At some point during our college lives, we all check off a box indicating our major. For many people, this is when they begin to box in their futures as well.
This box is meant to be broken.
In total, 12 long years of my life were dedicated to obtaining my PhD in Chemistry, and I loved every second of it. I published over 15 pieces in international journals, and I won a couple of outstanding research achievement awards. However, like many people, I realized that my future opportunities and interests weren’t aligned with what I thought they would be when I selected my major — and that’s okay. In my field of research, nanotechnology, it takes about 20 years before any work reaches end users. I’m too impatient for that. I wanted to do something where I could see the value — and impact — more quickly.
Additionally, I always found myself attracted to the analytical thinking and problem-solving aspects of chemistry, but not necessarily the content. So while I might not be combining ammonium hydroxide and nitric acid on a daily basis, I use my problem-solving skills every day. In other words, my education did not go to waste.
You’ll be surprised how connected the skills you learn in college are — regardless of your major. These days, it’s not just about the subject.
No field is studied in a vacuum. Whether your major is English or Accounting, you will acquire many applicable skills that will help you in a variety of scenarios. Stay on your toes; you never know when these skills will come in handy.
I noticed something very powerful about utilizing myriad skills while I was a teaching assistant at Penn State. Every week, I held office hours, and roughly 10 students showed up. Interestingly, most of these students asked me the exact same question. I could have spent my time answering the same question 10 times, but I decided to utilize a technology product that allowed me to collect students' questions in advance and answer them via video. That way, students could get their answers in a convenient way, and I could use my office hours for more complicated or unique problems. The solution was simple, but the implications were huge. Connections like these lead to innovative products, businesses, and career opportunities.
You might find yourself wondering whether your lack of a formal business education will prevent you from succeeding in the business world. That statement couldn’t be more false.
While the necessity of a formal education is extremely important, there’s no better teacher than life itself. Today’s top business leaders have learned their trades by doing. Surround yourself with people, decisions, and energy that provide an entrepreneurial feel. Whether that means joining a startup, working for free, or interning, the best way to learn is to get involved in any and every way possible.
In my opinion, business school is a better place to network than to gain practical experience. No amount of education can replace the hands-on experience of actually working in an organization. What you learn on the job is priceless. Armed with the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed, you’ll be a much better candidate when future positions open.
No matter your major, here are three skills you’ll gather throughout your time in higher education that will be critical to your future success.
Data collection and analysis. Every student goes through the process of figuring out where to buy the cheapest textbook, or which app to use to take notes in class. This is simply an exercise in collecting information and analyzing it for price or convenience. As you do this more and more often, you will get better at it until you’ve earned a lifelong skill.
Structured thinking and planning. How did you plan your schedule amongst dozens of courses? You have a goal in mind: You want to graduate in four years with a degree, and you plan backward from that.
Persistence, experience, and efficiency. Are you getting better at managing your homework, picking classes, choosing professors, and making excuses for missing deadlines? This is persistence. When you do something more often, you become more adept at it. This is true for any skill in life, but the realization that this happens will prove very valuable as you take on a new project, job, or career.
While I was working toward my PhD, it required all three skills. With the foundation of these three skills, experience and life will teach you the rest, regardless of the major listed on your degree.
I can mix chemicals like a boss, but now I can also be a boss. I didn’t let my major dictate my future, and neither should you.