For many college students, one of the biggest fears of their collegiate career is a fear of the unknown. Some might fear the unknowns of the job market they are pursuing, others might even fear the unknown of finding any job that is a match for them. Needless to say, the uncharted territory that is life after graduation is as equally exhilarating as it is anxiety provoking.
I was inspired to write a blog on this topic after meeting with Katherine Spiech, a student of mine with whom I spoke extensively about these very issues. Having made significant strides in her own career exploration, job search strategies, and self-understanding; I asked her to share some of the insights she has gleaned during our time together for students who may be grappling with these same questions.
Aaron: Can you give me a bit of background on your academic and career path at this point in your life?
Katherine: I knew I wanted to become a doctor since I was 8 years old— I remember feeling drawn to the idea of healing others. As I got older, I also became intrigued about the brain and how its function affects our health and life experience. Through my past experience with depression, I have become passionate about helping others with their mental illnesses as well. Psychiatry seems like the best option for me to help others in the way that I want to. Hence, majoring in Neuroscience and becoming a premed student in college was the perfect fit for me. After working in an undergraduate research lab that studies brain functioning, I am even more convinced that I will feel the most fulfilled pursuing a career in mental health. In the mean time, before medical school, I will be working as a clinical researcher in nephrology. It’s not the brain… but hey, kidney function is very important to proper brain function!
Aaron: It sounds like you’ve done a lot of exploration. How did you end up leaning more towards Psychiatry rather than any other professions involving mental health?
Katherine: It’s funny, it’s only when I got to Senior year that I started questioning if med-school is 100% my best fit. There are a lot of things I like about the idea of being a psychiatrist, but as with any path there are cons to it. I realized that I got tunnel vision with my career path and had not done any further exploration. I did a lot of shadowing this past year with clinical psychologists, developmental psychologists, psychiatrists, and some others. But when I shadowed the psychiatrist I got butterflies observing his work. I think meeting with these people really opened my eyes to what a day in the life looks like for them— it helped make my path more clear.
Aaron: What advice would you give to students in similar situations as yourself? Both premed and otherwise.
Katherine: I’d say that you should avoid tunnel vision at all costs. When you endlessly focus on one thing you can sometimes lose sight of other options and even outside interests that matter to you. Be open-minded to the possibility that your life can go in different directions, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if your path leads down a different road. I’m not quite sure what exactly the future will hold for me, but I’m learning to come to terms with that fact. I’d also say that you should start questioning your overall career goals as early as possible. Waiting until senior year makes it tough because you are figuring a lot more out in a shorter period of time rather than gradually doing so across your undergraduate years.
Aaron: As a follow up to that last question, I’m wondering what you felt was most helpful about our past meetings in relation to your understanding of yourself and how that informs your future plans?
Katherine: One of the more helpful things about meeting with you was the linear progression of our appointments and topics that we discussed during them. So we started with exploring careers by putting out feelers. I met with those psychologists and psychiatrists, and took a bit away from what they shared. Then we moved on into resumes and finally interviewing for jobs. I especially liked the notion of thinking about interview questions on 2 levels: What the surface level question is asking and what the question is really aimed at addressing. I think that just having a conversation about it all was like having a mirror in front of me, and helped me better understand myself and what my values and goals are on a deeper level.
Katherine, like most seniors that will have graduated by the time this blog is posted, does not know exactly what she wants to do or where she wants to do it. But we seemed to agree that this doesn’t mean she is destined to fail or even that she is unsuccessful at this point in her life. Quite to the contrary in fact, as Katherine is both excitedly and anxiously looking forward to what shape and form her career will take over time. Graduation is a ceremony of completion and finality, but it is also paradoxically referred to as commencement. It is a time in which you end one chapter of your life, while also embarking on a new start or new beginning.
The Walter Center for Career Achievement is open during the summer and continues to meet with students during this time. If you’re concerned about what unknowns lie ahead of you once you graduate, come see us! Career Coaches want to help you put a confident foot forward in that new chapter.