THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE I HAVE LEARNED – Part 4

Hi there!

As a senior graduating some time in the near future, I’m here to share with you the greatest piece(s) of advice I’ve learned along my four years in college and 21 years of existence. I say pieces, because it’s hard for me to distill these instances down into a singular defining moment. So rather, I’m going to tell you about the path I went along to obtaining and internalizing these things.

I’d consider my identity unique, but I know it’s far from uncommon at UCLA. I’m the child of first-generation immigrants, who toiled to build lives for themselves anew, amongst great uncertainty. Fortunately for me, my parents were mostly successful. And since they (and the first-generational culture they surrounded themselves with) had discovered how to “make it,” they passed these formulas down to the second-generation (that’s me, and quite possibly you).

Most often these paths included the career arenas of Medicine, Engineering, Law, and Business — which is great if you are inclined towards and actually enjoy the above mentioned professions. But I never once had a second-generation friend who went to their parents with “I want to be an writer/artist/insert creative or alternative path here _____” and received encouragement. Instead, they would hear what so many immigrant parents tell their children:  “_____ is not the safest route in life. We didn’t sacrifice all this for you to take up a precarious profession.”

That brings me towards advice piece #1. Hint: I am one of those people. I’ve been a high achiever my whole life and rather gifted at math and science. I pursued that safety formula for as long as I can remember, without really understanding why. Suffice it to say, I hit a breaking point halfway through college and realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my time at school, or in my life doing something I didn’t really enjoy all that much. I watched this TED talk by Larry Smith called Why you will fail to have a great career. In his talk, Smith speaks about passion being the driving force for a life lived to its utmost potential, and the difference between settling for mediocrity and a creating a truly great career.

After I heard Smith’s talk, everything kind of just clicked for me. I took his words and juxtaposed them with what my parents and their culture had been urging onto me. And while I accept that the thought process comes from a place of concern and compassion — they only want to ensure security and alleviate potential suffering for their children — I decided I could not settle for the formula for success (read: safety).

And that brings me to the second point of advice. In Smith’s equation, there is no room for safety. But deliberately placing yourself on the front lines of uncertainty is something easier said than done, especially when you have people around you questioning your choices at all times. I didn’t fully grasp the significance of my decision, or come up with a way to justify it to myself amidst anxiety and self-doubt, until I heard Dr. Brené Brown’s thoughts on The Power of Vulnerability. I know at this point I’m beginning to sound like I work for the marketing team at TED, but I don’t, I promise (although I guess that could be cool). I do, however, think these talks are among the site’s most popular for a reason.

Brown’s talk taught me one of the most important things I’ve learned in my life. It is that being vulnerable  I mean really embracing it as fundamental — is essential to attaining joy and fulfillment.

So where does this leave me now? Well, it’s almost going to be two years since I decided to deviate from my selected formula of safety (pre-med) and into a path more authentic and enjoyable for me (film school). I’m graduating soon, and even if the future may be a bit uncertain, I know that all will be well when I’m following and nurturing my passions with vulnerability.

Vesta Partovi | UCLA Career Center Peer Advisor

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To Undeclared Students: Your Future Is as Open as Your Mind

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By Kexin Yu, Peer Advisor

Last week, we, as the representatives of Career Center, tabled at Major Blast 2014 and spoke to hundreds of freshmen within 2 hours. They all looked aspiring, but unsettled at the same time. They bombarded us with similar questions. “I don’t know what to do in the future.” “How can I choose a major?” “Does Career Center offer personality assessments?” I smiled to them, whispering in a voice that they could hardly hear, “Don’t worry. I know exactly how you feel. You are just as the old me one year ago.”

I was under great pressure during my freshman year. When my friends already stamped their ambitious, four-year timeline on the wall and were quite determined about their major decision, I was even struggling with my class planner for my very first quarter. I couldn’t start with the right pre-major courses. Also, being undecided seemed to me a negative state of indecision. I felt so timid (and even a little shamed) every time we were asked to introduce our names and majors to other classmates, since I was still unready and unable to determine my goals.

But I tried to calm down. Being undecided can also mean being open-minded. You can investigate new areas before you make up your mind. This is probably the last time you have such freedom to design your own dream studying plan. When you start to work, endless assignments and responsibilities consume you and you have so little time concentrating on your own interest. Sometimes, people who seem to have a clear vision about their future may be just compromising the matter with their parents. So first, I took introductory psychology, which was one of the fields that I was most eager to explore. The course offered me unparalleled insights into a brand new world. I was totally amazed by the wide application of psychology and the exciting research opportunities it has to offer. We read good books authored by patients suffering mental diseases and even got to meet the writers in person at the end of the quarter. However, it also gave me realistic views about an area which I thought I was very enthusiastic about. I then realized, although psychology is a great subject, that’s not what I want to do for a career.

