By THOMAS HUKAHU
IN the next few weeks, many students will leave school after graduation to pursue further studies or look for a job to help them and their families.
Recently, I accompanied a group of Grade 10 students to different institutions or sites where they learned about different careers as part of their work experience programme, an initiative organised by their school.
It is the school’s way of helping the students learn about different institutions and firms and the kinds of job available and in the process guide the students to make better choices in their future field of studies and possibly what career they would later pursue.
It is with this in mind that I will be sharing some tips on careers and career choices, as well as traits you must develop to enjoy your time in any field of study and or job.
In the past few weeks I have also been advising some Grade 12 students who came to see me regarding their choices for 2019.
Students as well as working professionals may benefit from the tips and stories I will share in this article and others in the coming weeks.
Let me open up these series of articles with a story about how two students working on a computer science project 20 years ago eventually changed the world of information for the better.
The Google story
Google is a name that almost every student at the secondary and tertiary levels know. The company has revolutionised the world of learning and information gathering since it was formed back in 1998 by two postgraduate students studying at Stanford University in USA.
Today, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc is worth US$ 197.30 billion and employs 94,372 people.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page were PhD students at Stanford when they created PageRank, a search engine.
Although PageRank was not the first search engine to be invented, it did a better job of ranking different websites depending on their importance and relevance to a search.
Did the two know before 1998 that they would start a company that would change the world? Not so. However, their interest in science and computer science, which was influenced by their parents who were trained in mathematics and computer science, prepared them well for the future.
Brin’s grandfather and father studied mathematics, and when he was in university he chose to study that subject as well as computer science.
Page’s father had a PhD in computer science and taught the subject in university. His mother too taught computer programming in college.
While the two were doing their postgraduate research in Stanford, they stumbled over the concept of a search engine and realised how useful that could be to computer technology firms.
It was said that the pair tried to sell their search engine to Yahoo for US$1 million and get back to their studies but the established firm turned down their offer. It seemed nobody wanted to buy their technology.
A former Stanford student then told Brin and Page to take a break from their studies to refine their start engine and possibly start their own company and see how their technology can make money.
The two followed the advice and with some funding from a source, they worked on their technology. It took them years before they started earning anything from their search engine.
Today, their search engine is the most popular tool that people use to find information on the internet. Google has gone on to purchase other companies like YouTube to make information readily available to everyone in different formats.
In life, often we may not know what the future will be like with the choices we make. However, something that we all can learn from the Google story is we must learn from people close to us (like our guardians) and yet be brave enough to move out and do things that those close to us may have never done, as in starting new initiatives or even companies that may make the world a better place.
Personal experience on
Let me now share something personal with you on how I made my choices as a student.
When I was doing my Grade 12 decades ago, I was not sure where I was going to after graduation. I did not have a career goal.
Other peers did not hesitate to fill out the school leavers’ form – that was not the case for me.
I decided to head off to the University of Papua New Guinea to study science because two of my best buddies were going there too. (That is not a good way of making choices but I did that.)
However, I was fortunate not to have my parents decide for me as to what I should do. I did not even consult them on that. I only knew I wanted to pursue science at the tertiary level since I was a science student in Grades 11 and 12.
Incidentally, when I arrived at Aiyura National High School to do my Grade 11 in the late 1980s, my aim was to be an economist.
In Grade 11 I did very well in that subject and geography, my second-love. My plan was to study economics, geography, maths A and music.
However, our course advisor, a European who taught maths and was a former engineer, told me that because my maths and science marks were good, I ought to do science and not an economics-geography combination.
We argued a bit but then he convinced me in saying if I studied science, that could open up other opportunities for me – and I could always go on to study economics if I wanted to because my good grounding in maths A would make that possible.
So it was that when we started Grade 12, I took up the science stream.
My choice of subjects to specialise in university was made after first year. My two buddies went off to study medicine, while I continued at the Waigani campus studying physics and mathematics.
This time I made my choice to remain at Waigani and not follow them to the Taurama campus where medical students make their home and study for four years.
Medicine did not attract me, nor a life in the hospital – the physical laws and motion of planets as formulated by Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Johannes Kepler, among others, had the greater gravitational pull on me and so physics and maths were the two subjects I studied for the remaining years at university.
Those two subjects were also the two main subjects I taught students in years to come.
I have told my science students over the years that the pull of physics came to me gradually over the space of two years – and that was after I borrowed a library book on astronomy while I was doing Grade 12 and reading it over a week. The concepts of astronomical masses and distances appealed to me in a way that physical geography did in earlier years.
Instead of being fascinated with the mounts, vales, rivers and lakes in a location, I was now learning about the giants and dwarfs of star systems and how it takes light and other radiation forms to travel from one side of the galaxy to another, and beyond. The fact that it takes millions or billions of years for light to travel those distances, even at the unsurpassable speed of 300 000 km/s, was to me now more intriguing than studying the trends of commodity prices and currency exchange rates, as would be done in economics.
Choosing a teaching career
When I completed my university programme of studies in June of 1993, there was a nationwide call for teachers all over the country. The Education Department had put out a notice for young graduates to take on the challenge to help our young brothers and sisters in school who did not have teachers.
(The end of study for students in my year group was in the middle of the year because in 1991 the second semester was cancelled due to an ongoing student protest against a government decision. And so, graduating students in the years after 1991 ended their study programme in June and not November, as should be the norm.)
At the end of my studies I was advised by the UPNG physics department head, Dr Kofi Agyeman, a very good mentor, to pursue postgraduate studies in the following year.
However, that plan of action did not eventuate because I – with many other young graduates – had put up my hand to go out into the wilderness and teach the younger students with what we had accumulated in our 16 years of formal education.
My choice to teach was not due to both my parents being former educators. It came because I wanted to go out and help students learn.
That choice extended for a decade before I decided to pursue postgraduate studies.
Some tips on choosing your career
You can learn a few important things from what I have shared about my choices above.
Firstly, a tip that my Grade 12 maths teacher gave guided me to make my choices on what to study in university.
She was a good mentor too. She said: “If you are to decide what to study in school or when pursuing a career, choose one that you will find the tasks involved easier or enjoyable to do.”
That is one of the best career tips that I have been following since I was 18 years old.
However, I am sure my maths teacher did not mean for us to choose all the easiest things and shy away from other more challenging stuff. Her tip is generally a good way to decide on a specialised field to study or a career to pursue.
Some people enter a field that is almost always a burden for them and they never get to enjoy their job.
Secondly, get help from your parents or other relatives who are knowledgeable about different careers and what they demand. But then, you must decide for yourself.
Do not feel awkward pursuing a field that none of your family members are in. Physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton’s grandmother wanted him to be a farmer and manage their family farm. But he had other plans, as in pursuing the life of a scholar.
If Newton had not decided for himself, we would not have the mathematics field of calculus (which he and Gottfried W Leibnitz invented separately) or know some principles of light and refraction.
Thirdly, make up your mind on what you really want to do in life and where you will find more fulfilment. Do not just go after a career that will bring you more money or fame. Those do not generally help people find fulfilment.
Follow me in the coming weeks where I will share more tips and stories on how to choose a career and enjoying your time in it.
- Next week: Your letter of application. Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.