# Major in what you're PASSIONATE in! and other useless platitudes

1. Jul 10, 2009

### MissSilvy

"Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

I'm sure many people on this forum have been at the point where they needed to make a decision about what to do with themselves as far as careers go. Many of you are probably way beyond that point so I thought perhaps I'd try.

I've been trying to ignore this issue for a while but there's still no getting around the fact that a physicist has a pretty garbagety job. They don't make much, work long hours, and have to deal with all sorts of bureaucracy and b.s. just to get a job. Engineers make more but it's still very low pay and so much headache and stress.

I asked everyone I can think of; career advisers, my academic adviser, professors, friends, parents, people in the industry, and almost everyone I know but I still get pretty empty advice. "Major in what you're passionate in!" as if everyone only had one soul mate major rather than a lot that they're potentially interested in. Or they have some sort of motive to push me in one direction, the most common one being "Be an X; we need more girls in X!"

I may sound like a young whippersnapper but I don't want to go through college and bust my hump at something, even if it's my passion and I'm good at it, just to get out and make 55k a year and maybe be an assistant manager ten years down the line. If I'm lucky, I may even get *gasp* more than that but it's still a rather low salary and a soul-sucking job. I hear all sorts of horror stories about mountains of paperwork, corporate b.s., and hours and hours of overtime that make me cringe at some of these jobs.

I want a field where my hard work and innovation are rewarded, not just treated as something you owe the company for signing your paycheck. Yes, if you're good at your job, you'll be promoted or get a small bonus but it's still woefully disproportionate to the amount of work you do versus what you get out of it. I'm not even just whinging about money; that's not the sole motivator but it is an important one. If money was the number one concern I wouldn't even be asking this question at all; I'd hang my brains, interests, and personality up and get an MBA.

I don't even know what I'm asking this forum. It's like taking shots in the dark but recently I've been frustrated and exhausted by this issue and I needed to do something about it.

**And I do realize that many on this forum are going through hard times and financial troubles where they'd like to have a job at all, much less one that pays 55k a year. I sympathize and I understand that money is nothing to turn your nose up at. I don't mean to insinuate that I'm better than anyone or that I'm far too good for a mere mortal job. This is just mostly heartbroken college student daydreaming than anything.

Last edited: Jul 10, 2009
2. Jul 10, 2009

### Ben Niehoff

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

If you want money, go into law or medicine.

If you think 55k is low, you're crazy. Most college graduates are looking at starting salaries of 30k to 40k. A bachelor's degree today is worth about as much as a high school diploma was 50 years ago.

3. Jul 10, 2009

### MissSilvy

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

55k as a starting salary is pretty damn good; 55k as a industry standard five years AFTER you've already been working is poor. I'm not running around with dollar signs dancing in my head, but even the maximum salary of 70k for that sort of intense, highly demand work after you have years and years of experience is still a bit sad. I'm under no delusions that I am entitled to a high starting salary or promotions or what have you because I'm a special snowflake but I want to know that if I give it everything I have that I'll get something back out of it if my work is worth it.

And I know a BS today is worth less, and I have no problem with going for a Masters or PhD at all but yet people are still discouraged from getting very much into extra college schooling because apparently then they're overqualified. What?

4. Jul 10, 2009

### TheStatutoryApe

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

The only thing I can think of is to specialize. It would probably take more schooling, or maybe you could get on the job training if you find the right employer, but if you can get yourself into a specialized field with few competitors for the job you can probably more or less set your own salary after you get enough experience. Not sure what those fields would be though myself.

5. Jul 10, 2009

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

Good luck with that. I think the only way to ensure that will happen, in any field, is to open your own business and be your own boss. Otherwise, generally, yes, that is what companies expect of their employees, that they put in hard work in exchange for a paycheck. And, this seems a problem with the younger generations that they think hard work is something special, perhaps because everyone gets awards just for showing up nowadays. Hard work should be the norm.

As for innovation, of course you need to be innovative first, and there's no guarantee that will happen. But, true innovation typically IS rewarded. That's what earns promotions and pay raises. Just showing up and working hard doesn't necessarily get you anywhere if the hard work is just doing the assigned job. Keep in mind that when you are looking at median salaries and industry standards, those are for the "average" employee...the one who is not being innovative, but the one who is simply doing their job. If you do more than the average employee and really do something innovative that benefits the company, you'd be among those able to earn well over the median salaries.

