A life, and what to do with it

I got into an extended argument the other day with a friend who made the claim, “MIT does an awful job of making sure its students know what they want to do after graduation.”

Another graduating senior choosing to pursue the one-year Master’s of Engineering next year (like most, to have some extra time to discover his career interests and direction), he is dissatisfied with how MIT has guided him along his path to graduation. A sound bite of his I can’t seem to forget: “I know less about what I want to do now than I did when I entered MIT.”

It makes me laugh, this sense of entitlement — the idea that a student enters this prestigious institution, often and widely advertised by its “huge range of opportunities,” and expect to be helped and told what he or she specifically is passionate about. The discovery of one’s interests, one’s passions, one’s desired area of expertise — these pursuits seem to need to be by definition self-driven.

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is a problem to deal with every year of your life, as priorities and interests change. It should be something to constantly search for, lest you find yourself at a point in your life dissatisfied and unfocused. As a student, it’s not the Institute’s responsibility to guide you. Provide lots of information and resources, yes — guide you and direct you, never.

It’s your responsibility to try our internships and research opportunities, to take an interesting range of classes, and to explore your field (academically and in the industry) as much as possible.

One other interesting viewpoint that came up when I discussed this with another friend was — MIT does an amazing job of challenging preconceptions. Plenty of pre-med majors are made un-pre-med by the Institute, simply because MIT makes them ask themselves, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to be a doctor (and go through this pain of being pre-med), or is this just something I’ve expected to do?” And I think that’s a positive thing — being forced to, as I mentioned earlier, constantly reexamine your own goals and expectations for yourself.

This is the time to explore — this is the time to discover yourself, and let your interests flourish. Why would you allow that responsibility to anybody but yourself?

Let me know what you think on Twitter.