What are my strengths and weaknesses?
December 10, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

College senior - help me find what I'm good at, and how I can make use it.

I'm a senior in college, yet I'm completely lost when it comes to the future. So here's a random list of things that may or may not make sense.

What I like:
- Writing.
- Photography.
- Music. (I play the saxophone and the piano, and have tried to learn the guitar in the past.)
- Birdwatching and nature in general.
- Cars and things that go in general.
- Debating.
- Solving computer problems (have done some work, for example, at my church).
- Studying the workings of the brain.

What I don't like:
- My major (biology, struggling in it with a 2.8-ish GPA, but changing it is out of the question).
- Regurgitating loads of information without understanding it as in this major.
- Repetitive lab work.
- Popularity contests, manipulators, and braggers.

My Myers-Briggs personality type, as you might have guessed, is INTP.

I admit I didn't really know what I wanted when I went to college. The place I ended up at is OK, but wasn't really the best fit for me. (I was too hung up on rankings.)

I'd like to go to some type of grad program, but I still can't seem to decide! Also, who will consider me with my lousy GPA (which, by the way, was in part due to health problems)?

How do I put together the pieces of this puzzle?
posted by Seeking Direction to Education (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Graduate and try to find a job. Working is great. You will have your brain to yourself to find out what you really like and money to pursue your hobbies (photography, music, birdwatching, etc). You will not fall off a cliff if you don't go to grad school immediately. You don't have to decide right now and the fact that you have no idea what you'd study should be a giant ,flashing. bleeding sign for you NOT to go down that path. At least not right now. Get some experience and give yourself some time to figure yourself out outside of an unfulfilling academic environment.
posted by Katine at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're not good at anything until you've been practicing it for years. Pick things you're interested in, that have income-earning potential, and *get* good at them, preferably by getting paid to work at them as an intern, apprentice, or other appropriate entry-level position.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh one more point: You said you weren't sure what you wanted when you went to college in the first place. Don't make the same mistake twice by going to grad school unsure of your interests.
posted by Katine at 2:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: That's the problem - my major doesn't lead to anything particularly good (yet at one point, I actually thought it did, since it was "science"). Everything seems like a boring-ass lab tech job. That's the problem. :(

That doesn't seem to be the case with certain other fields I hypothetically *could* have pursued. And I have struggled with envy and beating myself up for that.
posted by Seeking Direction at 2:12 PM on December 10, 2012

Do the boring-ass lab tech job. No matter what your field, most entry-level stuff is pretty boring. It might actually turn out to be cool and fun. It doesn't have to be a career, it just has to be a job and you can leave it when you want something different.

Don't beat yourself up. You have a chance to do something different but you don't have to do that right now by repeating the mistakes of the past in a moment of desperation.

Actually that's exactly what I did (lab tech out of school). It wound up being an interesting job, with people my age, MONEY, and got me into a great job that I'm now leaving for grad school. I got some time to really figure out what I wanted to study, to be sure of it and I'm a much stronger applicant because I have tons of awesome research experience. You will make yourself insane trying to find your career path right now. All I'm saying is take a breather and get a job. It's not forever yet, don't despair!
posted by Katine at 2:16 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

My bet is that for you, there is an employer making the big rounds on campus during recruiting season which just about everyone you know has interviewed with an seems to attract just about everyone who didn't already have some specific focus in mind. When I was an undergrad, this company was Anderson Consulting (now Accenture). Find out what company that is for this year for this campus, and talk to them.

That doesn't seem to be the case with certain other fields I hypothetically *could* have pursued

Unless it was engineering, that's not true. Plenty of your classmates are getting degrees in psychology and history. What are they doing with themselves? They have to figure things out just like you.
posted by deanc at 2:16 PM on December 10, 2012

I'd like to go to some type of grad program, but I still can't seem to decide!

Considering all the bad ideas you, in your short life, have had. Consider them all. Now consider that going to grad school in your situation (assuming you can get in) is a bad idea that trumps all of those on a level that you cannot, at this point, comprehend. Every moment of grad school is a moment you are not working. Unless you have a solid plan for your grad school education -- or are independently wealthy -- this is going to screw you, and screw you bad when it comes time to hand your resume to someone.
posted by griphus at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, and engineering is the field I regret not going into. (Though I have no idea if I would have really liked it.)

I guess I'm just not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
posted by Seeking Direction at 2:22 PM on December 10, 2012

Have you actually been a lab tech before? How do you know it will be boring?

