Thoughts On Working In A Field Outside What I Studied In College

Graduation is one week away. The closer that day comes, the more often I get asked what my plans are after I get my degree. I am happy to say that I’ve been offered a position as an assistant for the Gift Processing department at my soon-to-be alma mater. Will I be doing anything related to my major in this position? No, I will not. Do I plan on doing anything with my degree specific to what I studied? Absolutely not. Here are some thoughts on not working in my field.

I am about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in Pure Mathematics, and to answer your question, no I do not want to teach. Just to give you a brief backstory, I decided to pursue a math degree with every intention to become a teacher, a ship that has long sailed, the detailed explanation that you can read here. Since I wrote that blog post, I’ve pinballed my way through more career options including social media, marketing, and graphic design. As of right now, I’ve decided to settle myself within the field of higher education, but given the trend of where all my previous career goals have gone, who knows how long I’ll be riding this wave.

Whenever I tell people what my post-baccalaureate plans are, I’m usually met with “So where does the math come in?” To which I respond “It doesn’t.” If the conversation proceeds from there, the concern of whether or not I feel like my degree is useless or that I wasted 6 years and several tens of thousands of dollars comes up. Believe me when I say that I’ve asked myself those questions time and again, questioning whether or not my math degree will be worth all of those sleepless nights of hair pulling. Simply put, I do not think that my degree is useless, nor do I think the years and money I spent on my education have been wasted.

For awhile, I was jealous of all of my friends who knew exactly what they wanted to do going into college, and those who ultimately stuck to their plan. I wanted to be one of those people, and so I pursued engineering – a career path that I knew would guarantee me a job, and a major that wasn’t obscure enough to make people guess what career I wanted to pursue once I graduated. But since I pursued a math degree, it’s not immediately intuitive what kind of career  that could potentially lead to. The field of math and statistics is so vast and wide, one could literally do just about anything with a math degree – none of which are of any particular interest to me.

To give a generic reason as to why I feel like my time in college hasn’t been a complete waste of time, I feel like I’ve learned many important life lessons outside of the classroom. While my head was stuck inside of my abstract algebra and intermediate analysis textbooks, personal things were going on in my life. I learned how to invest as much time (if not more) in my personal relationships as I did in my studies. I learned how to be present in the goings-on of life, just as I made it a point to be present in my classes. And just like I decided to leave engineering behind when my heart just wasn’t in it, I learned how to walk away from toxic situations and relationships, no matter how comfortable I had made myself in them. Long story short, I would not be nearly half the person I am now without the experiences I had gone through in college, and I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything.

Just as I was alluding to earlier, I’ve observed that a lot of people pursue the degrees they do so that they can be experts in and be able to competently work in their field. People major in engineering to become engineers. People pursue nursing to become nurses. It’s not immediately intuitive to assume that a person pursues a math degree to become a professional mathematician. It was never my end goal to become a theorem-proving, equation-solving, number-crunching mathematician. Though it is a viable career path, it was never what I wanted. Once I realized the field I work in doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to my major in college, a sense of liberation washed over me. To this, people usually ask why I didn’t just change my major (again) when I had the chance. Again, this was a conversation I’ve had with myself (and my parents) numerous times. Other than the obvious reason that I couldn’t afford nor did I feel any desire to stay in school any longer than was necessary, I still had (and still have) a genuine interest in math. My brain is wired to process through things logically, and to use the information I have in hand to get to an end result. I wanted to hone in on those skills. I wanted to learn what else existed outside the world of calculus. Before long, I found myself studying something for the sole purpose of wanting further my knowledge in it, instead of with the end goal of having a career in it. Will I need to know how to prove the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus five years from now? Probably (absolutely) not. But it was a process I fully appreciate going through, and information I have safely tucked into my brain.

Finally, I feel like going through and finishing college is an accomplishment in and of itself, regardless of what you study. And for those who weren’t able to finish an undergraduate degree, the mere action of trying or at least considering a college degree is also an accomplishment, and a decision I fully understand is never an easy one to make. Now that I’ve earned my degree, it doesn’t really matter to me that I won’t be working in my major field of study. I finished school, I earned my degree, and now no one can take it away from me.

I admit that I still look at some of my classmates in envy as they become teachers, professors, actuaries, and data scientists. In today’s society’s standards, they have tangible evidence that their degrees have proven to be useful and that their time in college wasn’t a complete waste of time. Sometimes I find myself wanting to give in and pursue similar careers just so I’ll have something to show for my degree. But then I realize that I can’t see myself being happy in any of those career paths, and in my eyes, pursuing and working in an industry you’re not happy in is a bigger waste of time.

In exactly one week, I’ll finally be walking across the stage, putting an end to this six year-long chapter of my life. Whether or not I’ll be working, or at least still pursuing, the career I’m currently pursuing, I can’t wait to see where these past few years will end me up.

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