How many students at Manchester really know what they want? I mean really know. Like familiar-with-their-entire-life-goals-down-to-a-T sort of know.
Having just completed my undergrad last year, I can tell you that most students, even in their final year, still have very little concept of where they want to go next. In fact, lots of my peers (including myself) finished their degree with totally different concept of career, interests, and self from where they began.
I’m someone who tried out lots of courses, picked the wrong one, and then had to totally reinvent my University experience to suit my interests. Over the course of a few years, I managed to identify what I really wanted out of life, and put in a lot of work to make those things happen.
So, if you’re having a hard time discovering your true interests, finding your dream career, or are wondering how to tailor your degree to suit your bigger interests, this is for you.
Do some soul searching.
Ah yes, the initial steps of career consideration. There is nothing more daunting as a teen than projectile launching yourself into adulthood upon a single decision.
Although it may be too late to change what you studied in A-levels, high school, undergrad, or whatever you may have done before this, it’s never to late to evaluate your aspirations.
Let’s forget for a moment what you’re presently studying at Manchester, and take this from a much deeper perspective. What topics, academic or not, genuinely interest you? What sorts of environments do you find comfortable, invigorating, draining? Do you like working with people? What about for people? How much money do you need to make to get by or to be happy? Where do you want to live?
These all seem like disturbingly large questions, so I’ll give you my own perspective as an example:
As an undergrad, I studied geology. But beyond that I love creative writing, 20th century history, and natural sciences. I hate working in a lab, but enjoy working alone. I like my work to have a larger human impact beyond rocks, and enjoy being creative. And most of all, I value living abroad (I lived in the States before coming here) and having the flexibility to travel.
Sounds like I kind of have my act together. So how did I get here? Personal experience. I tried working in a lab, and I tried working freelance. I tried taking various academic subjects, joining different societies, and picking up different hobbies. I lived at home and I lived abroad. I made lists of what felt genuine and fulfilling, and what felt forced and empty.
I’m not going to lie – developing a strong sense of self takes time. But if you want to feel confident in your academic and career choices, you must diligently observe and react to your natural needs.
So take some time to know yourself, write it down, and go from there.
Think beyond the classroom.
Let’s say it’s year two of your degree, and you gradually find yourself falling out of love with your course. What seemed like a solid fit years ago no longer parallels your interests, and you’re facing a sophomore slump.
This story is all too familiar. After a year of studying geology, I began to drift. I was overcome by doubt, fearful that I would forever be locked in to a field that no longer suited me.
That’s when the trend of soul-searching makes its second appearance. If I no longer loved geology, what did I love? Writing, photography, films, art. I evaluated how I could incorporate these topics into my life and my studies. I tended to my personal passions, building an empire of knowledge that could be applied beyond my actual course.
While in university, especially if you’re feeling doubtful of your selected course, never underestimate the importance of hobbies. You are more than a single academic topic, and it’s healthy to nurture your varied interests. Don’t drop your arts, sports, or other outlets just because they don’t go along with your academic course.
In the end, your innate curiosities may give you a better sense of self. Plus, you never know what can be combined to become a perfect career for you.
Lend a hand.
Just as hobbies may contribute to you finding your true needs, volunteering outside school may do the same.
Throughout my life, I volunteered regularly for a local theatre society. And for what? Clearly, this was totally unrelated to my geology curriculum. But I loved it, and I kept coming back.
Then, during my final year of university, my volunteerism single-handedly landed my place in graduate school. Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Let me explain: During my grad school interview, I was asked to provide an example of when I combined science and communication. It never dawned on me that this organisation did just that, and I was able to rattle off my list of volunteer-related credentials. It turns out that my volunteering was the most impressive facet of my interview, and I found out soon after that I was offered a place here in Manchester.
Maybe volunteering doesn’t always work out so ideally, but don’t underestimate the importance of getting involved in your community. Not only does volunteering promote general happiness, but it’s another great way to pursue extracurricular interests for a noble cause.
Work, work, work.
So, volunteering sounds lovely in every way, but we’re students. We have to earn something to merely feed ourselves, let alone pay tuition (ugh). Work can, and often does, help you figure out your calling and help you reach your career goals.
As and undergrad, I found out quickly that I could never work in a geology lab. The thought of crushing rocks my entire life simultaneously crushed me. For years I felt as though I could never find a “relevant” part time job during the semester, assuming every opportunity didn’t suit my interests or aspirations.
But during my last year, I became more diligent in the hunt. I regularly checked the department billboard, emailed my professors, and flagged important emails. I eventually found jobs both as a student teacher and as a tutor for a first year geology class, which sounded delightfully more appealing than the lab work my peers were pursuing. And, much like my volunteering, these roles provided perfect practice and basis for my current curriculum.
Of course, I know that academically-inclined jobs are not always in the cards. But never fear: every job can teach you a bit about yourself. It’s cliché, but true.
After working retail throughout university, I learned that constant interaction drains me, and I prefer to work in solitude. Working an office job one summer made me realise that the cubicle lifestyle is not for me, and that anything related to business wore me down.
Critically evaluate every position you hold, and consider: What does this environment say about me? Is this what I want forever, and if not, where can I go from here?
Make a plan, and think big.
Now that you’ve figured out your interests – academic, personal, or professional – it’s time to actively combine them to find your perfect match.
This is when I started utilising my university’s Careers Service. Like my undergrad university, Manchester’s career experts are there to talk you through your interests, providing you with choices you never thought existed. I had no idea science journalism, my current goal, even existed until I talked to my career advisor back home.
Additionally, start doing some research on your own. Interested in grad school? Hop online and explore the universities that appeal to you, and check out what courses they offer. I found my master’s programme by simply exploring Manchester’s website, and once I read through its description I immediately knew it was a perfect fit.
Remember that if you’re struggling to figure things out at Manchester, you are not alone. Your peers, professors, and professional services are there to help you make the most of your University experience.
It just starts with genuinely, deeply making an effort to know yourself, and everything will fall into place from there.