TED Conversations

Letitia Falk

Lab Technician/Recent MSc graduate, University of British Columbia


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Why did you go to University/College?

What was/is your drive for pursuing an education? Did you go to an educational institution to A) increase your job prospects or B) to pursue a subject you enjoy?

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    Oct 20 2011: Honestly, I just went because I felt that I was supposed to. I graduated high school and heard the gun. People started shouting "run! run!". I panicked. "where?! what?! ahhh I'm going!!".

    Needless to say I became a statistic.
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    Oct 18 2011: To Study and to Learn ....
    Its a Stupid question ....
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      Oct 18 2011: If you feel the question is stupid, you need not reply. I was merely trying to point out that there seems to be a division going on right now between people who think that Education should be treated as a means to a career and people who think that it should be treated as a sort of recreation: pursuit of learning for interest's sake.

      I was curious to see which driving force caused current students to chose their program?
      • Oct 18 2011: I think it's a valid question to ask...personally I went the career path, because it was financially sound..at least that's what everyone said at that time - I'm talking about IT - and they were right. However, I struggled during college, mostly because I felt no desire to take a single class and looking back I think it was a very bad decision I made.

        Good news, I managed to change the field and I'm very happy I took this decision, although I probably would have earned more as a programmer.
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        Oct 18 2011: Its a valid question since we seem to be in a place where we do not have a clear idea what the role education is suppose to play in society.
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        Oct 19 2011: It's definitely a valid question.

        People who assume that everyone else functions based on their own personal set of motives are destined for an unpleasant surprise. Or many, depending on how long it takes them to figure that out.

        (I finally let my family talk me into it. I swore up and down I wasn't going, and of course, I regretted it. This myth of higher education as a den of intelligence and creativity really must die.)
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        Oct 21 2011: There is an english proverb that says, "The only stupid question is the one that is not asked." I totally find value in the question you asked.
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        Oct 21 2011: I've not been on here that long but i have noticed people seem to attack people who ask questions, and to answer you Q i am a 1st year in uni studying science
        • Oct 22 2011: I have to assume his post's tone was a combination of a lack of awareness of how his post came across in tone and a cultural difference that says that there IS only one purpose to go to University.....
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      Oct 19 2011: Hey Amrut,
      I suppose you are 15 right.You are in 10th Standard right If I am not wrong.
      At this age you might be not have had the necessity to make a choice between what you like to do and what you or your parents or society thinks is good for your career or say for financial stability or growth.
      I saw you like Science and technoloy so might not that be hard for you as your interest and so called "Scoiety norms of education for carier building" would be same as Engineering...As IT is booming in INDIA.
      I know many of my friends after school were forced to join Science and Technology by their parents against their interest in Arts or say mass media.
      I am sure you would have some of your firends experience the same after the 10th and could share the same here?
      So even though all of us go to study in a college on a broader view the motive behind joining a particular college or university may differ.So question asked is valid on that part .Isn't it?
      Best of luck for your future Amrut.Its good to see youngsters like you in TED. In my teenage I would have never thought to join such a community.Would have wasted my time in chat rooms.Good thinking on your part.
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    Oct 17 2011: Good question. It was neither A or B for me at the start. Since I was a kid my parents explained to me that university is the final and most important step in the education process. So, as you don't question whether you should go to High School or not, I just didn't question going to university. I don't know why I didn't question it, but in a way I'm glad I didn't. The things I learned from the type of teachers and the overall environment taught me a lot more than what the books did alone.

    The problem is that I wasn't well prepared for the experience. I didn't have enough time or the developed mindset to figure out my real interests. Yes, having a BA or BS was essential for having a good job back then, but I already started my own business before graduating, so that wasn't major concern. My main concern was actually finding something I'm excited to learn about.

    To achieve a true state of one pursing a subject purely for the joy of learning it society needs to accept the fact that monitory success is only one form of success, not the only one. Only then, we will stop filtering degrees according to their employment possibilities. If a person wants to study anthropology and they genuinely learned during their university years, then they already got a good return on their educational investment. Should this person work in a related field? It would be cool if it happened that way, but why can't he or she start the best anthropology blog that was ever made or conduct their own research after finishing their shift at the security company or the coffee shop and publish a book about the findings?

