Written by Nathan Pastrano.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.

For most students, switching career paths can be a very difficult decision to make. I know this, because I was one of them. I began my first-year studies as a chemistry major with a genuine interest in healthcare and pharmaceutical innovation. However, as my first year of undergrad came to an end, I started becoming honest with myself: medicine was not my calling. I fell back to square one, completely unsure of what I was going to do with my career, yet absolutely confident that I had wasted my time in science.

As a first-generation college student coming from a small town, I was limited in my knowledge about careers other than medicine and nursing. So, when college application season rolled around, I put what I loved on the back burner: English literature. At the time, I didn’t understand how reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet could be useful-, or how conquering the writing portion of the AP Literature exam could help me secure a job. With the over-stigmatization of the liberals arts, I felt as if studying science was my only viable option.

Despite having a strong disinterest in molecular structures and balancing chemical equations, my time in science is something I wouldn’t see as valuable until years down the road. I was a part of the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) Scholars program, a first-year support system that provides science majors with academic advising, mentorship, and tutoring. Dr. Michael Raney, one of my professors partnered with the program, always stressed that students who ask for assistance in their coursework are the ones who succeed. Although most first-year students have a difficult time doing this, I heeded his advice, which bolstered my confidence in asking for help from other campus partners.

Taking advantage of resources on campus, such as the Sanger Learning Center, Calculus Learning Lab, and Collaborative Study Sessions, is an extremely important skill for first-year students to master. Whether it’s chatting about content with professors, or asking a peer to explain a difficult organic chemistry problem, learning how to utilize campus resources early in your college career will make the following years a lot more manageable. For me personally, had I began my undergraduate studies in another discipline, garnering the courage to ask for help would have developed more slowly.

The little background I have in chemistry, calculus, biology, and statistics still comes in handy. I’ve worked at the University Writing Center for over 2 years, and some of the materials I’ve seen vary from Chemistry 204 lab reports to personal statements for graduate programs in science. Understanding technical jargon makes responding to these materials easier, and my experience has been extremely useful in making writing consultations more constructive when discussing content and restructuring papers accordingly.

My time in STEM also catalyzed the development of my confidence, perseverance, and time management skills, traits I also attribute to the core of my research in literary studies and my dedication to student advocacy. Confidence is necessary for building the courage to speak and present in front of large groups. For self-motivation when navigating strenuous assignments and crushing late night study sessions, perseverance is of key importance. Finally, time management–a cornerstone for building your resume and vitae–is priceless when balancing work, extracurricular commitment, and a social life.

Switching studies allowed me to continue building upon and utilizing these skills when studying a third language, writing my thesis, and adjusting my interpersonal communication abilities. These skills, which are fundamental to these disciplines, resurface again and again through new mediums, and I can attest to this through other personal experiences. In interviews for internships, jobs, and on-campus positions, interview committees tend to ask about my prowess. Being able to draw on these dexterities not only makes you a unique candidate but helps in illustrating you as an experienced–and adaptable–employee.

In every work environment, writing is inevitable. My knowledge in grammar and editing, in addition to critical reading and analytical skills, have afforded me tools that can be exercised with confidence. What started as a genuine interest has lead me into policy, sustainability, and educational leadership positions. Oddly enough, I still want to become a doctor: a doctor of literature that is.

If you’re a student wanting to switch studies and/or career paths, the skills and abilities unique to you will serve you well moving forward, especially in ways that may not initially seem apparent. Learning how to foster and hone them becomes easier when you study something of interest. For first-generation college students, the opportunities are endless both in undergrad and after, no matter how unclear the path ahead may seem.

Following your interests will transgress into a passion, and the puzzle pieces will fall into place.

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