I’m terrified of graduating and am panicking about finding a job

A reader writes:

I am a year out from graduating college (that is, in the summer between my junior and senior year.) I’m working at a fairly prestigious internship (in academia) but I think I’m figuring out that it’s not really what I want to do and I have no idea what I DO want to do. I haven’t spent a lot of time on career building/networking in college – maybe foolishly I focused really hard on my coursework (I have great grades and have held serious leadership roles in a number of university-affiliated volunteer organizations). What are some steps I could take in the next year to make sure that I’m at least somewhat prepared to apply for jobs when I graduate? Should I learn new skills? Start networking like crazy? Figure out exactly what I want to do or apply to all the jobs I feel like I might possibly be interested in and take what I can get? I’m scared that it’s already too late for me to do well in the post-graduation world.

Don’t freak out. You’re fine.

Things to do in the next year: Intern. Work. Seriously, get as much work experience as you can. That’s going to make your post-college job search soooo much easier, even if you end up applying in a different field than the ones you worked/interned in.

Also, start looking at job ads now even though you can’t apply to them anytime soon, just to get a sense of what’s out there and what you might be interested in and qualified for when the time does come. And then, start talking to people who work in those areas to get a better sense of what those jobs are really like, so that you can refine your ideas about what you might want to do and what to expect if you pursue those fields. (Here’s some advice on that.)

But also, if you’re graduating with a liberal arts degree, which I suspect you are, this is very normal. Loads of liberal arts graduates (maybe most?) don’t come out of school with a clearly defined career path to follow and sort of stumble onto whatever track they end up staying on. That makes figuring out what to do next much harder than if your degree gave you a more narrow path, but you have lots and lots of company on this much wider one.

You will be fine.

Addendum: After I wrote this answer, the letter-writer told me that she’s a hard sciences/English double major doing science research over the summer. This makes you even better positioned! Hard sciences and English can be a really marketable combination — employers tend to love science people who can write and communicate well. It’s an unusual enough degree combination that you’re likely to get more interest from employers than the average new grad and will have more options as a result. Start exploring potential options on both sides (science jobs with a communications bent, and more liberal-artsy jobs where science expertise would be a plus), and I bet you’re going to find a bunch of paths that speak to you.

{ 145 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. JokeyJules

      +1000000000000
      My senior year of college I thought I scored an excellent job, in my field, exactly what I wanted to do, excellent pay and benefits, reputable company with a low turnover rate. Then they day after graduation they called and said nevermind. I was devastated but realized that wasn’t even what I wanted to do as a career.
      At graduation I thought I’d be 3/4 through my first masters degree, it’s been 18 months and I know even less what I want to do now than ever. But every employer I’ve spoken with has told me my strategy of gaining workplace experience before settling on a career is the most wise thing to do.
      You’ll be fine.

      Reply
      1. Adlib

        I’m also 15 years out, and I think I’m finally doing what I was meant to do even though I had no idea when I graduated what I wanted to do or even that what I’m doing now was actually a thing! I started with a marketing/business admin degree as a receptionist and just made my way through the working world from there. Not to sound trite, but it really will be okay. :)

        Reply
        1. 2 Cents

          Me too. If you’d told 21 Me what 34 Me would be doing, I’d have thought I’d sold my soul to the devil or given up. Neither of those things have happened; my life, career trajectory, and expectations have changed since I was a young adult. 21 Me wanted to live and work abroad, country-hopping, forever, not caring about money or my next paycheck or healthcare or whatever. 34 Me likes a steady 9-to-5 with 10-minute commute near long-time friends and family. (Sounds boring, but life throws curveballs, and you have to decide how you want to play them.)

          Reply
        2. Justme

          I’m in a stable job that I enjoy, but I know it’s not what I am meant to do. So I’m going to grad school inthe fall.

          Reply
      2. Annonymouse

        If this was somewhere in the era where you basically had one job and stayed with one company for life then I’d agree for you to be worried.

        But luckily we live in a time where you can explore different jobs and careers – heck, new career paths get invented a lot, to figure out what you want to do and what you are good at.

        I second Alison’s advice. Do some internships, do some work and figure out what parts or paths suit you.

        I.e you might find out you don’t like admin and you’re great at dealing with and getting the best out of people and are passionate about x industry. Or the reverse! Not a people person but amazing at the admin side.

        Hence the importance of figuring out what jobs will make you happy and that you’ll succeed at in the long run.

        Reply
    2. paul

      My FIL (retired) likes to joke it took until he retired before he realized what he wanted to do when he grew up.

      Reply
    3. Middle Name Jane

      I have a liberal arts degree and didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was 28. It was tangentially related to what I was already doing, so I was able to break into the field quickly and get experience. I took some continuing education classes, but I didn’t have to get another degree. Still paying off my B.A.!

      But I tell you, I went to a really competitive and rigorous college. I was surrounded by students who already knew exactly what career they wanted (doctor, attorney, professor, etc.). I felt inadequate.

      Reply
    4. state government jane

      We make our career paths by walking them! The best advice I got as a new grad was to not think too hard about what I wanted to Do, but focus on finding a job that sounded reasonable enough for the next 2ish-or-more years. Since college, I’ve worked in some good (at least mildly interesting, skill-building, growth-encouraging) jobs and am starting, based on my experiences, to figure out some longer term goals. Don’t sweat it.

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      1. Optimistic Prime

        This is an excellent way to put it! Instead of trying to plan out your whole Career and Life, focus on what you think sounds reasonably interesting enough for you to do for 2-4 years.

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    5. Optimistic Prime

      I’m 11 years out and although I’m in a career field I like, there’s no guarantee I’ll stay here! I’ve already changed careers once. When I was 21 I had no idea my current job actually existed.

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    6. Kate H

      Same, same, same. I’m two years out of college working a mish-mash of part-time jobs. About to launch a search for my first full-time job and terrified that I’m not going to be able to find anything I’m qualified for *and* good at.

      Reply
  1. Emotionally Neutral

    Also remember that it’s somewhat unusual to have a job lined up several months in advance of graduation. I went to a school where it was common for certain majors to have jobs lined up the November before graduation and felt terrible when several friends and I were unemployed after we finished our degrees. Unless you are desperately destitute, not having something lined up immediately will not be a death knell for your career.

    Signed, someone who was an unemployed new grad at this time last year and now has a good job.

    Reply
    1. designbot

      This! I actually let my engineer parents convince me that it was normal to have one lined up by spring break or even Christmas (I know, but NOW you tell me that parental advice is nonsense!), which scared me into taking the first job on offer, a month before graduation. Fast forward to the week after graduation, and I fielded literally dozens of calls from other companies, to each of which I dutifully replied that I’d already made a commitment to another firm. I really wish I’d waited to interview until after graduation and not committed so early.

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  2. gnarlington

    I didn’t gain full-time employment till almost a year after graduation, and, though I really like what I’m doing now, I’m not sure it’s for me *forever.* Don’t worry, OP; you’re in good company.

