How to find your career purpose

We’ve been told all this time to do what we love.  That it doesn’t matter if we can’t make any money with it.  That it doesn’t matter if society doesn’t get a real benefit from it.  That nothing matters but what you want to do.  And I both agree and disagree with that.

Should you hate what you do?  Absolutely not.  You probably won’t have as much motivation to make a stellar career out of something you despise.  I believe that you should have an interest in what you do.

However, in my opinion, careers are also meant to make money.  You have to be able to pay rent, and you have to be able to eat.  If your passion isn’t paying the bills, it might be more of a hobby.  I’ve observed that society works on a reward system: you give people a unique skill that benefits them, and they’ll give you money in return.  This is an important idea to keep in mind when we start talking about purpose.

So, what have we got so far?  Society needs solutions.  Sometimes, trying to make a living out of your truest passion isn’t realistic because society doesn’t feel it needs it to advance (I’m not saying society’s always right, because I have lots of short stories that I think contribute to the greater good, but stick with me).  We also work on a skill-for-money system.

Let’s cut to the real reason you’re here: how do I figure out my purpose?  What am I supposed to be doing?  I think there are two very important questions you need to answer: “what problem do you want to solve,” and “what are you really good at?”

When you start shifting the focus from what you like to do to what you want to improve, you also shift from an activity that’s just for you to an action that benefits the world.  For example, if you’re passionate about cooking, you might find interest in issues that surround food safety or hunger.  If you volunteer at homeless shelters, you could give poverty activism a go.  Converting what you love into a bigger, world issue is the first step to finding your purpose.  The beautiful part about this is that society needs these problems solved, so there’s a greater chance that you’ll be in a higher demand in your field.

The second is the fun one: finding out what your good at, and making that fit into the problem that you want to solve.  It’s like a puzzle, where you’re looking for a perfect fit for your unique skills.  Take me, for instance.  I like to write, and I want to help develop some of the most impactful pharmaceuticals of our generation.  Technical writing, or maybe patent law, seem like pretty good fits to me.

I’ve always heard from people that kids need to do what they’re passionate about, and the money doesn’t matter.  But, I don’t like that advice, because if that passion doesn’t make you money, you can’t feed your family.  Ultimately, discovering what problems you want to help solve and your strengths that you can use to solve those problems can aid in finding your purpose.



Why scientific researchers are really just artists

Science and art seem so divided until we really take a look at what the subjects are made for: creation.  Creation of a new vaccine, creation of a new painting–either way, both make something new.  Really, scientists are just artists who use the laws of nature as the canvas.  I’ve heard a lot of scientists say that they aren’t good at art.  But, really, when you’re a professional researcher at a university, you and the artist in the next building over are using the same techniques to make a living.  Here’re some of the reasons why scientific researchers are actually naturalistic artists:

  • Be unique and focus on something

From my observations, researchers really benefit from having research that stands out in some way.  This summer, I worked in a lab that specialized in the biomedical applications of a special type of foam.  That was what was something special about their lab: they were finding out all these new things about this one material, and they focused on it.  Artists do the same thing; whether it’s landscape photography or cartoon drawings of Bichons, finding your place in the community you work in is a big part of both fields.

  • Expanding on something no one else has done before

Originality.  Researchers need it to publish papers, and artists need it to publish pieces.  If what you have is something somebody’s already seen, it isn’t of too much value.  Think of it like this: people are usually most excited to see a movie they haven’t seen it yet.  It’s harder to get you someone to the movies again if they already know how the story goes (I mean, unless it was a really good story).

  • Extensive training

Both artists and scientists spend insane amounts of time perfecting their crafts.  For a writer, it might be perfecting the prose.  For a scientist, it might be a PhD.  No expert in either field just picked up the subject overnight.  Chances are, they’ve been working on it for at least half of a decade.

  • Niche value

Honestly, is strange as this is, even if you’re the best at what you do, not everyone will see how much your work contributes to the world.  For instance, take Shakespeare: the master of the complex, highly open-ended plot and poetic, rhythmic prose.  He’s arguably one of the best writers ever (besides Michael Crichton, of course), but only a handful of people really appreciate his work.  My point is this: both researchers and artists have a specific audience that their work targets.  Astrobiological researchers are probably looking to publish in a field that’ll really listen to what they’re saying.  Similarly, not everyone liked the Twilight books.  In both fields, you have to find someone who actually wants to pay attention to what you’re doing.



