There’s more to life than career fairs and co-ops
Last week, three Rice alumni who work at General Electric wrote an in which they called on freshmen and sophomores to quit making excuses, stop messing around with fruitless activities like college leadership or studying abroad and apply for professional internships as early as possible in their undergraduate careers. While I do not question that the authors were well intentioned, their piece makes sweeping assumptions that are ignorant, damaging and simply incorrect.
The most glaring generalization the authors make is that every Rice student — at least, every Rice student that matters — is an engineer. The authors exclusively use science- and engineering-related examples, making casual references to avionics systems, co-ops and PHYS 101 throughout the piece, but not once do they specify that this article is intended only for certain majors. They couldn’t be bothered to consider the many Rice students (myself included) who have no idea what airplane avionics are and who you couldn’t pay to take PHYS 101 or work at an engineering co-op. The lack of a disclaimer is a slap in the face that sends a clear message: if we’re not STEM majors, we don’t matter.
Implicit erasure is one thing, and most of us non-STEM majors, along with the many STEM majors who don’t fit the mold laid out by this article, are used to dealing with it. But the authors went on to explicitly criticize and invalidate all experiences that aren’t professional internships, going as far as making a list of experiences that “recruiters like us” value less: “O-Week coordinating, student-run businesses, and residential college leadership, to name a few.” They explain that while these activities may complement professional experience, they should never be prioritized over it.
As someone who advised at Baker, works at Coffeehouse and spent my summer doing Rice in France, this sentence felt personal. My experiences have helped me develop skills that will be relevant in a professional setting. I’ve learned how to successfully manage my time, how to communicate and work efficiently with others, and what it means to be a leader and to have others depend on me. If an interviewer were to ask me a “tell me about a time when…” question, I would have a diverse set of unique but applicable experiences to discuss.
And we haven’t even considered personal growth and gain. The authors imply that everything a Rice student accomplishes as an undergraduate should connect directly to a future career. What happened to doing something because you like it? What’s so wrong with spending your summer counseling at the camp you’ve attended for 10 years, working alongside the people who watched you grow up? Why shouldn’t someone spend their vacation at home with their friends and family if they miss them? I wanted to learn French not because it would help my career (and it probably won’t), but because “Amélie” is my favorite movie. Maybe I didn’t maximize my professional potential this summer, but now I can use French idioms and serve Camembert cheese properly, and I’m a better person for it.
Imposter syndrome, a phenomenon of persistently doubting one’s own accomplishments, runs deep on this campus. This shouldn’t be surprising — most high achievers have experienced this feeling to some degree. Ironically, in the first paragraph of last week’s op-ed one of the authors shared their own experience with imposter syndrome. They wrote that as a freshman, they felt like they couldn’t measure up to other engineers and were insecure about their classroom performance. As I’m sure these authors and everyone else who’s experienced imposter syndrome know, it’s not an easy feeling to shake. It takes courage to not let fears of inadequacy stop you from pursuing less conventional activities — and it doesn’t help when someone goes out of their way to tell you those pursuits aren’t worthwhile.
The authors of last week’s op-ed wrote with the intention of giving advice to Rice students. I have a few issues with their advice, so here’s mine:
We all worked extraordinarily hard to get to Rice, and we all deserve to be here. Enjoy it. Join the clubs you love. Pursue the opportunities that scare you. Do the things that give you peace of mind and let you have fun. If that means going after an internship your freshman year, by all means do what’s best for you. But that’s no more valid than spending your time writing poems for R2, running a fashion club or tending to Rice’s beautiful gardens — all examples of things amazing students around me, who are pursuing a range of majors and pre-professional tracks, do in their free time.
Above all, don’t let anyone convince you that what you’re doing is a waste of time. Anything you’re passionate about and anything that puts a smile on your face is valuable — even if the recruiters at General Electric don’t see it that way. Don’t feel like you have to be enough for them. Just be enough for you. I promise you’ll still get hired.
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