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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Difficulties in making engineering versus medical choices

Last week i found this data in the newspaper for the students who appeared for CET test in Karnataka. Out of the total 1,07,820 HSC students,

- 24,892 students appeared for PCM
- 1773 students appeared for PCB
- 81,155 students appeared for both PCB and PCM

Against this background,

- 13,197 qualified for medical ranks
- 54,804 qualified for Other medicine disciplines like Homeopathy
- 64963 qualified for Engineering ranks
- 728 qualified for Architecture ranks

This data shows one truth clearly: Most of the HSC students appear for both PCB and PCM and do not choose the discipline ( Engineering or Medicine) till the last moment. Many teachers and parents find this confusing, however if you pause and analyse, you will not be surprised.

You will find that some SSC & HSC students ( not just HSC students) can choose their disciplines easily. These are the students who are 'unidimensional'( who possess better skills in a specific area - be it engineering or medicine). For them, choosing the discipline is not difficult at all. However, my guess is that these students are not more than 5% of the total.

Rest of 95% students are multidimensional; who are good in many areas. For these students , choosing their discipline at the age of 15-17 is mighty difficult ! Because, for them, it is like choosing a chocolate from a tray of chocolates by only seeing the chocolates. If you have not tasted any of these chocolates earlier, how will you choose the chocolate to eat? Any amount of information on the chocolate, be it from internet, friends or experts, cannot give you the experience of 'taste' of a chocolate. Only way to choose is through recommendations of friends, advice of parents and elders, or simply by the attractive wrapper of the chocolate. This is what students do when they choose the discipline, be it after 10th or 12th class!

Some parents believe that one can choose the discipline by going through a battery of 'aptitude tests' ! Unfortunately, this is not possible due to two reasons. One, aptitude tests identify 'generic' aptitude and therefore not useful in choosing a 'discipline'. For instance, an aptitude test may tell a student that he is good in 'logical' , 'analytical' or 'mathematical' subjects. But with this aptitude, he can potentially become an engineer, economist, accountant and even a mathematician. Two, these aptitudes identify the 'potential' one has in a chosen subject or area. Whether the 'potential' will be converted into 'actual' skill depends on variety of factors, most of which are outside one's control. Not all cricketers, for instance, can convert their 'potential cricketing talent' into 'performance' ! ( Vinod Kambli's example in cricket is one unfortunate example!) In short, aptitude tests are not useful in helping a student make this difficult choice.

So what can a student at age 15/17 realistically do? First of all, he must understand that 'graduating path' may not become the 'career path'. In my career research, i have found that very few engineers, for instant, continue with the same path in their future career. I have seen engineers go into finance, management, public service, software and many other paths which do not use their 'engineering' background. This is very common in India, because of the constraints of Indian education system! A student studying in West ( US and Europe), for instance, does not face this constraint! He can graduate with multiple subjects and can choose a specific discipline only after he has finished graduation.

A student, having chosen a 'graduating path', either by design or by default, should then engage in 'self-exploration' to find what 'path' he should take next. Should he remain in the same graduating path ( of engineering, for instance) or should he find some other path ( say of finance or management)? .

Self-exploration involves knowing oneself as much as one can. It involves finding one's characteristics way of thinking and responding to situations, one's stock of beliefs and emotions, one's unique way of managing stress, and above all what one values in life.

As a graduate, you have to gain enough self-understanding that will help you choose your next path. For graduates, who find that the chosen path is right for them, self-exploration can be postponed. For graduates, who find that the chosen path of graduation has to be changed, self- exploration is a must. In a way, these graduates are lucky, because they will learn this essential skill of career-making earlier than others.

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