What happens when you graduate in December and look for experiences to help shape your career thinking?

March 3, 2024 at 8:42 AM
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3/1/24 1070 words

What happens when you graduate in December and look for experiences to help shape your career thinking?

By Molly Mann UA’23 and Jim Stellar

Molly was one of my best students as a psychology major and we formed a mentoring relationship when she was an undergraduate. Now that she graduated in December of 2023 and has a job, she is planning on using work/employment experiences, as well as taking a graduate class, to further her career exploration.

So, Molly, can you give us a brief insight into what you are thinking in terms of work and types of classes?

Having the opportunity to graduate in December rather than May has its pros and cons. Now that I have graduated I have to start thinking about the next chapter in my life. Ever since I was younger I knew I wanted to get a job that would allow me to help people and make a difference. As time went on and I was introduced to different job titles and classes I realized that working with children through psychology is a major interest of mine. There are many psychology jobs that allow one to work with children, with this being said I don’t necessarily want to limit myself to one specific job. There are a couple titles that I find interesting, with this being said since I was able to graduate in December instead of May with all my other friends. I am given a gap semester where I am able to test out different volunteering positions, work experiences, etc. I am planning on introducing myself to all different opportunities and eventually possibly taking masters classes.

This is so typical and such a solid-person thing to do to focus on the job. But now you are having more direct experiences with the workplace than you ever had given that the college-completion project is behind you. When you say gap year, that suggests you are going on to graduate school. Is that true and how does your planning for gap year experience affect that planning?

I am using this gap year to test out different jobs and experiences I may be interested in. I believe that once you graduate college and are in your early 20’s that it is the perfect time to test out different jobs and work experiences to see which one is the perfect fit. I think by looking into what you are good at individually will also help you in finding your future career. I have given myself some time to think about graduate school and see if that is something I see myself doing. I think graduate school would be a great option for me but I am still figuring out what specific topic I would like to study and get my Masters degree in. Because of these gap year experiences I am using them to help guide and aid me into the right direction on what is out there in the world and what I find interesting. During this gap semester I have started looking into different jobs that I didn’t necessarily think I would do, but have been interests of mine such as marketing. By being open to different options and jobs allows you to be more well-rounded.

This fits with something I say to all my students, “If you start a job/career at work, or go on to more education, it will not matter whether you begin that journey 70 or 71 years before you die.” But it might matter whether you pick a path that makes you happy, that inspires you, that opens up a great future for you. So how do you do that?  Can you talk about how the “little voice” inside you guides you in exploring what might be a very long-term choice without making you stressed-out, which it seems it might do?

There in fact is a little voice inside of my head that helps guide me to explore different job options out there. By listening to your gut and what you are truly feeling and believing it allows for more doors to open with possibilities. Some people know what career they want to pursue and what steps they need to take to be able to fulfill their career. While others are still unsure, even after graduating from college. There’s a lot of unknown once you graduate college, such as the next steps. By listening to the voice in your head and opening yourself to different options it allows yourself to explore what is truly out there and see which job fits you the most. The first job you get right out of college doesn’t have to be the job you keep for the rest of your life.

This “little voice in your head” we think is actually the limbic system trying to communicate with your conscious, cognitive, brain that is based in the neocortex. It does symbolic logic, underlies speech, planning, and your awareness of the world. We think this cognitive-emotional integration is important as the cognitive system left on its own with just the facts-and-theories that we provide in college classes could be disconnected from the value that a person brings to the situation. The author Gary Marcus in his 2009 book Kluge makes this point about the disconnect in the way our brains are built. In other words, the communication between the emotional limbic system and the cognitive neocortex is a bit like the situation when a math teacher gets only a numeric answer from her/his student and does not know how the student got that answer, perhaps where it went wrong.

The limbic system is doing value computations all the time about whether something (e.g. a meal or maybe a job or potential career) is good for us or not as a person. But it does not share with the neocortex how it did that calculation like the student-teacher example above. We think that it means that reflection is important to allow the recent graduate student’s cognitive system to “re-create” the circumstance, perhaps with some of the feeling attached so it can operate symbolically/cognitively on the potential plan and better surface some of the value factors associated with that choice. We further think that reflection is best done with another person such as a mentor, and some of that you see playing out in this blog.

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1 Comment

One Response to “What happens when you graduate in December and look for experiences to help shape your career thinking?”

  1. Rachel says:

    Love the “little voice in your head” concept here. 🙂

    Also, the quote about starting something 70 or 71 years before you die is very reassuring. Thanks for sharing it!

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