Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chaos Theory and My Own Career

In "You Majored in What?" Katherine Brooks dispels the notion of an assumed linear path between one's major and career in favor of a chaos-inspired career trajectory.  Essentially, she suggests that most career development paths are more akin to the butterfly effect, rather than the straightforward routes so many college students initially envision (or desire).  With this premise, I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head, and I'd like to offer up my own non-linear career path as evidence.

I've always loved learning.  As a history major at Middlebury College, I interned in the Department of Education in Washington, DC and later wrote my senior thesis on education legislation passed as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty.  This interest in education policy and the history of education, compounded by my idealistic desire to “change the world, motivated me to join Teach For America after graduation.  After two incredibly difficult, yet rewarding years in the first-grade trenches, my naive aspirations to transform the educational inequities in our country as a policy-maker were replaced by my desire to return to my beloved halls of academia.  And so I applied to six graduate schools - three History PhD programs specializing in the History of Education, and three Education Master’s programs with a focus on Higher Education.  Despite my instinct to dive into the seeming security of a seven-year long PhD program, it was too difficult to turn down the all-expenses-paid one-year Master’s program at an elite university in my hometown.  The next thing I knew, I was back in Boston interviewing for graduate assistantships advertised at the multitude of Boston area college campuses.

I ultimately accepted a position in the Office of Career, Research, and International Opportunities, helping to manage a $70 million dollar grant program designed to fund international summer experiences and internships for undergraduate students.  In this process I re-discovered my passion and interest for the field of career advising and career services.  I say re-discovered because, in retrospect, there were some tell-tale signs pointing me in this direction.  For one thing, I’ve always been interested in what other people are up to, and specifically curious about new to me jobs or industries.  Additionally, as a college student I practiced what I currently preach.  I utilized career services, applied for and received summer funding for my DOE internship, and started my job search early.  And during my stint as a TFA Corps Member, I volunteered as a recruiter, thereby gaining inadvertent experience in what would later become my chosen career field.  I'm not sure if I ever could have predicted or foreseen this path for myself as an undergrad, which certainly speaks to Brooks’ assertion that "unplanned events and emerging conditions [change an] individual's circumstances." What I do know is that along this path I’ve built on my skills, abilities, and diverse work experiences in order to get to where I am today. And who knows, maybe in five or ten years I’ll have another similar, but equally unpredictable story to tell.

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