    Reply
  3. they call me the wanderer

    Also, remember that it’s totally OK to not end up on your life-long career path right out of college! Don’t freak out about finding your PERFECT job or career. Look around to find jobs that you think might interest you and apply. Once you get your first job, you’ll figure out the things you do and don’t like about it, and where your strengths and weaknesses are. Then you’ll use that to find a better second job, and then an even better third job, and so on. This is totally, 100% completely normal.

    For instance I graduated with a business degree. I started out at a Big 4 firm, then onto a business analyst gig that had some technical components. I realized I liked the technical, so I got another job at a software company doing testing, and now I’m a software developer. Very far from where I was when I graduated.

    Relax, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated either, and now here I am in a job I love.

    Reply
    1. Jillociraptor

      This is so true. The best advice I can give to students (I work at a university) is to open yourself to the possibilities. I took good but kind of random jobs, and being good at them opened up all kinds of avenues for me. I do sometimes feel envious of the people who have a very clear idea of what they want to do with their lives, but I’m also very grateful that when something new and interesting has popped up, I’ve never been reluctant to take it because it wasn’t in the plan.

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    2. Kate

      Seconded!

      I also think it changes. I knew what I wanted when I graduated, worked at stepping stones to that for four years before I got it, worked at it for ten years, and now it’s not what I want anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good decade, but now I have changed!

      So it’s back to wondering what I want to be when I grow up…

      Reply
    3. AnotherAlison

      Conversely, keep in mind that you may end up on your lifelong career path!

      I’ve worked for 17 years in the field my first job was in. You definitely want to keep this in mind if you are focused in a particular sci/tech field. I graduated with a nicely generic mechanical engineering degree, but now 99% of the value I bring to a job is my experience in the power industry. If you don’t like where you land in your first job, I highly recommend getting out after the first year. I got stuck in my first job due to an economic downturn hitting not long after my first year out, and then before I knew it 17 years passed.

      Reply
    4. Natalie

      Yes, this was such a problem for me. I was so focused on figuring out My Career that I was paralyzed by the prospect of picking wrong, and though I would be signing a lifetime contract to the My Career Guild and could never change.

      Lots of people’s careers follow meandering paths! It’s totally okay and normal if yours does, too.

      Reply
  4. H.C.

    Also, see if there are research / teaching assistant opportunities with your majors’ departments; even though you’re no longer interested in academia, these positions help build foundation skills that are readily applicable to a wide variety of jobs.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer

      Hi! Letter writer here! Yeah, I’ve worked as a teaching assistant for my English department twice and for my science major once. All the professors I’ve worked for have been satisfied with me/have given me a large amount of responsibility in those roles (lecturing when the professor was gone for a week using lectures I wrote myself/ deciding on grade distributions for the class, etc). I definitely found them to be super interesting experiences and really valuable to me personally but have always thought of TAing as something nobody would care about on my resume if I didn’t want to go directly into teaching/education. Thank you for your perspective!

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      1. hermit crab

        Definitely include that on your resume — it’s really valuable experience! My field is not at all related to teaching but I always like to see TA positions on entry level resumes when we’re hiring.

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        1. Agnes Stonewick

          Thanks for saying this. I have 25 years of work experience before I went to school to meet degree requirements to earn more money in my field. I’m constantly asking myself, how do I arrange, Director, Manager and Board Member on my resume below my more recent TA, RA, GA positions. When I look at my resume, it looks to me as if I’ve looped all the way back around to the beginning and I’m starting over, which is not the case.

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          1. J.B.

            Would it make sense to have education back at the top and TA/RA/listed within the education section. I wouldn’t devote a ton of space to it, maybe one sentence explanation and then more words for the director experience.

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      2. Newton Geizler

        Definitely make sure to include your TA positions on your resume, even if you end up applying for lab jobs! When I’m hiring for our lab, I look for teaching/tutoring experience in ideal candidates because our work often involves training other people on using our instruments. Teaching also shows that you have good communication skills, which are invaluable everywhere.

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      3. Just Another Techie

        Yeah. I work in a job where there is no teaching or education component at all (except for mentoring new hires) but seeing TAships on resumes is a good sign, because it says 1) you can balance a job and coursework at the same time which speaks well of your time management skills 1a) bonus, it’s not a job where you have a lot of downtime to sit back and chill and/or study on the clock (the case with a LOT of on-campus jobs) 2) it’s a job where you have to interact with other people so will highlight any interpersonal skills you have and 43) gives me some easy-to-find people to call for references in addition to whoever you listed on your application as references.

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      4. H.C.

        Ditto what the other replies said – TA jobs definitely count as relevant work experience esp. going into your first post-college job, since it involves various general skills employers would look for (learning & explaining concepts, interpersonal communication, attention to detail when grading tests, dependability in leading discussions/holding office hours, etc.)

        Also, it’s a great way to get reference/recommendations from the professors you’ve assisted.

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    2. Optimistic Prime

      Yes! I work in a non-academic research job, and we hire a lot of BA-holders for certain research coordinator positions on my team. Definite bonus points if they have some college research experience. And the position requires lots of public speaking and interacting with people in a manner that mimics teaching, so you can definitely argue for transferable skills there.

      Reply
  5. Amy

    Agreed with all that there’s nothing to worry about. I also recommend the AmeriCorps NCCC program to anyone who is still unsure of what they want to do after graduation. The program is for people age 18-24 years old. You are on a team with 8-10 others and travel to different areas within your region to do volunteer projects. That’s what I did after college and was stationed at the Southeast campus in Charleston, SC. It was the year after Hurricane Katrina so we did mostly Hurricane relief in places like NOLA and Mississippi. We got a living stipend, health insurance, food and housing paid for and money toward student loans or future education. They also provided a ton of resources for “life after AmeriCorps” including time off for job interviews and career counseling.

    Reply
    1. M_Lynn

      Yes! Though I did AmeriCorps VISTA so it as a standard office job at a nonprofit, which for me helped me continue working in NGOs. I LOVED AmeriCorps and am a huge proponent of it precisely because this entry level work, no long term time commitment, and has the feel-good national service benefit. It is not for those in more precarious financial situations, but I will say that the $5k educational benefit was really worth it in my context.

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      1. Amy

        I did AmeriCorps VISTA too, right after my year in NCCC! Such a great program, yeah? It’s what really set me up on my path to work in the nonprofit world. I think the variety of experiences offered through VISTA is great and could potentially set you up to work in many different fields.

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  6. Trout 'Waver

    OP. Ask the professor you’re doing research for over the summer if you can continue it during the academic year. If it’s at the same institution you’re getting your degree from, I bet the prof would be happy to have you continue. A full year in a lab will look much better on a resume than a summer stint, even if you can only work 10 hours a week while class is in session.

    If your internship is at a different institution, start finding a lab to work in during the school year. Your academic advisor probably has a list of professors who would be happy to have an undergraduate researcher. You can also ask the professors that taught any of your courses that you did well and were interested in. Start doing this now. Your profs will be much more busy when classes start.

    If you’re at a small college that doesn’t have undergraduate research opportunities, they may partner with a larger university to provide such opportunities. Your academic advisor can probably help you figure out how to make that work.

