Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer, or Don’t Bother.

24 Jul

by hithapalepu.

When I was 3 years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a fashion designer.  She told me that I was going to be a doctor.

And like a good Indian daughter, I didn’t argue.

From the age of 3 until high school, I told everyone who asked that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up.  My punishment for misbehaving would be copying words from my father’s medical dictionary (which I later studied for my own amusement.  Yes, I’m a nerd).  I researched diseases and was convinced that I was suffering from a brain tumor when I had a headache, or that I had leukemia when the doctor told me my hemoglobin count was low (due to my vegetarian diet).  I was so convinced that I would grow up to be a pediatric oncologist that I even announced it among my fellow SmithKline Beecham employees’ children at Take-Your-Kid-To-Work Day.

And then, I took Chem 142 my freshman year in college.  And I quickly began examining other career options.

Under my father and cousin’s recommendations, I stuck with the science coursework, declaring a biochemistry major and looking at patent law as a career path.  Struggling through the science coursework while flourishing in my history classes had me confused about what I really wanted to do, and the complaints and war stories I heard from friends already in law school had since put me off that path.  I stumbled into a marketing internship that I adored and excelled at, and quickly changed my career plans to the business world.

After slaving through the required coursework for the biochemsitry and history dual degrees, I knew the last thing I wanted to do was more school.  And that I definitely wanted to make money.  Sales seemed like the best path to go, and I accepted my offer from Cisco Systems’ Sales Associates Program.

This program was no joke.  Out of over 10,000 applicants, only 200 were selected to enter the year-long training program.  And yet, whenever my parents’ friends asked what I was doing, they said  I worked in “marketing” at Cisco.  As if sales was an unacceptable job to have.

It was frustrating to listen to my mother talk about her friends’ children in medical school with a wistful voice and say, matter-of-factly “well at least you have a job.”  I was confused and hurt whenever I told my Indian friends’ parents what I did, and the conversation passed over to the law student’s summer associateship applications or the engineer’s current projects.  Apparently it wasn’t enough to have a job and financial independence in lieu of bankrupting my parents with a medical or legal education, but apparently that’s the Indian parents’ dream.

Things are (slightly) different now.  I’m working at a pharmaceutical start-up, freelance writing, and taking business classes at Villanova, all which seem to garner pride from my parents.  And I hope as we Indian-Americans make advances in fields other than medicine, engineering, and law, we encourage the future generations to take the paths less traveled as well.

And who knows?  Literature, thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri, Aravind Adiga, Arundhati Roy, and Vikram Seth, may very well become the new medicine.  But more on that another time…


Posted by on July 24, 2009 in Social Life



5 responses to “Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer, or Don’t Bother.

  1. Julia Ranson

    August 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Hitha…I stumbled on this while I was wasting time on facebook. It’s beautiful. You’re an amazing writer. Keep doing this!!!

  2. suman

    August 25, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    ha ha…my parents are still worried about me. Even though I am a software engineer they wanted a 6 figure i am on a degree bonanza to find that 6 figure salary. 4 degrees and counting.

  3. Robert

    February 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Stumbled on this post… Indian parents would do well to remember that Gandhi is a legend NOT because of his net worth, and that Ramanujan didn’t practice law or medicine but left a significant impact on this world–his accomplishments will reverberate in the mathematical and physics (even computer science and who knows what else) world for quite some time–possibly centuries.
    It would be interesting to explore how Indian families, like many immigrant families push their children to excel, and the costs and benefits of such a regime. I’m sure it’s probably been examined, but as an arm-chair blog replier, I really haven’t looked into it. Other Asian and Jewish communities, also seem to fall into a category of high achievers, but possibly for different reasons.

  4. Benita

    June 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Great post! I agree – in our culture, medicine, pharmacy, engineer/IT, anything involving math/science and business is appropriate and approved by our parents.

    I am a lawyer and although we do alot for our Indian community, we barely get any respect or support from those same people.

    I’ve noticed a pattern lately that anyone in the above-mentioned fields are “marriageable” and sought after but people like me are not considered good enough (a JD is equivalent to MD/PharmD!). Sometimes I wonder if it’s because the guys feel threatened by a woman with a higher degree than them…however, they seem to have no problems with drs. or pharmacists. Everyone who I know that is still unmarried are in “non-traditional” fields (education, marketing, law). I even mentioned my theory to an aunty who was stressing about her now 30 year old daughter whose younger brother got married last year. Her daughter has a Master’s in education and works at our alma mater. Her mom agreed that I may be on to something.

    Math and science are absolutely important…but in order for a society to thrive, we need people with all kinds of skills. What would happen if there were no Indians in law, education, politics, business, fashion, etc.?

  5. N

    November 3, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Haha what a coincidence that I just had a little vent about this in my blog. I’m in year 12, and I know what you are going to. For my parents, it’s more like medicine or don’t bother. For me, I want to go into law, and that’s still not good enough. It’s great to see someone else who is going through similar feelings, but has gone through it and come out successful.


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