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Pursuing our passions

As I write these articles, I often wonder if this is what I could do for a living.

When I wrote for my high school newspaper, I did not muse with such audacity. “Expos” —short for “expository writing,” my newspaper class —was just an elective. There was no way I was going to marry my career to this one seemingly tangential interest; there was no possibility of making a living off the mundane headlines that tried to spice up the humdrum happenings of a small private school. I had done some writing for the local paper as well, but it didn’t strike me that journalism could be a long-term passion, rather than a transient one.


But when I came to Princeton, something pushed me to keep writing. Something that had seemed like a luxury before —writing for a college newspaper and being able to essentially talk to the entire student population at once —became a reality. As I see the paths of Princeton alumni that now have the opportunity to write for major news sources, I understand that I could possibly expand this dream and apply it to real life. Many of them started out like me, writing for college publications.

My story is not a needle in a haystack: There are plenty of pre-professional extracurricular activities on campus that could possibly translate to jobs outside the Orange Bubble. Being on the debate team could introduce you to policy-making or law, while being involved in the social entrepreneurship club could lead you to start-up ideas that you pursue after college. And often, these pre-professional activities —rather than our classes or our GPAs —bring us the essential skills that we can describe and cite during interviews. We often learn most from the leadership and logistical tasks we face outside of the classroom.

So, this leads me to a question: If we learn so much from these pre-professional extracurriculars, and they have such an impact on our job searches, what are we even doing in class in the first place?

This may seem like a radical question, and I’m not proposing that we abandon the idea of a structured academic system at all. But I do think that we should reform the way we view the purpose of class.

As it stands, classes in the social sciences at Princeton are usually seen as separate from pre-professional extracurriculars. While classes in the English department can be highly theoretical and engineering classes are highly hands-on, the social sciences represent an interesting middle ground between theory and application. However, as a student in this field, I find that my classes err more on the theoretical end, even though I wish they included more concepts that show me how to apply these theories. In my opinion, all classes should adopt a more applied philosophy and utilize an involved approach to assignments and activities, teaching students the problem-solving strategies that are reflected in the real world. This way, extracurriculars could serve as testing grounds for the concepts we learned in class.

Professor John Danner teaches one such class that goes above and beyond my expectations, called “Special Topics in Social Entrepreneurship: Ventures to Address Global Challenges.” We constantly interact with guest lecturers who have turned social ventures that combat global health issues into tangible products and business models, and we are required to make videos, posters and pitches about our own venture ideas. These are all valuable skills that I could see people using when they are promoting a club, but not in other lecture-based classes. Danner’s class exceeds my expectations of a liberal arts education and even ventures into a pre-professional realm of academics. While I enjoy this, I think it would simply suffice to expose students to the concepts, not necessarily to the applications. Learning about how to build an entrepreneurial team, how to make a scalable venture and how to understand the concept of economic sustainability are all examples of what I want my classes to give me.


We could learn a lot more if our classes challenged us to fuel our passions, think creatively and contextualize our skills in the way that many pre-professional extracurriculars do. While I might not become a social entrepreneur, I can say that Danner’s class has already given me ideas, a knowledge base and skills I can use in the rest of my life, let alone at interviews. If all of our classes could teach us how to actively pursue our passions —be that in terms of policy, society or economy —in practical ways, maybe we could get one step closer to actually doing it.

Prianka Misra is a sophomore from Castro Valley, Calif. She can be reached at

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