What does it actually mean to “be yourself”?

It’s advice we’ve all gotten since around the time that we started getting made fun of for being ourselves.

It seems that most people go through those awkward, couple of years where they don’t know who they are, or they’re afraid that people won’t like who they are, or even they thought they knew who they were, but it turns out they kind of missed the mark on that one.

Then we grow up, and we get tired of pretending to be this person that everyone thinks we are; we just want to tell jokes we’re actually thinking, wear clothes we actually want to wear, and forget what anyone else has to say about it.

And some people do that.  And some people don’t know how.

We’re told to “be ourselves,” but that term is so vague.  They’re two words that have plagued identity-seekers since the beginning of human identity itself.  Here’s what it actually means to “be yourself”:

You have your own set of morals.  You’ve thought about how you want to live, and what values are most important to you.  You strictly stick to these, or you give the rules more flexibility: it’s all up to you.  This is your personal code of ethics, and I think that this is something that takes the longest time to develop out of all of the components of self-identity; I think it’s because knowing how you want to live and what you stand for comes with wisdom, and wisdom, in my opinion, comes with age.  It takes time to gather enough experience so that you realize what you support and don’t support.

Your lifestyle is your own.  Your way of handing problems, how you dress, and even your fitness routine is all part of how you run your life.  Figuring out what works for you and tailoring it towards what you want to achieve is part of being true to yourself.

Your dreams and your aspirations.  This is the first thing that came to mind, because I have a lot of goals I plan on making realities before I’m out of the game.  To be true to yourself, I think that you need to have your own set of things you want to accomplish: not something your parents told you you should want or something you read in a magazine.  When you’re working towards something you actually want, you’re making yourself genuinely happy.  THAT’S something you’re doing for you, even if it ends up benefitting other people.

You let yourself change.  This might be the most counterintuitive component of being yourself, but hear me out.  We’re told be love ourselves for who we are, and I think that’s totally valid.  Granted, people grow and change; you probably won’t be the same person you were 5 years ago.  Sometimes, being yourself means being the many people you become throughout your lifetime;  you’re still you, but you’re a different version–a smarter, wiser, and more compassionate you as you age.  Welcome any personal growth that comes your way.  Almost always, it’ll make you nothing but better.

Know what you’re good at, and know what you’re no-so-good at.  I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m pretty lousy at distance running.  I ran in high school, but I never felt like it was something I truly excelled at.  Going back, do I regret being on the track team?  No way.

Figuring out what you’re good at is an experimental process.

It’s kind of like fumbling around for your phone at 2 in the morning: you have this general idea of what you’re doing, but, sometimes, when it’s dark, you end up picking up the calculator on your desk instead.

My point is that you don’t know what you’re working with until you pick it up and try it out (like trying to tweet with a TI 83).  It takes a little while before you know exactly what you’re doing; but until you figure it out, keep on fumbling, my friend.  Just don’t stub your toe on the side of your desk.



The real reason college will make you successful

You spent 4 years, 130-or-so credits, and about 6 boxes of tissues per finals week for your degree.  You took a slew of classes to become specialized in a topic you think you can make a living on.  But, even if you forgot a lot of what you learned in college, just having been really affords you something you’ve probably never thought about before.  Sometimes, it isn’t the degree that’ll make you a millionaire.

In my opinion, you don’t go to college to learn a skill–that’s something you can get from the internet, a how-to book, or a local trade school.  What college really does is teach you how to think.  It teaches you discipline, time management, and how to learn.

Think about it: you’re a cute, little freshman in college.  You have your first exam, and you only study the night before for it.  You fail.

