Limitless Options

Chemical engineer Catrina Rateb ’18 drops a little veteran wisdom regarding self-discovery in our new Third Year Scholar Blog.

“What engineering discipline should I major in?” was probably the first question I asked myself upon my acceptance to NC State and the Goodnight Scholars Program.  And when I arrived at NC State in the fall of 2014, still dazed from summer and nervous as all get out, I kept asking myself the same narrow question.

As a wiser and, as I’d like to think, more experienced third year student, I now realize how foolish I was to restrict myself in this way at the start of college. Although at the time, I could have listed a thousand reasons for why engineering was the right choice of major for me. I’ve since become more self-aware. I’ve learned that as a first year student, I honestly did not really know much about what I wanted to study because I had not yet learned a great deal about myself such as what bodies of knowledge and fields intrigued me, what career(s) I wanted to pursue, and what I was truly passionate about.

As I lived and studied here at NC State, away from home and family for the first time in my life, I grew into my own person. And I have come to understand that this journey of self-discovery is what college is for. It is a time for exploration, not restriction. A time to gain different perspectives from disparate areas and people and to discover what makes you tick. It is a gradual learning process that requires an infinite amount of patience and even greater persistence. Although not having a clear path laid out in front of you is frustrating at times, it also makes this adventure into adulthood that much more worthwhile.

So, as the wise third year student that I am, I will impart my first piece of advice: It is important not to limit yourself at the start of this journey and to take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities provided by NC State and through the Goodnight Scholars Program. Whether it is attending workshops at the Career Development Center, participating in student clubs and organizations, cultivating meaningful relationships with mentors, or signing up for all Goodnight events, these will all shape your civic, social and professional development.

I know it is often frustrating to hear the cliché advice of ‘just follow your passion’ because frankly before you follow your passion, you have to find it.

I know it is often frustrating to hear the cliché advice of “just follow your passion” because, frankly, before you follow your passion, you have to find it. And that can be difficult, but rewarding. But, it is possible and to find your passions, you have to actively seek out the myriad of opportunities that surround you. You can participate in undergraduate research, study abroad in a foreign country, chat with faculty about careers and life, ask questions about majors to upperclassmen, or attend seminars on topics that spark your curiosity. All of these experiences are great ways to start your search so that someday soon, you will find your passions and ultimately your niche at NC State.

How do I know this? Because all of the experiences above helped guide me in the direction of potential future pursuits. My study abroad experience in Lille, France sparked in me a deep appreciation (and obsession) for everything French. That experience convinced me to pursue a French language major in addition to chemical engineering, and has inspired me to try to one day live and work in France. My chats with faculty, alumni, and upperclassmen have helped me to narrow my intended career after college to a profession in healthcare, after broadly considering the options available to me with a chemical engineering and French language degree. Being proactive, and seeking opportunities to engage in different disciplines and interact with various people has helped me to discover more about the things that drive and inspire me and to uncover truths about myself that I had previously ignored.

Asking professionals in industry about my chosen field and participating in externships allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for my chemical engineering major. This is key because every major contains some portion of dry material that is arduous and seems pointless at times, but that should not discourage you. Find a redeeming quality, whether that is gaining valuable problem-solving skills that will translate into your future career, and keep an end goal in mind when the material gets complicated, and you can’t seem to find a purpose in solving page long problems.

My last bit of advice is this: do not settle and do not give up. This might just be a reminder for myself to get through the notoriously difficult junior year, but it applies to whatever situation you might find yourself in. There is something positive to be gained from every stage and every step of the way in finding your major, or your career. Take time to work through the process and know that, no matter what, you will be getting closer to where you want to be.  Even if it takes years to find a satisfying career, it’s better to find one late than never.

Finally, keep in mind that this journey of self-discovery never stops. Although college is the perfect time for exploration, the journey doesn’t end after four years. Just as soon as you think you have everything figured out, something happens, and it all changes again. This is why the journey of self-exploration in college is so important. It helps you cope with changes that occur in life, encourages you to grow from each experience, and emboldens you to follow your internal voice.