I don’t think higher education leads to a more fulfilling career.
Shocking, I know, as I’m surrounded by teachers: my mother, both in-laws, friends, and family members.
So it may surprise you to hear that I changed my mind about it over the long weekend.
Fred is starting his final year of university in undergraduate chemistry. His long-term career goal is to mitigate the effects of climate change. He wants to use chemistry to advance solutions for the crisis.
After weighing the pros and cons of additional education, Fred identified a nuance I hadn’t considered because it’s a belief I don’t hold. He said most people think multiple degrees make you smarter because you have acquired additional knowledge. As such, he reasoned getting a master’s degree would grant him credibility with future clients and employers because he’d seem smarter.
I disagree. I believe if someone can’t tell you are intelligent by the quality of your conversation, then having some extra letters after your name isn’t going to persuade them otherwise.
In business, I’d rather hire candidates with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn than someone without those qualities who has an A average and a PhD. What you do (or potentially can do) counts more than your credentials.
However, Fred’s argument is that a master’s degree in chemistry is the passport to getting access to the business world. Now that’s a different discussion altogether. He’s talking about perception, the lens through which you see the world.
Fred must decide on his fourth-year thesis shortly.
As we talked, I directed him toward making a connection between his thesis topic and how he would apply it to the business world.
Then I asked, Would his topic persuade a future employer or client to hire him?
Finally, I held up his North Star of finding ways to combat climate change. Would his thesis support his long-term goal?
He realized his career growth remained limited with a B.Sc. Yes, he could be a lab tech, but he’d soon reach a point where he needed further education to ascend the career ladder.
Plus, Fred recognized he wasn’t meant to work in a lab all day.
To shine his light brightest, Fred plans to bridge the gap between academic research and applications in business. His chemistry mentor pointed out that the chemistry research addressing climate change was completed 20 years ago; it’s simply that industry hasn’t used the research.
And THAT was the opportunity. THAT was the hole Fred could fill.
Finding his purpose was the hard part. He wants to be an environmental consultant helping companies implement solutions to counteract climate change.
To get there, he needs the credibility of an extra degree as his entrée to be taken seriously. It doesn’t make him any more or less smart but the perception of his intelligence changes with that M.Sc.
Why it matters
Getting clarity on his purpose allowed Fred to navigate the correct course of action.
Unfortunately, people often spend too much time figuring out directions for the route instead of starting with the destination in mind.
As a wise friend once told me, all you need to know is the next step. Taking the next step isn’t hard when you know your North Star because you can see where you’re going in the larger context. You can take multiple routes, including detours, knowing you’re living on purpose, doing what you’re meant to do.
Are you doing what you’re meant to do? If not, what would it take for you to take that next step?
Header Photo by Dominika Roseclay