By your junior year, you’re smarter about studying.  You know you need at least, say, 2 hours per day for at least a week in advance to prepare.  That’s not something your classes alone taught you–I mean, sure, they’re harder than high school, so maybe they made you realize it, but what you’ve done from freshman to junior year is discipline yourself.  You know how much time it’ll take you to remember the stuff you’ll be tested on, and you’re spacing it out well enough so you can give each section proper care.  That’s an experience thing–it isn’t something you can just learn from a book.  In many cases, I think the most important part about college is failing: realizing what doesn’t work, so you can figure out what does work.  The experience of failing, say, your freshman Calc test is really important to your development, because you’re going to want to prevent that in the future.  Otherwise, you might be in a little warmer of water than what’s comfortable.

Speaking of which, while you’re learning how much time it’ll take you to learn the material for your class, you’re going to learn which style you learn best from.  I’ll give you an example: in my freshman Microeconomics class, I sat in a lecture hall twice a week with about 700 other people.  I sat in the very front row, took notes, and tried to be as engaged as possible, but I didn’t do nearly as well as I did in a 15 person Electricity + Magnetism class I took the same year.  In my opinion, the physics was more conceptually challenging; it wasn’t that Kirschhoff’s Law just clicked upon walking in the room.  My point is that I learn best when I have a teacher right there, and if needed, the teacher has the time to explain a problem to me in three different ways (whether they get irritated with said request usually varies).

Knowing what your learning style is is something you fortify when you’re in college, because you have to figure out the quickest and most effective way to master a concept (even if that quickest way is spending hours in office hours).  If you didn’t have those time constraints, you wouldn’t be forcing that self-development and realization; see what I mean?

Overall, if you remember most of what you took in freshman Gen Chem 1, I salute you!  But, if it has escaped you, don’t worry; because of the skills you’ve built by being in college, you can relearn it, no problem.



4 easy languages to learn if you took Spanish

Have you ever noticed how some words in Spanish are almost the same as in English?  Universidad means university, aire means air, and invitar means to invite.  These words are called cognates, which are just 2 words in 2 languages that have a similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation.  Basically, think of it as a word in a foreign language that you could probably figure out the meaning of without actually knowing the foreign language itself.

Cognates are really interesting because it can give linguists clues to how languages are related.  An easy way to think about it is, the more cognates a language has with another, the closer it is to that language.  For example, English and Japanese have little to no original cognates (they have some now, but only because of the mixing of the languages from industrialization and globalization).  But, between English and Spanish, about 30-40% of all words in the languages are cognates for each other (“Using Cognates to Develop Comprehension in English“).  That’s because of the European influence on the English language throughout history, and vice versa; for example, they gave us the word tornado, and we gave them picnic.

This is why they say that Spanish is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn–you already know almost half of the vocabulary from the start, and you don’t need to learn a new alphabet.

Most everyone has taken Spanish or French in high school, and even if you hated it, this is a real advantage to you.  Along the same lines of English and Spanish, most languages are really just variations of a couple common languages; Spanish, for example, is a variation of Vulgar Latin (aka common-person Latin, not swearing).  Think about it like this: a bunch of people started out in Western Europe, all speaking Vulgar Latin.  They moved and migrated all over, eventually develop unique civilizations, and they subsequently alter their language a little.  So, almost by default, languages in a specific family have very similar basic structures, because they’re all derived from the same language.

Take a look at some of the European language branches:

If you look at the Italic Language branch, you’ll find Latin.  Follow it a little more, and you’ll find a cluster of 9 languages called the Romances (Romance, derived from Roman). A few of them are dialects–Catalan, for example, is a variation of Spanish that’s spoken in the Catalonian region of Spain.  The core Romance languages of the list are French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish; if you’ve taken any of these languages before, learning another in this family will be much easier, because you’ve seen something to it similar before.  This can be applied to other branches of the tree; if you’ve studied Danish, you’ll have a lot easier of a time learning Swedish than, say Yiddish.  And, based on the tree, you’ll have an even tougher time learning Ancient Greek.

So, if you took Spanish, the 4 easiest languages for you to learn are (in no order):

1. Italian

2. Portuguese

3. French

4. Romanian

Ultimately, when you hear “easiest language to learn,” think “most similar to one you already know.”



7 tips for a stand-out personal brand

Branding isn’t just for businesses anymore, and especially for young, unique professionals, establishing your personal brand is as important as having a flawless resume.

