Friday, 12 September 2008

Career Aspirations

A few days ago, La Delirante and I met this girl at a private educational institute. She said that she graduated as a lawyer, but has never really worked as one. Indeed, her current job has virtually nothing to do with her legal studies. She did not complain about the fact that she is not working as a lawyer. The girl said that compared to some of her university colleagues who went on to work as lawyers, she has a much better job. We asked her about decent work opportunities for lawyers here in Malta; her comments were far from encouraging! She said that unless one comes from a family of established lawyers or has strong connections, it is extremely hard to find a good job as a lawyer in present-day Malta. A friend of hers, she told us, had tried to work as a notary and opened an office, but hardly anyone ever turned up. This friend ended up working in a call centre.

Studying something and ending up having to work in a sometimes totally different field is a situation which seems to be affecting a growing number of university graduates locally as well as in many other countries. I spent four years of my life studying Psychology. I was one of the top students in my course, graduating with a high B+ average from university. I also studied Philosophy for several years. When I started looking for a job related to my studies, I could not find anything that matched my knowledge and skills. Some of my classmates ended up working for organisations that helped individuals suffering from a number of behavioural problems, but their jobs were often terribly ill-paid and with very bad conditions. I still remember one girl telling me that she sometimes had to work at night as a sort of security guard in a home for troubled teenagers. She said that she would take a book with her and spend most of the night reading.

I eventually ended up working as a Support Officer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My job did not even require a university degree!

Although the acquisition of knowledge can always be seen as useful (and I surely do not regret having studied Psychology), it is extremely frustrating to see how nobody ever turned on the alarm bells when I was about to enter University. Why is it that nobody informed me that the chances of finding a decent job with an Honours Psychology degree were going to be minimal?

A great deal of the textbooks we used were from the US. Such books often gave one the impression that there is such a huge demand for psychologists that a graduate in that area would never have to face the spectre of unemployment! We were being exposed to the US and sometimes to the UK markets, but hardly anyone was ever enlightening us about the Maltese job market!

Several years have gone by since I graduated. I am presently studying and working in insurance. Up to mid-2005, I had absolutely no idea about how insurance worked. Today, I am working hard to obtain my Diploma in Insurance. As I said in a previous post, I love working in insurance. Yet, there are times when I feel that I could do something more than that since one of the things I like most in life is that beautiful feeling that flows in my system whenever I do something to make other people feel happy. At the end of the day, I studied Psychology for two main reasons: I had fallen in love with science and I wanted to help other human beings to overcome various problems in their lives so that they could feel better about themselves.

If I had the opportunity, I would love to be able to study Medicine. I am sure that the study of how countless body systems work would satisfy my craving for scientific knowledge. More importantly, working as a doctor would allow me to really contribute to improving the welfare of many other people. Moreover, there is always a huge demand for doctors and it is, therefore, virtually impossible to end up unemployed.

The dream is great, but how on earth would I be able to study Medicine today? The course is fairly long and it requires full-time study. With all my current financial commitments, I cannot just stop working to spend the next five years of my life studying! Sadly, this is a dream that is going to have to wait for quite a while until it is turned to reality...

I have focused a great deal on my own experience. Yet, I know that there are several other people out there who could identify with various issues mentioned in this post. During the last month or so, I have come across a girl who graduated in Communications and Psychology, but who is presently working as a receptionist (her duties include preparing coffee and hot chocolate for the directors!). I have also recently met another girl who graduated in Geography, but is working for a financial services company.

One question: shouldn't the government do more to see to it that if a person is studying something, there are several good opportunities to apply the knowledge that is gained painstakingly over a number of years? What is the point of having a Philosophy course at university when the newspaper adverts are almost always looking for graduates in Accounts, Economics, and IT?


Annemarie said...

Re: your comment about receiving no warnings at the start of the psychology course. I remember feeling really shocked during the first week of the course when a lecturer told us that at least half of us will not make it till the end of the 4 years since there are so few jobs around. And we were also told, that a Bachelor in Psychology without a Masters is practically useless. At that point in time, I had never thought of the possibility of continuing in a post-grad course and I felt rather cheated. So, yes, we were given a warning but it is still a shame to study for 4 years to become an assistant psychologist and go through great difficulties to find a decent job. If I spent 4 years in another course, I could have called myself an economist, a radiologist, a historian, a teacher, a nurse...

Red said...

I cannot recall any proper warnings at the beginning or during the university course. Perhaps I was not present during the lecture you mentioned, but I surely cannot recall any similar words of caution.

I still believe that anyone wanting to become a psychologist must really ensure that they have sufficient financial and other resources to make such a dream come true since it can sometimes look much harder to be a psychologist than to be, say, a medical doctor!! Furthermore, it is fundamental to explore the job market since I am encountering many people with even Master's degrees who never really found a job that was specifically related to their studies!

Annemarie said...

Well the warning had sounded more like an announcement..."half of you won't make it till the end of 4th year". I think if I hadn't moved away from Malta it would have been very difficult for me to find a fulfilling job even after I completed my Masters.