Vinayak Garg :

Informed choices

A place to go, somewhere to be, I choose the way that’s right for me.

Others help, their hands are good, But they can’t help more than they should.

If others say who I should be, Then where is my identity?

God teaches me each step to take. Don’t block my path, my life’s at stake

choiceThese lines by Tim Kolb aptly capture the relevance of informed choices in a student’s career.

We make so many choices all the time in our careers, and some of them are big enough to actually govern who do we grow up to be; choice of subjects in class XI, choice of course/ college after 12th, choice of course to take for post graduation (or even choice not to do post graduate degree!) and also choice of jobs/ sector etc.

But how many of the choices that we make are actually informed choices? How many decisions do we take being fully aware of the consequences of not only our chosen path but also of the other paths?

During my time at IIT most of the students that I met had never given a second thought about becoming an engineer, or even about taking up science at class XI, it just seemed the obvious option that a student of their caliber was expected to do. But then that is where the problem begins, students would always contemplate what if they would have actually given it a thought in class XI, would they still have chosen the same path? And surprisingly this continues, at campus placement they again take up jobs that students of their caliber are eligible for and then they contemplate few weeks into the job whether they would have actually liked some other job better.

The problem with not having an informed choice is not that you would make the wrong choice, but the fact that you would never know if you made the right choice.

choices-for-deliberate-creatorsOne of the main reasons for continued traditional decision making is the social pressure and limited acceptance offered by society to people who choose to tread on their own paths. The society offers its acceptance strictly by a set of hierarchal perceptions. Even within engineering the stream selection is by norm in the order of computer science-electronics-etc etc ….. a student who is currently elated from his good performance in the entrance exams is offered advice by all the nearby relatives/ friends and friends of relatives on what branch he should choose, and the student who is clueless about what does each branch has to offer is forced to make the biggest decision of his career merely on the basis of public poll!

Secondly, students are being asked to make choices again and again without being properly educated about the various options. There is little guidance that is provided to students in a regular manner through the education system about various possibilities that lie in front of him.

INSA LyonInformed choices define the interest of student in teaching and the overall flow of education system that follows after the choice. In INSA, France, after school students are admitted into engineering institutes but are not offered specialized branches at this stage. The first year is dedicated to provide general awareness about engineering and provide students with adequate understanding so that they are able to distinguish offerings of one branch from the other. It is only in their second year that they are offered specialized branches based upon their performance in the first year. As a result the students are really passionate about what they are learning and almost all of them graduate to join core engineering services or research, because this is what they chose. Also another interesting observation in this system is that the ‘hottest branch’ keeps changing very dramatically each year, the batch I was studying with had civil engineering as the most sought after  discipline, and it was biotechnology the year before. Long internships, and a 5 year degree ensures that students have a good knowledge of the work life before they actually jump into it, and can actually choose the field they want to enter.

Most importantly making informed choices lets you to take control of your life, rather than vice-versa. It instills an unmatched confidence and lets you live life without any regrets (or maybe lesser regrets!) or ‘what if’ contemplations.

July 2009

7 responses to “Informed choices”

  1. Saifullah says:

    Agreed! The INSA method is quite interesting and I think it can easily be applied at IIT as we anyhow do a lot of common courses in the first year of college. A very apt case was that of Raghu Mahajan, AIR 1 in JEE 2007, he took Comp Sc. though his interest was heavily into Physics. He eventually left IIT at the end of his 2nd year and joined Physics @ MIT…. but there’s still one problem and that is the amount of competition and the unavailability of equal opportunities in every sector. People with higher ranks will always prefer better paying branches irrespective of their interest, eliminating the ranking system in JEE will do some help!

  2. vivek says:

    Cash stashing is a prominent reason but there are social aspects too. In most homes, parents right from the beginning create an environment in which their child has heard of just two options doctor or engineer or in some cases a third one i.e. of his/her parent. Rest all options are alien to him/her. Now when the time for making decision arises, he/she makes his decision from these curtailed set, thereby eliminating the role of personal skill entirely.
    It would be wrong to generalize this but this is what happened to most of my classmates including me at school as we hardly knew of any other choices.
    One more aspect that I can see is the social structure in our country. Here our families have a lot of influence on how our lives shape up, while in western countries (this one is on the basis of my limited knowledge of their culture), people start living independently quite early in their life and start making decisions for themselves, something which comes to us when we have finished with our colleges and probably taken our first jobs. By this time the most crucial career decisions had already been taken

  3. Sahil Malhotra says:

    Well i do agree in the hindsight, we feel that we could have done better. We make the calculated moves (guided by the people around us), and not flow with our natural wave.
    A prerequisite fund of knowledge is required to make the aforementioned informed choices.
    So how much a class 10 student should be educated to take decision about his carrier ?
    Can he talk about GMAT, CAT, GRE, UPSC…bla bla…i don’t feel so. So what kind of knowledge do you want instill in him. We even can’t overload the ongoing curriculum. In my opinion, it has to be something which boost their creativity…like trips to different places etc., basically more practically oriented.

  4. Bhushan says:

    Unless we as a society start holding students responsible (in a positive way) for their career and life from a young age (after around 10th std) the need for seeking information to make informed choice wont come up.

    The change in societal attitude may take a long time but to begin with even if we have such responsibilities entrusted in the education system itself it would be a wise move.

    The system you mentioned about declaring majors in INSA, Lyon is also followed in almost all the major ‘best universities’. In India, I guess IIT would be best placed to initiate such a system. Getting rid of JEE ranks have to be dealt with judiciously.
    I agree with Saifullah about JEE ranks eliminating any possibility of students following their hearts in choosing the area of their majors. All we need is a cut off score and students shud be allowed to declare their majors based on first years performance.

  5. […] About Me « Informed choices […]

  6. […] Every now and then comes a point when we stop to think about the path we are going at, and wonder whether it is really the right one for us.  I do admit that initial choices in my life were not really informed choices and so yes I do suffer from all the dilemmas and contemplations that I discussed in my earlier post. […]

  7. gaurav amarpuri says:

    Well, I just want to explore the reason for rigidity in Indian education system. I think its a legacy of our past; the unfortunate Caste System which was prevalent in Indian society for centuries, and is still quite relevant, thanks to the controvercial college/job reservations bill. Earlier, a child’s futre was determined at his/her birth, depending on the family he/she is born into. Although a lot has changed since then, and now individuals have the opportunity to break the shackles of casteism and achieve his/her potential, but due to the lack of information on possible alternatives, following the proven professional path seems to be an easy option. The risk-adverse attitude adds to the misery and further discourages experimentation with one’s career.

    I am not sure if INSA’s system is the best way to induce flexibility in the Indian education, but it is definately a step in the right direction. If I had to reform, I would first focus on inducing flexibility in schools. Selection of stream after class 10th is the starting point of one’s career and determines one’s professional future. I strongly believe that 10th is too young an age to make an informed choice and rather one misses-out on developing a strong fundamental base. For example, a science graduate remains oblivious to the beauty of economics, political science or social sciences, until learning their importance through life experiences. A knowledge of these fundamental disciplines would help in making well-rounded personalities and perhaps equip individuals to make a more meaningful, sustainable impact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.