Some Career Advice for New UWI Students

Traditional educational goals have enormous value. The cultivation of intellectual curiosity and academic rigor are lifetime yields. And so it helpful for new undergraduates to undertake some career planning as taking action now can better position you to fulfill your aspirations later. Most of the advice I offer applies to students entering the Social Sciences and Humanities, but some of these principles are broadly applicable.

Employable students are those that have the knowledge to know when and how to use a particular skill-set. Don’t focus on one of these at the expense of the other. Rather, learn to make good judgement using available resources to solve unforeseen problems.

Even if you are not going to major in business, try take a few finance, accounts, or economics courses. In general, everyone should know more about these areas. The same goes for some learning how to write code. Don’t waste your electives on ‘easy’ courses. Use them to advance your general educational goal.

The most important skill a humanistic or social science student has is their ability to produce quality writing quickly. So take the time to learn how to write. Writing takes constant practice. Begin by training yourself to write 300 words everyday, even if it is not for your assignments. If you don’t you will lose ground to your peers. If you cannot write, it means you cannot express your thoughts in a clear, coherent, and communicable fashion.

Whichever major you decide to pursue, make sure you attend that department’s weekly talks and events. It will provide a means to network both with your instructors and tutors. Networks and friendships open doors. It may be scary at first, but persist. Have fortitude. And have faith in yourself. Listen, and don’t be afraid to talk. People will make allowances for you.

Extending from the previous point, make sure you visit your instructor’s office hours. Ask questions that demonstrate that you care about the material. It can only help you. Similarly, seek out as much free training as you can. This should be obvious, but many students do not take up this opportunity. Not all training can be represented on your CV, but it accrues.

Volunteer within civil society. This is one of the best places to put what you learn into action, gain skills, and experience. Civil society groups are often more than willing to take on the help. Don’t do too much, you still want to focus on your school work, but one day a week seems reasonable. (There are some problems here—unpaid internships are unfair and exploitative. But if it is to be unpaid, at least try advance the social good, and not a corporate end.)

Invest in your education. Education, it seems is one of the few things people are prepared to pay more for, but want less of. Don’t be like that. You have three odd years to read as much as you can, write as much as you can. Demand more from your classes and yourself. When I was an undergrad, the guideline was that in addition to your assigned readings, you should read a book per class per week, and a novel or book of poetry a week. As a rough guideline, this equals about 700 books over three years. Think how well versed you will be once you have done that activity. You will certainly be better positioned than the student who maybe read half of their assigned readings, and that difference will show.

This might seem burdensome, but as soon as possible select an economic sector you want to work in and focus all your projects on that sector. For instance, say you decide that in four years you want to work for WASA as their spokesperson, try to ensure that all the papers you write relate to WASA and their concerns. Further, for every paper you write, seek to interview at least one or two people who are working in your desired sector. This will help you build up a contact list, and could well present opportunities.

Try not to become too indebted. Debt makes you think instrumentally, and thus robs of the best of this educational opportunity. Post-university debt can also cripple your life chances. Being frugal and thrifty are good habits to form, so where you can try to go without. Lastly, apply for every award you can find. Search the internet for student awards, grants, and free events. Remember that a $300 award puts you in a position for a $1000 award. And that puts you in position for a $5000 award and so on. Never overlook the small awards.