As it turned out, I was a terrible electrical engineer. I never really understood the workings of vacuum tubes, transistors, circuitry. I had a good friend who got me through the required labs. He became a great engineer and has had an interesting and successful life as such. I feel lucky to have recently reconnected with him.
Fortunately, computers were coming into being. One part of that field was mathematical in nature, and as a result my interest turned to mathematics. I’ve never been sorry.
My point is, my life’s work has been in a field I did not initially study for.
I am not alone. Many of my friends from college also changed their focus. Usually still in the scientific area as was the case with me, but not always. I read that 75% of college graduates are working outside their field of study.
For those of us who made a change, there came an investment of time and money to make it possible.
Could it be that age 18 is too early to form a decision about the field in which to concentrate?
MIT seems to think so. An article entitled “The first-year experiments” in MIT Technology Review from December 27, 2019, pages 18-21, gives interesting statistics.
First semester students there have been graded pass/no record to ease fears of not doing well at the school with the formidable reputation. General Institute Requirements (GIRs) include a rigorous first year of math and science, and most students tried to get these courses out of the way using the early eased grading. The problem, as a consequence, is they were forced into a strict regimen of courses with no time for experimentation. Complicating matters further was the expectation a student declare his/her major in the spring semester of the first year.
A survey showed 30% of first-year students didn’t feel ready to do that. Furthermore, 26% of sophomores, juniors, and seniors believed they didn’t have the flexibility to change majors. And, in another survey, 20% of seniors indicated they would have considered different majors.
As I understand it, MIT is now employing student input and design classes to recommend solutions. More flexibility is currently available and “discovery” classes have been developed for early students to explore different areas. Three GIR courses can be delayed and still take advantage of the pass/no report benefit. It remains a work in progress, but the problem is taken seriously.
Different schools will deal with this dilemma in different ways. But it is indeed a problem and must be recognized as such. I base this on my own experience, on that of so many of my friends, and on decades of contact with students.
If schools truly are interested in preparing students in the best way possible, they should concentrate on finding methods to get them ready for the careers that they want in the long run and which will bring them joy.
This is a quandary that should not be solved by legislators. You know, the group who have been to school and therefore are experts on education. But that’s exactly what they often attempt to do. Unfortunately, they don’t solve; they muddy. For example, they have put limits at state universities on the total number of class hours a student can take at reduced in-state tuition rates.
This seems so wrong to me for at least two reasons. First, because a student unhappy in a major may not be able to afford a change, which always requires additional courses (with the higher out-of-state fee). Second, because it’s sending the message that intellectual curiosity is a bad thing that must be discouraged, the opposite of what education should foster.
It’s a complicated world we live in. We shouldn’t be making it harder to learn what to do in it.