While finals pose an immediate threat to us every ten weeks, our true nemesis is the ticking clock leading up to graduation. In only a four year timespan, our soon-to-be employers expect us to excel in our studies while participating in enough career-relevant work to save them the trouble of teaching us a whole new skillset, putting the pressure on us to soak up as much as we can during our time in academia.
Luckily for us at UCI, there are more or less equal opportunities for most majors to acquire practical experience in the fields they hope to enter post-graduation. The lessons learned from these positions will of course be different, but I believe there are more than enough to ensure any student can develop skills in whatever they want.
I dormed in a performing arts hall last year, and was blown away by the number of performances, organizations, film contests, plays, and other creative ventures (including this one!) that are available to these students. Most of these opportunities are available to students as soon as they come to UCI, letting them build their resumes as soon as possible.
The quality of these programs varies between the organizers’ prowess in their respective fields, but any opportunity allows the participants to develop skills that they will use later in their careers. From managing stage fright to developing a singular writing voice to building a portfolio of edited work, students can expect to find an outlet for nearly any interest they may have.
STEM fields differ in their undergraduate career-building only in their timeline of availability. While there are definitely research positions available to freshman science majors, most are directed towards third-years. I have no qualms with this time restriction — if it can even be called a restriction — as it allows these students to explore their other interests while gearing up for research.
For example, my personal interests in writing journalistic articles and making terrible YouTube videos has led me to write for this publication on a regular basis while also occasionally creating basic promotional material at my job.
This is not to say that science majors need, or are expected, to explore other areas of their life before taking part in research. There are many research labs across campus, and it is definitely possible to score a position before hitting your third year of college. If you are hellbent on jumping straight into the thick of research, applying and emailing places you are interested in will surely yield the intended result.
Occupational experience is, again, beneficial for students’ career goals. However, there is often a conflict between the expectations of interns versus the needs of their employers.
STEM majors argue that their research opportunities only benefit the researcher they report to. Many feel that the skills they acquire are so specific that they cannot easily be translated into a broad job market. However, many of these dissenters do not realize the emphasis employers put on these experiences.
A quick browse through science-related occupations will make it shockingly apparent how important “previous hands-on experience” is to our chances of getting a job after graduation. Employers want more than just an academic warrior, and need to know that their prospective employees are able to operate under the high pressure they are about to be subjected to.
It is difficult to make time for, but job experience relevant to our future is something all students should look into exploring before their time at UCI is done.
If you still have time to spare before the quarter really shifts into gear, try to look for hands-on experience in your fields of interest and your fields of study. If you do not find anything you like, think of it as an opportunity to start looking into something new.
Isaac Espinosa is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.