A Matter of Intent

It is common that I would come across news articles about employment (or unemployment) rates. Some of them would argue that college students majoring in STEM topics are more likely to be employed than those that are in “useless” majors – i.e. a lot of the humanities. As student who transitioned from six year of involvement in the sciences to these past seven months of being a philosophy major, I had to ask myself what was the difference between being in STEM that makes it more employable than being in the humanities.

I will use scientific research as an example because that is the STEM field that I understand the best. My example of work in the humanities is what Legal Momentum does.

Having worked in both, I observed that there are surface level and fundamental similarities between a scientific laboratory and a non-profit organization. These similarities made me think that the transition from working in scientific research, a STEM field, and a non-profit is not as big of a jump as people would think.

My first internship was at a laboratory, researching to treat congenital heart defects. Structurally, like Legal Momentum, it sustained itself through federal grants. Furthermore, work was indirect service that was hard-to explain in layman terms. In addition, like LM, its spearhead was a charismatic, energetic leader who traveled and handled the business aspect. The workers were graduate students, whose pay-rate and grueling work hours that echoed at LM.

In terms of the day-to-day work, at Legal Momentum, the workers travel and then spend most of their time writing; the graduate students did that too. The writing components were crucial to the success of both organizations and required extensive research and pinpoint accurate diction. When not meeting and discussing their research, the graduate students worked on their own – whether it was on the computer or in the experimental tables; that’s not a huge difference from the way things operated at LM.

There was also competition. Other laboratories, at both the same university or at another, are studying the same thing. The laboratory struggled to distinguish its results from that of others and while competing for the same grants. Legal Momentum also has “rivals”, by the way.

The laboratory was essentially a non-profit organization. Both LM and the lab were stuck in a never ending cycle of: conduct experiments to get results -> results needed to apply for grants -> grants = money -> money fund experiments. Whenever an experiment failed, I felt the stress of this cycle. The dagger of lack of funding loomed overhead for all of us.

The biggest differences between the two were the methods of problem of solving and the jargons. The laboratory was much “wetter” because it focused on biological sciences. The reports were written in passive voice to express as much objectivity as possible. The dictions –  such as transforming growth factor receptors – and the specific skills required – e.g. microscopic dissection –are vastly different. The thing is: all of these things that can be learned and become accustomed to and nothing is an inherent ability. My point is: person can move between both fields of work as long as he or she spends time learning the specifics.

Most of all, success in both of these fields require logical, critical thinking as well as attention to detail and strong writing ability. Endurance in both fields necessitates personal qualities like the courage to fail, strong passionate feelings toward the topic, and a creative, positive mindset.  I hope don’t have to elaborate as to why writing legal papers or scientific reports require those things.

There are also a lot of similarity between scientific research and fields like engineering and computer science. There are engineering laboratories and computer laboratories. Researchers, engineers, and computer scientists definitely cooperate. In fact, the popular term for this is: interdisciplinary science.

There are ample connections within the STEM fields, but there are also connections between STEM and the humanities. So why does studying in one field makes a student more employable than if he or she studies the other?

I believe the answer is the demand for the product. We need more bridges and drugs – the products of lots of engineering and researching. There is not as much demand for solving domestic violence.

The topic of economics is beside the point. What’s important here is that: those that call humanity majors “useless” are not aware of the benefits of the skill sets that those studies offer and other qualities that a student can potentially gain from being in that area. Those skills are adaptable and necessary for any profession.

Topics like science, engineering, English, and history are just different approaches, and studying them equip students with different and similar skills. These skills are tools. The flexibility and effectiveness or a tool depends on the end goal of the user.

We need to be more open to the idea of letting people learn on the job. What they must enter the door with however, is a flexible, open-mind, a willingness to spend time, and the stamina to endure daily trial-and-error.

I think another problem is that employers do not have the time to training humanity majors in STEM jobs. It’s probably much more efficient if the employee came with the knowledge.

However, I wonder if company could benefit from diversity, not just in race, but in framework of thinking. New approaches and new ideas… I wonder where one could go from that.