    Education, a degree, and a well rounded character are not the same things; they might be interlinked but they are not the same. While I graduated long time ago, I can proudly say that I've never stopped learning and I don't have the intention to stop anytime soon either.
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      Oct 17 2011: Great points Loaay. Maybe instead of begrudging lack of job opportunities, we need to change the way we percieve education as a means to a career. The University experience certanly has more to offer than just degrees. I think that the problem is that tuition is so expensive that students need the incentive of a better wage to get them through the process. Otherwise we might as well do just as you suggested: blog about our interests, and read up about them on the internet for free instead of investing 1-8 years into them.
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        Oct 18 2011: True education can happen when one chooses to learn and not when they force themselves to learn or even try to do it with an incentive. Learning itself is "the" ultimate incentive. Tuitions are going up because we made them go up. We, society, put a lot of emphasis on which university a candidate has graduated from. So, universities started to charge more for that experience and compete. It is we, the students, parents and employers, that created this hype. If the focus during job interviews was on behavior, personality and skill matching then the name of your university becomes irrelevant.

        When customers don't like a product and they stop buying it the company starts to listen. The power of lowering tuitions is in our hands. A strong movement can change the world. I guess 'Power to the People' didn't come from nowhere.
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          Oct 18 2011: True, the responsibility to change is our own
  • Oct 24 2011: I'm going to uni now to attain the very basic qualifications for a professional degree. I think if I were interested in the arts or business, I might not have chosen to go to uni. Not sure if it's a very inaccurate perspective, but somehow it feels that art is something you can learn and study on your own, and business is something you get it right by actually doing it. But for areas like Medicine, Law and Engineering, a paper qualification is the springboard to kick start one's career...I guess uni offers a structured style of education, and the opportunity to build up one's professional networks...I guess I'm grateful for the numerous very good friends I've been able to make at uni.
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    Oct 22 2011: Failed in my attempt of being an unconventional intellect in a society moulded with conventions. Hence, the reason.
  • Oct 22 2011: I went because I needed to prove to myself and everyone else that I was not a dumb Indian unable to excel in the very system that had largely destroyed many of my and other First Nations peoples.
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    Oct 19 2011: Sadly, I went to college not because I wanted to "learn" something, but to get a degree for getting into corporate life. However, I realized the fallacy of this thinking sometime in the middle of my undergrad studies. TED partly contributed in a sort of awakening which caused me to ask what is the need of college or studies? After seeing Sir Ken Robinson's, "Schools kill Creativity", my mindset completely changed and I started appreciating the process of learning in itself. What I was learning became irrelevant.

    I realized that college is truly needed for the process of transformation of inner intellectual capacities and to become a human who has a heart to understand others. That I feel is truly the aim of college education. Sadly, most peers around me tend to do college for the "degree" and the "GPA" to get into prestigious financial organizations.

    By the way, why did you go for college? And what do you think is the real purpose of education?
  • Oct 18 2011: I would like to add (C)," to change your job prospects." I have spent the last 15 years doing physical labor jobs, and it has taken a toll on my body,(bad back.) I need a change and thought that going back to school could give me different opportunities and knowledge, and to explore something other than physical labor to make a living.
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      Oct 18 2011: Good suggestion! This is actually the reason that both of my parents went back to school during my adolescence. Their example very likely contributed to my desire to attend University.
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    Oct 18 2011: Go to university/college is to help you find "who you are" and "what do you want to be"
    If you've already found it, then you can leave.

    Why I say this because most of the college students in China(I'm from China) are always following others: to learn what their parents want them to learn, to follow everyone to catch a master degree after graduate, but if you ask them: what do you want to be? You will be disappointed.

    Hope you can understand my saying


    organizor of TEDxUIC
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      Si Xie 10+

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      Oct 18 2011: Maybe I just that kind of nerd who desire to acess more knowledge and stay in school. In my opinion, Univeristy or college is always a nice choice when you want to have a comfort place to be smart.If we go deeper about the University or College in China, I think this question can be more complicated, and this will narrow down the question..

      University is supposed to be a place help student to be on the road.It is common that most of the college students have no idea what they are going to do what kind of people they wanna be (I am still confused about it), in this time, university can be a place that you can try something that you may interested. Because you can not still depending on your family to live your life, to be into college can be a way that you face the reality and go to work, and university can strengthen your skills in some degree. Like if you want to study finance, well, good university can provide a well-orgainize program and great faculties.

      University have a completely different way in eduaction while comparing Secondary school like High school. But of course, different countries have different situation.