    Once you have a lab job, treat it as a real job. Undergraduate researchers are often given little direction. Don’t be afraid to ask for direction from grad students, technicians, or the lab’s principle investigator. Showing you can function well in a lab environment, complete projects, and communicate about them effectively are the things that will help you get a job in a hard sciences lab after graduation.

    For context, I hire people of all levels including entry level in a hard sciences field.

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    1. Letter Writer

      Letter Writer here. This is a really interesting perspective. I definitely wish I had started working in a lab earlier in my college career – many of my friends have had lab jobs since their sophomore years and feel much more confident about their positioning going into hard sciences after graduation. Do you think this is something worth pursuing if I only have one year of school left? Will professors be interested in taking on an undergraduate who will have to leave comparatively soon? Thanks so much.

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      1. Jake

        Not necessarily lab work, but I worked with a professor on one of her research projects starting a quarter of the way through my senior year. My relative lack of time left wasn’t even thought of. I did 10-15 hours a week, and she was satisfied enough to provide an excellent reference.

        Having another actual work reference was probably the most important part of the whole deal when it came to applying for post-graduation jobs.

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        1. Trout 'Waver

          It’s a bit different for lab work, though. A lot of people realize lab work is not for them and opt out. By showing a year track record, you’re communicating to a perspective employer (or grad program) that you have done lab work and know you like it.

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          1. Trout 'Waver

            To clarify, I mean they take a role not knowing if they like lab work or not and then quit soon after starting.

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      2. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)

        Yes.
        I mean, I can’t speak for your research mentor, but this is just a thing we deal with as faculty. We have students, they graduate, we get new ones.
        There is no harm in asking. If the answer is no, it is nothing personal. If the answer is yes, there you are!

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      3. Newton Geizler

        It really depends on the lab and the kind of work, but I think it’s worth pursuing. Since you already have some lab experience from this summer, it’ll be a lot easier to transition into something on your campus. Many labs would be happy to have you for just a year. You might not get to see a project through to completion, but often grad students have smaller tasks they can assign that are great for learning skills and gaining experience.

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      4. Trout 'Waver

        Absolutely yes to both questions.. A year is a relatively long time for an undergraduate researcher.

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      5. fposte

        And you know, LW, even if they don’t have a place for you, they’re not going to resent you for asking.

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        1. Dr. Speakeasy

          Yep. And I’m not in the hard sciences – but I’d be happy to have an undergraduate for even a quarter (assuming they are working for experience or credit – funding is harder to come by).

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      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, OP! I think it’s important not to compare yourself to your peers when determining whether an experience will add value to your life and resume. A year in a lab is qualitatively better than a summer, regardless when you started. With respect to professors’ preferences—it can’t hurt to ask. Some will want people they can keep forever, but many labs operate with people they know will only be there for a year.

        I don’t know if this applies to your case or would interest you, but oftentimes you can continue lab work, full-time, after graduating. My experience is slightly difference in that I wasn’t working in a lab, but I was working in the field on a development intervention (think public health/epidemiology). I started my very last semester of my senior year of college, and I served in different capacities on that team for about 1.25 years post-grad.

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      7. Optimistic Prime

        Sure. Lots of professors take on seniors to do lab research. If you are interested in it, do it! (But also know that it is totally okay and normal to volunteer/work in a lab and NOT fall in love with lab research and/or want to become a researcher when it’s all over.)

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      8. Science!

        That’s exactly how I did it. I didn’t work in a lab until the summer before my senior year but then I stayed in that lab my senior year. I did have a job as an Research Assistant landed before I graduated, and worked there for 2 years while I learned what I liked and didn’t like. That job helped me to decide I wanted to study human disease but I did not want to go to medical school. So I got my degree in genetics, focused on translational biology. And even since I’ve changed gears and speciality slightly when I entered my post-doc. You don’t have to be locked into one path, there are always ways to take skills from area and translate it to another career.

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  7. AJ

    Especially with the sciences, don’t assume a PhD program is a good fit for you. Science careers have their own set of pitfalls and they seem to get worse with higher degrees. Science magazine has a good career forum if you’re thinking of focusing more on the science side of your degrees.

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  8. TeacherNerd

    Ooh, I like the science/English double major combo. Alison is right – it’s a good combination to have; science writing is a definite thing. (One of my favorite people is Grammar Girl; Mignon Fogarty, who founded the Quick and Dirty Tips network out of her Grammar Girl podcast, has a similar combination herself – a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Biology. I know that she became the editorial director and executive producer of GeneticHealth.com and was a producer and co-host of the podcast Absolute Science. ) There is stuff out there!

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    1. tw

      I remember a technical communications major in college say his goal was to write for NASA and spend all day learning and writing about the cool things they do. That would be amazing!

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    2. PlainJane

      This is a great combination for a grant writer or science writer to have. I worked with two people who did this at a prestigious research institution – helped PIs write grants, basically helping them translate their science into something readable and convincing to an audience outside their narrow field. They also helped researchers for whom English is a second language.

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      1. Optimistic Prime

        I worked at a research center that had an editor on staff whose job it was to help us write all the things. Her BA was also in English, and part of her job was exactly that – to make sure that our grants made sense to people outside our field.

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      2. starsaphire

        It’s also a great combo for a technical writer (like me!) or for going into QA/RA or document control, which are really great fields.

        A science background and excellent communication skills can make the tech world your oyster. :) You’re in great shape!

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        1. EH

          Yes! I’m a technical writer, and if I’d double-majored in a hard science as well as getting my English degree, I’d be doing at least a bit better than I am. My lack of hard science knowhow keeps me out of the more specialized gigs, which seem to pay a bit better.

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  9. ReallyNeedToGetBackToWork

    The poster should browse the job sites at, for example, the National Labs — some of them offer post-baccalaureate programs for recent grads, and not just in science, but in all of the business, communications, HR, etc. portions of the laboratory. You’re only eligible for this post-bacc position for 1 or 2 years after graduation, but they can be highly educational, fun, and really show you a breadth of science and science-related work that is not straight academia. And looks good on a resume.

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    1. Dee

      I would agree, if were it not for current funding issues. I don’t know about the programs you’re referring to specifically, and maybe they aren’t impacted. But I worked at a National Lab in communications, supporting a research program, and I am sad for my colleagues who still work there. Last I heard, the lab I worked at was looking at a 25% reduction in staff.

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  10. Ms. Meow

    If you’re looking to use your science background in a laboratory setting, a lot of entry level lab positions will train you for the specific tasks you will be performing. They will only require good grades in your science courses (which you say you have) and general knowledge of what you’ll be doing. I graduated with a BA in Chemistry/Math. When I got hired for my entry level chemist position they liked that I had a 3.8 GPA and that I was able to answer the basic questions they asked about HPLC. Also, if you’re looking to go into science, whether it be in academia, government, or industry, working in a research setting with be a big plus on your resume.

