A different view

Last month, I went to a technology conference in Europe where I gave a talk about Artificial Intelligence. After that, we had dinner with several professors who also attended the conference. During the diners’ conversation, I learned that not many people are sharing a similar view with me on the students’ career advising.

In the newspaper that week, there was an article about an education research that found during the 2015-2016 school year, college unemployment has reached an unprecedented rate of 28% in the U.S., 42% in Europe, and 64% in Asia. At the same time, there were over 2.4 million jobs in the U.S., 1.2 million jobs in Europe, and 1.8 million jobs in Asia that could not be filled. By citing these numbers, I asked some colleagues about the important choice students made when they enter college. I shared my concern about the lack of proper information and career advice on why and how students choose their field of study. Whether they understand the law of supply and demand and knowing what fields have high demand and what field are not.

A professor told me that most students choose their field of study based on their own interest or something that they are passionate about. The school atmosphere in many European countries is not so stressful and competitive as compared with U.S. or Asian schools. There is less pressure for students to finish school and get a job immediately. He said: “Many of us think American students are working too hard and too obsessed with jobs and material things. In France, the enjoyment of life is more important. Most students do not feel the urge to do something quickly and some even spent six or seven years in college instead of being in a hurry to graduate as fast as possible and go to work. To them, passion is more important in life .”

I told him: “Of course, passion is important. If the students like a particular subject, they will study hard as it motivates them to learn more. Passion is a logical criterion for the student to select their field of study, but how does that rationale be applied in a globally competitive market when college unemployment is high? It is easy to give advice: “Do what you like, study what you love.” But the reality requires a better advice than that. May I suggest a modification: “Study what you love but make sure that you can make a living with that.”

He just smiles but did not seem to accept my suggestion. I asked: “Since there is a difference between what students are passionate about and what employers are looking for, do you think your students will change their mind? He shook his head: “No, knowing them I would say that many students consider a college education is only a small part of life but may not be necessary to get them what they want in life.Even knowing the industry’s need, many may not change their field of study because they should pursue exactly what will make them happy .”

We continued to discuss but I could not convince him and his friends and after that, we departed without any conclusion. So I would like to have a discussion with you. My question is: “For those who want to follow their hearts and their passion but also hear their stomach is growling for hunger, what is there to do?


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University