      And university can be like a pre-society, you get to know some extent of the real society, but in a safe place..

      Also, a nice university degree do help you when you finding a job.

      Going to university can be Win-win choice, I think.
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      Oct 18 2011: Although I think there is less pressure from parents to attend University in North America than in China, still a lot of University students don't know what they want to do for a career when they enter (or even leave) their program. I think you make a good point that University is an extension of earlier education and that a lot of the process is personal development, not learning specific skills. This isn't necissarily a bad thing since most graduates consider University a positive experience regarless of what they do afterwards. I know University has helped me learn what I DON'T want to do for a career at least! :)
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    Oct 18 2011: B!
    I asked myself... what is the most interesting subject to study?
    My answer: Humans.... hence I studied psychology!
    I did study statistics afterwards for A as well (as a secondary, but important part)
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      Oct 19 2011: Hahaha! Statistics was my favorite course in University :) Probably because I got involved in research so early that I was so thankfull to finally have someone show me how to interpret my data!
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        Oct 19 2011: Some call statistics a false science in part because we are drowning in data and starving for wisdom. How do you integrate that?
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          Oct 19 2011: Techniques like DNA sequencing have lead to a whole field of "High-Throughput" technologies that generate data faster than we can alalyse it. Right now it seems overwhelming and it is causing a revolution in the way that science is conducted (at least in cell biology). We used to use the scientific method to answer questions:

          1. Observe something puzzling
          2. Generate a hypothesis about it
          3. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis
          4. Use statistics to analyse the data

          Now we have technology that can generate masses of unbiased data and we're stuck working in reverse! For example, the real work began after the completion of the human genome project: in determining what genes do what and how they differ between people.

          We really need to use databases and systems approaches to study this data. But I also think that on-line journals and blogs about scientific data are a step in the right direction because the more people are looking at the data (including non-scientists), the quicker wisdom will be drawn from it.
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          Oct 19 2011: Adding to what Letitia says:

          Statistics is basically a method of data reduction (finding valuable parameters that describe the whole or part of the data-set). If you do this correct, it gives insight. If you make errors, or misrepresent the data, you are a fraud (or you don't understand statistics).

          Statistics and probabilistic reasoning is counter-intuitive, so needs to be acquired (learned).
          But once you get the hang of it, it can increase your wisdom amazingly, as you think in probabilities and distributions, and not in 1 and 0 (i.e. gray-scale instead of black/white thinking). Anyway, I could go on for this for hours, explaining all the attainable wisdom when understanding (and using) statistical analysis.
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    Oct 17 2011: I went because I love learning but I will say this:

    I'm starting to think that education in the U.S. is really overrated and is just a gateway for working. This is the only country in which I know that you can have a brilliant mind and still end up working at McDonald's.

    Despite how much one may love to learn, in the end, MOST of us will still end up in the work force. The transformation of philosophy is one example. Philosophy used to be a respected academic field that can feed an inquisitive mind. Now if one majors in it, they are met with questions of "what are you going to do with that".

    So to answer you question, in the United States making decent money is really everyone's primary or secondary reason as to why they go to college. This may be a hard pill to swallow and I'm sure that many people love to learn (being on TED is one example of this) but there will always be that economic component as well and this is truly sad.
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      Oct 17 2011: This is exactly what I am struggling to understand right now. And I don't think that the US is the only country facing the problem of overeducation and lack of job opportunities. Everyone seems to agree that better education is a good thing for society but how to we reward the educated when the cost of attending University is no longer offset by better job opportunities in the end?
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        Oct 17 2011: Its good to know I'm not the only one who thinks this being that most people I talk to are not aware or see nothing wrong with it.

        Your correct and maybe I should not have generalized about the U.S. being the only country. I just figured that since I never been to other countries and seen their educational system (aside from media or friends) that I had not right to say anything about it other than their system of eduction being a lot more developed than the U.S.

        Excellent question by the way. I'm a strong anti-capitalism advocate (I do not embrace political ideologies like Marxism, communism) but something like anarcho-syndicalism, which for most people is as absurd as believing that Elvis is still alive but I wont go into details about that.

        What I'm trying to say is that living in a society that values wealth, consumption, materialism, production is not going to solve things. Economic systems are in a constant state of flux and things can get from bad to worse in a heartbeat (or a few greedy peoples actions). The fact that when there is an economic crisis and the result being that education, employment and the housing market are usually the first to take a big hit, this comes to show that there is something certainly wrong with this system.

