A small "PANE" in the neck

Last Thursday, I decide to attend the "Career Mentoring and Networking"event hosted by the Princeton Association of New England (PANE).

Normally, this is what happens when I sign up for Princeton alumni get-togethers:
1. RSVP-ing
2. Getting really excited for the event the morning of the event (especially for the ones at bars/pubs)
3. Clocking in a full day at work (or at doctor's appointments, as has been the case recently) and deciding that I was too tired to try making inroads with the alumni community
4. Making a gluten-free dinner and passing out

What made the difference for me was the fact that my friend JMC was attending, so I decided to head over instead of following the four steps above.

So I thought that once I was outside the senior year chaos bubble to which all job-seeking Princeton students are subject that these people who powered through the consulting or investment banking route would opt for something new and exciting.

Not so.

There were six panelists. One was a jolly, Santa Claus type who worked as a lawyer. Highly conventional career path, but he was an older alum, so I expected that. One was an entrepreneur who did things with social media and (wait for it) strategy consulting. He'd been with Oliver Wyman before it became a big deal. There was a woman who worked at Trinity Partners, then went to HBS for her MBA, then went to Bain and Company (the latter two events composing the dream of a good number of graduating Princetonians). The other woman on the panel had worked at the biotech company Genzyme for 21 years and was a lab scientist whose job had gotten more managerial since, but was still highly science-y. Then there were the two engineers: one worked at MIT in an Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Lab and the other, after working in consulting, went to (wait for it, again) private equity.

I have no problem with these people or with their career choices. They were all pleasant, professional alumni. My issue was, from what I gathered, not a single humanities major was present on the panel. Everyone had studied hard science or engineering, and the one guy who was outed as a social scientist was an economics major. As for the lawyer, I'm going to assume he studied history, but I don't actually know. Maybe he studied English, but it wasn't something he talked about as an important part of his background--the rest of the panelists spoke at least to some extent as to the importance and influence on college majors on their jobs.

The only discussions of culture, international or otherwise were as follows:
The entrepreneur: "I think technologies have different cultures."
While I agree with this idea, I also guarantee this man had no appreciation for foreign languages and cultures that extended beyond a menu for a Cambridge Mexican restaurant.

The scientist: "I've traveled to Germany before to meet with colleagues in Germany."
Let me say that Germany is my favorite country to which I've traveled in Europe, but I found myself miffed by international this woman perceived her job. Germany. So international. A place where they speak English better than Americans do. So worldly. 

The absence of humanities majors on the panel seemed to make the implication that all humanities majors end up in academia or as struggling practitioners of an artistic craft. The real lack of discussion about the ever-more-globalized nature of work today was really upsetting. Everyone seemed pretty trapped in a Boston-based, or Northeast-based career bubble in terms of ambitions. It was disappointing for me, hoping to find a mentor or someone worth talking to about my future. Someone who did things with implications outside the US that didn't involve stock portfolios or pharmaceuticals. And ideally wasn't a member of the US government (I have my reasons for why I don't want a job in government at this time, and those will probably come up in another post).

Especially in light of articles such as this, which a friend of mine posted recently, I'm irritated at the perception that the arts and the humanities are inessential or that the sciences are so much more important. Part of my professor's work has dealt with the fact that China, an economic, technology, and manufacturing leader, a country in which party leadership and a vocational degree in the sciences has been more or less inseparable, has been actively pursuing the expansion and inauguration of liberal arts programs at universities. (I'd cite data from my professor's forthcoming book, but that would be against my contract). But I can say without losing my job that the understanding growing in China is that a liberal arts education is critical to developing leaders, and that education in engineering and sciences is not enough for China to become a global leader.

I have more to say on the subjects covered in this post, from the science vs humanities debate to the Princeton post-graduate career myopia to the changes in China. But this post is, at the very least, a start. Not to mention, writing this took my mind off the election.