Letting the world know who you are and what you have to offer is vital; what’s the use of having a skill if no one knows you have it?  Read on for 7 tips that’ll help you perfect your brand!

1. Find what you’re passionate about, and become an expert in it

With whatever you want to do, you want to be good at it.  Actually, scratch that–you want to be great.  You want to be the go-to for questions in your chosen field, and make your name apparent to others.  The best way to start doing this is to learn everything you can about your field: the history of it, the basics and advanced topics of it, and its current happenings.  Staying up-to-date in your specialty is what keeps you ahead of your competition; you know what’s current, you know where it’s going, and you can get ahead of it.

2. Utilize social media

People need to know who you are to figure out how awesome you are.  Keeping up with Twitter, blogging, and other social media platforms lets people know what you’re up to and what you think about things.  It’s another form of getting your name and ideas out there–and, the beauty of it is that you can post as often or as little as you find necessary.

3. Make a portfolio website

Think of your website as your personal hub: the place where a future employer can go to learn all about you.  Whenever you accomplish something, write a little excerpt about it and post it!  From personal experience, having a website is great because you get complete autonomy over the format, content, and aesthetics.  You can highlight parts of your career that you want to showcase and keep your following updated about the projects you’re working on in more than 140 characters.  Also, you get to tailor your image on your website–if you’re a graphic designer who wants to focus on your photography, you can spend less space on your illustration and more on your latest prints.

4. Get a great headshot to put on your profiles

You need a professional photo to display on professional social media accounts.  A picture of you at a frat party won’t help you out much.

5. Network with people in the field

Cultivating connections gives you people to learn from; talking with veterans in your field can give you insight and advice for where you should go next.  Making friends in your realm also helps to build a following.  And, once you get to show everyone how great you are at what you do, you can build credibility within your community.

6. Focus on what’s different about you, and market it

Are you fluent in Portuguese?  Are you a Poly Sci student who can code?  Are you an engineer who likes to write?  Showcase and market whatever’s different about you! Focus on why your skills are assets and why companies have to hire you to get that unique skillset.

7. Don’t pretend

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: be yourself.  You’re spending all this time making this great name for yourself, right?  Well, if you’re not portraying yourself as you actually are, you’re really just making a personal brand for someone else.  Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t because you think it’ll be more impressive–who you are is perfect.  Celebrate what you have to offer and market yourself on yourself!



5 of the best non-STEM minors for engineering majors

Minors give you the freedom to tailor your education and market yourself for the career you want.  I know that many students go with one that complements their majors (like a major in MechE and a minor in Product Realization) or narrows down a broader field (like a major in ChE and a minor in BME).  But, choosing a minor that’s a little outside your major can help you stand out from other candidates, because you have something different to offer an employer. Here’re some of the best non-STEM minors for your STEM major:

1. Entrepreneurship

Engineers with great, new ideas are the next innovators.  A familiarity in innovative thinking, management, and planning can jumpstart your progress as a future Fortune 500 CEO by giving you some of the managerial skills you probably won’t learn in your STEM classes.

2. A foreign language

Knowledge of foreign languages like Spanish, German, Arabic and Japanese can give engineers the opportunity to travel internationally for projects and research.  Engineering is a highly collaborative field–many of today’s technical companies are multinational and have plants all over the world.

Less than 1% of adults are proficient in the language they studied in school; gaining at least a conversational proficiency could open up career doors simply because of that skill (“America’s Lacking Language Skills”).

3. Writing/English

Many engineers admit that writing feels unnatural to them.  For example, most of my friends feel more comfortable running an experiment than drafting a report of it.  Being able to express your ideas and findings in words is an insanely valuable skill that you can take advantage of in engineering.  It makes you more autonomous, because you don’t have to rely on someone else to communicate for you, and it makes you an asset in a group of engineers who hated English class.

4. Business/Finance

A background in business can put you on the fast-track to engineering management. While it doesn’t help as much as an MBA might, it can direct you more into project management as opposed to design.

