What is the best way to select a major in Graduate School?
The Simple answer would be, “Son find what excites you. Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I know that took literally 10 seconds to type, but it can take a lifetime to figure out. But, let me tell you how to find what excites you and why you should find and do what excites you and not chase “hot trend” so you can get a job.
Students planning to study abroad are concerned about job opportunities after completing the degree. To a certain extent, you should look at that and make a decision. I have seen several F-1 students transfer from Non STEM degree to STEM degree to get additional 24 months in OPT. But, the discussion here is how to find what excites you and your fields of major?
First, allow me to say this: Studying what you are passionate about is far more important than chasing a degree that will give you a job. The primary reason why someone would want to find the “hot trend” is to improve the chances of landing a job. Let’s take things into perspective from a Hiring Manager.
Employer’s Hiring Mindset:
- If you show you have the knowledge, they may hire you.
- If you have knowledge and prove you can solve their (employer) problems, they will hire her.
- If you have knowledge, prove you can solve the problem and show you are passionate, then they will hire you immediately.
Now, you have to figure out two things:
- Find and study what excites you.
- Display your passion about your field of interest.
So, how to find what you are passionate about?
- First, don’t try to solve the problem of what major will get a job the day after you graduate.
As International students studying in the USA, you need to find a job not only with an offer, but Visa sponsorship. But, people often do what’s required to solve the immediate problem, when they could be solving something bigger with better career opportunities.
How to Select a Major in Graduate School?
I’m writing this article after deriving inspiration from the following question:
I would like to pursue MS in Computer Science from University of Texas Arlington. May I know how is UTA for MS in CS?
And also which major is best from UTA among Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Software Engineering.
Any specialization in MS would get you a job if you know how to find a job. Period. You have to understand that. But, for PhD, you have to be more careful on your choice of topic and research since you are narrowing down our scope.
Have you heard about T-Model Professionals?
Here’s a description of the T-shaped Professionals from Duke University:
A Masters education promotes the development of the complete “T” through one of two ways. An individual may have a breadth of knowledge stemming from undergraduate studies in a strong liberal arts community.
By focusing on the depth of knowledge at the Masters level, that individual will increase his/her specialization expertise. Alternatively, an engineering undergraduate curriculum followed by a broadening of the top of the “T” at the Masters level also accomplishes a complete profile.
Either approach offers a broad working knowledge coupled with expertise in specific areas and fosters success in a chosen industry. Career experience strengthens the T-shaped education, adding layers to both expertise and workplace skills, cultivating maturation into effective leadership.
In other words, it translates to following the model:
Now, how does this T-Shaped Model translate and apply to your question about selecting a major between Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Software Engineering?
If you go by trend, you would go with Data Science specialization for Masters in Computer Science. But, how do you know if that’s what you want to do for the rest of your Career and Life? Would Data Science give the a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of the day?
I know it’s difficult to decide when you don’t have sufficient exposure and experience. So, how to you get that exposure?
With your under-graduate degree you are gaining experience at the bottom of the T Shaped Professional Model.
At the Graduate schools offer Breath Level courses (Top Horizontal Level Area) to gain more exposure.
You should take courses in all three areas you are debating. That should help you gain advanced knowledge in a variety of fields.
Decide on Major Before Admission and Application
There will be instances, when you would have to decide on a University to attend and if they don’t offer the same majors, you are now forced to make a decision before taking courses.
I would recommend to complete a course using MOOC platform like Coursera or EdX. In 3 months, you will know if you like a specific course or not. If you don’t like it, then move on. But, the worst thing you can do is to follow a trend. It almost always never gives the job satisfaction. If you don’t enjoy, then work becomes painful.
Is three months course enough for you to decide your passion? Maybe not. So, what do you do then?
I would follow what I’m interested in today. I may not be passionate about it. But, I have a liking, so I would follow that. After taking baby steps, if the interest turns into passion, then I can make a career out of that.
The primary reason I suggested Courser or EdX or Udemy is because you can find your interest in a few months with very little investment. You dont have to spend thousands of dollars to find your interest.
Summary 1: When you Have Time
- Find what you are interested in.
- Interest is not equal to Passion
- Take baby steps to nurture your interest
- Given enough time and effort, interest can turn into a passion.
- To pick a major in graduate school, try taking courses in EdX, Coursera, Udemy.
- Does the course excite you? Do you feel the pain when completing projects? Do you love it?
- Invest thousands of dollars to figure out your interest after joining grad school or invest time before grad school?
- Above all, you need a game plan, how you make decisions, and effort to identify what is your interest and passion.
Summary 2: When you are Short on Time
- Don’t pick a major without immersion or real experience
- Take courses on your interested field
- Complete Extra Projects beyond course work
- Then decide what you want to do with your career.
Conversation with Graduate School Student
I had a conversation with a student looking that went like this
He: I’m applying for Entry Level Software Engineer Job
I: What programming language?
He: Java Programming.
I: Are you getting any interview calls?
He: Nothing. Don’t know why the employers are not responding to my applications
I: I asked him, why Java?
Him: I worked on Java for 2 years in India, so I thought I would apply for Java jobs.
I: Have you done anything unique that employer is going to want you for your work?
That’s the perfect example of why you want to find something you have an interest, then nurture your interest and convert into a passion.
Let me wrap this article with a quote from Seth Godin:
If you’re the average person out there doing average work, there’s going to be someone else out there doing the exact same thing as you, but cheaper. Now that the industrial economy is over, you should forget about doing things just because it’s assigned to you, or “never mind the race to the top, you’ll be racing to the bottom. However, if you’re different somehow and have made yourself unique, people will find you and pay you more.”