        If you as me, and this may overlap with the other topic about education being a natural right, the system is going to have to change to the point to where college degrees are more than just a social symbol but a means of improving ones life and this really starts with the public, not through some incremental process. As I told someone earlier, the real issue here is money, its symbolic nature and the credence given to it by society. If we solve the money problem, we solve this educational problem.
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          Oct 17 2011: Good points: I think we're all struggling to understand how to fix these systems without rocking the boat. We're talking about improving education but actually students are performing as well if not better on tests and improvements to technology and problem-solving based learning are being made all the time in institutions. The real problem seems to be with what graduates can expect once they enter into the work-force.

          Our economy causes students and graduates to comple with each other instead of using their newfound skills to work together. Competition is part of how the world has always worked but if everyone's sick of it, and none of us want to get ahead at the expense of each other anymore, what can we do to change it?

          Its just feels wrong that the more educated everyone gets as a whole the worse the job opportunities and lifesyles we can expect become. Shouldn't we be better able to come up with solutions to our problems? Maybe the problem is in fact economically driven?
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    Oct 24 2011: I'm going to a University because I'm first generation and I feel that it's my responsibility to do what none of my siblings could and carry on the family name. Plus it seems to be the best way to accomplish my dreams.
  • Oct 24 2011: Believe it or not, to learn. I feel like a major loner sometimes though in that regard.
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    Oct 24 2011: I actually went to college because I am aware that education is the basis for progress. But in Venezuela it happen two particular phenomena: firstly a case similar to that posed liu jinjiang and simply obtaining college certificate (which is very common). But on the other hand, Venezuelans, we have the highest rate of university students in Latin America, which makes clear that we need to thrive. Separate point is whether a career is studied according to the vocation or anyone just for a title.
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    Oct 23 2011: I went to college because that is what I thought you were supposed to do after graduation. I was so naive that I thought that everyone went to college after high school. I am the daughter and granddaughter of teachers so of course I was going to college after high school. Not going was not an option.

    I went to college to increase my job prospects and to pursue a subject that I enjoyed. I majored in Marketing and minored in Communications. I now work as a teacher. LOL. I had to go back to school to get certified for the family business. ;p
  • Oct 23 2011: I establish relationships with new friends because nowadays people is working companies when they graduated at your universities then they corparate with other staffs of companies and we work with these peole therefore if we meet o lot of friends ,we soon will conform team spirit and raise level of work
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    Oct 23 2011: I never thought not going to university can be an option :)
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      Oct 23 2011: Interesting! Do you mind my asking why not going wasn't an option?
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    Oct 23 2011: recently i saw a documentary "The Triumph of the Nerds" and after seeing that movie i asked myself the same question.
    i'm into computer engineering and this documentary is all about Bill Gates, IBM, Microsoft, Steve Jobs....etc

    The question came because i realized to be successful in achieving your dream you dont need college....
    they all did it and so can i...

    the only problem is to achieve something they ask for the degree....
    so i am in the college only for the degree...

    AND not to get my parents mad at me :) they paid for all the education :)
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    Oct 23 2011: I am an artist and to me pursuing higher education meant finding a Community where I could grow and explore.
  • Oct 22 2011: I went because that's what people of my Socio-Economic status did at 17-19; I had no particular interest in one thing more than others, so I sort of did a buffet of a degree program until someone told me I had to get a degree in 'something'. Apparently, just going to school for four years to learn different things because you are interested in several different things wasn't good enough for the Powers That Be. So, I got a degree in English Lit. and, since I had to have a minor, under the rules of the university, I chose History simpl;y because that was the subject I had taken the second most courses in.... I really found the experience kind of counter-course to the notion that university be a place to try out a spectrum of different things and ideas. My experience was that the Admins at the University were really uncomfortable with people taking a couple Art courses and a couple Science classes and a Math class or two and a couple classes in this and that. Their rationale was that a cohesive degree program was more 'sellable' to a potential employer, so in a way this was for my own good to be forced to choose a major....My thought was, what the @#@$# business is it of theirs; It was MY money I was paying and I should be able to take whatever I want. Give me a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree and say Fare Thee Well, Mike....
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      Oct 23 2011: I didn't realize that some Universities made you choose a major actually! All of the Universities I've attended (2) have had "General Studies" programs. I agree with you though that a lot of people attend University to find out where their interests lie and restricting student's access to trying out many different subjects seems counter-intuitive towards achieving that goal. I had a pretty good idea that I liked Biology but I didn't chose a specialization within that field. In contrast, at the larger University where I am doing grad school almost all of the undergraduate students have specialized into pre-med or microbiology or genetics etc.... And I was really amazed when I transferred to meet Biology graduates who didn't believe in Evolution because they had never taken a Evolution, or Ecology or Zoology or Botany class! In this case the rationale is that specialized students were able to learn many more specific techniques that they would need in the field and be more employable. The funny part is that a couple years into the program I am performing just as well as students who had a more specialized degree. Techniques can be learned, but I wouldn't trade the open-mindedness and ability to see the big picture that I gained from having a broader background for the world.
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    Oct 22 2011: Well...ever since I have started understanding about this world and my surrounding...i have had the urge to be taught myself at one of the best Uni's. well luckily. Im in the best university of mt country :) and as my dreams have paid me off...i think i should be attending the uni :)

