Traditionally certain majors have generated particular careers, but this is no longer the case. Today, a journalism major does not necessarily have to write for a newspaper, and a psychology student doesn’t have to be a psychologist. You might be wondering what these professionals can do, then.

Many students enter college with one idea of what they will do once they graduate, but then go into non-traditional careers. Some of those surprising career choices are jobs such as technical writers, flight navigators and teachers, among others. Stock photo.

Information compiled by Cal Poly’s Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis said 4,044 bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Cal Poly undergraduates in the 2009-2010 school year. Many of these students took their diplomas and entered the working world. What jobs students obtained, however, is a different story.

Christine Strand, assistant professor in biological sciences, said many students find it hard to decide on a career path once they graduate.

“When you talk to freshmen it seems like 98 percent of them want to do something in the medical field,” Strand said. “Then, you talk to them a year later and that number is halved. Most people think they are going to be doctors, researchers, lab technicians when they start out, and eventually those plans change.”

Heather Berkowitz, a recent biological sciences graduate, experienced this change in plans. Initially Berkowitz thought she would be a doctor or a researcher, but now she isn’t so sure.

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do right now — I’m only 22,” Berkowitz said. “The idea of deciding on the rest of my life is overwhelming.”

Luckily for Berkowitz and others like her, Strand said she thinks there is a movement away from “traditional” biological sciences careers. She foresees a surge of biological sciences students entering the sales world, specifically the area of pharmaceutical sales. Additionally, the jobs are “one in a million.” Strand said biology-related field jobs within the government and television consulting jobs (think “Grey’s Anatomy”) are avenues of potential growth as well.

While direct knowledge of your profession is valuable, the skills you acquire along the way are equally important. According to Tammy Martin, career counselor for the College of Engineering, it’s the transferable skills you develop during your education that help determine your career.

In the case of engineering, Martin said “problem solving, analytical skills, working in teams and knowing how things work” are the most valuable tools graduates take with them when they leave Cal Poly.

“Engineering graduates don’t always become engineers — we compile a ‘Graduate Status Report’ every year, and the career paths many decide on might surprise you,” Martin said.

Included in those surprising career choices are jobs such as technical writer, sales estimator, flight navigator, teacher and production manager.

Likewise, majors outside of engineering emphasize mastering transferable skills as well.

History senior Courtney Middleton is evidence of this. Although Middleton loves history, she does not want to become a teacher or work directly within her field after graduation. Rather, Middleton wants to be an author.

“History interests me, but the jobs for a history major are limited,” Middleton said. “If studying history has taught me anything, though, it’s taught me how to write — which works out perfectly for me, I guess.”

Middleton said becoming an author would never have entered her mind as a prospective job had she not focused on the specific skill of writing early in her college career.

“What I actually learned about in my classes — history, legislation — is important, but it’s not information that will help me get the job I want,” Middleton said. “Writing, analyzing, developing thoughts and ideas … that’s what I’ll use everyday — those are the ‘transferable skills’ of my major.”

If you too are interested in the non-traditional career opportunities your degree can provide you with upon graduation then take some time to stop by the Winter Career Fair.

The career fair will be held Jan. 19 and 20 in Chumash Auditorium. More than 100 companies will visit campus to participate in the event and will provide information to students regarding potential jobs and internships.

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