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Students prioritize societal impact, salary

More first-years than seniors motivated by salary in choosing post-grad jobs, fall poll finds

“Since I was seven years old, I wanted to be a television screenwriter,” said Amelia Spalter ’22. After deciding to drop out of high school, Spalter enrolled as a visiting student at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts to pursue screenwriting. But after growing dissatisfied with the pre-professional focus of the school, she applied to Brown. Now a religious studies concentrator, she hopes to become a television screenwriter after graduation.

Spalter’s career motivation stems from her desire to make an impact — she wants her writing to stimulate political and social discussion while entertaining her audience. Her motivation is one of the many that drive Brown students as they search for jobs after they graduate. According to The Herald’s 2018 Fall Poll, when students were asked to choose their top two motivations in considering a first job after graduation, societal impact was the top answer with 43.1 percent, with salary close behind at 40.4 percent. However, students in different class years and concentrations varied in their responses. The Herald took a look at how these factors affected job motivations.


Across class years, students prioritized salary differently — 48.3 percent of first-years chose salary as a primary motivation, compared to only  30.9 percent of seniors.

“Over the years, I have grown less concerned about my salary just because it sort of sinks in that you have a Brown degree,” said Anina Hitt ’20. “You’re going to be fine wherever you go.”

Some also explained the trend as an indication of the University’s influence. “It makes me happy to see this,” said Chloe Miao ’19. “Maybe Brown has some quirky stuff where it just kind of brainwashes you into thinking about something else instead of salary.”

First-year students may default to salary as a motivation since “it’s not always clear what your options are, or what you might be doing in four years,” said Matthew Donato, director of CareerLAB. “It might just be a maturation process. It might be a better understanding of yourself and what your own personal motivations are.”

The Herald’s poll also showed different responses across concentrations. Physical sciences had the highest percentage of concentrators list salary as a motivation at 46.1 percent, while humanities and arts concentrators had the lowest percentage at 31.2 percent.

Donato said there is a “higher salary expectation … just because of what the market is out there for those kinds of jobs,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities around software engineering and coding right now.”

“I personally hear a lot more about benefits or salary” when thinking about job motivations, said Mounika Dandu ’20, a computer science concentrator and coordinator for Women in Computer Science. Dandu added that many computer science students believe the best jobs lie with large corporations, as they provide the best benefits.

Caitlin Takeda ’20, a departmental undergraduate group leader for visual arts, said her concentration provides few high-paying job opportunities right after graduation. Visual arts is “a really difficult profession to follow if you’re looking to” start off earning a high salary, she said. It’s difficult “to do that unless you start off with a ton of money.”

The small percentage may also reflect how those pursing the humanities and arts “are less worried about having to support themselves” financially after graduation, Miao said.

Societal impact

Poll results also showed that while 54.6 percent of life science concentrators, 54.4 percent of social science concentrators and 50.8 percent of humanities and arts students chose societal impact as a top motivation, only 35 percent of physical science concentrators chose societal impact.

“I’m not surprised at all because a lot of humanities (concentrators) …  feel so (strongly) about the cause that they have,” Spalter said.

Other humanities concentrators agreed with Spalter. Miao suggested that the trend might be explained by the fact that students in the humanities are “more inclined to do nonprofit” work.

“I believe very strongly that what I’m doing after undergrad should have a positive impact on the world,” Takeda said. “Maybe I’m an optimist for thinking whatever I do out of my own volition is going to have some sort of impact, but I do think it ultimately will be what helps me sleep at night.”

Benjamin Feinglass’ 20, an international relations concentrator and DUG leader, chose his concentration in part because of his desire to make an impact. He has also seen other international relations concentrators “wanting to go into the public sector, wanting to be involved in (non-governmental organizations)” right after graduation.

Karisma Chhabria ’19, a biology DUG leader concentrating in biochemistry, “found an appreciation for public health and the social determinants of health” through classes and clubs. In a biology class last semester, Chhabria and other students had the opportunity to discuss social determinants for health such as race and socioeconomic status in the context of reproduction and fertility.

Chhabria has found a similar enthusiasm among other students in life sciences. “I’ve learned about a lot of different scientific pathways, and also the implications of said pathways, through conversation with my peers,” she said. “I really appreciate that people are so passionate about keeping the larger context in mind.”

There are computer science concentrators that care about societal impact, said Hitt, a computer science DUG leader. But a “decent amount of people don’t really care,” she added. For her own future, “I just want to roll in, (get) told what to do, get paid,” she said. “My big thing” is financial security, she added.


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