5. Ethics

This is an interesting combination–philosophy and engineering–you wouldn’t think that they’d complement each other well, would you?  But here’s the thing: studying ethics says the most about personal character out of all of the minors here. It shows that you’re concerned with which decisions are morally right and wrong, not just which will make you the most money.  Studying ethics shows that you’re a deep thinker and might have leadership potential; I mean, you’re thinking about whether a decision is moral or not–that’s something that many employees would just glaze over.



6 reasons why college students should wear watches

It’s hard to find someone wearing a watch on Penn State’s campus.  These days, people usually turn to phones to tell the time or set a timer.  But, there are a few overlooked benefits to wearing a watch, especially for college students.  Here are a few of the best reasons to start wearing a watch:

1. It looks mature

Watches give certain connotations about the people who wear them.  Whenever I see someone wearing a watch, I associate them with responsibility and sophistication. They’re always aware of the time, so they could be self-aware in other aspects, as well.  It gives off that adult-like, “I have it together” look.

2. It helps keep time during exams

I time every exam I take; I like to break the test into sections, so if I have a 2 hour test of 4 problems, I allot 30 minutes to each problem.  Setting a timer on an airplane-mode phone is a great way to keep track, but some professors or TAs don’t allow it.  Having a watch on-hand (haha) lets you instantly track where you’re at in terms of time and are almost always allowed in exams, AND you don’t have to worry about your phone dying mid-test (it’s happened to me before, and I don’t recommend it).

3. Being able to read an analog clock is impressive for millennials

Ok, if you’ve ever had a friend who can’t read an analog clock, please raise your hand. Millennials are apparently notorious for not being able to tell time on these things, and a lot of them have to rely on digital watches.  As simple as it is, quickly telling time on an analog is a little skill that can tell a lot about you; you’re not like the rest, and you actually remember what you learned in 2nd grade.  This skill could also gain a little more respect from your professors, bosses and interviewers.

4. It’s a sign of preparedness

Need to check your heart rate after a run?  Use your watch.  Need to time a lab experiment? Use your watch.  Want to see if you can make it from your apartment to class in 5 minutes? Hope there isn’t a slow walker in front of you.

Anyways, having a watch on you means that you’ll always be ready and have a way to keep track of time in little, important situations where you might not be able to use your phone.

5. New smartwatches help you keep up with more than just time

The dawn of computerized watches makes it so much easier to check emails, listen to music, and browse the news without a phone.  I believe that this is a revolution because it makes wearing a watch more purposeful and fun; you can conduct a phone interview on the same thing you play games on.

6. It’s purposeful jewelry

Sometimes, I have trouble wearing jewelry if it doesn’t serve a function.  Watches are stylish, but they also serve a purpose.  They’re a good way to accessorize without feeling like you wasted money on something, where its only purpose is to look nice.



The do’s and don’ts of reinventing yourself

Maybe it’s because it’s the start of the new year.  Maybe it was a break up.  Maybe you’re just ready to try something different.  Whatever the reason, you want to become a better version of yourself: the stronger, or the more stylish, or the small talk savvy, superhero version of yourself.

I’ve reinvented myself a few times in the past 5 years; I’ve experimented lightly with different looks and styles to see which felt most natural or confidence boosting.  Here is some advice about purposely changing yourself that I’ve picked up along the way:

1) Do listen to the people around you

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  I mean, why do you care about what anyone else thinks of what you’re going to change about yourself?

Before you go crazy with all the self-renovations, try talking it out with a confidant first. Sometimes, we don’t realize that other things are motivating our desire to change.  For example, getting a tattoo that says “screw my ex” might not be a choice that comes from a place of self-betterment.  Don’t think of it like “getting permission” from the person; think of it more as making sure that it doesn’t sound like you just want to retaliate. Remember people, the goal is to make yourself better.  Stick with me, here.

2) Don’t be too impulsive

Sure, everyone loves spontineity, but you just want to make sure it’s ultimately helping you out.  Abruptly starting a coke habit might not be the type of change you benefit from.  Hyperboles aside, sometimes some decisions feel better in the moment than later on.

Basically, put a little bit of thought into the changes you want to make to yourself before you actually go for it.  It could save you a trip to your local rehab clinic.

3) Do make sure you’re changing for yourself

I feel like I read this advice everywhere–maybe that’s because it’s a pretty universal tip. And, take it from me, it’s actually really hard to follow.  I won’t deny that I care about what other people think.  I’m not something who doesn’t listen to what they’re saying.

