If you go to UBC-Okanagan and you know me as a passionate engineering student, then you may have noticed that I’m no longer frequenting the halls of the Engineering building. Yes, it is true, I’m transitioning out of the electrical engineering program and into a major in sociology with a minor in political science. Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of soul searching and below I’m gonna share with you how/why I made this shift, tips to find the best major for you, and how to handle good (and bad) feedback about your decision!
Growing up I always had big dreams. First, at the tender age of 5, I wanted to be an artist (picture someone wearing a beret, sketching the Eiffel Tower). Later, I fell in love with film and music, and dreamt of becoming an actress/international pop singing sensation (these are the exact words I used in prayer). However, as I entered my teens and the reality of education and the real world started catching up to me, I realized that something had to give; that if I was going to be as fulfilled as I wanted, then I had to get down and start making my ambitions real. Caught not knowing if acting was truly for me, I was intrigued by the scene in The Island where Ewan McGregor’s doppelgänger-self talks about how he designs boats for a living. Hmm, I thought, well I like to draw and it looks likes one can build a good life from this! From here I started to consider becoming an industrial designer, which quickly turned to an ambition to becoming an engineer. My civil engineering dreams quickly transformed into biomedical engineering dreams, as my love for biology and physics took hold after the tenth grade. So there I was, accepted into UBC-Okanagan’s School of Engineering, ready to tough it out for the next few years, so that I could make prosthetics and medical technology. Engineers are renowned for their math and science skills. Critical analysis of numbers is a virtue, and all eng kids seem to have it…but I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never actually been good at math or science, rather I was gifted in the humanities and social sciences (sometimes I think they switched up my application with someone else’s!). Sitting in my third year electromagnetics course, I was unable to grasp how the Maxwell–Faraday equation and Ampère’s Law form part of Stoke’s Theorem, because I was so bad at basic algebra! At this point I’d made it through two full years of engineering school, with a few failed courses, and the tear stained assignments to prove it. As I searched for scholarships to apply for, I realized that despite my exceptional student involvement on campus, I would never be considered good enough because of my poor marks.
As I was gearing up for finals in the first semester of my third year, I thought to myself “something has to give!” and I started exploring what my alternative career options were. If I’m being entirely honest, as much as I tried I wasn’t able to be my best self in engineering. Early in the semester, I took a quiz at the Academic and Advising Office which assessed my personality and paired me with the best career choices for me. I got careers like Editor, Technical Writer, Psychologist, and Arts/Entertainment Manager. The quiz knew it, my brother knew, the advisors knew it, and I knew it- engineering simply was not for me. So at 6am on the morning before my electromagnetics final exam I applied to the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Industrial Design had been an option that I once considered so I thought that I owed it to myself to explore it now. Unburdened by the weight of engineering, I re-vamped my semester-two schedule with sociology, creative writing, and English courses, so that I would increase my GPA and enjoy what I thought would be my last semester at UBCO. I had taken sociology as an elective, so I decided it would be a good choice to take part two of the introduction course. As I started learning more about the root causes of poverty, the extent to which Indigenous peoples are marginalized, and how race truly is a social construct, I was moved to do more with my life to challenge these inequalities. Five weeks into the semester I had completely fallen in love with the humanities/social sciences again and decided to scrap the art school dream for a degree in sociology. It was just the right fit! I’m now on track to a B.A in Sociology with a Minor in Political Science, after which I aim to pursue a JD in human rights law.
When I made this drastic switch I got a mix of reactions, but thankfully most of them were positive. Some of my friends said that it made sense considering my volunteer work and the way I discuss societal issues. Others said that I made it so far in engineering and asked how I could stay in it for so long just to leave it now. My response was automatic and decided- Engineering was not my calling; it was not my purpose. I went into engineering with the ambition of actualizing change in the medical technology field, for the purpose of sustaining and supporting human life. At the heart of it, my desire was to live a life of service in which my purpose is to support the betterment of others. With a legal education in human rights law I get just that and more, because I am in an area of study that is instinctual for me, fun, and deeply rewarding.