Don’t be discouraged by words like, “You make little money if you do this job”. You will definitely feel uneasy about this later on in your life, since you reject the opportunity to have a try. Also, don’t push yourself so hard in the first year. Taking  GE courses and seminar might also be a smart choice. The film class, architecture history and political science that I took greatly enriched my freshman year at UCLA and led me to get inspired by the ideas and expertise of prominent professors from various cutting-edge areas.

Another advice: being strategic when you enroll in classes. Narrow down your choices by crossing off the ones that fail to appeal you. Choose subjects that not only intrigue you but can also fulfill the requirements of a great many majors. Then you will not fall very behind and graduate in a timely manner just as others. For example, I took Chemistry 20A rather than 14A since the former can apply to more science majors. Starting from scratch will definitely stress you out, especially when your peers are already half the way there! Do more research in the syllabus and contents of the courses that you are likely to choose. Sometimes having the knowledge of what material will be covered help you realize whether or not you are truly interested in this subject. Is this what you really want to spend time exploring and do it for a living?

Also, talk to peers with various majors. I originally thought I would never care about how a computer software actually works and were so prejudiced against programming geeks. And I always believed computer science is an area in which I had no talent. However, it turned out that it was only because I had never tried. A lot of my friends were “tortured” by C++ at that timem and so I also boldly took up this new challenge. To my surprise, I totally fell in love with it. Now, I’m even thinking about take Mathematics of Computation as my major. Moreover, seek answers to your questions from upperclassmen. Get to know what they consider as the most wonderful experience in those upper division courses and learn from their experience.

Remember, everything you learn or spend energy on eventually pays off. Maybe just in an unexpected way. People are frustrated when they begin to do something new because they feel what they’ve already done is just a waste of time. I also took Management 1A, Principles of Accounting, in the spring quarter. Although it seems not related to my curriculum, its philosophy influence me a lot. I become familiar with how a corporation actually runs and how to keep it organized and make best practices. This can apply to all aspects of life and everyone should at least have some knowledge of it. The course also helps me build a broad set of transferrable skills that will provide me not only a meaningful job but also a purposeful life in the future. And which employer would reject a well-rounded applicant?

Try to engage in as many self-discovery activities as possible outside the classroom. Going to Career Center to access our amazing assessment inventories can help you find your way. Also, during the spring break, I joined the UCLA Career PREP program which helps its participants get a glimpse of what a particular industry looks like through a one-day job shadowing experience. Actually, I stayed more than one day but a whole week during my host company, Park & Sylva Law Firm, after I found out that my experience was more than I could have expected. This externship provided me early exposure to professional law world and I could then decide whether or not I still want to enter that field. To get involved in a real working environment gives you more reliable facts about that industry than any TV series version. This unique experience even encouraged me to use what I gained to help other programs at Career Center grow. And that’s how I became a peer advisor for this academic year. (Now it’s only Week 4 and I still have a lot to learn. However, I already feel so lucky and fulfilled being in this position.) Helping others is just helping yourself. I grow so fast when I attempt to address the concerns of others in the best manner.

Although, sometimes my friends frown at my “random” class schedule and always seem confused, “What exactly is your major?” But, see? Isn’t it great sometimes being undecided? I always believe that everything starts with coincidence but ends up with destiny. Things that best match your capabilities and interests will come up to you while you keep wandering and wandering. Also, you should know that your major does not determine your entire career! So don’t freak out!

You should know that you are actually in great company! Studies show that 75% college students change their majors before graduation. Do not figure out all things on your own. Take advantage of resources around you. Make regular academic counseling with your advisors and eventually you will be able to make a concrete, sound choice independently.

So Bruins, take off your anxiety and embrace the chance to explore! Have a nice academic year! 

Advice To My First Year Self

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Happy Fall Quarter Bruins! Here’s to the next couple weeks of studying, midterms, and of course, some good ol’ UCLA football.

Today’s post is courtesy of me, Jesselyn. I’m one of the new Peer Advisors for 2014-2015, and I’m excited to share with you all some of my own reflections after my first year. A quick blurb about myself: I’m currently a 2nd year Psychobiology student interested in working in the healthcare industry. Which sector exactly? Consulting, optometry, public health… I’m not sure yet, to be honest. Like many other 2nd years, I’ve just embarked on my own career exploration journey, in the hopes of finding a profession that best fits my interests and abilities.

