Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Doctor or Engineer? - Only two options

I grew up in India where there were only two suitable careers for a man and a woman – doctor or engineer. Any other career is considered taboo and frowned upon, regardless of the implications of the career that are understood in North America.

Moving to North America at the young age of 8, I quickly began to see the world in a new light. I observed that the children here were able to think freely about their goals, aspirations and professions. Basically, they could become anything their hearts desired; for example, I remember my friend, Shelley, telling me that she wanted to become a singer and a dancer when she grew up. Upon hearing this, my heart was broken and my spirits dashed. Why would she want to pursue a career in dancing? Becoming a doctor or an engineer was the only choice my family would allow.

Surrounded by the North American mentality that anything is possible if you just believe, I eventually assimilated this style of thinking. When I entered university, I challenged myself and decided to take classes that ranged from the liberal arts field to the sciences. Whenever I took a class in the liberal arts domain, I always wondered how my extended family in India would perceive my changing career and goals. Wavering back and forth between my parent’s wishes and my desires, in my second year I decided to take classes directed at medicine. Not feeling passionate about learning the different bones and muscles that make up the human body, I quickly turned my attention to community ecology and conservation biology. I knew that a career in conservation biology and environmental science would surprise my extended family; however that did not stop me. I was extremely passionate about my choice to become a person who would return to my home country and make a difference on my own terms.

 During my visit to India, I wrestled with fear that my career choices would be scorned and put to shame by my family. Once I arrived, questions regarding my career goals came soaring at me one after another. I was hesitant to answer anyone, but tried my best in helping my family to understand. Some were accepting whereas others were not. The skepticism and nervousness revealed by their questions reinforced my passion to want to care for aspect of nature other than man.

When I returned back home and was surrounded by many students of Caucasian descent and very few of the Indian nationality, I discovered I had a deep yearning to reclaim my heritage and make my Indian community proud of my career goal.

I immediately realized that my family wasn’t the root of the problem, rather it was my underrepresented Indian community in India, Toronto and Virginia. The percentage of Indians pursuing a career in the environmental domain is surprisingly quite small. As an Indian woman, with the goals of working in the field of conservation and environmental policy domain, I hope to inspire other young women from my underrepresented community to pursue careers that don't fit the status quo but are still vital to the well-being of their home country, as well as the world. 

My career choice to become a conservationist and an environmental analyst is my moral obligation to my Indian roots and to my people.