    Tc palz.
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    Oct 22 2011: I went to school to avoid getting my parents job. No matter how hard essays or projects or getting to class was, it was never going to be as hard as living every day knowing i could have had this life and i gave up.
  • Oct 22 2011: this is a fundamental qustion
    because every
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    Oct 22 2011: The learning for learnings sake vs career path comparison kind of assumes that these are the main reasons that people go to university. In an ideal world perhaps they would be but that really wasn't how things were when I was applying to University with my peers 6 or 7 years ago. Many people - if not the majority just saw it as the next thing to do - like high school followed junior school. Parental insistence is a huge factor, the phrase 'you need a degree' - and the simple fact that people don't want to feel left out - everyone they know is applying so they do too. A lot of people also go to party and live alone for the first time - particularly in the UK.
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      Oct 23 2011: Good points. Education is trendy right now, do you think that enrolling because of those kinds of social pressures is a good thing or a bad thing?
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    Oct 22 2011: University once served as only a ladder for me, with which I hoped to climb up and reach a higher position in career. However, inspired by lectures given by successful people, I know the aim of university is far more than just to maintain a particular skill or increase our job prospect. When we become parents, we spend more time taking care of our children,at the same time striving for bread. Chances are we may no longer have such sufficent time to taste the fragrance spilling from all sorts of masterpiece by people like Aristotle or Einstein....University, a platform where new ideas interact and a sanctuary away from noise where we explore the ture value of life, is giving me more than just a certificate.
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    Oct 22 2011: cause i have been used to doing it.Support i didn't go to university,i'll be easily lose myself.Yeah,maybe i'm a little bit stupid
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      Oct 23 2011: No I think you make a good point about being a University student being tied up in our personal identity.
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    Oct 22 2011: I am a chinese college student。I fell that in China,most students go to university just for a paper which is called graduation certificate.on one hand,college teacther also know tjhat,few of them teach how to think ,how to treat out life and so on.on the other hand,teacher do not pay attention to our study,passing the exam is just ok.what about the universities in yout country?
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      Oct 23 2011: It varies I guess. I've had some really inspirational teachers who took a personal interest in me and I've also had some teachers who just seem to do their job. Generally it is in smaller classes that I have been able to connect and get inspired by teachers. What size is a typical class in China? Maybe the lack of enthusiasm from teachers comes from their reasons for becoming teachers? This is what I worry about: If you become a math teacher just to get a job and not because you love math, then you're not going to be as good a teacher as someone who is following their passion.
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        Oct 24 2011: In fact,at leat i feel that my teachers really love what they teach.After all they read a doctor,if they don't like the aspect he research,it will be very painful.I think the main problem is the leaders of school make too many rules about teaching,teacher can't teach what they thinke it's important,he has to teach but teach what is asked to teach.It may heard a little ridiculous,but it's truth in China.the position of professor is lower than leaders.many professors think it should be changed,but they don't have the courage to change it. I hope it will be changed in few years.
  • Oct 22 2011: new experience
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    Oct 22 2011: I've quit university after two semesters, because I realized I don't want to waste my time anymore. After that I've started studying my favorite topics. I've gained some skills and I've got my favorite job :)
  • Oct 22 2011: The reason people go to university/college, in my opinion, is one of two reasons or both. One, to look at the world from the an educated perspective and try to explain why something happens. Second, is to have a career and support them self.