How to follow your passion: why it’s OK to change degrees

By Amira Langton

The most inspiring career choice I witnessed at University was my friend, Caitlin, changing her degree halfway through studying. Caitlin studied a Bachelor of Pharmacy for three years before changing to a Bachelor of Business majoring in Event Management. While this was a great move for Caitlin, I know how difficult it was for her to take the jump. I asked her to share what she learned along the way and her insights into owning your own future and taking the path less known.

Changing from Pharmacy to Event Management seems like a drastic decision. What was the turning point?

I just kept going with the degree because it was easy not to make any real choices. I got to the end of my third year of study and I was forced to really look at my life, reevaluate my choices and the current path I was on. Life was too short and finally it felt like making hard choices was worthwhile, to do something worthwhile with my life now and in the future.

I found Pharmacy interesting. I enjoyed learning how the body worked but I did not care enough to be bogged down in memorising extraneous details, like the different processes of drug metabolism in the body, all crucial to being a pharmacist.

I got experience working in a community Pharmacy and soon realised that, apart from the people I worked with, there was not enough in the profession to keep me challenged and entertained for a lifetime.

What were the reasons you followed your passion as a career? 

When I applied for my degree in Event Management I was nervous but excited, I could finally see all these opportunities in front of me. I no longer felt trapped by choices made when I was 17.

As Activities Officer for my residential college and the Social Chair for the Association of Pharmacy Students, I would often neglect an assignment or skimp on study in order to conceive and implement various events. For me the logistics of event organisation were energising, not stressful like for a lot of people. When a mini disaster would occur, like a venue falling through, I’d be excited by the challenge to ‘save the day’!

The whole time I was studying Pharmacy, event management became my passion and escape outside of University study. As procrastination I would organise an event!

What were the worst parts about changing your degree?

I had never quit anything before so I really struggled with feelings of inadequacy. I never once doubted that it was right choice to leave Pharmacy as a career. Yet I still felt like I had failed, which doesn’t make sense.

There is the tendency to think you should just keep persevering at something that’s not working or making you happy, because it could eventually be the right decision. I’m sure a psychologist could analyse the crap out of that but maybe some other time! I think this is what makes it so hard to take that initial jump.

What were the best things about changing your degree?

Picking an online course while working full time, being able to complete the degree slowly in my own time, gaining practical experience and still have a social life keeps me feeling balanced. This also allows me to be mostly financially independent, which I’m sure my parents appreciate!

The course I chose involves a lot of work experience, which is important for gaining practical experience and forming industry connections. This has lead to many job opportunities working on various festivals and events.

My degree provides written, visual and audio material for learning. I am a kinesthetic and visual learner so I really struggled to retain content in the numerous Pharmacy lectures and needed to spend a lot of external time learning it in a way that suited me. Doing an Event Management degree caters for my educational strengths and has allowed me to learn more effectively and efficiently.

Did people treat you differently when you changed part way through your degree?

Any stigma I felt was by projecting my own feelings onto other people. When people knew I was studying Pharmacy they would make comments that I must be smart. Changing degrees meant I didn’t experience that validation anymore. I felt like I had to apologise for my decision and preempt any negative comment, which led me to make fun of my decision. Sometimes I’d leave out that my major was in Event Management because it felt so frivolous.

Often people who knew me well would say that my decision made a lot of sense and they could see me in that career. This really helped me feel confident about my decision, but I still get insecure sometimes about others’ perceptions.

What would you do better?

I held myself back for a long time. Back in college I was considering Event Management but there was no obvious career path to follow and it didn’t feel like something I could be academically proud of it. At that age, nearly your whole life revolves around academia, and most of my friends were in the same position, so it makes sense that you believe your life needed to continue along that trajectory.

I felt point scores and prestige were more important than passion. Once I was in the Pharmacy course it felt easier to just keep going than to question how I was feeling and what that meant.

I wish I had sought help from a professional such as a course counsellor, life coach or psychologist with whom I could talk openly and honestly about how I was feeling. I believe they are highly underrated for helping with general life problems; they could have provided the tools that I needed at the time to reach a decision faster and help guide my transition along the way.