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    1. Mpls

      And if you are looking for entry-level lab positions, make sure you look/register with the scientific-specific staffing agencies in your area. I mean, if you are interested in working for any of the science/industry places in your area (pharma, med device, food, chemical production, etc.) My experience after graduating was this is where the entry-level stuff was, if you weren’t coming thru as an intern. Sometimes just temp, sometimes temp-to-hire, but a good way to get your foot in the door and get industry experience – which is often more than just labwork, if it’s an FDA or other agency regulated lab.

      That’s what I ended up doing, with some trial and error, after graduation (and much parental prodding). And I am back working at that same company, after some tangents and in a different capacity, 12 years later.

      Reply
  11. Kaz

    Can I make a plug for clinical research? There are lots of jobs in pharma, contract research organizations, hospitals, clinics, and a wide variety of other places where a person who can both do science and communicate clearly would be very welcome.

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    1. IMakeSigns

      Yes! I came here to make this exact comment. I work in the clinical research industry and someone with a scientific background/knowledge base and strong writing and communication skills is very valued. I would highly recommend doing some research into the industry to see what you think.

      Reply
  12. LeisureSuitLarry

    Chances are you are not going to find your “forever” career right out of college. I got my Bachelor’s almost 20 years ago, and I’m now on my 4th career and it has nothing at all to do with any of the degrees I have. In another 10 years, maybe I’ll still love this career, or maybe I’ll go learn to be a veterinarian or fitness instructor or join a Tibetan monastery. Who knows?!

    The point is, you don’t have to have it all figured out yet. You actually never have to figure it out! You’re going to keep growing and evolving, and your careers will grow and evolve with your interests. Find something to do that interests you until it doesn’t, then find something else to do.

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    1. NotAnotherManager!

      This is wonderful advice! I’m about the same age and am still on career #1.5, which is almost entirely unrelated to my degrees. My field is rapidly changing, though, and it feels like a completely different field than 10 years ago.

      Insight you gain into what you DON’T want to do can be just as valuable as finding something that really speaks to you. I hire people into their first jobs a lot, and I recognize few will be with me for the long haul. I still teach them valuable skills that are transferable to a lot of different next jobs/careers/degree programs.

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  13. CappaCity

    OP, if you enjoy writing, you should look at technical writing in the science(s) you’re getting your degree in. You are in an excellent position to launch yourself in that direction if that’s something that interests you. Look into what kind of things you would need to have to apply for a job like that – writing samples, etc. You can start slowly building a solid resume now instead of feeling like you’re scrambling later.

    Also, this is SO normal. Be proactive, but don’t feel like you need to panic. You’ve got this!

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  14. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

    I think the combination of hard science and English is fantastic. I know a lot of science folks (married to one) and they are often terrible communicators. And I’m the first to admit that while I’m very good at writing, editing, and grammar, I fall into the “electricity is magic” thinking most of the time.

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  15. BlueWolf

    I didn’t get my first job post-college until about 4 months after graduation, and although it wasn’t something I wanted to do forever, I got some valuable work experience and stayed for 3 years. I started out there part-time, so I was also able to volunteer in a different field on the side. Your first post-college job doesn’t have to be your dream job or define the rest of your career. And if you have the time, volunteering is a great way to explore other fields to see what you might be interested in. In fact, I’m sure you could even volunteer while still in school.

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  16. bleh

    You’re fine!! Seriously, you’re fine. Intern this summer, work or intern next year if you can, start working on a great resume, and start applying to anything and everything entry level a few months before graduation. This is probably my best advice–start early with applications.

    Ideally you’d apply to things that seem interesting, but I also want to stress that a first job is JUST a first job. It probably won’t be that great (I hope it is though!). My first job had issues but it did help me clarify what I did and didn’t want in a next job. So bottom line is, don’t feel like whatever job you do line up is the be-all-end-all.

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  17. DivineMissL

    I’m 55, been working steadily since I was 14, made 2 major changes to my job trajectory, and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. When I was your age, I felt the same pressure to figure out what I was going to do FOREVER and get to it right away. I learned the hard way that life doesn’t always take you exactly where you originally intended. You’re young enough to try some things on for size; you are writing your own life, so you have the right to change you mind later!

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  18. Clever Name

    I’m a scientist working at a consulting firm and I can tell you that if we got a resume with your qualifications we would be positively giddy to hire them.

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  19. Jake

    Unless you are finding that you hate lab work, that degree combination screams lab worker. They’ll drool over a scientist that can actually coherently explain (in writing) the process and procedures used to develop new tests in such a way that a non-science person can understand.

    That doesn’t really address the question though. In reality, interning is your #1 path to working a permanent job out of college. Most folks don’t even end up with the institution they intern with, but the fact that you have work experience is so important. Personally, I’d try to find something outside of academia since that’s not really where you want to be, but even academic internships/jobs will be a huge leg up.

    Reply
  20. Buddythefox

    As a science/english double major, if you decide NOT to go into research, you could try looking into immigration law for foreign scientists. Pretty niche field, but great job prospects as a paralegal/scientific writer type person, and easy to get into straight out of college. Similar would be working in a patent law office. Also don’t worry! I am three years out of college and still have no clue!

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      Just chiming in to say that I hire entry-level paralegals, and the intellectual property/patent practices really, really prefer people with a science background, with the ideal being a double-major in a hard science and English. There are also boutique patent firms that hire technical specialists with similar backgrounds.

      Reply
  21. Blue

    OP, don’t stress about trying to figure out your exact long-term career trajectory. I’m in my early 30s, and most of my friends have shifted their plans pretty dramatically in the 10 years since we graduated from college. In some cases, it’s because they ended up hating the work they thought they’d do, or they found something else that’s a better fit, or other life priorities took precedence, or some completely unexpected opportunity presented itself. All of Alison’s advice is excellent – get experience, learn about some options, and figure out the best next step for you.

    Addendum: if you want to continue working in science but want to shift to industry, it’s particularly important that you talk to people doing that work, not just your professors. Your career center may have an alumni database that would allow you to connect with alums in some of these fields.

    Reply
  22. KHB

    Science writing is a great field to go into if you can do it well. (Of course I would say that – it’s what I do.) As Alison says, it takes a rare combination of skills – but it also takes more than that. Writing about science, specifically, is a skill in itself, separate from writing in general and understanding the science. So if this is something you’re interested in, see what you can do to develop that skill.

    For example, university research groups usually have group web pages with summaries of the work they do. Do you know anyone whose web page could use an update? You could volunteer to help out with that.

    If there’s any room in your senior year schedule, and if your school offers any science writing classes, give that a whirl too.

    Reply
  23. Sherm

    I do science writing and I really love it. I think it’s a field where you can pretty much accurately guess whether you’d feel at home with it or now. If this sort of work speaks to you, I would join whichever professional association most closely aligns with your goals, and volunteer and network with them. It will look great on your resume, not so much the experience, actually, but the evidence that you take writing seriously and are not a STEM graduate applying anywhere and everywhere, which hiring managers see lots of. You can also hang up your own shingle before graduating and see if you can get any freelance work. Good luck!

