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Cross roads at 17 ---- on career choices. Dr. Krishnaja A. P. 7-7-2009.

On the threshold of seventeen – Life at your feet. Yet confused which way to take. This is the
predicament of many a teenager. Maths, Biology, Commerce, Arts; engineers, doctors, lawyers,
chartered accountants, if not dentists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, you name it. HSC exams, CET,
more CET. Everyone goes through this rigmarole. Coaching classes further promote this culture.
Some of the more famous coaching classes breathe studies. 7 AM to 2 PM with two small breaks in
between to fill some petrol or diesel, otherwise survive on just plain polluted Mumbai air for
nourishment of your brain. Come back home, finish homework and on one of the rare occasions
when they have not completed the homework, call up the parents and inform, as if they are doing a
yeoman service. They expect their students to be robots and to a large extent succeed in making
them so. Catch them early, set them on a workaholic culture seems to be the motto. Job or career is
only a tool to enable us to live life. That alone is not life.

Now look at it from an entirely different perspective. All is not lost, even if you don’t follow these
well-traveled roads. I speak from experience, my own and my daughters’ post HSC career choices.
A mental preparedness to handle disappointment, in terms of not obtaining the marks
desired, or a seat in a chosen field or admission in your first choice of college is absolutely

I was only 13 ½ yrs when I gave my SSC exams. There was a lot of discussion whether a friend of
mine and I will be allowed to sit for our HSC exams (Pre-degree in Kerala) at 15 ½ yrs in 1967.
Fate sorted out the issue. I was just a spectator. I had paratyphoid and could not appear for the Pre-
degree exams in March 1967. My friend did appear for the exams and came out with flying colours.
She got admission into medical college, but finally could not join, as she was under-age!! So much
for destiny. I sat for the exams in October, in the process lost one year, lost medical admissions by
one mark. Cried and cried as if everything was lost. As years passed by I realized medicine was not
my passion, I would not have enjoyed the medical profession. Don't become another cookie from
the typical cookie cutter. Be your own person and think for yourself.

To many a teenager, career choices are not very clear at this juncture. Few do have very focused
vision of what they want to do and put in all efforts to achieve the same. Each one is different. We
are unique. We are very lucky if we know what interests us early in life because then we don't have
to travel through by lanes.

Personally, the thrill and excitement of earning my first salary is something, I remember to this day.
My first job as a telegraphist, immediately after my graduation, saw me metamorphose into an
independent person, gave my first lesson in interaction in a professional hierarchy, with men and
women of diverse age groups. I was trained in Morse code and Teleprinting, though the former was
more to my liking. I enjoyed every moment of my stay at CTO, Calicut, one of the largest telegraph
offices in Kerala in 1972. For more than 36 years now, my professional life has been in scientific
research, with a good portion devoted to Human Cytogenetics. Looking back, I think my scientific
career has been moulded by chance rather than by design. In each new venture, I tried to build on
what had gone before, with out wasting any of it. Training in Fish Genetics, Pollution Toxicology,
Mutagenicity Studies in Drosophila, Human Cytogenetics, followed by the study of Radiation
effects, Radiation Cytogenetics, finally led on to my interest in Human Molecular Cytogenetics.

In the end, the responsibility of making our career successful is ours. We can always find
interesting and valuable things to do, no matter where we begin or end. A successful career
does not just happen; it has to be created. And to a certain extent, we are the ones to create it.

We have to decide which academic degree is most appropriate for us. Many do find satisfying
careers in a variety of positions after the bachelor's degree. Still others find that a master's degree
equips them well for professional careers. A PhD degree will probably be required for those who
aspire for research or teaching careers. Ultimately, no degree guarantees lifetime employment.
Many might still have to change jobs and even careers during our life—perhaps more than once. At
certain times we have to trust our gut feeling. If we enjoy Math and Science, then we will probably
like to explore these subjects at a deeper level and naturally be inclined to choose careers in related
fields. In both science and engineering, new fields are emerging constantly. A few years ago, the
present scientific and engineering fields, like biotechnology, bioinformatics, bioengineering,
computer-aided designs, environmental engineering, the Internet, or multimedia libraries were quite
unheard of. There are tremendous career opportunities in health and bioscience-related fields
available now and in the near future. These are the most exciting times for biologists specially.
The chosen career can be in any field. The choice is endless. It could be in the broad areas of
technology, science, engineering, medicine, commerce, law, management, mass media, education,
hospitality, travel, outdoors, event management, aesthetics etc. Some of the new emerging fields are
bioinformatics, cyber law, intellectual property rights law, forensic sciences, knowledge process
outsourcing, gemology, leather technology, medical transcription etc. The traditional fields of
medicine, engineering, and CA are still going strong.

Finance is not a constraint for higher studies these days, because of the liberal bank loans
available. Many banks offer study loans at competitive rates of interest. However, appropriate
financial planning is necessary. It is easy to make a financial assessment of full-term professional
courses as well as the repayment schedule, even in case of degrees from foreign universities.