I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in political science and have been a secretary almost ever since. I took the job as a stopgap until I found something I really wanted to do and, surprise! This IS what I want to do. You won't know what you like and don't like until you try some stuff out. Sitting around thinking about this stuff without real life experience is not going to be a very effective use of your time.
posted by something something at 2:23 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Because I took bio and chem labs and did not like them one bit.
posted by Seeking Direction at 2:25 PM on December 10, 2012

Stop beating yourself up. It's my turn! At least with a degree in biology, you can work in a wet lab where you may be trained in a variety of research protocols. The labs I work in with my degree in cognitive science don't really train me in anything I can point to and put on my resume. Also, pharma and biotech research companies don't have research psychology labs. And, of course, as a biology major, you have access to all those research tech temp agencies, which have never given me the time of day. So rejoice! Compared to me, your options are wide open!
posted by Nomyte at 2:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, you'd like to go a grad program. You're (rightly) worried about your GPA. One of the other major tools that grad programs use for admissions decisions is whether the candidate seems to have their head on straight: you're going to be writing a letter or essay explaining what kind of graduate work you'd like to do, what types of research or disseration work you're interested in, which professors make their program really stand out to you, what you'd love to be doing 10 years from now and how SchoolX can help you do that, etc. You can't do that right now. If you had a stellar GPA or an outstanding research record, you might get into grad school anyway - but you don't.
So, next step for grad school: take some time off. Get a lab tech job, or a job outside your field, or an almost-volunteer job working with the coolest professor in your town, or a compter-based short-term contract, whatever, just get some kind of job; that's not the point actually. You don't have to love your work, so long as you spend the next few months thinking about what you might like better. Then, once you have some ideas of what would be better, you'll be prepared to write a good essay about how GradSchoolX fits into those goals.
posted by aimedwander at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2012

I guess I'm just not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

No, you're just young and aimless which makes you pretty much the majority of your cohort. If you're not working in your field, what your degree is in and what your GPA was will become a moot point by the time you're 25. You have two choices here: grad school, or working. Grad school, I hope you have surmised by this point, is the wrong choice. So that leaves working. Go to your school's career services department and ask for help; it is their job to give you a hand in this case (although their actual helpfulness will probably be less than stellar.) Do you have any professors you are particularly close with/liked by? Ask them for any leads or just to sit down and talk. Talk to your parents, if they're around. Uncles and aunts. Family friends. Whatever. Go find a bunch of people who have their shit together and tell them what you are good at and ask them to keep an ear to the ground for you, and whether they have any advice.

What's your plan for after graduating, exactly? As in, how will you be paying your rent? Or will you be moving back home?
posted by griphus at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't get hung up on having a "good" job right out of college because you don't even know what a "good" job would be for you. And frankly, very few people get "good" jobs right out of school.

I would focus on things that recruit graduating seniors, like the aforementioned Accenture (or other corporation that does college recruiting), or something like Americorps VISTA (there are a lot more programs like this in many different fields). Lots of these programs will be a bit of a grind, but they'll give you some solid training and experience in the working world, which is what you really need now.
posted by lunasol at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2012

Oh, and don't worry about your major. I majored in Women's and Gender Studies, which supposedly only qualifies one for grad school or an illustrious career as a barista, but I've done pretty well for myself working in politics and advocacy, most for environmental organizations (despite having never taken a course in poli sci or environmental studies as an undergrad).
posted by lunasol at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2012

A word of caution: a lot of companies like Accenture, CEB, other management consulting firms, etc., do filter aggressively by GPA. At the school where I work now, you would literally be unable to submit a resume using the college recruitment site.
posted by Nomyte at 2:33 PM on December 10, 2012

Yes, and engineering is the field I regret not going into. (Though I have no idea if I would have really liked it.)

I guess I'm just not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

See what you did there? You looked at my comment, ignored all of the good advice, ignored the part about how lots of your classmates are in your same position (or worse off, because at least you COULD be a lab tech), and homed in on something you regard as a mistake you made, and then put yourself down. There are people with lower GPAs than you that aren't telling themselves how awful they are and are instead chatting up people at career fairs looking for a job with some kind of vague semi-meaningless description like "Analyst." Find out what those companies are.

There are two advantages you have from going to a good school: first, employers simply assume you will be able to handle the work and follow instructions, putting you at a cut above the competition. Next plenty of employers recruit on the basis of wanting to have a workforce that allows them to tell clients, "our workforce that serves you has been recruited from the Finest Universities in the Land to solve your problems!"
posted by deanc at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Seems like you've found your ways of reacting with the outer world, you just need to focus more on your inner life. You took the Myers-Briggs, now maybe consider looking more deeply into the theory behind it. I'd start with reading Jung's Psychological Types and see if it grabs you. Edward Edinger would be another good place to start, or James Hillman's The Soul's Code.
posted by R2WeTwo at 2:42 PM on December 10, 2012

I was a history major in college; now I'm an editor and sort-of web-tinkering person.

A friend was a drama and classics double major (talk about unemployable!) who briefly went to grad school for physics, and now flies research planes for NOAA.

Another friend was a philosophy major and she is now a nurse practitioner who treats people with HIV.

Another friend was an English major who works in HIV and drug policy (she has worked for nonprofits and for the city).

Another friend - the one with the most direct career path - was a government major, and has worked in HIV policy for umpteen years now.

None of us had "skills" as such when we graduated; most of us didn't know what we wanted to be when we grew up. Nearly all of us kind of accidentally tripped over the thing we've ended up doing (and mostly loving).

