Student: ‘these weird things you go through end up making you who you are’

Shifting from premed to psychology to marketing to computer networking may not seem like the most traditional path for a college student to take. But to Anjana Raj, who is now working on a master’s degree in the electrical engineering and computer science department, the process of shifting gears and switching majors throughout college doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary.

“It’s very common, especially with people that are graduating recently,” Raj said. “People are trying to figure out what they want and what they want ends up not being available when they get out in the real world. It’s a common story with people my age.”

Raj started out as a premed student. By the time she graduated, she’d moved on to focusing on psychology with a marketing emphasis. But her job search for a marketing position in Wichita ended up pointing her in a different direction.

“My third year into college, I realized I did not want to go into medicine,” Raj said. “I wanted to go to graduate school – I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but definitely not psychology.”

Raj’s uncertainty about where she wanted her education to take her inspired Raj to seek advice from faculty who knew her both academically and personally.

“I think they knew me as a student as well as my personality and what I was into, what motivated me, what I was passionate about,” Raj said. “They were able to kind of step back, see what I was struggling with, and look at the bigger picture of what needed to be done.”

In particular, Raj worked with Alicia Newell, who is now the director of the Engineering Student Success Center, and Peter Cohen, the former dean of the College of Health Professions.

“Both of them keep me accountable for the mistakes I make,” Raj said. “They don’t really beat around the bush if I do something wrong.”

Some of the best advice Cohen gave her, she said, was that coming from a different background – for example, Raj going into a technical field without previous computer engineering studies – isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Sometimes the same people end up doing the same things and the product is the same as it’s always been. When new people get into it, what they think is a disadvantage ends up being an asset,” Raj said. “What I thought was a disadvantage – my personality or my background – ended up helping because it was different.”

Raj said her opinion on the path she’s taken has changed, too.

“My parents’ generation had kind of a step by step process of how they would achieve success,” Raj said. “I don’t think that’s going to be true for my generation. I used to feel lost and I used to feel like this was a bad thing, but I don’t anymore. It’s how things are now.”

While it was previously common for graduates to find jobs that they kept for 40 or 50 years, the nature of employment has changed, Raj said. That change relates to students’ need to find a degree that can act as a stepping stone.

“I think a lot of people have this pressure to do something or get a job or get out of school. There’s this societal pressure to be at the end already. I don’t really think that’s healthy because you’re not enjoying the process of getting there,” Raj said. “It’s a lot easier said than done, but a lot of times these weird things you go through end up making you who you are. That ends up being a very solid background to whatever job you end up doing.”