    Reply
  24. Non-profiteer

    I see so much of my 23-year-old self in this post. And it wasn’t because I was unprepared for the working world. It was simply because you’re working towards a scary deadline of “starting [day after graduation date], I don’t know what my day-to-day life will be like, and [depending on your life circumstances] I’ll be operating without much of a safety net.” The uncertainty of it all made me SO anxious that I considered taking a job I knew I wouldn’t really like – just because that job came along 2 months before graduation and it would have given me a plan.

    Luckily, I had a mentor who convinced me that 2 months before graduation was NOT the time to compromise on a job, and I held out for a better job that set me on a great career path. But this mentor put words to what my actual problem was – I feared the unknown and I was terrified that I wasn’t able to plan my life after graduation.

    So Allison gave great advice. I guess I would add get yourself a mentor or two if you don’t have them already, because they will not only help you get jobs, but help you survive the anxiety and provide clear-headed perspective.

    Reply
  25. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)

    Talk to your research mentor this summer. They have seen this before. I promise.

    Things my research students have gone on to do that are not research/graduate school (FWIW I am a former English/my field dual major who is now faculty at a liberal arts college):
    * Work in academic publishing
    * Education (in teaching and non-teaching roles)
    * Science writing
    * Marketing

    And I’m a very new research mentor so I’m working with a super small n. Most students who work as summer research assistants are not going on to future research-focused careers!

    Reply
  26. AdAgencyChick

    Look into technical writing, OP! This includes everything from healthcare PR to user’s manuals to working for a trade journal.

    It can be quite lucrative if you work for a for-profit company (nonprofit journals pay peanuts, if my impression is correct).

    Reply
  27. EmKay

    I’m 37 years old, on my second career, and I still don’t know what I’m doing. Relax, you’ll be fine.

    Reply
  28. sam

    So. Two stories. One about a person (me!) who “absolutely” knew what she wanted to do when she grew up, and the other about a person (my brother) who took much longer to get there.

    I basically went to college knowing I wanted to be a lawyer. And I *am* a lawyer. But everything about me said I was going to be a particular kind of lawyer. So I took all the classes that geared me toward that kind of field, and basically telling anyone who listened that I would *never* in a million years go into the corporate world. My university honors program set me up with a mentor from the law school, who I basically told to go pound sand when I found out he taught corporate finance (good move, past me!).

    Well, my *not* practicing corporate law lasted all of six months in the real world. I hated my litigation/labor law job, and realized that I actually loved the corporate work I had done as a summer intern. 18 years later? All I want to do is go back and slap college me upside the head. So. Still a lawyer, glad I knew that much, but…things change.

    My brother, on the other hand, basically had no idea what he wanted to do, even upon graduation. He basically got a boring “pay the bills” office job for a while, then he went to work at a ski resort out in vail for a while (not entirely crazy – his undergrad degree was in hospitality management). But then he got the peace corps bug. He had to apply a few times before they accepted him (it’s tough to get in these days, and he actually had to go do some volunteer stints elsewhere to show he was serious before he got in). His first assignment in the PC looked at his “business” background and put him in a local SBA office, helping local folks get loans to set up tourism businesses. He hated it.

    Finally he was transferred to a teaching position at a local middle school as a kind of last resort and…that was it. He found it. He never loved school as a student, so never even thought of education as a profession, but somehow, that was it for him. He came home and got a masters in education, then a second masters in international development, and now he designs and implements education programs for refugee children throughout the middle east for a major NGO. But it took him until he was almost 30 before he figured this out.

    So take it from the person who totally had her entire career planned out and then discovered that she hated (at least a part of) the plan. It’s OK if you need to take a little more time to figure things out.

    Reply
    1. Lindsay J

      Yeah, I had my mind set from like 3rd grade that I wanted to be a teacher. (Before that I wanted to be a vet, but then realized I didn’t have the heart to euthanize animals or deal with abuse cases). From Freshman year of high school on I knew I wanted to be a music teacher.

      I majored in music ed. And then when I got to my final practicum, realized that I hated teaching music.

      I switched to speech pathology, and I realized that I don’t really have any enthusiasm for dealing with children in any type of professional capacity. And I felt like not being enthusiastic about my job would be harmful to the kids in those types of positions.

      My career now is something completely different (and a job I never even really knew/thought about existing) until I kind of fell into it.

      Reply
  29. TotesMaGoats

    Not knowing what you want to do isn’t a problem. We’ve made it to be a problem.

    The problem is when you don’t make plans to explore possible paths. Do something. Intern. Volunteer. Learning that there is a job you don’t want to do is just as important as learning a job you do want to do.

    And Alison is right that your degree combo is a great avenue to a lot of jobs. You are really well positioned.

    Reply
  30. Girl Alex PR

    I have a similar degree and I now run a program with the government that focuses on communicating all the scientific related things the DoD is doing- experiemental drug treatments, NASA programs, etc.

    It’s AMAZING. I’m never bored.

    Reply
      1. Girl Alex PR

        If you’d like to chat about it, I’d be happy to speak with you! I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff with my degrees- newspaper reporter, military journalist, medical public affairs officer. You can reach me at alexandra.r.snyder@gmail.com. Almost all my opportunities have come from being in the D.C. area, but if you’re willing to follow the jobs it’s a GREAT career!

        Reply
  31. FTW

    It’s true that many people do not have jobs lined up at graduation, but it’s not unusual.

    I would spend the rest of your summer fitting in time for informational interviews in functions/companies you might be interested in and other opportunities to hone your direction (e.g., taking to professors). By having clearer direction by end of summer, you can take advantage of on-campus recruiting. You don’t have to go through on-campus recruiting, but it is an opportunity you should not discount. The career center is doing some of the heavy lifting for you by connecting you with employers looking to hire entry level college grads, and it helps to take advantage of the opportunity. Keep in mind the deadlines start early… resume drops can happen in September. Make sure to familiarize yourself with processes and requirements for resume drops, and take advantage of any interviewing prep they offer.

    Reply
  32. Non-Prophet

    OP, seconding all those who are sending encouraging and reassuring vibes! You are doing perfectly fine and this sort of uncertainty is normal!

    I double majored in two liberal arts disciplines, and have an MA in literature. I ended up in a finance role. When I interviewed for my job, my liberal arts background was a huge asset. My organization liked knowing that I’d be able to explain financial strategy clearly to people who may not be comfortable with finance lingo. It’s not where I thought I’d end up, but it’s worked out really well for me.

    Also seconding all those encouraging you to get as much work experience as possible while in school. I didn’t do that (focused on grades and taking as many credits as I could), and it’s been one of my regrets about my college years.

    Best of luck to you!

    Reply
  33. LS

    I started working when I was 20, in a job I disliked – but I used it as a launch pad to something more interesting. I didn’t find my “real” career though, until I was in my late 30s. And maybe it will evolve into something else, who knows?

    I remember panicking because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it was never really a problem. And it’s easier to change careers now than ever before.

    Love the English / science combo btw – 2 of my favourite things :)

    Reply
  34. Dee

    Another tech writer chiming in to say that your background will be perfect for science writing, or anything requiring you to communicate complex scientific information to the public. The places that came immediately to mind are universities, hospitals, research institutions, and scientific organizations (AGU or AAAS, for example).

