Response to Tilghman's Commencement Address
Each department should offer at least one course that gives an overview of the careers that relate to that field. The class could offer guest speakers and case studies in order to show students how they might be able to use what they learn professionally. For example, the psychology department could offer a course explaining how medical researchers, psychiatrists or marketing professionals use psychology. In other words, this course could explain what options are available for psychology majors and how what they learn in psychology courses will be useful in their careers. In addition, Princeton could offer more job-related courses, such as “The Use of Psychology in Marketing.”
Many students complain that finance and consulting are the default career options for graduating students. But perhaps, more so than any salary incentive, these professions are pursued because students know what they entail. Princeton students want to make informed decision about their future. Finance and consulting firms teach info sessions on campus, which give attendees a sense of what that job is like, while few other employers invest so much effort into just explaining what they do.
Some people enjoy spontaneous and beautiful career paths. For example, Michael Lewis ’82 enjoyed going from an art and archeology major to a job in quantitative finance to the life of a nonfiction writer. Yet he is just one of many Princeton graduates — where is the rest of the Class of 1982? Are they just as happy? It might be just as valuable to hear from the many people who never find fulfillment in their careers and are dissatisfied with the choices they have made. We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that good things will magically fall into our hands just because we went to Princeton.
As undergraduates, we don’t necessarily need explicit guidance, but we do need more information. We want to match our personalities to the right professions. Princeton does a tremendous job of helping us learn about ourselves, but if we don’t know what career options are out there, that perfect match seems unlikely to happen.
One of the biggest influences in our college experience is our professors. Besides some lecturers (in computer science, creative writing, the Wilson School), most teachers at Princeton — and other universities — are academics. But why are professional researchers necessarily the ones who teach our classes?
Skill in research is not correlated with teaching ability. In fact, there might be an inverse correlation, since being an expert in a field makes it more difficult to remember what it was like to learn introductory material for the first time. The best teachers are those who can anticipate what students will have trouble with — not those who fail to see how it could possibly be difficult.
After four years at Princeton, I think the only profession I have really learned about is academia. We spend a lot of time with professors and begin to understand what their daily lives are like. So why can’t other people teach? Professors research part-time and teach part-time, so why not have professional computer programmers or doctors teach? They might be better teachers, and they will certainly expose students to other ways of using what they learn in class in their future careers.