Advice for Undergrads

Do you have a lot of varying passions but seem to be somewhat lost? Then this post is certainly for you. I extracted this from an email exchange I had with a reader, and thought it may be helpful as just generalized advice. Especially if you feel like you don’t fit the mold to one single major / career path (like me!)

some advice:

  • SHADOW those in careers that seem interesting to you. Pick a few days and choose someone in medicine, someone in media/journalism, someone in public health, and maybe someone even in law. I think healthcare or environmental law could be interesting for you and would effectively bring journalism, public health, human rights, media, policy, etc. into one. 
  • START A BLOG! I started mine when I was also at this crossroads. And having tangible pieces of evidence of my interests in one place – articles of varied subjects that I found interesting – really helped me visualize what it was I liked! Even if you have zero readers and it goes no where it’s at least a space where you can singularly pursue your different passions.
  • Regarding the science prereqs: I slogged through them. I can’t imagine anyone really enjoys them. On some small level, you apply them to medicine but a very small level. I’m not over here regularly thinking about the structure of organic compounds. It’s moreso useful for concepts in pharmacology, but for sure wasn’t the main component of my studies, especially since I’m a PA where there’s far less focus on research than MD. So don’t let those deter you if you’re really interested in something in the health field.
  • remember that YOU HAVE LOTS OF TIME! I didn’t even really “figure it out” until 3 years after undergrad. It’s hard to have the mental space / cognitive resources to think of the Future when you’re still so focused on the many, many responsibilities of college courses. Many in my PA program, for example, were in their 30s and enjoyed their first career but were just ready to try something new. You can live many lives in one life, especially in regards to job. It’s definitely okay to not get it all on the first try. You can have one main job and then be pursuing other interests / hobbies on the side.
  • See if you can enact your varying passions in small ways. When I graduated from college, I thought I was really interested in healthy cooking for families. So when I was taking the science prereqs at a local community college (I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, I just knew they were a common denominator for most things in healthcare that I was considering – RD, DO, naturopath, MD, PA, etc), I was cooking for people on the side because I thought this would fill my well. In theory, it was awesome. In reality, I hated it. So I then pivoted to a more policy side of things and volunteered for a local organization that taught families how to cook healthy, and I loved that! So it was a nice way of seeing that what I thought I was passionate about in my brain, didn’t entirely land in reality.
  • My number one advice. Cling to the thing that provides you with the most passion and purpose. This is the magic juice that will keep you going and encourage you to remember your why when things get tough.

If I could PERSONALLY do college over again:

When I went to college, I started with the intention of being a chemistry major. But signed up for classes late so never got into Chem 101. So then I took a hodgepodge of things and declared Psychology at the last moment possible – mid-way through my sophomore year. And then picked up a writing minor my junior year (mostly because I wasn’t very good at it and wanted to force myself to improve. And then I grew to love it once the fear of being bad at it started to dissipate. Insert extended life metaphor here.)

While I loved psychology and find its general tenets useful for navigating every day life, I ended up having to take the majority of science courses after I had graduated. I took them at community colleges to somewhat offset pricing, but it would’ve been far more convenient if I had done it all in one go. So if you’re like me and have an interest in health/medicine/nutrition but also love the opportunity of having a social platform, here’s what I would do.

  • Major in something that allows you to get all the science pre-requisites. It doesn’t necessarily need to be pre-med, but do the things that are needed for that next step (MD, DMD, PA, NP, nursing, dietitian, acupuncture, etc all tend to have similar pre-reqs). If you know for sure what you need to do / what the next step is, look up the exact pre-reqs of that program. In general for PA it’s: 2 bio courses with labs, microbiology with lab, 2 chemistry courses with labs, organic chemistry with lab, anatomy and physiology 1 & 2 with lab, 1 statistics course, 1-2 psychology courses (especially intro, general, and/or developmental)
    • Other recommended sciences (biochemistry, genetics, physics, pharmacology, medical terminology).
  • Minor in writing – it’s a skill you’ll use FOREVER. In literally every single job. Unless you’re into coding or something which is also cool. But in most jobs you at least have to craft an email. If you know how to write effectively, it cuts that time down dramatically.
  • Take electives in: graphic design, website design, Adobe (indesign, lightroom, photoshop), photography. This is the fun stuff. The stuff that’s really hard to teach yourself on the side and is invaluable if you see yourself doing something creative in the internet world.
  • Take accounting! Even if you don’t end up as an accountant, knowing the basics of accounting will help you immensely as an adult who wants to be in control of his or her finances. (thank you Brit, co-founder and CEO of my WONDERFUL management company Smith + Saint for this chestnut of wisdom!)

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