Fighting Perception while Choosing a Career or a Job

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This is an article by our own Dr Shoab A khan written on his facebook page. Dr Shoab is a symbol of inspiration and needs not to be introduced. I am taking the liberty to post this here for those who are not on his page….

You ask a five years old child about his choice of profession, “I want to be a teacher” is the most probable answer you may get from the kid. Though a teacher in a kindergarten or prep is usually a lady with ordinary education and skills but she is the child’s first direct exposure to a profession. He must be impressed by observing that his teacher knows everything, she is so caring and all the children love her. But as the child grows older and interacts with more people, plays video games, watches cartoons and movies, his choice of profession also changes. You will find all kinds of variations in the answers to the same question as his perception about profession is continuously changing. A child may want to be a Superman, a Tarzan, a firefighter, a spy agent, a pilot or any other exciting character in his imagination. And then finally he grows to an age where the time comes for him to actually choose a profession. Even at this age, it is difficult for him and more importantly for his parents to fight the perception and make a good choice of profession for their child.

In our country, no one explores hidden talent in an individual rather the selection of profession is not what you want to be rather it is what is forced on you by the society in general and the people around you in particular. The selection is out of a prioritized list of careers that are all based on perception.  The higher you make in the merit in that list, the significant is self and family pride.  The perception plays a key role in shuffling of priorities in the list. This perception keeps driving an individual life even once he graduates and accepts a job. I still remember one of my friends who graduated with distinction from the civil engineering department of UET Lahore. He jointed Irrigation Dept because his father served the department in lower ranks and always wanted his son to become an officer in higher ranks in the same department. I have seen many parents spoiling the life of their sons and daughters, in all sincerity, by forcing on them their limited vision and distorted perception. This sometime is driven by their unfulfilled desires. Many a times, a Junior Commissioned Officer or an OR would like his son to be an officer, as he wants people like him to solute him.

In our country most people want their sons to become engineers or doctors. Usually for the daughters they settle for a bachelor or master degree in any discipline.  Only if the girl passionately wants to become a doctor or an engineer, the parents in many cases respect her choice and support her education. In my eleven years of experience in heading engineering organizations and teaching engineering students, I have come across some of the very best female engineers. They would take challenges, excel in academics and work diligently in professional settings.  But then luck on their side, they get married and, in most of the cases, leave the profession they so passionately shrived for. Perception plays a key role in this decision as well. They are made to believe that their family is more important than their profession, so they happily give away what is less important in their life.  They only work if the family direly needs additional financial support. There are very few how continue for their passion and love of profession.

So the parents keep this perception in mind that limits ultimate utilization of education for their daughters to just few years of professional service once they are not married or in case of any eventuality they can support their family.  For this reason the parents are more considerate in selection of degrees and careers for their daughters but for their sons, they would rather not compromise. They always try to get them in the best engineering program as per the prevailing perception. The other day I was discussing this issue of perception with Dr Shahab Baqi, a friend and Dean of LUMS, and my senior and well wisher Dr Arshad Ali DG SEECS. Dr Baqi pointed out that he has been countering parents’ perception about LUMS computer science program. Parents, if given an option of engineering, hesitate to opt for a CS degree for their child, whereas I personally believe that, depending on student aptitude, a CS degree from a good school is far better than completing an EE degree from a second ranked university or even from a top ranked university in Pakistan. I am a member of National Computing and Accreditation Council, and I visit universities to conduct accreditation of computing programs offered by these universities. In many visits Dr Jamil, the dean of Iqra University Islamabad, has accompanied me. He would always ask students why they have selected a CS degree program. Though in many cases, they don’t even answer other simple questions as well but the students are usually confused on this question. The most common answer is that they think after graduation they will get good jobs. Once we were evaluating an institution that offer multiple  computer science related programs, Dr Jamil asked the same questions to a class of software engineering students that why have they selected Software Engineering and not computer science, and no one gave him a satisfactory answer. I knowing the answer, found myself compelled to respond and pointed out that they all want to become engineers and the entire class nodded their heads in agreement. Again perception comes into play as the merit of software engineering program in that university is at the top whereas I honestly believe a bachelor degree in computer science in far better than a software engineering degree.

The perception also derails our intelligent minds. Very talented students after their outstanding performance in engineering would enthusiastically join multinational companies who are only service providers and do not develop any technology. The engineers get a little more salary, they are dress up like sales representatives and work in nice office environments. And for this little glitter they do not hesitate to sacrifice all their passion.  They let go other opportunities where they are getting positions to  exercise and profound their engineering skills. The skills that would ultimately help them to win a funded place in a research group in a top ranked university.

I always tell students, that life is like an optimization problem and greedy algorithms would always trap them in local maxima for rest of their life and they would never find out what all they have actually missed. They need to know the talent Allah has bestowed in them but to my dismay most of them follow the prevailing perception and do the wrong.

I have seen very few, who would plan their career. They fight perception and work for what they like to achieve in their life.

One day one of our best graduates from EE came to visit me. She very hesitantly asked me to sign her recommendation letter. She told me that I would not be happy to listen to her choice of the master degree she was going to pursue. Once she reviled, I was so glad to know that she was opting for a degree in clinical psychology as she always wanted to be that but perception made her to complete a degree in EE.

It is important for our young and intelligent minds to understand that they can do wonders if they pursue professions of their liking. Those who are good engineers, whole world is waiting for them to strive, win positions, make contributions and earn money. Play life as a five days cricket match rather than a 20-20 match. Slowly but surely build your inning. You can do very best if you align you natural talent with the choice of your profession. Let us defeat the perception and explore ourselves to be what we are destined to and follow Iqbal’s advice

Khodi ko kar buland itna ka har taqdeer sa pahla

Khda banda sa khod pocha bata teri raza kiya ha.

Here is the link to Dr Shoab A khan page.

This article could be viewed here.

Abdullah Ishtiaq

3 Comments to Fighting Perception while Choosing a Career or a Job

  1. Kamal Rahim

    "" In our country, no one explores hidden talent in an individual rather the selection of profession is not what you want to be rather it is what is forced on you by the society in general and the people around you in particular ""

    it really is our prob…………..and nice takeup bdw 🙂

  2. An extremely appreciative though that lacks in our academic circles and parental cultures!

    At very early ages, we aim to get admitted to "Universities" but mostly fail aim for a "profession"!

    Our ambitions are appreciation driven not enthusiasm!

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