Actual advice:

I volunteer for an organization that counts migrating raptors. We have interns every year; it doesn't pay much, but housing comes with it. Most of our interns go do field work and then either go to grad school or do some sort of field work/consulting/environmental ed thing or combination of things. Maybe something like that would work for you?
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Based on your previous questions, you need to get treated for depression, and I think this question and your previous ones will begin to resolve themselves. Get into therapy.
posted by empath at 2:50 PM on December 10, 2012

One thing you could do is probably teach science at a school. Now I'm the LAST person to suggest this path, I HATED teaching in public school, BUT, it's a great job straight out of school. You can hang out and take a few ED classes. There's probably one that's an assessment, where you go hang out in a classroom and observe to see if it's something you'd like. Take it in Spring '13 semester.

Most school districts are pretty desperate for science teachers and there are lots of "Lateral" programs.

For example, North Carolina will accept you with 24 hours of BIO, and a 2.5 G.P.A.

(I just happened to be looking that up this weekend for a friend.)

Another thing you could do is get a job in Customer Service with a large corporation and start working your way up.

If you think you'd like engineering, try the phone company. They have AWESOME Sales Trainee programs, you do a few months in intensive classes, then you get assigned somewhere. They pay for moving expenses. Sure, the buisness sales part is kind of brainless, but the money is pretty good and you can take classes to beef up your tech skills, including Cisco certifications. I was a Data Engineer and I was an ENGLISH major, I just wasn't afraid of learning new stuff. They also paid for my MBA. So...yeah...that.

The point is stop moping around, expecting that merely going to school is the key to an awesome career. An awesome career awaits the person who is willing to grab opportunities.

So check out the Leadership Training progrms, or other options of large compaies.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:51 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're writing off the lab tech route way too early. Take this from another student who has had experiences both with the in-school biology and chemistry labs, and who has had experience working in an actual, real lab.

The difference could not be greater. The former is all about following what the lab manual says to the word, while the latter is all about leveraging your unique skills to problem solve.

Seriously. There are a billion things that could go wrong in the real world that don't go wrong in the strict, regimented learning labs. And not even that, but the fact that you won't have a TA to ask whenever something goes wrong means that you'll have to be very keen at figuring out what the heck is making your cells spontaneously combust and how are you going to solve this.

Again, from another student: you need to shake off the idea that at this stage in life that you know what you're good at, and in fact, that you're even "special" at anything. Because that's the truth for everyone at our age. You list things you say that you're good at, but are you good enough at them that you actually stand out from the crowd? Are you a professional, award-winning photographer? Have you written a best-selling novel? Do you play with the New York Orchestra or something? No? Well, welcome to the club.

Specialization and interest is something you build for yourself, not something that you're born with. But the stupid part is that our society likes to tell us otherwise. I call it the passion myth: that we're all geniuses who can instantly identify our passions and instantly be good at it. And I think that myth is what's holding you back - you're not taking the risks you need to develop the depth of understanding in a field to actually have passion for it. And you're beating yourself up because you think that everyone else has aim and passion and you're the only one who doesn't.

So shed off your misconceptions and take some risks. I think that's the only way to find out. None of us can tell you what you're passionate about, and what your strengths and weaknesses are, because we're not you. In fact, not even you at this stage can tell yourself that - because you're too inexperienced to know. The most successful people in life that I've ever known recognize this about themselves - because it's true for everyone at a young age - and don't hold themselves back. That's what they mean when they say that youth is all about experimenting - because there's no other way to develop a sense of self.

Good luck.
posted by Conspire at 2:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am already treated for depression.
posted by Seeking Direction at 2:57 PM on December 10, 2012

Response by poster: @ rtha

The migration thing sounds really cool. It's definitely something I'd be interested in.
posted by Seeking Direction at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2012

There are definitely jobs out there for biology/science majors that don't involve working in a lab. My suggestion would be to go take the civil service exam and/or start looking at state jobs. They don't pay a whole heap, but they look good on a resume and can open up other opportunities.

I graduated from a state school with just under a 3.0 gpa in biology. My first professional job was at the Department of Environmental Quality as an Environmental Scientist. They accepted almost any type of science degree and didn't seem too concerned about my grades. I worked there for 2 years and used the experience to go into environmental consulting (making way, way more). I've never set foot in a lab since college. Other state jobs also are geared towards science majors - check out your local version of the Dept. of Natural Resources or Wildlife and Fisheries. They love biology majors.

If you have any more specific questions about the environmental field, feel free to memail me.
posted by tryniti at 3:15 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might look for a full-time job at the university. That would allow you to make some money and still be part of the academy.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:42 AM on December 11, 2012

Since you are interested in computers and have a background in biology, I wouldn't discount bioinformatics. Biology is, as I'm sure you've realized a field with boundless information. People in that field desperately need help organizing that information and finding patterns within it. If you spend some time programming a bit, and offered to write a script or 2 in the tech lab, you could end up doing programming, which I think is a lot of fun.
posted by uncreative at 8:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Looking through my previous questions, I stumbled upon a great quote:

"Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you wanna do with your life; the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t." - Baz Luhrmann

I had a moment of epiphany.

Perhaps it is in fact OK not to try to pigeonhole myself. I will start poking around the career center after finals are over. Crappy lab tech job? You know - great! It's work experience!

Phew! Thanks everyone! :)
posted by Seeking Direction at 5:01 PM on December 12, 2012

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