    If you think you might want to go more toward the public information/PR side, since you have a year left, you might want to look at a course that covers PR writing — press releases, fact sheets, brochures, making media contacts, things like that. PR jobs often look for agency experience, as well, but I suspect that would be less important with your combination of qualifications.

    Reply
  35. Detective Amy Santiago

    I called my mom in hysterics about a month before I graduated from college because I had no idea what I was going to do so I totally feel for you, LW.

    The advice here is really good. I wish I had done more internships/networking when I was in school. Also, I suggest starting a LinkedIn profile and connecting with your professors and anyone else that you meet that would be a good professional contact in the future. I was just thinking earlier today that I wish LinkedIn had been a thing when I was at the beginning of my career.

    Reply
  36. Sled Dog Mama

    I did my undergraduate degree in a hard science (physics) and was pretty much in the same boat (although I think it was September before the panic set in). I did two summers of research and while I loved the projects I worked on, full time research was not for me. I decided to teach high school. Most of the hiring process took place during the spring semester and the interview for the position I actually took wasn’t until the middle of June, after the school was out for the summer! ITO that I hated teaching (but now admire my high school teachers even more) so I went back to grad school and got my masters in a very specific area of physics and now work in the medical field.
    You have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do and to change your mind.
    And if you’re interested I’ll be happy to tell you all about what I do (and so would my colleague who did his BS and MS in Chemistry before he went into this field).

    Reply
    1. Sled Dog Mama

      Oh I forgot to say, don’t underestimate the transferability of the skills you are learning. One of my summer research projects involved manipulating massive amounts of data (we’re talking three to four spreadsheets to hold it all) and I learned how to make excel do pretty much anything I wanted it too. this skill has been remarkably handy not that I am keeping some statistics for the clinic.

      Reply
  37. SometimesALurker

    FWIW, I think that feeling a lot of anxiety about graduating is really common. It’s one of the biggest life changes most new graduates have ever gone through (if they are a “traditional student” and went straight through from high school or took only a year in between). I ended up seeing a counselor and later figuring out that in addition to graduation anxiety, I was experiencing my first-ever episode of depression. If just the career advice here isn’t helping calm your nerves, I encourage you to make use of your school’s mental health resources while you still have access to them — not just in case there’s something “bigger” going on like there was for me, but because this change in your life is big enough as it is!

    Reply
  38. micromanaged rat

    Talk to your research mentor about networking you into the field. Say specifically that you are looking to work in the field after graduation. Often places will train you for the specific job duties if you show that you have the ability to work in a lab. Also, DEFINITELY market yourself as someone who can not only do the lab work, but write it up. Many people who run labs would kill for both those skill sets. Have pieces of writing based on your research that are polished and in good shape. If you can publish your work, do it.

    Reply
  39. RB

    Or take a breather and do a stint in the Peace Corp. The work world will be there waiting for you when you return.

    Reply
  40. Noah

    I would just add that the vast majority of social science grads have no idea what they’re going to do, either.

    Reply
  41. Trotwood

    I was on a similar path as you four years ago (though without the English degree). I figured out around the time you did that I didn’t want to do chemistry research as a career and had a few months of panic about what to do after graduation. When you get back to school in the fall, talk to your university’s career services office RIGHT AWAY! Industry jobs will be recruiting in September-October. Make sure you know when those things are happening and go talk to recruiters and find out what jobs are out there. I had no idea what kind of jobs might be available in industry since no one talks about them when you’re in school. I ended up interviewing with a pharmaceutical company and finding a job that’s a really good fit for me.

    So don’t panic, but don’t wait around for something to come to you, either. Figure out when companies will be doing on-campus interviews, because in hard sciences companies do recruit 9 months in advance. It sounds like you’ve got great experience and you’ll be a good candidate for a wide variety of jobs.

    Reply
  42. NeverNicky

    You’ve had lots of excellent advice, but I’ll just chime in my reassurance. My first stint at Uni (not terribly successful) was a hard science. Twenty years later, I graduated with a degree in literature and media.

    I’m head of communications at a national health related charity, and the skill set I gained from these disparate subjects were/are ideal for the role. I’m in the UK and we don’t really “do” double majors, which means people who are good science communicators are even more in demand. Those that I know have often come from a teaching background or have teaching experience so perhaps comms would be good for you?

    Reply
  43. Humble Schoolmarm

    I completely agree with the “Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine.” advice here, OP. When I was where you are, my situation was a little different in that I thought I knew 100% for sure where I was going career-wise. That feeling lasted to graduation day and on for about another year applying for the professional program that I thought was my Life Path until I made a 180 and ended up in my current career and very happy. I also have friends who got to your point in school and started to panic because what can anyone do with a classics degree? Well, they also figured it out and have also gone on to satisfying career paths. Intern, get some work experience, volunteer, talk to people who do work you might be interested in, enjoy your last year of school life. It will work out.

    Reply
  44. Siberian

    Ooh, that is a really great combination of degrees/skills! Just wanted to pass on that on my large public university campus, the only people who make the top of the salary range as senior editors or senior writers are those who also have a science degree. I think you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. :)

    Reply
  45. Chloe

    +1 on the don’t be scared about not having a job out of college! I moved, got a paid internship in the field I wanted, and that became my full-time job leading into a career of what I currently do. Your background would make you 1000% desirable for associations/organizations in the science world that need to talk about their accomplishments (PR, Comms) in less jargon-filled fashion. Look at ASAE for jobs in that world, museums that need content writers, grant writers for nonprofits … you’ll be just fine! Best of luck.

    Reply
  46. Totally Booked

    OP, you have time!

    I’m one of those that wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do up until and even after graduation, and I’m currently in a career that feels designed just for me but I had no clue existed: clinical librarianship. Basically, I attend all clinical meetings for my departments and provide immediate librarian assistance to support evidence based practice. I spend very little time in the library, am constantly researching interesting topics, and get to feel like I’m helping patients without having the responsibility of cutting them open. I got here with an undergrad in English, extra science and medical classes, and a MS in Library Science.

    That’s not to say go sign up for library school, but a person with hard sciences and English background would be in very high demand in my field, and most people don’t realise it’s A Thing One Can Do, so I thought I’d mention it.

    Reply
  47. Tiny Orchid

    LW, you’ve gotten a lot of great advice here and a lot of interesting thoughts when it comes to potential areas to explore.

    I’d like to suggest that you think about all of your work experiences so far. What have you liked to do? If you think about your best day at the lab, at some other job, heck, even babysitting when you were in high school, what parts do you remember? Is it the part where you work hard on a problem and then get a breakthrough, or where you get to explain what’s going on to someone, or spend time all by yourself doing a clear set of tasks, or spending the day in a conference room with other people brainstorming, or… or…

    Keep a list of the things that are common about them. Then, when you’re evaluating opportunities (because really, the opportunities are varied and endless – I’ve been a sailboat reenactor, started a school, and did event planning), you can think about the job description in relation to your own personal benchmarks.