And I’m not the only one! Recently, I met a wonderful young woman named Akanksha Bhatnagar. Akanksha had high hopes of specializing in nanotechnology and becoming an astronaut. At the age of 13 she joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program, working hard throughout the years to earn her silver glider pilots license and many awards. However, for Akanksha STEM lacked a certain insight into the human condition. Through reflections on her time in high school Model UN and a lot of soul searching, Akanksha decided to leave the STEM field after one year of engineering, in order to pursue a double major in Political Science and Sociology (yay!). When I asked what the next stage looks like, she happily replied “I want to work with our municipal government, and then perhaps look at a Post-Grad, and either stay in Municipal politics (as Edmonton’s Mayor!) or pursue a career in International Diplomacy with India!”.
Feeling inspired? If your currently in a degree that doesn’t quite fit, keep reading so that we can do something to change that!
How to Choose the Major That’s Best For You
Disclaimer: This advice is aimed toward individuals who have completed at least one year at a post-secondary institution and are re-considering their options
1.Weigh your pros and cons
Something that really helped me narrow down the decision to switch was making copious pros and cons lists. As you can see in the image above, the cons of staying in engineering far outweighed the pros. In writing this I took into consideration things like emotional and mental health that I’d expect to be susceptible to, workload, ease of understanding, career options, and how my lifestyle fit with the degree choice.
2. Figure out what it is you want and who you want to be
During this in-between period, I reflected a lot about who I wanted to be. Ever since I was little I’ve journaled, so it was easy for me to pinpoint where my values lie and how I wanted my life’s work to reflect that. I encourage you to take just one hour with a paper and pen, and jot down what it is you want and who the best you looks like. Take into account where you find the most energy, the spaces in which you feel the most yourself, your weaknesses, and your talents. You have to live with yourself and the decisions you make for the rest of your life, so make sure that you make good ones and that you’re living your best life!
3. Ask the people around you
Sometimes our friends and family see parts of us in ways that we may not know that we project. Ask them where they see you thriving based on your talents and habits. With the reflection that you’ve done above, you’ll be able to piece together a well-rounded image of yourself- the self that you’re being called to be.
Caveat: Do take this advice with a grain of salt! Sometimes people can also see us in ways that are not at all like who we truly know ourselves to be! Also, don’t worry if you don’t have all of the pieces in 90 minutes! Truly understanding yourself in your eyes and in the eyes of others is a life-long process.
4. Ask lots of questions
When I was considering industrial design at Emily Carr I made sure to reach out to people who I knew had gone there. For instance there’s a lovely UBCO staff member by the name of Heidi, who shared her experiences as a student at ECUAD with me and even helped me to review my portfolio. People like Heidi are invaluable in helping you understanding where you might fit in your potential degree. Then, when I had my heart set on law I walked over to the UBCO Ombuds Office and began asking questions to Allard alumni Michael Jud. Michael continues to be incredibly helpful in giving me LSAT advice, discussing cases, and going over the flaws in How to Get Away With Murder scenarios.
Pro Tip: As you’re asking these questions, keep in mind people who you think could be potential mentors and sponsors. A mentor is someone who can give you advice and direction; a sponsor is someone who fights in your corner and tells others how great you are!
5. Stay organized
During your transition period your going to be very busy, very excited, and easily distracted. Make sure to keep track of everything so that you don’t fall behind in your studies. Also, take the time to map out what the next few years of your degree will look like so that you can start selecting your ideal courses. I personally love making colourful lists on blank sheets of paper, but there’s also Excel and helpful apps that you can use to stay on top of things.
8. Money matters
Something that’s always been an area of stress for me has been the rising cost of tuition. I know that my academic dreams come with a price, so I’m working part time, applying to writing contests, and seeking out scholarships that honour my skillset.