It’s one thing to listen to what others are saying, and it’s another thing to change things about yourself because they want you to.  Change only if and because you want to.  If you change all these things you actually liked about yourself, the reinvention didn’t do you much good, did it?

4) Don’t discount the little changes

Any change you make to yourself that’ll help you improve yourself is progress–don’t negate that progress, no matter how seemingly minimal!

You eat spinach now.  You started Portuguese on Duolingo.  You’re going to kickboxing classes on Thursdays.  These are all things that are helping you long-term, and you should be proud of yourself!  Don’t get stuck in the loop that you have to look almost unrecognizable after your reinvention for it to be a success.  Remember your ultimate goal, and stick with that–sometimes, a change in your physical appearance isn’t necessary for said goal.  For example, finishing your degree doesn’t usually require liposuction.



6 life lessons from learning how to shoot guns

I grew up in the suburbs of North Carolina–not exactly the gun capital of the world.  I grew up with disassembled guns in my dad’s closet: simple enough that he knew how to put together in 5 seconds if anyone broke into our house and tried to harm us but complicated enough that my brother and I couldn’t accidentally injure ourselves while we played high-and-go-seek inside when it was rainy.

But once I grew up, knowing how to protect myself became a necessity.  Learning how to shoot a gun scared me at first; people use machines like these to kill people.  That’s a lot of power for a teenage girl with barely-there biceps.  But, as the shells spat out of the barrel, my anxiety slowly subsided.  It’s power, sure, but it’s a power that can be controlled.  It’s not like a volcano-type of danger; the gun doesn’t shoot itself.  To me, half the trouble is knowing how to handle it.  A couple of the things my mentors said got me thinking about how shooting guns translates into bigger lessons… here’re a few of them.

1. Focus

Sometimes, you think too much and wig out.  It’s easy to psych yourself out for what you’re about to do: shoot a gun, take the LSATs, go skydiving, whatever you’re about to do. But focusing only on what you’re doing at that moment is what’ll give you the best result… not about being scared to fail or predicting the outcome of the situation.  When you’re not focused while you’re shooting a gun, chances are, you’ll miss your shot.

2. Recognize when you need a break

When you feel yourself getting tired, take a break.  Listen to yourself: if you continue with whatever you’re doing, your precision and accuracy will be off.  Sometimes, you just need a break.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a time-out to chill out and regroup, whether it’s from physical exhaustion or mental fatigue (or really sore arm muscles from holding a heavy gun).

3. Take your time

You don’t have to be in such a rush–you need to take some time to compose yourself before taking the shot.  You need to get into a state of mind where you’re not frazzled and nervous; you’re ready and confident.  That’s when you get your best shot.

4. Don’t do something before you’re ready

Let’s take 2 skills as an example: painting and shooting guns.  They’re both great to know, but a big difference between the 2 is that one can kill you.  For some skills, you need to have developed a couple more skills before you’re ready: discipline, responsibility, and a steady hand.  You need maturity and situational awareness to be able to handle a gun, and that can take some time to develop.

Don’t do something before you feel comfortable, especially if it’s something dangerous.  If your instincts are shouting at you to stop, listen to them.  They’re the same things that are telling you to avoid that tarantula or the month-old Chinese food in your fridge.  Usually pretty accurate.

5. Be mindful and know the consequences

You’re holding this big chunk of metal with the capability to kill someone. You need to be extra aware of your surroundings and the consequences of your actions.

This applies to the bigger picture: everything you do has repercussions, positive and negative.  Awareness of these before you act can help you to layout your future and what you want to accomplish.

6. Even if you don’t hit the bullseye…

So you don’t hit the bullseye… big deal.  You still hit in the center 3rd of the target! Sometimes, even when you don’t hit exactly where you wanted to, you still did really well. You could’ve completely missed the target altogether.

Even if you took a shot and didn’t get it perfect, more often than not, you’ll have another shot at it.  Just keep practicing and focusing on your goal.  Look at how far you’ve come from the beginning, and celebrate how well you’re doing, even if it isn’t flawless.