Now, what I will agree with you on is that there is certainly no harm in considering earning potential when choosing a major, as long as you aren't going so far out of your interest area for the sake of money (then again, if it's the money that motivates you above all else, go into a business major...that's what they think about all day). If you view a particular career path as "soul sucking" then you already have an indication that is NOT your passion and that should be avoided. But, if you have a range of interests, and see several potential careers as appealing, and one or two of those have more earning potential than the others, there's no reason to ignore that as a factor in your decision process.

So, bottom line is that when people are telling you to follow your passion, that certainly means avoiding the things you view as "soul-sucking" careers...don't choose one of those just because of the money or you'd be miserable.

6. Jul 10, 2009

### Jimmy Snyder

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

Learn from my mistakes and follow your passion. I let myself be seduced by the fast women and loose cars that come with my career as an applications software engineer. But the mansion and the yacht don't make up for what I lost. You see, I had always dreamed of being a systems software engineer.

7. Jul 10, 2009

### CRGreathouse

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

I think you will revise your standard for what you consider a good salary when you get out. You still expect too much.

8. Jul 10, 2009

### chaoseverlasting

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

But you see, I think what the TS means is that even if you come up with something brilliant, the rewards are disproportionate to the hard work and innovation that went into coming up with something brilliant in the first place. Its almost like they're paying lip service to the whole idea of "the company looking out/rewarding the employee".

9. Jul 10, 2009

### rootX

Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

I have a major but currently trying to find what kind of area I should concentrate in. Along with your criteria, I am also considering stability, people and work environment.