Education is the first priority for all of us who want to be employed in a satisfying job that will also
fetch us the much needed pay cheque. A higher education is highly valued and sought after in all
developing countries, because it promises higher standards of living, better health care and more.
Definitely, a good education is a gift of knowledge that can widen your choices in life.
Education helps you to gain insight into your own life and to turn experiences into a learning

With the current layoff scenario, many look towards education as a chance for a fresh start in a
competitive market or securing better employment opportunities later. The truth is, the more you
know and understand the field you want to work in, the better your chances to be successful at
work. Continuing education makes you a better-rounded person and keeps you sharp.

Choosing a career is a major decision and a rather difficult process. Our career choice will become
much clearer if we focus first on what we value in life rather than on the job landed. Our interests,
aptitude and personality are critical components of our career choice. It is always helpful to
make a comparative list of reasons why we like or why we don’t like to study arts / science /
commerce / engineering / medicine. Compare the two lists. Also make a list of the positive and
negative aspects of various careers in which we are interested. Look out for people with these career
backgrounds in which we are ultimately interested, ask them about their work and how they reached
where they are today, what do they find most satisfying and what most disagreeable? How do they
spend their time? Then, judge for ourselves does that life described appeal to us?
Social skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, are increasingly important in the
majority of jobs. They are used when you lead a team to solve problems, give a presentation, or
participate in a seminar. According to a report dated July 5 2009, Times of India, even the
Maharashtra medical education department is all set to launch a people-management skill
programme for doctors. Being very good writers and speakers are central to many jobs. All these
apply to many fields in science, medicine, engineering, management and can be developed.
Students who emerge as young scientists, doctors and engineers with a deficit of social and
communication skills might be severely handicapped in pursuing a satisfying career. Mentoring is
an important aspect of most professions. It is the most crucial element in determining career
success. It is sheer luck or chance to end up with a good mentor. Many careers are withered
prematurely, because of bad mentoring and absolute rogue bosses, who want to lap up the
credit, without making any worthwhile contributions. This is truer of scientific research. Bad
leadership, rogue mentoring and favouritisms are the curse of Indian science, especially in
hierarchical institutions which are protocol conscious. Unless it is revamped completely,
Indian science will continue to limp. The ability to perform your work ethically is also a crucial
attribute. Responsible conduct is an underpinning of any successful career. Sharing credit for work
performed is also important in any field.

Take care to see that we don’t choose a career that goes against our deepest convictions, values and
beliefs, even if we do not get our heart’s desire. At times, the cultural and social milieu of family
and community are found to be influential in teenager’s selection of a career. In such instances,
awareness strategies for parents and community can promote sound career decisions. Our
perception of the lifestyle associated with our career choice can often influence our selection of
professional specializations, especially in case of girls.

Entrepreneurship is also emerging as an alternate career choice. Reasons may be numerous - the love
of challenge, need to be independent, need for greater flexibility, intense desire to turn a hobby into a
profession. It could also be triggered by compelling situations such as layoffs or frustration with the
current workplace culture. We should judge whether we have the spark to initiate a business and run
it successfully. We need to cultivate self-reliance, self-confidence, perseverance, and good physical
health in order to succeed. A good initiative, competitiveness, and a strong need to achieve are also
essential. Definitely, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. But for those willing to work hard
and take a chance, it culminates in the fulfillment of their dreams.

After all, life is about choices. Career choice is one of the most difficult and the most important
decisions, all of us have made or have to make in our lives. It is a decision worth much thought and
deliberation. Career choices are never made based on just a few criteria alone. If we do not enjoy
what we do, although the job brings us great monetary benefits and perks, then we are
foolishly expending a large part of our life. If a job is all satisfaction but no pay and perks,
things can get difficult. It is like a double-edged weapon, so we have to make our choices
wisely. Passion is the key word in selecting a career. Don't select something because it is the in
thing. Let not our career selection be based on mere whims and fancies.

For that, we need to know ourselves first. The first thing we need to determine is what our interests
are. Many of us never spare a moment to think what actually our likes and dislikes are. Consider our
personal likes and dislikes. Accept our own realities. Know our capabilities. Do we want to work in
a fast- paced world, or would we rather do something that moves slowly? Do we prefer to work
alone or in a group? Would we want fixed office hours or would we like to work from home? We
may not have these choices in the beginning. But then we can work towards them. Ask ourselves
where we want to be in ten years. Sometimes all this self-analysis leads us nowhere. We end up
more confused. In that case talk to people whose opinion matters to us, whom we think can guide
us. They can evaluate our interests, personality, skills and values. He or she may be able to show us
how all these things combined, play a role in choosing a career. An internship may help us identify
our core strengths better. At times, things don't always appear what they seem. For example, if we
take journalism, we may not be so great at the actual writing part, but may be good at editing.

As Howard Roark puts it nicely in Ayn Rand's “The Fountainhead”, one of my all time favourites,
"I have, let's say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. If I find no joy in it,
then I'm only condemning myself to sixty years of torture." So, be sure of your steps, even if you
take the wrong step, always have the courage to correct the mistake anytime in your life`s journey.
Ultimately, in choosing a career, we need to discover our core passion. When we are able to pursue
what we love to do, then we enjoy our profession and the pay cheque.
In the end, be prepared to go with the flow. Though a little unpredictable, and insecure, it is
much more exciting that way.