Pro tip: Most campuses have a financial services office that can help you find awards and plan out the finances for your degree. Be sure to check in with them!
7. Establish a support network
Something that really helped me was having people that I could bounce ideas off of, or just cry with. My best friend Beth was always there to listen to my nonsensical ranting or just FaceTime with as we studied. Right now you may be vulnerable, so make sure to have people in your corner who can help ease the stress that comes with the uncertainty.
8. Take it easy, take it slow, and remember to eat
I remember being so busy and stressed about the future that I’d forget to eat! Remember to take the time to care for yourself, because you truly have so much time and a myriad of options! Don’t worry if you don’t figure it all out in one day, four months, or even three years. Where there is love, there is always time and nothing is too much trouble, so love yourself enough to take as much time as you need.
Word of advice from my wise older brother: Following your passion is hogwash- it’s not about following your passion, it’s about doing what you’re good at, what you can build your life around! When you’re doing what your good at and you become better, then passion comes in. I just have to take a moment to give a shout out to my older brother, Elinam, who was there through every career shift, and who helped me find where my true passions lie. If not for him, I might still be lost, wondering why my life lacked fulfillment. So if you see him in the Lower Mainland, give him a hug and tell him that Dela sent you!
Many hugs and kisses to my Mother and Father, who were understanding when I decided to make the switch. Your support, grace, and wisdom are pillars for the woman that I am becoming.
I’ve met many engineering graduates who wish that they’d studied something else, and I’ve also met many who wouldn’t want to be studying any other subject. It’s all about finding what fits for you and being confident enough to follow through. I was courageous enough to walk away from what was considered “prestigious” and “safe” because I recognized that it was the only way that I could truly honour my worth and talent. Above all, know yourself and recognize that you are worth the risk! Breathe in, breathe out, and jump into the best version of you!
Lastly, thank you to all of the people who by their gracious counsel and mentorship helped me make this decision: Elinam and Janelle Hini, Bill and Andrea Kurenty, Kekeli Hini, Mama & Papa, Mr. and Mrs. Ryks, Ardis Ryks, Kyle and Lana Ryks, Kwame Boateng, Jenica Frisque, Jennifer Kerr, Michael Jud, Matthew Rader, Joanna Cockerline, Jasmin Hristov, Keekyoung Kim, Renee Leboe, Megan Lochhead, Breanne Molnar, Robin Whittall, Phillipp Reichert, Carrie Karsgaard, Leah Sanford, Laura Prada, Jannik Eikenaar, Ruthann Lee, Bonar Buffam, David Jefferess, Kathleen MacKinnon, Adam Kenny, Michele Wolfe, Sarah Furgason, Amal Alhuwayshil, Blake Edwards, Efo Dela, Sterre Mkatini, James Haga, Heather Yundt, Devon Matthews, Adi Chaudhuri, Sam Carroll, Brigette Goodale, Stephanie Prentice, Nollia and Michael Jansen, Dilsora Kumil-Burley, Katherine Skipper, Steve Head, Anna Wade, Brendan Bulger, David Parashuck, Rose Marie Stewart, Heather Collister, Carlene Taggart-Seth, Tony Verna, Ed Pawliw, Murray Mills, Charlene MacKinnon, Tim Coughlan, Lesley Dudar, Ms. Brophy, Steve Buoninsegni, Heather Penny- Oberg, Mrs. MacKeil, Ms. Haug, Ms. Merlin, Ms. Torres, Mr. and Mrs. Burke, Beth Legese, Angela Alano, Theresa Bonar, Keely Morgan, Katie Wilson, Connor Badowich, Ben Dunn, Camille Losier, Alex Cloherty, Toby Collis-Handford, Kieran Avlonitis, Jesse Bourgeois, Fate Hashemi and Kurtis Spence, Jon Buckingham, Brayden Jones, Tamara Raine, Jaclyn Salter, Jada Larkin, and of course The Electrical Eng Squad- Funto Adeleja, Angel Akabuno, and Sophia Shereni!