10. Jul 10, 2009

### chroot

Staff Emeritus
Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes

You really can't discuss salary without geographical context. Out here in Silicon Valley, $55k is a fairly normal (if not slightly low) salary for an entry-level engineer with a bachelor's degree. After five to ten years of experience,$100k is very normal. (And note that $100k a year puts you into the 95th percentile of the US's individual earnings. You really cannot expect this kind of money in any entry-level position.) Engineers are generally well-paid throughout the world, their actual salaries of course varying with the cost of living. Many are considered "upper middle class" even here in one of the most expensive places in the world. Different engineering disciplines have different salary ranges, though, so the specifics of your career are still important. Physicists, unfortunately, are poorly-rewarded for their incredible value to society -- all of the stuff that we engineers make is ultimately dependent upon the goofy new things they discover in their pure research. By some estimates, 30% of the US's GDP is due to products developed using quantum mechanics. - Warren 11. Jul 10, 2009 ### SonyAlmeida Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes Out of curiosity, what would you say qualifies as a 'good' salary? What do you intend to do with that money, should you have it? 12. Jul 10, 2009 ### TMFKAN64 Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes To my mid-career way of thinking, "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" is good advice... money is great, don't get me wrong, but you are more than likely going to be working for a good 30-40 years. If you aren't passionate about your job when you are starting out, I can guarantee that you're going to absolutely hate it in 20 years. I'd rather be making less money and be doing something that makes me happy to go to work in the morning. 13. Jul 10, 2009 ### Andy Resnick Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes I realize you wrote this at 4 am (according to this site), and I purposely snipped to make your post more provocative, but face it- if you want to quit, then quit and get on with the rest of your life. Too many posts on this forum go along the lines of "I'm really smart, physics is really hard, it's not fair that I have to work so hard and not get paid a lot of money like dumb [insert profession here]", so I at least commend you for kicking yourself in the a$$, trying to figure out what you want out of life. I'm not going to give you advice or tell you what to do with your life- what I can tell you is that the more money you make, the more stupidity you have to deal with. Otherwise, why would you put up with the stupidity? Like it or not, regardless of whatever job you are interviewing for, there are (at least) dozens of people more qualified than you, and some of them don't care about the salary. When a company hires you, gives you money in exchange for your time and effort, you in fact do owe the company your time and effort. Some companies are more ruthless than others, some companies treat employees worse than others. That said, in general, hard work is rewarded. To be specific, putting the majority of your effort into the minority fraction of your work that matters is rewarded. Not being able to distinguish between what matters and what is a timewaster has led many of my peers down dead-ends. But innovation is rarely rewarded, regardless of what the propoganda says. Innovation scares your more senior colleagues because it can invalidate their work. Basically, it sounds like you need to take a break, go get drunk (or whatever), clear your head, think about your priorities. 14. Jul 10, 2009 ### Locrian Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes I think a lot of the responses to MissSilvy's post are very good, even (and maybe especially) the critical ones. However I also think her post is a result from a major failure in our society – young people who are trying to make critical, time sensitive career choices are given poor, meaningless, or just plain bad advice. The data they’re given is garbage, the platitudes are empty and don’t lead to good decision making, and suggested courses of action are almost always influenced by the specific and extremely limited experience of the advice giver. None of that would be a problem if it weren’t that young people often accept or believe what they hear. And can you blame them? They’re young and inexperienced, while the advice giver is older and more experienced. “Major in what you’re passionate in” (or, the cutesy phrase I personally hear more often, “Do what you love”) is bad advice not because the idea is fundamentally incorrect, but because it doesn’t lead to good decision making. This is actually why I despise these kinds of platitudes so much, precisely because they are so easy to swallow, but so unhelpful in practice. I could go on and on about why this particular phrase stinks, but let me just hit two big reasons. The first is that a person 16-22 years old does not have any idea what scope of things they’re passionate about, and which things they hate. The main things most young people are passionate about is their leisure, which does little to help them make smart decisions about their career choices. They might be passionate about computer games, but might they also be passionate about building a really powerful Labview setup? The gaming industry treats their employees like garbage, but knowing Labview can result in some excellent jobs. Is sitting at a computer doing patent work more boring or less than sitting at a computer pricing insurance? Is churning patients through a doctor’s office more or less rewarding than poring over accounting books looking for criminal activity? I hated the office work I did in college – I love the office work I do now. Nobody could have explained the difference to me. Another of many problems with that phrase is that it allows young people to decide on a major based on content of their college courses – I would hate the phrase less if it said “Major in something you will be passionate doing.” You can be passionate about surgery, but once a surgeon, a tiny fraction of your time will actually be spent actually in the operating room. Are you sure you’ll be as passionate about being a surgeon as you are about doing surgery? A management degree can lead to your local fast food restaurant or an officer in the military. Very few people who earn a psychology degree ever work as a psychologist. There just isn’t much connection between the coursework and the actual work. We get a lot of these useless platitudes here (my favorite being “don’t go into physics for the money”). People who are trying to make decisions about their future would be better off if no one made them. 15. Jul 10, 2009 ### turbo Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes To anybody else facing this type of question: I suggest that you try to to get some perspective. Where do you want to live? That was a big one for me since almost all my friends and family live in Maine. I figured that if I wanted to study engineering, I should concentrate on chemical engineering, since there is a solid demand for chemical engineers in the pulp and paper industry, and those were some of the best employers in the state. Lots of other career-changes spun off that single decision, some quite unexpected. If you expect to work 9-5, don't pursue engineering. You will likely be salaried (no overtime) and if you work in mills or on construction projects, you will be expected to work a lot of hours. If you are an engineer, and a pulp mill or paper machine is in a chaotic upset, don't even think of heading for the parking lot at the "end of the day." Also, if you are a civil engineer in a climate like ours, you should expect to work long hours during most of the really pleasant weather, with some respite in the winter (the opposite of what most folks want). It's tough to make high wages in Maine, and the rural nature of the state (no public transportation, and often long commutes) and the severity of the winters make living here more expensive than you might think, even though housing is affordable, relative to national standards. We pay as much