Thursday, October 6, 2016

The next generation

In real life, I teach college students, a large fraction of whom are pre-med.  Sometimes, I have a talk with a student who is struggling with the expectation of family and friends that pre-med, or pre-grad, is the path for them.  These are generally very bright students who may be under-performing.

What comes out in our talk is that they feel they are "supposed" to be on this clear cut career track. Their friends are.  Their family may expect it.  It's the Obvious Next Step.  They are supposed to have everything planned out, you see, and get their graduate / professional degree and The Big Job. But it doesn't feel right.  "What else can I do?"  they ask, often plaintively.

I am a subversive.  I tell them, "whatever you want."  I tell them, they don't HAVE to be on the pre-MD/PhD Career Track.  We talk about practical things they can do with a degree in life sciences:  from working in a lab, to developing interest in business, policy, law, science writing, administration, public service.  Maybe they should consider a few years with Teach for America or the Peace Corps.   Or maybe having a job that is sufficient for 9-5 but allows them time to develop their interest in the arts, music, or other creative or meaningful endeavors outside of work.

The scary thing to my students is that there's no path to this:  no signposts.  They have to figure it out for themselves.  They've been so programmed that that's very disconcerting.  And, it feels a bit like failure.  They are around high-achievers who are going to get into every med school to which they apply.  Striking out on their own is hard.  We talk about how to look for people (particularly alumni) who may be an interesting area, to do informational interviews.  We talk about how there's much more to life than job titles and enjoying what you do and making a difference is important.

They generally react with relief to this.  It's OKAY not to be on that track.  College is not just a career vocational school.   Not all these kids want that high-level traditional career achievement.

So I read this with some interest:
[D]espite struggling with debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials are not motivated by money. Rather, they are driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable. This isn’t a stereotype; it’s simply the truth. 
Deloitte’s 2015 milllennial survey found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organization is making full use of their skills. A full 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, and 90% of respondents said they wanted to use their skills for good....
Clearly, organizations are not responding fast enough to this generation’s desire to align their work with purpose. Millennials don’t want to move “up” on a career ladder. Overall, we are less concerned with traditional metrics of success, like savings and home ownership, and more concerned with creating lives defined by meaning, community, and shared value.
And, this: 
[M]illennials of color are significantly more optimistic about their future than white millennials. That is another way that they mirror the perspective of their parents and grandparents. But given the disparities in outcomes as well as the overt racism we’ve been witnessing lately, that might surprise a lot of people. It is certainly something that deserves a lot more attention.
Interestingly, white millennials  are less confident. Paralleling that, only 10% of white kids support Clinton, which is very depressing to me.  (Now that Bernie's out, many of them seem to be supporting the Libertarian ticket. I doubt they have actually read Johnson's platform!)

But still, the data suggest that these millennials are interested in seeking meaning and doing good.  And that's something hopeful.

1 comment:

Marshall Scott said...

I have my own experience as some percentage of students in our clinical pastoral education program are Millennials (or near enough as not to matter; sometimes it's hard to keep up with the dates). I find them with a great deal of hope that they can indeed provide the services, and work, if not better than we have, "smarter, not harder," as we used to say. I find frustration at unrealistic expectations, and also hope in the sheer energy and commitment. I remind my educators that we need to educate for the ministry they will have, not the ministry they project; and sometimes that leads to conflict. However, I also remember 30-something years ago that I planned to "work smarter, not harder;" and that when I discovered what the needs were, I stepped up to the best of my ability. I think that will happen with my most recent students. In the short term they drove me crazy. In the long term they gave me hope.

I do think, appropriate especially for the student in life sciences, that they don't always know the possibilities. First, they may not - indeed, good faculty like you may not - know the breadth. For example, there is a long standing (and expected to be long term) shortage of lab scientists in health care. Sure, it can appear tedious some says, but it is directly related to the benefit of patients. They also don't think about time. As you suggest, taking a year out, whether in a specific program like VOA or just in a regular job without the additional academic stress, is seen by most folks as time maturing and not as time wasted. Lately I've had more than enough occasions to say (too often with an apology) that "the urgent overwhelmed the important." If we can help them realize that it can mean so much!