Tuesday, October 05, 2004

MSN posted an article today entitled, “You Can Get a Job With Any Major”, which included a list of famous and influential people whose undergraduate majors seem to belie their career tracks. Who knew Janet Reno was a chemistry major? Or, that Alan Greenspan studied music?

I found the article amusing because it reminded me of the intense obsession with “majors” I witnessed as an undergrad. I’ll admit I wasn’t spared of the angst, either. From my first day on campus, I was a prototypical commerce student, and proud of it. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I realized my specific area of study might not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

At an information session hosted by the Queen’s School of Business, my fellow Commies (Short for commerce. No, the irony was not lost on us.) and I listened intently as instructors from each of the school’s disciplines made their pitches. Before each of them told us why we should spend the next couple of years studying accounting, or marketing, or operations, or whatever, they gave us a brief synopsis of their respective careers. What struck me most was how varied their lives were. None of the profs said anything resembling, “I always wanted to be a marketing professor. I majored in marketing as an undergrad, got my doctorate in marketing, and here I am standing before you, a marketing professor!” The accounting prof had a Masters degree in French, yet somehow found himself with a PhD in forensic accounting theory. The labor relations prof was a naval officer and a diplomat in the Middle East. The logistics prof was an aerospace engineer who worked in the oil industry because he didn’t like designing rockets. Etc, etc, etc.

The point is, I mostly agree with the article. As I learned that day, one’s undergraduate major does not necessarily ordain one’s career track. Technically, I was a finance major, yet I’ve spent the last several years designing and implementing billing software for dialysis laboratories. My degree and my work are barely tangentially related, and I’m likely to embark on a whole new, unrelated career track within the next couple of years.

So, if any of my dozens of cousins are approaching college age, I’ll advise you not to worry about the “major” thing too much. Just pick something that’s interesting and not completely useless, and you’ll do just fine. (But, I do have one caveat: remember that Aunt Trish is a bankruptcy trustee, and an alarmingly high proportion of her clients who default on student loans have degrees that end in “ology”.)

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