Changing Directions

Graphics by Ansley

Since Lower School, sophomore Maricka had aspired to be an architect. Since eighth grade, sophomore Channing has wanted to be a particle physicist and work at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Currently, senior Michelle remains uncertain of where her interests will lead in her future career.

The fourth grade house design project and the sixth grade gingerbread house were among Maricka’s favorite projects at Hockaday. But after entering Upper School, her interest in the field waned because architecture didn’t incorporate the subjects she loved most—history and science.

“While it will always be an interest of mine, [architecture] might not be the best career choice for me,” Maricka added. She is still unsure of where current interests will lead her.

As Upper School girls approach adulthood, many have a clear career path in mind while others are less certain of their future and field of interest.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the most commonly asked questions to a little girl or boy—a question that kids don’t give meaningful thought to at an age below 10. A dream to be an astronaut one day could transfigure to a brain surgeon the next day.

But now, as Upper School students, an answer to this question may imply a little bit more than just a fantasy world seemingly a lifetime away.

Some students, like Maricka and Channing, have had their minds set on a career at a very young age. On a recent Upper School survey, 23 percent responded that they have known what career path they wanted to embark on before sixth grade.

Channing intends to work on the ATLAS Project at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, where particle physicists are experimenting with the Higgs Boson Theory. Channing would check out books after books from the library to further her understanding in physics.

“I developed a particularly strong interest in particle physics and the theoretical side [to it]. I checked out more books to understand what I was reading and it just kind of spiraled away, and I got very sucked into it,” Channing said.

Fifty-three percent of Upper School girls who do have a career in mind say they developed an interest in a career path only in the ninth through eleventh grades. And while only a few say it is because that career is highly lucrative, the 72.2 percent of girls are driven towards a specific path because they are truly passionate about the field they want to pursue.

“The drive comes from interest,” Channing said. “It’s just something I find fascinating.”

Priscilla Spencer ’03, who returned to Hockaday at the HATS assembly, left Hockaday Upper School with a specific career path in mind. She majored in 3D animation so that she could incorporate her interests of engineering, design and the arts in her career.

“The problem was that because I thought I had everything figured out, I went into college with-blinders on,” said Spencer, “while college should be about new possibilities and self-reflection, to ensure students are working toward the career path that will make them happiest.”

But 21 percent of Hockaday girls don’t have any idea about what field they want to go into.

“My academic interests right now don’t point directly to one career or profession,” Michelle said.

This, in fact, is the case for many girls. Hockaday’s goal is to broaden each student’s perspective and get her involved and engaged in a variety of different subjects, making the decision of a career particularly difficult.

This uncertainty was stressful to many seniors as they approached and went through the college application process.

Director of College Counseling Carol Wasden said that students that go to her with particular career interests are in the minority.

“I really am not fussed if students come to me and just have no idea because this is a learning process,” Wasden said.

Like Wang, most seniors go into the college application process not having a distinct career path in mind because of their sheer interest in so many different subjects.

“[Girls] really see the value of studying all different areas of study,” said Wasden. Not knowing a direct career path can potentially open up more doors, and many girls explore a breadth of different areas while they search for their passion.

“I can’t think of an instance where I had a student who went all the way through college and still didn’t really have her passion caught by something,” said Wasden. And although a student might find a path she consummately pursues, most studies show that 80 percent of college students change their major. And more frequently, minds are often changed at a high school level.

“Two years ago I did want to be a doctor, but now I’m turning down that option,” Michelle said. Her current interests point her towards the humanities and liberal arts rather than medicine.

Even Channing, who is so set on becoming a particle physicist, admits that for four years she had an aspiration to be an immunologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not knowing exactly what career path to take can be frustrating to many girls.

For Spencer, knowing what she wanted in high school didn’t allow her to explore the variety of opportunities presented to her in college. Four years after graduating from University of Pennsylvania, Spencer moved to Los Angeles and went into film directing to further pursue her passion in the arts.

“People in general have a natural tendency to want to figure out the end without always going through the intermediate steps,” Wasden said. “It’s hard to sit with uncertainty.”

Uncertainty, in fact, is what propels many people forward to explore fields they wouldn’t have before and discover their passion.

“Everybody finds their way,” Wasden said. “Everybody does. And they all find it their own way, but they do.”

– Anisha