September 22, 2013

BHOWMICK: Ivies Produce Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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I always try to align my columns with the pulse of Cornell and it does not take a Ph.D student to guess the Big Red vibe this week: stress. It is not that Cornellians are biologically tuned to stress more than other mortals. It is simply this time of fall semester. Career fair took place and replaced salmon shorts with suits (not like I mind looking at Cornell’s young men bringing out their resplendent attire). This is not an unfounded statement — I dropped by Career Fair and walked out feeling that had I invested those 20 minutes into studying at Olin or whichever library you please, I would have contributed more substantially to my career pursuit.

So what is Career Fair? Are we presenting ourselves as unique packages or are the firms simply driving their UPS packages home? I’ve attended several other information sessions which addressed my appetite better than they did my quest for that one dream job. At each session, some bright spark asked, “What makes the particular firm unique?” The response was staccato and identical — We have no corporate hierarchy, it’s a horizontal cross-platform work culture and we have immense potential for growth. This got me thinking.

If all of the firms and their representatives sound like clones, do the applicants echo this astounding conformity as well? Is our esteemed institution turning all of us into one homogenous brand? Is every illustrious institution producing a typical Ivy league “product” with a halo above his or her head?

I am not the first person to compare the Ivy League to a giant cookie-cutter, but that is exactly what it is. When we start prep school, we all want to be a number of things. From firemen to astronauts — the spectrum is pretty vibrant. But as you grow up, your career choice becomes increasingly grave and the spectrum starts looking a little monochrome.

When we apply for college, the excitingly wide array of majors makes us ecstatic and we love coming up with the most bizarre combinations of majors, minors and classes. This lasts until we start hearing about upperclassmen landing that job or internship with JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Google or Apple. Suddenly, everyone from every school wants to be the same thing and the same person. Of course, the Natural Resources major sporting a psychedelic robe and no shoes retains his or her singularity, but that cannot be said for the rest of us. In what world can a Hotel School student, a CALS student, an Engineering student, an Economics/Government/Math/Physics major and — how can I possibly forget — an Industrial and Labor Relations student have the same ideal job in mind? This is not a trick question. The simple answer is: at an Ivy League institution.

There was an age, not eons ago, when college represented the process of going against the grain. Now, I can’t understand why — if there are already so many people striving to do the same thing and be the same person — are we stuffing ourselves onto the same conveyor belt? Could it be a socially-prescribed notion that an Ivy League graduate  must act in a certain way? If the answers to any of the questions I have posed above are affirmative, it is time we reevaluate the way we make our academic, intellectual and career choices. When we are picking a suitable college, we look at the University’s idiosyncratic characteristics. How boring would that decision-making process be if all colleges and universities offered the same opportunities, but had different colored mascots and jerseys?

I think it is absurd that we sit through deplorable classes when we would rather run for our lives, simply because we can learn the skill set every employer is looking for. There is something absolutely wrong with the state of affairs if every employer is hunting down that same skill set. I feel it is more favorable if our classes build up our interest in our career choice, instead of a predetermined career choice forcing us to suffer through our classes. I can’t deny that institutions of a distinguished order will inherently have some similarities. Maybe it is okay that the best universities in the country are like cookie cutters. However, it is absolutely erroneous if all of them are intrinsically producing the same cookie and a very boring one at that — an oatmeal raisin cookie. This is my call for preserving the mint-chocolate chips, double chocolate chunks and macadamias at, and beyond, Cornell.

Aditi Bhowmick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected] Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester.