I graduated from Hamilton College in 2014, majoring in sociology and minoring in Chinese. I spent the spring and summer of 2012 studying abroad in Beijing through the Associated Colleges in China (ACC) Chinese language program. At Hamilton, I really enjoyed working on sociological research through the Levitt Summer Research Fellowship and my senior thesis, but I wanted to get some work experience (and pay off my student loans!) before considering graduate school. During my senior year, I applied to a variety of jobs in education-related fields both in the U.S. and abroad, and received an offer to work as a college counselor at a high school in Shenzhen, China.
Originally, I had only signed a one-year contract and was planning to work and travel for a year, then come back to the U.S. to start my “real life.” However, as the school year was wrapping up, I had the opportunity to transfer to the private branch of mycompany and I accepted this offer. This led me to a new adventure in Shanghai, a city that I ended up calling home for three years. While the job that brought me to Shanghai ended up not being a very good fit (I pretty quickly made the challenging decision to quit), Hamilton’s “Know Thyself” motto was highly relevant as I navigated changing jobs, moving apartments, making new friends, and having close friends leave.
Much of my experience living abroad doesn’t fit neatly into an intentional narrative, but was an incredibly valuable and meaningful time—which is to say I strongly believe that it’s totally fine not to stick to a strict life plan. Eventually though, I found myself thinking more and more about where I saw myself in the future before I felt that it was time to come home. But, I needed to figure out what was next. I reflected on how throughout my life, I have consistently used a sociological lens to interpret the world. I realized I had a desire to contribute this perspective and to make impact through the production of knowledge. One way to accomplish this (though not the only way) would be through more formal training in sociology, so I decided to apply to graduate school. In fall of 2018, I started to pursue my Ph.D. in sociology at Yale University.
One thing that was really helpful for me in the job search process (and graduate school application process) was reaching out to other alumni and learning about their experiences. I think the alumni network is one of the strengths of Hamilton College, and definitely something you should take advantage of. I have talked with different alumni about almost every step of the career process, from discussing why they chose a certain industry, to how to apply to a specific company, to what they liked most about their job. Everyone I reached out to over the years has been incredibly generous with their time, and I’m so grateful for their perspectives and assistance as I worked to figure out what I want to do with my life (still a work in progress).
The other piece of advice I would offer is a more practical one—think carefully about your finances when it comes to what you want to study and where you want to work. Especially for students who want to be or need to be financially independent and self-sufficient, it’s important to consider topics such as debt, quality of life, and the potential tradeoffs that come from choosing a job with a lucrative salary versus working for a social good. These are all personal decisions, but at Hamilton when we talk about “studying what you love” and about the “value of a liberal arts education,” what we don’t talk about are the economic assumptions underpinning these statements. There are real gaps in the average ROI across different majors, and there are other factors to consider, such as whether or not you plan to pursue an advanced degree, the type of graduate school you want to attend, and its funding source. Although I have had the privilege of working on a foreign salary in China, and now have the privilege of being a fully funded Ph.D. student, this is not necessarily the case for everyone.