    And if you keep doing it, you might find that they change over time, and that will help to keep you steering yourself in the right direction.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer

      This is such useful advice, thank you very much! I’ve definitely noticed that certain kinds of work have made me really happy – working with people in an informal education setting (I worked in a science museum last summer), feeling like part of a team, feeling like I’m helping make an avenue of communication run smoothly, etc… I’ve never really thought about it before but that’s a really good idea.
      But also, sailboat reenactor! That’s crazy cool.

      Reply
    2. Confused Publisher

      That is such great advice and so well put. I wish I’d had that said to me when I was starting out half a decade ago.

      Reply
  48. Kyrielle

    I am not in a field where I can offer useful advice on niche roles you may be qualified for – but I will say that I left college absolutely convinced I wanted to do This Specific Thing…eventually, because _everyone_ wanted to do This Specific Thing and I didn’t have the background to vault into it.

    Instead, I got a job doing Thing That Was Hiring and found out I loved it…and the more I heard about TST, the more I heard about how rough an industry it was to work in, and the less I wanted to work there.

    A lot of people I know did something similar, some on their first job, some on their second or fourth. Several of them did get into what they “knew” they wanted to and found out they didn’t love it as much.

    There’s nothing wrong with not knowing – or with knowing. People have made both situations work in the past.

    Reply
  49. Mouse

    I graduated in June of 2016, and didn’t find a job until February of 2017. I picked up some freelancing to hold me over, but none of it was really remarkable. And even now, my job is an internship (though at least it’s full-time and paid!). It might not sound like much, but- I’m figuring life out. I’m learning about my field, forging my own path, building up my freelancing creds, networking like crazy, and planning a wedding too! I know it’ll all work out eventually, and I’ll be stronger for it.

    That said, this is why I scowl at the “millennials are lazy” mindset. I don’t have time to be lazy!

    Reply
  50. TeacherNerd

    OP, I’m echoing what the other commenters have said, but a little bit more context.

    I went to college later; I was 31 when I graduated, right when the economy was in the…well, not in a good place (2007). The New York City Dept. of Education – the largest school district in the country – wasn’t hiring, which was a shame, because I was living in Long Island and wanted to teach in NYC. But because I was older, I knew how to look and find work, pay bills, etc. It sounds a bit like you’re not only worried about finding a job after graduation; you may be nervous about how to be on your own. (I could be wrong, of course, and I apologize if my presumption is incorrect.) For 3.5 of the 4 years I was an undergrad, I tutored at my university writing center, and I noticed pretty quickly that at the end of every year, the young 22-23-year-old soon-to-be-graduates were all freaking out about the rest of their lives. Things may seem overwhelming because you’re thinking of ALL THE THINGS you have to do, staring with FINDING THE PERFECT CAREER RIGHT NOW ZOMG.

    It took me 7 years to find a full time teaching job; I had to move 2,500 miles away to find one. It was, in fact, the Worst Case Scenario. But I got through it, and I hope you are not going to be in a situation anywhere near as rough as I had it. And if you are – you’ll find a job. You’ll live on your own. You’ll figure out how it all works. It may not be what you want to do for the rest of your life, but the more you work, even if it’s not in your desired field, even if you don’t know what your desired field is, these jobs will help you figure out what you’re willing to put up with, what you like, what you don’t, etc. (It’s like dating that way. Some people find The One really quickly; others take longer; still others never find a career passion, and that’s okay, too.) You’ll find a place for yourself.

    Reply
  51. Lily Rowan

    Good news! The stuff you’ve been doing (internship/working, good grades, volunteer leadership) is EXACTLY what you need to do in order to be able to network. Because networking isn’t some stand-alone activity, it’s drawing on the relationships that you are currently building. So keep doing that over the next year. And maybe look at job postings, just to see the kinds of things that exist. (I bet you didn’t think about patent law as being a possible area to work in!)

    You will be fine! Good luck.

    Reply
  52. Typhon Worker Bee

    As others have said, science and English is a great combo!

    There are a ton of career paths that would make good use of both your majors. It’s often possible to get a taste of some of them even while you’re working in an academic lab, and there are some (e.g. science writing) that you can start on your own without having a full-time job lined up. I wrote a blog post about this topic ages ago, for a now-defunct “alternative careers for scientists” group blog – link below. There are some other posts in the archives that you might find helpful, too.

    Signed, a former postdoc in genetics who went on to a marketing job with a biotech company and then academic grant writing / project management, and who also does some freelance science writing and has published a pop-sci book ;)

    Reply
  53. Emily S.

    As a journalism graduate, let me give a quick plug for journalism as a career path.

    OP: If you end up not interested in a sciencey / lab-type role, it’s worth considering being a science reporter.

    Reporters typically don’t earn much at the beginning — but those who have worked their way up can have high earnings potential, depending on the type of media (e.g. newspapers, magazines, TV, etc.).

    I will say that writing (in general) just DOES NOT pay well in America. But with that being said, journalism is a very important role in society. Being a reporter can put you in a position to truly inform and enlighten the public in a way that is significant, and highly valued. It’s not an easy job, but it’s an important job. Sort of like teaching in that way.

    For example, environmental journalists have the important job of informing the public about climate change. Can you imagine the significance of conveying that information to the populace? They have a huge responsibility, and they turn around and deliver quality reporting, which helps people understand what’s going on. If you’d like another example, health reporters help inform the public about diseases, and research regarding treatments for those diseases (etc.). That is another important role to play. And so on.

    Reply
  54. NPOQueen

    LOL OP, I’m ten years out of school and I’m doing nothing related to my major. I wanted to be a lawyer, but ended up in fundraising because of the Recession. Realized that I was pretty good at putting events together, took another job doing that. Then I realized I didn’t actually like events, but I liked the planning, so now I’m a project manager. I’ll probably have another revelation at some point.

    You got great advice, you’ll be fine! Intern, get some experience, and network (but read up on Alison’s posts about networking, you don’t want to come off as desperate). You still have time!

    Reply
  55. MCMonkeyBean

    Yes, combination of Science/English is great! I was an Econ major with a minor in Creative Writing and people loved to see that kind of mix.

    I had a creative writing teacher once who complained to us (in his intermediate class) about the students in his beginner class. He told us he wished he could ban all econ majors and he was so surprised when I said hey, I’m an econ major!

    I’m in accounting now and I work on quarterly reports that get filed with the SEC. There is one woman above me who is generally considered the go-to for grammar questions, but I pitch in a lot on that too. Someone tried to tweak a sentence recently and their small change turned the whole thing into something that made no sense so I had to figure out how to politely say “no, this doesn’t really work like this.” It’s important to have someone with a good grasp on language in the mix :)

    Reply
  56. Jessica

    First, if it seems like everyone but you has a Career/Life Plan, that’s an illusion. Many don’t, many are nervously faking it, many think they do but it’s not going to turn out that way. Don’t sweat that.

    Secondly, whatever work experience you get between now and graduation, even if it’s just front-line retail or a low-level campus job, bring your A game to it. I work at a university and supervise work-study students, many of whom are meh employees. Best one I had in recent years was ultra-reliable, efficient, great work ethic, and generally a treasure to have on our team. When I get a reference call for her, I leap to the phone to sing her praise. She’s gotten everything I’ve ever recommended her for, and is currently killing it in law school. Be that person.