Overall learning those lessons the hard way has gotten me to where I am now. I doubt 18 year old me would even listen to my advice!

What are your career aspirations for the future?

Honestly I’m torn between so many different options. I want to work my way up through the profession until I’m either the manager or owner of a successful company. I would love to combine my love for event organisation and social issues. Working for an organisation such as The United Nations Women’s division or for a company that is well respected for their social efforts, such as Facebook, would be close to my dream job. Who knows, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to achieve all these things!

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about changing degrees?

  1. Don’t quit because it got too hard – Do it because it is the right thing for you in all aspects.There will always be hurdles no matter what you do… finding something you love will help you get over them.
  2. Get advice – Talk to someone in the industry or do some work experience first. You may hate the degree but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will hate the job. Speak to as many people as you can, be open and honest, someone may have a solution on how you can achieve your goals with the degree you are currently obtaining.
  3. Look for alternatives – you may think you can’t achieve your goals with the degree you are obtaining but degrees can be very multifunctional once you have one. Think about ways that you can use what you have already done as a spring board for your next step.
  4. Question whether the problem is the job or university – Traditional education isn’t right for everyone. There are plenty of alternativepathways into most careers, even into a degree you weren’t accepted into initially.
  5. Network, network, network – Never underestimate the value of practical skills and human connections. Even after you get a degree nearly all the job descriptions you read are going to request two years experience, so an industry connection or some work experience can be invaluable in transforming an application into an interview.
  6. Act now! – Make a well-considered decision on the option that is best for you and act on it, don’t waste time or wait for something else to force your hand. Be proactive!

3 Comments

  • Haley says:

    I only discovered your blog a couple days ago and have read pretty much every single post up here already!
    I’ve suffered the career crisis twice already – the story sort of goes like this:

    *Didn’t enjoy my degree (I studied dental technology) but finished it anyway because I didn’t know what else to do and also didn’t want to be seen as a “quitter” (I have never “quit” anything in my life)
    *Tried working for 6 months, resigned, travelled for two months, got back home thinking I was going to start a new degree but couldn’t bear the thought of studying full-time at Uni again for at least another 4 years (plus it’s expensive!)
    *Ran away to live in Melbourne even though I’d never been to Australia before (I’m from NZ) because I didn’t know what else to do
    *Decided to give my career another go (I needed money)
    *Thought it was a great start and that I’d found my place
    *After two years the same feelings of career crisis seeped back in, so I took on postgrad studies part-time to get myself out of the laboratory and give myself “more opportunities”
    *Postgrad studies were still dental related….definitely established that the industry isn’t what I wanted to be in any longer
    *Again, didn’t want people to think I was a “quitter” so finished the studies
    *As soon as all the practical clinical part of my studies were complete in June, I quit my job in August and headed overseas for 1.5 months (couldn’t stand being in the lab anymore, I was constantly a major downer)
    *Now I’m back in Melbourne, completed the final written exam a few weeks ago but don’t have any intention of registering to practice as a dental prosthetist

    Currently I’m spending my days applying for jobs that really appeal to me and that I know I have skills which could be transferrable from my previous role (pretty difficult since dental is so…..dental!), whilst also researching people and businesses that are more in line with my interests and that I would be happy to work for/with.

    So glad to see there are so many people who have also experienced this-I felt so lost before and embarrassed of myself, and that everyone was doing so well and were so happy and I was a complete failure! I was so worried about what people would think of me, and leaving the “privilege” of being in the dental field would mean that people wouldn’t think I was intelligent anymore. But now I more “meh” about that – I feel too happy that I’ve made a change and have done something about it.

    Thanks for creating this blog – maybe we could do coffee some time!

    Haley

    • Hi Haley, thank you for sharing! I’m sure many people go through the same experience you have and its great to talk about it more. Glad you enjoyed this blog and many others on the site, it is a great resource for anyone needing career advice. Keep checking back for more posts!

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