But, one year ago, I was a lost, confused, overwhelmed freshman who didn’t have a clue how to navigate the ins and outs of UCLA. So, to all the first years (and second years?–maybe even third years?) out there, you are not alone. These are the tips for success I’ve learned this past year–the tips I wish someone could have told me sooner:

1). Don’t overload yourself

Even before my first quarter at UCLA started, I already felt like I was falling behind. After all, I had heard countless stories of seniors not graduating on time or being able to finish their GEs. So I thought, “Okay, I’ve gotta pack on all my prerequisite classes NOW – no slacking.” But the thing is…I knew I would not be comfortable taking 2 science and math classes my first quarter. I was living independently in a new city, trying to make new friends, and dealing with roommate issues–all while craving the comfort and ease of life back home in San Jose. The competitive premed classes I was taking only added onto my pile of stress. So there I was, stressing out about being stressed out.  It wasn’t until 9th week that I vowed to never feel pressured to follow the crowd again.

This is what I wish I could have told myself: “Hey. It’s just your first quarter. I know it seems like everyone at UCLA is already making scientific breakthroughs, but they’re really not. Everyone thrives at a different pace. Ease into your first year, have fun, and don’t worry just yet!”

2). Being busy is good

I know this sounds like conflicting advice, but trust me. You want to be busy, but not too busy that you overload yourself. Time in college is so valuable. You only have 24 hours each day, and ideally, you’d like to spend 6-8 hours of it asleep. Therefore, you don’t want to waste your waking hours just lounging around. And, as tempting as binge watching Netflix sounds, you’ll feel more accomplished with your day if you keep yourself productive. Attend career fairs and information sessions? Join a preprofessional organization? Explore career options at the Career Center library? Whatever you end up doing, be efficient and keep your mind and body active.

3). Keep your eyes and mind open

Opportunities, especially at UCLA, are always a blessing! Sometimes you may not find exactly what you’re looking for, but as a first year, any work experience is great experience.

During my second quarter, I applied and interviewed to join a professional pre-health organization and was denied. Although I was disappointed, I knew I had to keep trying. I continued to look for other opportunities in any field, whatever was open. I soon started working at an on-campus coffee bar. It seemed insignificant at first, but that experience working as a barista was relevant and invaluable. Taking orders, creating espresso based drinks, and serving pastries taught me a lot about teamwork, thinking on my feet, and customer service–all skills essential for health careers and crucial in helping me land my Junior Consultant position at Bruin Consulting.

4). Do what YOU want

The best thing about your first year is having the time AND flexibility to explore any interests you may have, whether it’s academic or just for fun. (Archery? Psychology? Film? Sports medicine?) It’s very easy to feel “stuck” in a major/career path. The Career Center library–the second largest in the U.S.–offers an entire section devoted to Career Exploration. You can learn more about potential jobs in any industry from fashion design and culinary arts to finance and medicine.

5). If you haven’t failed, you haven’t pushed yourself enough

As cheesy as it sounds, it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, I came up with this advice because I made the mistake of doing exactly the opposite. You learn quickly when you make mistakes. You gain firsthand knowledge and experience, and (see #3) experience as a 1st year is always great addition to your toolbox. One of my fears as a first year was rejection. I didn’t want to fail because I believed that failure mean that I was inadequate–but that is not the case at all.

Failure means that you were confident in yourself and believed in your unique skills. You set high expectations for yourself and desired excellence. Even though you did not obtain the result you wanted, you were mentally prepared to challenge yourself. You have the fiery drive to succeed. So whatever it is that you seek, push yourself and apply for that committee board position, that internship, or that research position! You just might be surprised with yourself.

Lastly, the Career Center even offers a suggested “4-year plan” outlining the key steps and decisions you should be considering throughout your undergraduate years. It is so helpful for those who want to stay on track for graduation, professional school, or graduate school. Come to the Career Center on Strathmore today to pick up this free, detailed flyer!

CONFESSIONS OF A PEER ADVISOR (VOL. 5): INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWING

Greetings everyone!

Welcome to a new edition of Confessions of a Peer Advisor, this time with your Peer Advisor, Vesta.

I’d like to start out by introducing myself, giving you a little bit about my background so you can understand one of my most important tips to Career Discovery: informational interviewing.

