I came to Illinois Tech in August 2010 knowing I wanted to “make an impact” in the world – but
not sure exactly how. I knew I had an interest in learning and contributing to how science
changes our society for the better, and upon arriving at the Illinois Tech campus I also realized
soon enough that this was the right setting for me. The professors were accessible, the campus
community welcoming and diverse, the urban playground of Chicago a mere ten minute train
ride away — and at the heart of it all was a flourishing scene of research, technology, new
thinking and collaboration.

Three majors, four years, dozens of transformative extra-curriculars and two internships later, I
found myself with a diploma in hand but still unable to answer those elusive questions that come
so easily to some — “what’s [my] dream job”, or “where [I] saw myself in 5 years”. Turns out, that
was okay. All that was really important at the time was for me to explore more *types* of work,
to help me understand where exactly my skill sets lay. I threw myself into the first “real world”
internship that I landed, at a nonprofit promoting economic development through science,
technology and innovation. I was an “everything” intern at an organization that worked in many
fields — STEM education, research and data, collaborating with larger companies on corporate
innovation, and even policy and advocacy on tech issues impacting the economy. Here, I was
fortunate to find mentors who encouraged me to develop skills I showed promise in, namely
social media marketing, business development and communications.

My internship turned into a part-time position and I used my availability/flexibility to keep
broadening my exposure. I interned for a consulting firm guiding tech startups on regulatory
challenges. Do you want to know the number one hurdle for fast-moving innovation like bitcoin,
drones and driverless cars? Look no further than policy. The government can be a big stumbling
block, but also a big ally — I learned that by working directly with the former Deputy Governor of
Illinois, also the smartest man I’ve met. (After an M.A. and a J.D. he’s pursuing a PhD in Eastern
Japanese Religion “for fun”, with a full-time consulting gig, three kids and the age of 40. If those
aren’t #goals I don’t know what are). I then interned for the city of Chicago’s economic
development agency, getting an inside look at how jobs are created (and how Mayors can be
reelected!). Having been on marketing/PR side until now, I also wanted to explore “the other
side” — namely, journalism. So, through my own hustle and outreach, I landed a final internship
with one of Chicago’s most promising media companies, working as a reporter and journalist
covering tech startups on the ground. And that is where (I think!) I’ve finally found my “calling”.
(I’m now applying for full-time positions as well as graduate programs in journalism.)
My point here is that a career development and growth journey can be messy, long, uncertain
and unpredictable — but it’s OK. As long as you’re genuinely trying your best to understand
what tasks you enjoy, learning how to work with people of varied skill sets, and picking up
relevant and applicable skills like attention to detail and time management — you’re doing just
fine.

Of course there will always be acquaintances who land their “dream job” right after college, or
don’t need 5 internships to figure out what they want to study in graduate school (I had one of
these colleagues right at home, my twin brother!). And yes, internships after college might set
you behind a little bit if you want to save towards your first home, or get started on that 401(k)
plan. You might even say that I come from a place of privilege to be OK with multiple internships
— but I never asked my parents for rent money, and kept my student loan grantors in the loop
of my efforts (It’s not like I wasn’t trying for a full-time position: All my internships were extended beyond their initial timeline, but only to the point where my employers simply didn’t have the
budget to retain me full-time.)

One last thing — reading my story, perhaps you might question the necessity of school itself,
especially since I clearly didn’t choose the right major and picked up so many rich skills outside
of school. But I’d never have gained the platform I needed to even launch myself if I didn’t have
my mistakes, experiences, successes and network from school – especially one like Illinois
Tecg. While my journey is still evolving, I feel empowered that my varied experience has given
me increasing clarity and confidence I need to pursue my dreams, and ultimately make that
“impact” I was hoping for.

 

By Utsav Gandhi

Utsav came to Illinois Tech as a first year undergraduate from Mumbai, India in the Fall of 2010. He graduated in 2014 from the engineering management program and has since worked in communications and policy roles in technology-based economic development (“TBED”) for the City of Chicago and State of Illinois. He is looking to pursue graduate school in public policy and communications. 

You Can Run, You Can Fly, You Can Fall – Just Don’t Stop Moving

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