how to program and look for a job as a programmer. When my friend first suggested this idea I found it to be quite preposterous: I didn’t know where to begin, had no idea how a computer program worked, and just looking at the work stations of engineering students scared the wits out of me. How on Earth would I learn how to code at all? Fortunately this good friend of mine was patient enough to direct me to the right points where I would learn the very basics of coding. He first directed me to Codeacademy, an online website dedicated to teaching various programming languages to people who wished to begin programming. It wasn’t a major step, like attending a boot camp for programmers and jumping straight into the job market, but it was a start. After taking several online courses, I found them quite engrossing and decided to continue learning and laying down the groundwork for understanding how to write a program.
Realizing that I would be graduating during a global pandemic was gut wrenching. The first time I graduated from college, earning a BFA in 2015, I faced so many fears and uncertainties. Now in 2020, I’ll be graduating with a masters degree in December. A few months ago, I began to worry about getting through these difficult times. Normal post grad anxiety became magnified and my heart goes out to Spring 2020 college graduates. Despite 2015 and 2020 being very different fiscal years, I believe some of the post grad lessons I learned can help current graduates. Part of getting rid of post grad nerves is coming up with a game plan. We all come from different backgrounds, yet we can all make the best choice in the moment, create a toolbox for the future, and market our skills to employers.
Making the Best Possible Choice
When I was a recent college graduate with a degree in Painting, I struggled to find a job in the arts that could pay for the cost of living in San Francisco. Through a college connection, I became an art teacher for a non-profit, but it was barely paying the bills. I started seeking other positions, and was contacted by a recruiter with an open contracted Customer Service Representative position for Square, Inc. At the time, I was torn about pursuing a job in tech when I was passionate about art. “How could I afford to pursue my dreams?” I wondered.
In the moment, I made what appeared to be the best decision. It felt like none of the options were going to help pursue my dreams and I needed to pay the bills. Little did I know at the time that working in tech gave me invaluable skills I’d continue to use for years. After taking the job, I found aspects of it that aligned with my passion for helping others, examining language, and creating content. I also didn’t fully realize until working at Square that some of the skills I learned at art school lent a hand to working with technology. Even though I only stayed in tech for a year, I don’t regret making the best financial choice for that period of my life because it ultimately improved my skillset for working in the area I was passionate about, and you can do the same.
Creating a Toolbox
As future employees, we need to demonstrate what is in our metaphorical toolbox. Lessons you learned at USC will help you, but as recent graduates now you can look for other avenues to gain additional skills for your toolbox. When I took the contracted position for Square, I looked at it as a post grad learning opportunity. Instead of paying for a university, I was taking on a new role of getting paid to learn in an entry level position. Not only did I improve the skills I had from my undergrad experience, but I also gained new technical skills and experience adapting to a new work environment. While the job market isn’t what we expected for 2020, I recommend taking this time to strategize. Ask yourself, what skills am I lacking? Can this position make me a better candidate for my dream job? Even with limited options you can always add to your toolbox.