If you’ve ever been stressed over figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life, welcome to the club! Seriously, I’ve been there. And that was probably one of the things that caused me the most anxiety during my initial time as a college student at UCLA (and sometimes still does!) My journey of undecidedness has brought me from coming into UCLA as pre-med to an interested-in-science pre-health-something-or-other, to an I-no-longer-want-to-do-science-what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-HELP sophomore, and finally, a I’m-still-figuring-things-out-but-I’m-happy-while-doing-it junior who transferred into the film school. Yes, you read correctly, film school. I changed my major from science to film, and my career trajectory from pre-med to pre-Hollywood. Big jump, right? How do you think someone (in the right mind) comes about that sort of (literally) life-altering decision? Well the process definitely isn’t easy. But something that really helped me during my frantic, “I need to figure out what direction I’m going to take my life in NOW” mode and guide me towards my ultimate, firm decision was informational interviewing — and I didn’t even know I was doing it!

The concept of ‘informational interviewing’ was conceived by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career handbook, What Color Is Your Parachute? In his book, Bolles describes the process as “trying on jobs to see if they fit you.” He notes that most people choose a career path without taking the time to speak with professionals in their field of interest. As a result, they find themselves in careers that are not a true match for their skills, values, interests, and abilities.

Therefore, an informational interview is conducted when you “interview” someone who has a career you are considering to see if it is really something that you would like to do. Now I’m sure some the more anxious ones of you out there have already partaken in some form of information interviewing, one way or another. It could have been asking a family friend how they liked their job if you were considering that field, or talking to your dentist or doctor about how they got to becoming the healthcare professional they were if you were considering it. These informal interactions are definitely informational interviews in essence. But what if you are interested in a certain career and you don’t know anyone in it to talk about with? Did you know there is a formal informational interviewing process you can be making use of as a college student that could put you into contact with virtually any professional in any career you could be considering? There is! And most students don’t know about it or don’t even believe it to be an acceptable thing.

So what is a legitimate informational interview? Essentially, it is a highly focused information gathering session with a networking contact designed to help you choose or refine your career path by giving you the “insider” point of view. Networking contact, you say? How does one procure one of those, exactly? Well it’s not too hard when you go to UCLA! We have a huge alumni network here, which you can use to find plenty of potential contacts with which to conduct informational interviews. (Use the Alumni function on LinkedIn or see http://alumni.ucla.edu/bruinworks/).

Case study: Me!

Long story short, an important reason behind why I was able to make such an enormous, yet confident, career-path shift during my first two years at UCLA was through informal and then formal informational interviewing. I figured out I didn’t want to be pre-med after an in depth conversation with the director of admissions at Drexel Medical School (who was also a practicing internalist and my mom’s good friend). I did the same thing with researchers in the Psychology lab I volunteered at, and slowly started figuring out which career paths weren’t for me. When I started testing out the waters of the entertainment industry, I decided to take a producing class in the film department where the professor brought guest speakers every week to talk about their specific careers and roles in the industry. Afterwards, I would go up to each professional whose story interested me, and ask them follow-up questions about their job (whether they liked it, where they felt like it was taking them, etc.) The answers that I received gave me a better sense of what it was exactly that I wanted to do. Flash-forward to today, when I am trying to figure out which specific department on the corporate side of the film/television industry that I want to ultimately work in. I recently used one of the networking connections I made in that producing class to conduct my first formal informational interview with, and the experience was amazing.

What happens during a “real” informational interview?

Basically, you arrange with your networking contact to speak with them (usually face-to-face in their professional environment, although it could also occur over the phone) and ask them questions about what they do.

You use their answers to help guide your own career discovery: whether a career like theirs is something you would like to have or not, and if so, to help determine your path to getting there. Networking contacts are almost always more than happy to conduct informational interviews for students like yourself, their advice is 100% free AND helps ensure that you are indeed making the right choice when it comes time to answer that dreadful question: what am I actually going to do with the rest of my life?!

What more can you ask for?

I hope I’ve convinced you to look into informational interviewing and try it out for yourself.

To view some tips about how to find contacts, set up informational interviews and prepare for them, visit http://career.ucla.edu/students/ExploreCareers/WhatIsAnInformationalInterview.aspx. And for more personalized advice, you can always set up an appointment to meet with a Career Counselor at the UCLA Career Center.

Happy interviewing!!

