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Opinion: Passion for learning, patience will reveal unclear path for philosophy students

By Yliah Stuart-Serrano/Daily Bruin

By Janice Lee

May 29, 2024 6:34 p.m.

As an optimistic first-year student, I always envisioned college as a place where I could explore new interests and discover my future self. But this is far from the reality that I have experienced throughout my time at UCLA.

I came to school eager to learn about virtually anything that UCLA had to offer. The idea of formulating a curriculum that suits my interests excited me. However, I quickly discovered that the learning was not the end but rather a means to an end.

Maybe the fact that I chose to major in philosophy demonstrates this idealistic image of higher education that I hold.

To me, my major exceeds beyond the name of a department or a title on my degree. It is the foundation of a life of learning, teaching me not what to think but how to think.

But for some, my academic pursuit may be all too romantic: a naive dream that I have yet to be woken up from.

I love the idea of learning for the sake of learning and bettering oneself, and not solely because I need to utilize my knowledge as a stepping stool for a future job. Since philosophy lacks direct career orientation, I always receive worried looks from well-meaning adults who hear what I am studying.

Despite my conviction in the value of this discipline, I find myself struggling against the overwhelming feeling that I am falling behind.

I have been asked time and time again, “So what do you want to do with philosophy?”

This is the typical question that follows after I answer the mandatory conversation starter, “What are you studying?” I usually quelled this stressful inquiry with the personally untruthful yet conventional answer for undergraduate philosophy students: pre-law.

The UCLA Department of Philosophy states on its website that becoming a lawyer is a common post-graduate path for philosophy students. While law is interesting, I am unsure whether I would want a career in the field. In all honesty, I have no idea what job I want to have many years from now.

Ultimately, I have also felt a sense of contentment and peace while resting in this state of introspection throughout my first year. If college is truly a time to try new things, there should be adequate time to discover and investigate various opportunities without the pressure of feeling behind.

As spring quarter comes to a close, internships are on the minds of many Bruins. This season can be quite unsettling to students with less career-oriented majors, such as my own.

I bite my tongue when asked about how I am spending my summer. How could I possibly say that I am looking to rest and enjoy my break when my classmate is going to be volunteering at a research facility, on top of shadowing at an emergency room and preparing for the MCAT?

Waves of self-doubt wash over me from time to time as I reevaluate if I am doing the right thing. These feelings become overwhelming while I observe the disparity between how my peers and I will be spending our “break.”

In uncertain moments like these, I am motivated by the desire to not fall behind. I feel inspired to stride towards a successful law career like the rest of my peers – but I am just as quick to turn down this option.

Before I embark on pursuing a career path, I wonder if my efforts will feel worthwhile in the end when I do not have true conviction behind my years of dedication. Unfortunately, achieving certainty and job security is not a process that can be rushed, leaving me in a whirlwind of anxiety-inducing suspense.

As my first year at UCLA comes to a close, I find myself unable to move forward as I am unaware of what I am moving toward. I wonder if it’s already too late for someone like me, someone who just wants to learn all the things she can today without the worries of how she will labor away the many tomorrows to come.

It’s difficult to declare whether students have produced this hustle culture and constant unrest or if it is a result of societal expectations. But as the individuals enduring this capitalistic system, we are the ones who can dismantle at least the gravity of it.

And still I have hope.

With three full years ahead of me, time flies during the brief quarter system. Nevertheless, I reflect on the myriad of adventures I have been on this past year and know that the right path will reveal itself to me when it’s meant to.

Going into the summer without an internship does not seem ideal, but students should not view it as a failure or find shame in it. It’s about time we step away from this mentality of limited time and rejection of exploration.

To my fellow Bruins who are facing the same worries I am, don’t lose faith.

After all, there is no way to know if you are “behind” in a treasure hunt. We are all just in the individual process of searching for clues. And lucky for us Bruins, there is a special treasure for each and every one of us in the future that awaits!

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Janice Lee
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