    Reply
  57. Rhodoferax

    I graduated with a degree in Science in 2008, specialising in Microbiology (Irish unis aren’t like American ones). Since this was right as the economy imploded, there weren’t any jobs going, and a combination of social awkwardness and sub-prime living arrangements meant I basically had no network. Also, I had considerably less work experience than LW. I spent three years hopelessly unemployed, failed to qualify as a teacher, and though desperate scouring and applying for every position in existence, I eventually managed to find a decently-paying and moderately-enjoyable job. (I’m not there any more, but the experience meant I was able to find similar work soon after).

    If I can pull that off, you’ll be fine.

    Reply
  58. Nonprofit New Grad

    I just graduated (got a job 2 weeks later!) and this was so me a year ago. I probably went a little overboard on the networking, but it was really helpful just to get a feel for what was out there, and to hear what a variety of people thought would be useful/good to emphasize about myself/challenging once I started hunting. The more people I talked to the more comfortable I got with the jargon of positions, and it also helped me to make really useful mental connections–even if you’re in a big-ish city, a specific field can be smaller than you think, and it’s great to be able to understand people’s backgrounds as much as you can.

    Reply
  59. Product mgmt

    I’m a double major from a strong liberal arts college, one is English the other is biochem. And I did all my premed requirements just for good measure.

    I did 3 years after undergrad in a prestigious lab at an academic institution for $25k/yr. While there, I got a joint MBA/MPH at the University I worked at (free, only cost was taxes only). Then switched over to private sector in a healthcare related tech company (60k). A few moves and decade later I’m a VP of product strategy making $200k/yr.

    You can do it, you might take a wind-y way but you’ll do well!

    Reply
  60. Willis

    You might want to check with your college career center or one or two of the professors you’ve worked with to see if there’s any semi-recent alumni from your program now in careers you may be interested in that they’d recommend you contact for an informational interview to learn more about their fields and day-to-day work. Plus, even if you end up not interested in the kind of work they do, they may have some info on fields that their friends/former classmates are in that align with your interests. I’ve done a couple interviews like that, and really enjoy sharing info about my work or that of colleagues/former classmates I’ve kept in touch with.

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  61. Bigglesworth

    Echoing what everyone else is saying here. I’m four years out from when I graduated with my BA in History. For the first two years, I worked multiple jobs (primarily retail and food service) and eventually made my way into management. I eventually had to leave the company I was working at (and loved) due to health reasons. Found my way into an office job at a university and found out that academia is not for me. In just a few weeks, I’ll be starting my graduate program and I couldn’t be more excited. Throughout this whole process, I’ve simply eliminated things that I didn’t want to do or didn’t like. It’s a learning curve and you’ll figure it out.

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  62. GermanGirl

    You’re doing fine.

    I graduated five years ago with top grades and only one internship to my name. The internship went very well, so I had a good reference from that.

    I’m very satisfied with how my career went after graduation so I can assure you that there are employers who look for good grades and are ok with only one internship if the reference is good.

    My boss says he can train clever people with a good attitude to be great at their job, so he’ll rather hire those than people with a lot of the right experience but questionmarks in either attitude or capability to learn.

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  63. Lasslisa

    There are also a lot of technical careers out there that aren’t lab research. Check the major tech companies, semiconductor companies, manufacturing industries, data analysis – there are a lot of roles out there for someone who’s comfortable with data, numbers, and some math. Whatever your hard science is there are jobs that hire people with a BS in it, no advanced degree required.

    I’ve always appreciated the advice I got as a new grad: you don’t have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Just what you want to do next.

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  64. minuteye

    In case it hasn’t been mentioned in the comments yet: A lot of universities have a career centre that will give you free advice for up to a year after you graduate. They might be a good resource to look into if your school has one.

    Reply
  65. Alex

    I never even gave jobs or careers a thought until after I graduated. Oops. I applied to any random job I could find with no luck. At the suggestion of a neighbor I went to a temp agency which found me a placement. It wasn’t exactly thrilling, but it was my first experience in a non-retail type job. I had another short term job after that before I applied to grad school (in a totally useless field). At this point I’m over ten years out of college and I’m still trying to figure out what kind of career I want. The sad thing is I’m considering going back for another bachelors. They say it’s never too late…

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  66. E.R

    You’re fine, OP.
    The very fact that you’re worried about it and already have some accomplishments and work ethic give you good head start.
    I’m about 10 years out from graduation and had pretty bad anxiety about starting a career after my liberal arts degree, though I think my career is pretty cool now.
    My advice would be only to keep going after the things you want even if they don’t come quickly or on your timeframe. Try lots of different things if you can and don’t let failure get to you (easier said than done). If you can, take risks. You are younger than you think. The people who seem like they have a great plan may or may not actually follow it and it may or may not make them happy and it doesn’t matter anyways. If I could go back I wouldn’t change anything except that I would worry less. Good luck!

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  67. GC

    You didn’t ask for specific career path feedback, OP, but you may want to look into the genetic counseling field. GCs are master-level healthcare providers who order and interpret genetic test results, and communicate them with patients and families (a great intersection for someone who likes hard science but excels at communication as well.) The field has recently exploded, and job opportunities are a-plenty, although it can be quite competitive getting into a program — depending on what your degree requirements are, you may need to tack on some extra classes to fulfill the prerequisites for applying.

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  68. Bess

    So normal! Your first jobs will really be so much trial and error finding your “fit.” Regardless of what you studied, you really won’t start to figure out what you do and don’t like in a job (and more importantly, what skills employers will and won’t value/pay for) until you’re actually experiencing it–and it doesn’t have to be that “dream job” for it to teach you a lot. I think there are some lucky folks who know going in that they want to do X, and who end up being right about that, but my job path was so hodgepodge and now I’m doing work I just love–not sure I would have gotten here without a few earlier jobs where I was so worried I was in the “wrong” field or job line.

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  69. Wakeen's Duck Club

    Also, volunteer (if you don’t already)… and put that volunteer experience on your resume.

    If employers see that you’re active in the community, they might think that you’d be a credit to their brand.

    Reply
  70. Ell

    Can I suggest looking into pharma marketing? Either at a pharma company, or at a pharma/medical ad agency? If you have any sort of a science background, you’re well positioned to work in either the business side of things if you like interacting with people and client services, or as a copywriter whose job involves taking medical and scientific literature and turning it into promotional copy.

    It can be an intense field, but it also pays well and there are some really cool opportunities to learn about and work on some fascinating cutting edge treatments.

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  71. Same Boat

    I was in almost exactly the same spot at that point in college. I had actually changed majors from Chemistry to English about halfway through school, and I didn’t want to do either one. Four years later I’m working at a tech startup doing copywriting and marketing and I absolutely love it. I’ve had to do some pretty miserable work to figure out that this is the industry I want to be in, but it’s been totally worth it. Everyone questions what they’re doing, especially in college, but the more experience you gain, the better idea you’ll have of how you want to spend your life.

    Reply

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