Is that vocation on your résumé?

Students at my university take a course in their final semester called “The Civil Engineering Profession.” Most of our time is spent reviewing requirements for professional licensure, along with different opportunities for employment in the public and private sector.  These are some of my favorite discussions to have with students; they represent one of the few spaces within the undergraduate engineering curriculum where students might imagine themselves in different roles while working for an incredibly varied array of potential employers.

The real ‘aha!’ moment for me occurred in an unexpected place. resume_review I was filling in for a colleague on sabbatical at the time, and the one class period that I was not looking forward to dealt with résumés.  It’s usually not a good sign when my very first act in preparing a new lecture for class involves a Google search! Fortunately, while browsing Purdue’s On-line Writing Lab (OWL), I discovered an excellent resource.  (The sheer volume of information was overwhelming; I realized that I might end up spending fifteen minutes discussing how to mix serif and sans-serif fonts…)

My previous experience reviewing resumes with students suggests that the hardest part for everyone is the statement of one’s objective — that is, what the résumé-writer is hoping will result from others’ encounters with the document. Consider this example  Continue reading

Now and Later: A New Way to Imagine Vocation

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-9-14-19-am1Some of you remember these vintage candies with the enticing name: Now and Later. Have some now. Save some for later. They were the 1960s way of saying you can have your cake and eat it too.

We usually think of vocation as being about NOW. Listen for your calling, make a choice, and then follow it throughout your adulthood until retirement. But that’s an increasingly outmoded way of conceptualizing how vocation works.

What if we think of our callings as seeded at birth, confirmed in adulthood, and continued into old age all the way to the end? In other words, vocation is both being and becoming — both now and later. Evolving throughout the life cycle, vocation connects us with purpose:  before, during, and after paid employment.

Sounds good, right? But how many people Continue reading

Starting from nothing

In the work of helping students discern their vocation, I have found myself thwarted by a certain type. Tell me whether he sounds familiar to you.

dataspel_1Jeff has glided through life, keeping himself busy with schoolwork and perhaps a few extra-curricular activities, but has nothing that provides him with a sense of accomplishment or connection to others. He has invested a great deal of his time over the years to entertaining himself, playing video games, surfing the web, and binge-watching television shows. When I press Jeff about what is important to him, in an effort to try to get a sense of his underlying commitments, it can begin to seem as though nothing is there. Jeff is not depressed, and in fact he seems quite happy to move into his future continuing to fill his days with entertainment.

What does vocational discernment look like when you are seemingly “starting from nothing”?

My usual approach begins with an exploration of my students’ fundamental commitments — getting underneath their interests and aptitudes in order to get a sense of what makes them tick. For many of my students, Continue reading

Vocation as stories we tell ourselves about ourselves

One way to think of vocation is as a type of story that we tell ourselves and others — a story that gives meaning to our lives and structures how illustration_at_title_a_in_just_so_stories_c1912we understand who we are and what we do. It makes sense of lives as we look backward and it guides our aspirations and choices as we look to the future. No surprise, then, that a number of recent contributions to this project have focused on this topic.1

Our identity, both to ourselves and to others, often takes the form of a story. When asked, “who are you?” our first reply is usually with a name–our story’s title, as it were.illustration_at_title_b_in_just_so_stories_c1912 But if pressed for more than a name, we narrate some part of our life (or our aspirations for life looking to the future, as when a student discusses her major). Our story is always selective; we touch on the “plot changes,” the “turning points,” the central roles we play, the crucial events or revelatory experiences that, to our minds, made us who we are. However brief or extensive, we are our stories.

 

Metaphors for understanding narrative identity

This narrative understanding of identity has borrowed useful metaphors from the study of narrative in literature. We speak of scripts, plots, and roles, and the improvisation that draws on the “repertoire” one has seen, acquired, and rehearsed. These metaphors can help us understand Continue reading

More than merely “useful”

A recent editorial in Scientific American provides a direct rebuke to politicians who would cut funding for degree programs in the humanities:scientific_american_-_october__9_27_2016_6_08_07_am

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided... [S]tudying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

This might not be what one would expect from a science journal. Of course, a magazine founded in 1845—back when the first and last letters of STEM were still at the heart of a liberal arts education—could be expected to raise questions about the current political winds that seek to minimize student engagement with the humanities.  At the same time, though, there is a parallel argument contained in this (and many other) “Save the Humanities” appeals that those of us interested in vocation need to think about more critically.  Consider exactly why the SA editors believe the humanities are so important:

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is true.  The article continues by pointing to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as prime examples of how a sprinkling of the humanities in just the right spot will go a long way towards achieving unparalleled success.  But is success in the marketplace really our most compelling reason Continue reading

Finding your calling — and playing catch

The language of “vocational discernment” is finding a foothold in higher ed these days, but occasionally some critics have asked whether this is just a fancy way of talking about “deciding what to do in life.” playing-catchInstitutions may have adopted new language, but aren’t they simply doing what they’ve always done—namely, helping students to choose a major and to embark on a career?  Or does “vocational reflection and discernment” really point to a genuinely different way of helping students think about their future lives? I believe that it does, and that one way to understand this difference is to think about playing catch.

I don’t usually find myself turning to sports for metaphors, but I think this one works.  For most sports, there are certain things that one can do alone: learning about the game, undergoing physical conditioning, and watching the techniques of the greats.  In some cases, one can even practice a sport alone: go for a run, hit tennis balls against a wall, or throw softballs and baseballs into one of those “pitch-back” nets. But all athletes know that these experiences are not the same as Continue reading

Is God Necessary For Vocation?

E011James Clark, writing on the blog of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, offers some thoughtful commentary on the role of God in discussions of vocation. The post includes a number of references to At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, the first collection published by the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project.

Previously, Clark also offered some helpful reflections on Tim Clydesdale’s book, The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students about Vocation.

Readers of vocationmatters.org may find these and other entries on the blog of genuine interest.