I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.
~Rita Mae Brown
Somebody asked me yesterday if I had lived in a Communist country, would I choose the same career that I did? I first answered yes, but then, a rapid succession of thoughts came to my mind and I change my answer to no.
When I was younger, it was Astrophysics or Archaeology that called my attention. I would devour in matter of hours any book on the matter, not important how big or difficult or technical it was. I would read adventure and science fiction books instead of Tom & Jerry comics (I was under 10); The Time Life collection was my (big) bedtable book. I also read Einstein, Hawking, Sagan, and I stopped shortly before trying to understand the complexity of Planck’s theory.
At 14 my father bought me my first computer and shown me how to used (How do you change a car tire? He asked*), I used BASIC to model maps of the space and planets full of archaeological treasures, but eventually a career path needed to be decided, and I have to chose between above the sky, under the earth, or the tool I was using to understand that.
“Contemporary career development theories have focused on person/environment fit, human development, and social learning as the foundation for Western models of career formation and counselling interventions. Chung (2003) awakened career counsellors to the reality that these theories incorporate the values and views of the modern industrial era and are established on a modelling characteristic of large organizations in the United States in the past century” (Whitmarsh and Ritter 2007) So I had to decided on do exactly what I wanted and die poor but happy, or find a compromise and live moderately rich and moody. Computer Science seemed to fit the bill, and up to today I have not regret my decision, since I were also able to mix it with Sustainability and still working in that path.
But had I lived in Romania or somewhere else, my decision may be different. Communist countries had strong restrictions on who could enter universities, since they were more interested in Labour and Agriculture, but still, 8% of students will gain access to College. You need to chose your path when you were 14 or 16, since at 18 you would be given once chance to apply to one university, and those were hard odds, but, “For students who gained successful admission to the competitive and selective university programs, the Romanian state provided generous financial support, including low-cost housing and meals, free tuition, book subsidies, and monthly stipends. The financial package awarded depended on various factors, like socioeconomic background and area of specialization”.
Downplaying the economic need that drove my career to Computer Science would surely tip the balance on astrophysics or archaeology (most likely the former than the later). Is not that economic rationale was not important in Eastern Europe, you still needed to put food on the table, but in those countries the mechanics was different, and I actually would be equally able to do so with any of those career paths. The fact that Eastern Europe saw a high level of women studying engineering and science (I. Ulescu 2005) would certainly helped my decision.
So, having growth up in a country were scientific research pays little and applied science pays way better influenced my career choice and make me decide for a compromise, while having lived in a country with a rich social safety net, more equal wage ranges, and a competitive environment to get in college would have the effect of me being now writing about the Sun Corona or Dark Mater, most likely, writing comic books… What career would you chose, if economic factors wouldn’t exist? I’d love to hear your answers.
Read More: The influence of Communism on career development and education in Romania.