Being UNDECLARED: The most misunderstood college phenomenon

Maybe being undeclared in college isn’t the MOST misunderstood college phenomenon. After all, college students do hordes of odd things that would never fly in the real world- living off naps, cheap food, weekday parties, and a primal urge to do whatever it takes to pass classes- and somehow being undeclared became one of “those” things that people kind of shake their head at or give questioning-mixed-with-pity looks.

Listen, everyone. Being undeclared is nothing to problematize. In fact, I would argue that being undeclared is a beautiful time in a college student’s life, a time of bountiful self-discovery, endless wonder, sprinkled with the right amount of apprehension to keep you on your toes.

However, it’s hard to feel that way when a typical conversation as an undeclared student goes like this:

“So what’s your major?”

“Oh I’m undeclared.”

“Oh cool, so what are you leaning towards?”

“I have a couple of ideas but I’m really still not sure.”

“So you have NO idea what you want to do?” (insert look of scorn)

“Wait what, no, I most certainly did not say that, I just said I’m not sure. I’m looking at a lot of options, and want to be open to different opportunities”

~At this point in the story, let’s revert to a “Choose Your Own Ending Format!” The choices are:

1. “Oh gosh, sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you!”

2. “I’ve heard a lot of people do Psych or Econ, maybe you can do that.”

3. “How interesting, I’m pre-med/law/optometry/podiatrist, so I in no way can relate to this struggle you’re going through, but good for you!”

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This polar bear feels your pain.

Alright, I’m sufficiently tired of this. As a previously undeclared student (and I’m talking years of being undeclared, I would venture the label “former professional undeclared student” is fairly apt), I’m taking a stand for all undeclared students out there.

So here’s my public service announcement about being undeclared.

THINGS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT BEING UNDECLARED

  1. Really think about what it means to be undeclared. Oh so in a world of possibilities and a college full of opportunities, you have yet to confine yourself on a path to studying different variations of the same topic for four years straight? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!
    Does this make more sense? Being undeclared is not a choice to be an aimless wanderer, it’s the choice to have the absence of structure and feel free in your decisions to explore and try new things.
  2. When you’re undeclared, you have the option of taking a bunch of different classes and they can be anything from science to history to squirrel feeding. For some people, this works for their personality. And if you’ve never thought about how much your personality permeates your life, get ready to have your mind blown. Some people are naturally, inherently, more inclined to embrace variety and so taking a lot of different classes is actually beneficial for them. Some people might say they’re “all over the place” but I like to think of these people (myself included so this is only slightly biased) as trailblazers and explorers.
  3. Don’t fall into the trap of “doing what everyone else is doing” or  choosing something that is “economically sound.” What does that even mean? You are not everyone else- you have your own personality and your own set of values and whatever you choose to do should be in line with those parts of you. When you’re true to yourself, you have less to explain about your motivation and choices and this is an endlessly useful tool when you run into conversations like the one described above.
  4. When you’re navigating the waters of being undeclared, just remember, this time in your life ends soon. One day, you will eventually have to leave college with a degree in your hand that says you majored in _______________. My main piece of advice for those undeclared students is to be positive; a lot of the struggles you experience as an undeclared student are the result of your reactions to social stigmas and let’s remember how well those work out for everyone.

A lot of information here comes from my own experiences being undeclared and I can confidently say I did not come into college with any of these conclusions. I was lost and scared and annoyed about feeling like the only undeclared person in a sea of people who, in my mind, had their head on straight, and it wasn’t until I took a lot of self-discovery and self-improvement steps that I learned the truth: I am not an anomaly.

And so how do I stand here now, as a senior looking back on my time in college with the wisdom to write this post? I’ll say trial and error played a large part, but I needed help, and that came from the UCLA Career Center.

The Career Center was made for people who (want to go to law school/med school/grad school/know what they’re doing) have no idea what they want to do. Not only that, they understand and encourage taking the journey that leads you to your best outcome in your future career and life, which is making the right decisions based on your personality and values and strengths. At the Career Center, you can take assessments on these topics and discover more about you. A counselor will help you decode these tests, and their insight is similarly invaluable.

And check out the Career Exploration section of the library! There are books on everything from personality types, choosing a major, and my personal favorite, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which gives you realistic ideas of future careers you can have. So for those of you who only have a fuzzy idea of what you want your future career to be, this book gives you tons of examples of real careers and even if you’re not ready to make a choice yet, you are always more than welcome to be enamored by the idea of being a teacher one day and then flip to the back of the book the next day and want to be an urban planner.

Finally, let’s get rid of the notion that being undeclared is painful. It’s not, and if it ever gets to you just remember…

ImageBe you. Be awesome. And come to the Career Center!