or more for gas and heating oil, etc than the rest of the country, and we have to use a lot of it. When I was consulting for pulp and paper mills, most of my best clients were in the south. I didn't relocate, but continued to live in Maine, and absorbed the costs of travel, lodging, rental cars, etc. It made sense financially, and it kept my wife and me close to our aging parents, though I hated spending a week or so/month living in flea-bag motels. My (belabored) point is that your choice of major and your specialization within industry should be predicated on how those choices will affect your life years from now. It's a whole lot more complicated than "If I have to work hard, I want to make a lot of money." In fact, the most money I ever made in my life was because I got paid a very tiny base salary, and the owner of the company agreed to a very generous incentive package. He didn't think that I could improve the gross and net profits of that sales division that fast. I worked my butt off, but I enjoyed working with my clients, and their loyalty and trust really paid off. 16. Jul 10, 2009 ### cristo Staff Emeritus Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes What do you mean by this? I've probably misunderstood, but I can't think of anywhere in my life thus far that I've been awarded for just showing up somewhere. I've never used the answer to this question dictate where I study, but quite the opposite. I would first decide what I wanted to study, and then go to the city that suits best. Admittedly, it may be easier over here, since we're a tiny country, but I'm not sure that one should let preferences for areas to live in to dictate one's career path entirely. 17. Jul 10, 2009 ### MissSilvy Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes While I appreciate your advice, how do you quit what you haven't started yet? I can hardly drop out and become a burger-flipper. I am aware that I owe the company time and effort for my salary but do I owe them going the extra mile, working myself to death in my spare time to save or make them money when I get paid the same salary as Joe Schmoe who finishes his work and goes home to watch TV. I don't believe that's fair at all, business standard or not. As always, there are a few people who come here and gripe about young college kids these days who feel entitled to this or that for showing up and being special snowflakes. You don't get an A, a good job, or anything at all really for just 'showing up' so I fully expect to work for and to earn whatever it is I'm asking for. What I'm asking is a field where I know I'll get something back out of it if I give it my all and succeed, not just a pat on the back and more grind work. All I want is a chance to prove my worth, not a free ride. I spoke to one mechanical engineer in the industry and he told me a story. When he was younger he worked for a company that designed assembly-line machines for clients. It was all fine and good but he thought he could improve the way they made several of their parts and possibly save the company major amounts of money. He was hired to design the machines, so arguably this was not part of his job, but he spent months on it and drew the plans, checked them and what have you. He went to his supervisor and the company loved the idea. They checked it and implemented it and it indeed saved big bucks for the company. Annnd what did he get for using months of his life researching and planning this new process while his two fellow employees sat on their rumps and did the bare minimum they were paid to do? He got a small promotion, no salary change, but now he was expected to do his old job AND actively look for ways to streamline the company's production. Because the company owned all of his intellectual property and that's what his salary paid him to do. That's not a reward! That sounds like a slap in the face for doing well, and that sort of crap is what I'm afraid of. Turbo- Thank you for your comments and personal experiences, but I don't know where I want to live (presumably, wherever is best for my field or where I get my job) or even what I want my life to be like. I'm not even out of college so I don't know what the norm is for some of these careers, how they can live, or what their lifestyle is like. I suppose I'll have to figure that out. And thank you Locrian for seeing my frustration with this process. You summed it better than I could but that's the only sort of advice available to kids like me at the moment. God forbid I even ask which career in my 'passion' makes the most money because I still get the same parroted advice. C'est la vie? 18. Jul 10, 2009 ### turbo Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes Yes, your country is small, and you have public transportation available. There are huge regions of the US that have NO public transportation, and travel can be very expensive. My nephew was posted in San Diego for years, and lived there with his wife and daughter when he wasn't ship-board. His mother lives just a couple of miles up the road from me, on the far-opposite corner of the country, so visits were expensive and required a lot of planning and vacation time. Since he was commissioned as a chief warrant officer, he has been re-posted to Hawaii, making visits even MORE problematic. Also, in the US, we have regional concentrations of industries/research facilities, etc, so your concentration of study and eventual employment can require you to live far from where you might like, in order to maximize your earnings and/or advance your career. I would suggest that any college student in a technical field try to get some experience in summer-internships, too, to get a feel for the nature of the work in real-world job. 19. Jul 10, 2009 ### cristo Staff Emeritus Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes Sure, but then I don't think things would have changed much more if I had lived in a country as big as the US, say. For example, I would be very much surprised if I was still living in the UK in about 5 years time. I'm not sure that many college students really know where they might like to live, especially if they haven't travelled to other places, or tested out living in other cities (that was one of the big pluses I experienced when moving out of my home town to go to university). This probably holds true even more so for the US, since there are vast differences between different cities/states. Also, living away from your family home makes visiting your parents (or school-friends) seem more like a holiday. And, even if there is an emergency which means you have to go home and visit your parents (say) immediately, then you can get pretty much anywhere around the world in a day nowadays. 20. Jul 10, 2009 ### gmax137 Re: "Major in what you're PASSIONATE in!" and other useless platitudes Well at least you seem to be in a position where you can anticipate a$55K salary. Think about that – it’s over $25/hour. You could be looking at a job, say, changing truck tires for$8/hour. Coming home dirty, exhausted, with busted knuckles and missing fingers. Don’t be so quick to deride the air-conditioned, hour for lunch, clean safe job in a cubicle. The biggest worry seems to be that you won’t be appreciated or that some slacker will be getting the same pay for less work. Well guess what – nobody at the truck stop appreciates the guy busting his *** changing tires, and there’s probably a slacker where he works too.

Nobody really likes those jobs. They do them because they can’t get out, they cant do anything else. If you don’t like working in an office for \$55K, you really wouldn’t like those other jobs.

Work is hard. Hard work is harder. If you hate what you’re doing it’s even worse. I think this has some basis in entropy & thermo. At least you’re in a position to understand that.

Your story about the engineer fixing problems, and being ‘rewarded’ with more work: this is a typically slacker point of view. Other variants “I told them how to fix the problem but they wouldn’t listen.” “My boss stole my idea.” “I told them procedure would not work, guess, what - they told me to write a new one.” And so on. You will hear this whining wherever you go. It has nothing to do with being a scientist, or an engineer, or a doctor or a salesman.