Trip hazard for career plans
When Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, no one imagined the changes it would bring. For the batch of 2020 — school passouts, graduates, postgraduates — the year has been full of challenges, chaos and confusion. And with college admissions in full swing, the pandemic is reshaping career plans for many.
Prateekshaa Sinha scored 94 per cent in Plus Two. The 18-year-old aspires to be a criminal lawyer and was preparing for CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) for the last two years. “It was my dream to study at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, or the Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad. Now my parents are not sure about me leaving the city,” she says. She will now study psychology in Calcutta. She is just one of many whose dreams and ambitions are at stake.
For some, like Prateekshaa, it is because parents want to keep their children close. Some are voluntarily picking colleges near home. And some feel it is best to switch to a course that is convenient to study online.
Having always won medals in sports, Jacinta D’cruze of Loreto Convent, Entally, had planned to pursue physical education but has had to change her mind. She says she could not find proper information online as “it isn’t a well-known course and the colleges offering it are few”. Now she plans to study sociology.
Khushi Naha, a student of St. Agnes Convent School in Howrah, wants to pursue law but finds it difficult to imagine studying it online.
“Moot court is an important part of most law schools. [It involves replicating real-life courtrooms and are meant to prepare law students for ligitation.] How can we have online moot courts? Courtroom law is based on interface, talking to the opposition and that means being in the same room,” says Khushi.
Many of her classmates, especially those who wanted to study subjects that involve practicals, have changed their streams. “My friends who were aiming for engineering are planning to switch to BCom or English, which can easily be pursued online,” she says.
Rishi Khaitan wanted to study BSc in geology, which would have meant lots of field trips. “If I am not going to get the most out of the course, what’s the point of opting for it? I can’t see soil through online classes,” he laughs.
Interior designing and jewellery designing students too are on the same ship. Many are opting out of courses at residential colleges. Some are considering doing virtual internships this year and applying afresh next year.
Sourina Bose, a media studies teacher at Lakshmipat Singhania Academy in Calcutta, says, “Students are upset and confused. Their plans have been deferred or changed. But they should understand that it is pointless to waste a year now and later realise that they ended up wasting even more time in the process of pursuing what they wanted to.” Her students who wanted to pursue media studies have not changed their plans but many are upset as their options have now been restricted to Calcutta.
“Covid has pushed back timelines by 2-3 years. Whatever you had planned to achieve in a certain number of years will now take more time,” feels 28-year-old Siddharth Mehta. After graduating from the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Mehta worked at Mu Sigma, a data analytics firm, before joining the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, for an MBA.
Ideally, he would have graduated in July 2020 and spent the time from March to June in networking, building his portfolio and finding a job.
But as Covid spread in Europe, he was forced to return. “In international MBA, there is no concept of placements. One has to find a job through the connections one builds. Due to the situation, our challenges have increased 10 fold. We had a virtual career fair in May but they were looking for specific qualifications and there were a lot of restrictions in the positions open,” he says.
Currently, Mehta is trying to contact people in Europe and India to line up interviews but it has not been easy. “I have an internal deadline.
If I don’t land anything decent by then, I’ll go back to the industry I came from — analytics. That is something I wouldn’t want to do post an MBA but I have an education loan that I have to repay,” he says. But Mehta says people who have financial support are waiting for the right opportunity instead of joining somewhere they would regret later. “It is important to cling on to why we did our master’s in the first place,” he says.
Shivani Manchanda, a career counsellor for almost 30 years, has been getting a lot of emails from disheartened students who are feeling anxious because of the online semester. “Whatever decisions students take at this time will be understood by employers in the context of Covid. These are unusual times. I would advise students to not change their plans dramatically if universities are offering online semesters. Most institutions are including theoretical aspects this term and saving practical aspects for the next. It is not like practical classes will never happen. When things normalise, institutions will offer them,” she says.
Students should use this period to understand the impermanence of all plans and realise flexibility is the key. “Don’t close options you are passionate about. They are worth pursuing. Also, courses such as law offer postgraduate qualifications too. In case students cannot opt for them now, they can always fulfil their dream later,” she adds. Then there are diploma courses for other fields too, such as designing.
As colleges and universities brace themselves for a new teaching world, the advice that students should pursue what they are interested in because it will give them the most success still holds true. In a few years, you would want to look back on what the virus did to the world, not regret what you did to yourself.