That’s All

Wise Words

The director of our program cited a study that struck a chord with me today.  The study found that undergraduate women tended to be more over-scheduled and academically high-achieving than undergraduate men who tended to have lower grades and participate in leisure activities more often. There is an underlying notion that girls feel like they have to work harder in order to get where they want.

The over-scheduled and overworking part reminded me a lot of myself in high school and even now. Coming from a working class background, I got to where I am today by working hard in school and taking advantage of every opportunity that came. And I mean every.

Sometimes I look back at my high school years and even last semester and ask myself: could I have done things differently and still achieved the same academic success but plus happiness?

I observed that my male friends, regardless of race, social economic class, or whatever factor, are all involved in one or both of the activities that the director listed:  leisurely sports and video games. I love both of those things. If I could go back, I would spend at least 1 hour a day playing a leisurely sport and at least finish playing Portal. My excuse has always been that I just don’t have enough time because of homework or extracurricular I activities. (Granted, I enjoyed all of my extracurriculars; they made me a much better person. Still, there’s nothing quite like the joy of an hour of racquetball.)

For that reason, I envy my guy friends a lot. They achieved the level of success that they wanted but still were able to do the random things that they enjoyed. I don’t think that they’re being lazy or over-confident at all. I think they’re just doing what’s healthy: enjoying life.

That is why I decided to start making time for those things. I think that the meaning of the word “all” in the “having it all” phrase is to just have exactly what you crave. At the end of the day, the list of things that makes me happy is usually very short and the items are very small. Sometimes all I want is an onigiri (rice ball) or just a good friend.

I know that the economy is tough and the field that I’ve set my sight on is very competitive. I don’t have any control over that, though. The one thing that I definitely have power over is my time, and I’d like to start having the time of my life. That’s really all  I want.

I’d like to end with this quote from a friend’s blog. I’ve read it before, but it never fails to provoke me to straighten my priorities whenever I revisit it.

“Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Will of Money

Anh is a rising sophomore working at Legal Momentum in their National Judicial Education Program.

Free will does not exist.

There is no doubt that the flow of money shapes my life. From little things like food to big things like where I live and what school I attend. When it comes to Legal Momentum, a very similar situation exists. The money does constrain the extent to which it could implement projects and hire employees.

Here comes the cliché: Money cannot buy happiness. Or in the case of LM, effectiveness.

I consider that overused saying true. The happiness in my life comes from doing what I enjoy (like graphic designing, philosophy, and eating). The effectiveness of NJEP’s programs comes from Lynn and the other staff members that provide the training and projects.

Simply throwing capital at something would not get you what you want. Based on my observations of movie productions, to get the most profitable returns on your investment, you need to use the money to hire talent. So what you really need in the end is talent.

The obvious solution to the constraint of funding is to hire a few, but talented people that can think their way out of a very small box. However, the problem is that very talented people  want profitable returns for their skills. After all, the secret to success is finding what you’re good at and make people pay you to do it. Non-profit organizations might not be able to provide the same income as a for-profit company. In order to compete for effective workers, non-profits must be able to offer them something more valuable than money.

In this economy, I have no idea what  that “something” would be. However, given the amount of dedication and talents at LM, I am confident that that “something” exists.

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Even a small task can become a great opportunity

Anh is a rising sophomore working at Legal Momentum through NJEP.

This summer, I have the honor of being an intern at Legal Momentum. Though, this non-profit organization implements a variety of programs, the one I am most familiar with is the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP). It provides judges with information about sexual assault and domestic violence. Despite the serious nature of its work, the organization operates in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere – something that I did not expect. The staff and their interns have been extremely welcoming.

Thanks to a small task, I was able to talk to all of these wonderful people. One of the associates assigned me to bring a good-bye card (for a departing staff member) around for everyone to sign. This gave me an opportunity to introduce myself and converse with everyone individually. As an introvert, I often found it hard to approach strangers. However, because it was a task, I had to force myself to do it. Through that small assignment, I learned more about the history and the environment of the organization as well as the personalities of its staff. More importantly, I gained a clearer sense of self-identity after describing my interests and goals to others in a way that helped them understand me better.

I am excited to spend the next seven weeks at Legal Momentum  🙂