The Path Often Taken: The Nuances of Conventional Career Paths
Two writers explore the pressure to pursue certain conventional career paths — specifically medicine and consulting — and whether or not Dartmouth students find these to be fulfilling professions.
“I feel like there are a few broad paths you can [take] out of college: med school, law school, grad school for academia or business.”
In just one sentence, Grace Lu ’23 summed up a belief that some Dartmouth students may hold. But what is it that makes some students feel as though there are only a few paths to follow post-graduation?
For some students who wind up pursuing a career in medicine, the certainty of the path to becoming a doctor is a motivating factor. According to Grace Farr ’24, who was formerly on the pre-med track, motivating factors for her included that medicine is an altruistic career and a familiar one, as many Dartmouth students can identify someone they know who has chosen the medicine path.
“For my whole life, all of my cousins were in the medical field, so it just seemed like the natural progression,” Farr said, adding that she used to think, “‘They all did it, so I’ll do it too.’”
Veronica Abreu ’23, who was also formerly on the pre-med track, said that as a freshman, she felt like the pre-med track was the default option as someone interested in biology.
“I came into college knowing I wanted to study biology … I came in as pre-med, with my mom as a physician,” she said. “I figured I might as well stick with [pre-med], at least for a little bit.”
In reflecting on why she dropped from the pre-med track, Abreu noted that the required classes were not consistently engaging, which caused her to lose interest. She also noted the notorious difficulty of these courses at Dartmouth as another reason she chose not to continue the track.
“One, it was really hard — [two], there were a lot of parts I’m not particularly interested in,” Abreu said. “I don’t particularly care about organic chemistry or physics, though I know those are important.”
Abreu added that she appreciates that Dartmouth gives students an opportunity to develop useful skills for a medical career — though it takes a lot of self-motivation and grit to get through the courses.
“Dartmouth won’t fail you out; they won’t tell you that you can’t do it,” she said. “It becomes much more about a kind of personal fortitude and a commitment to it.”
Dartmouth also has a strong track record of students recruiting to top consulting firms. Lu explained that she interned at Boston Consulting Group’s New York City office over the summer and will return there for full-time work in the fall. She added that she will train and work with firms from across major industries, like tech and biopharmaceuticals, among others.
According to Lu, when she considered potential career paths, she asked herself about her motivations for pursuing those paths. Lu added that she has had conversations with her peers about Dartmouth about what it means to “sell out” — committing to a career based on the lucrative salary, while having little interest in the industry or job. Farr and Lu both said that “selling out” lies at the interplay between work, financial freedom and the elusive passion many of us look for in a potential career.
At Dartmouth, the concept of selling out is occasionally conflated with jobs like consulting. However, both Lu and Farr shared that they view consulting as a building block towards long-term career aspirations.
“I don’t personally think that I’ll be in consulting forever, but I think it’s a great first step,” Farr said.
Similarly, Lu said that she thinks consulting is a great starting point because it “exposes you to so many industries,” thus providing an opportunity to explore different career paths, with an ability to specialize later.
Abreu said she still hopes to work in medicine, though she described how the concept of “selling out” may be applied to medicine as well.
“I think there are ways to ‘sell out’ as a doctor: Go in just to make the money,” she said.
Either way, it seems that medicine and consulting both have their potential drawbacks, though these negatives become more nuanced the more familiar one becomes in either field. As we approach the close of the academic year, outgoing seniors may ask themselves about their own motivations for whatever their next chapter or pursuit may be.