Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Understand data from information

Currently, all newspapers are abuzz with articles on different careers in radio, teaching, shipping and so on. I also read about different career workshops which talk about the different careers in information technology, biotechnology and so on. On the surface, this looks helpful in enabling students to choose careers after secondary or higher secondary levels. But if you dwelve on it a bit more, you will realise that students are inundated with ‘data’ and not ‘information’.

Giving data about different careers at the age of 15-18 is like gifting a student with box full of different chocolates, and telling him that he has to choose only ‘one’ without tasting any of the chocolate. He is most likely to walk away from the chocolate box confused.

Although he is rightfully angry because he has not been given any meaningful information to make a choice, he cannot even ‘articulate’ his anger. The counselors, on the other hand, can smugly put the entire onus on the student with a look of ‘ I told you so’. They may even increase the pressure on the student by telling the student that ‘in their times, they never had so much of information’. The counseling process, instead of empowering student, only makes him/her feel inadequate. I am sure that this is not the intention of a counselor, but this is exactly what he unknowingly achieves.

When I was approached by a student, Jyoti for choosing a discipline after her higher secondary level, I went through a different process. I found that she is extraordinarily good in drawing and music, but she was also considering ‘medicine’ because her father wanted her to become a doctor. From her performance in drawing, Fine arts or commercial arts was a better choice.

I gave her data about the different courses, and to help her experience ‘what a work in commercial arts or fine arts’ mean, I helped her meet two/three different experienced professionals in advertising industry, animation industry and even ‘painters’. She met them, asked them silly looking questions, went to their work place ( 3D animation shop ). She imbibed the various data I gave her on the people who have made their careers in these. It took her more than 4-6 months to get the ‘feel’ and the conviction to make that choice. I have always observed that it is easy to make mainstream career choices like engineering or medicine, however it is extremely ‘difficult’ to make niche career choices such as arts and music.

I therefore always advise students to approach career choice over a long period of time. Sometimes, when a student is talented in more than one fields, he or she may even take a longer time to convert the ‘data’ into meaningful ‘experience’. The student needs to be given enough options to 'taste' the chocolate before he/she can decide which 'chocolate' is right. The student not only needs to know what is possible in that career choice, but what it will demand from him/her in terms of skills, competencies and mental set.

Data of different careers is useful, but meaningless without the context of a student’s mental make up.

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