Career Now + Beyond

Why switching from STEM to the arts worked for me

If life has taught me anything, it’s this: your interests can change. For me, switching fields from the sciences to the arts was both very difficult and very easy. I always loved reading and writing. As a kid, I used to spend hours sitting on the floor behind the curtain in our living room, reading whatever I could find. When I was 15 years old, I read a book called A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It contained literally what it said on the cover: a history of the world as we know it, how scientists made their discoveries, and what prompted them to do what they did. This book was one of the main reasons I went into the sciences in the first place. I felt a spark of excitement and wonder. I was ready to explore the world.

But many things were lost in the translation of my dreams to reality.

In the Indian school system (as in many others) you pick your specialization in 11th grade. I picked science over commerce and humanities. This was a no-brainer for me. The last two years of school were hard. I had spent many stressful nights crying about low grades and the sheer difficulty of the coursework. But now and then I would feel that spark again, and that was enough.

Choosing a college major was another challenge. I had a vague interest in coding. People said that if I studied computer science engineering I would get a job easily and it would pay well. Another no-brainer.

Here’s the thing about no-brainers though: at some point, your brain kicks in and you realize it should have done so sooner. At least, that’s how it was for me.

The four years that I spent studying computer science engineering in India taught me a lot. The most important lesson it taught me was that I was not made for this life. Have you ever felt that sometimes you have to try things just to realize that you never want to do them again? I trudged through classes, desperately trying to stay afloat as the boredom and lack of passion overwhelmed me. Every class made me realize I just wasn’t interested in coding anymore, that what I felt before may have been a passing fancy. I was terrified that I couldn’t feel the spark anymore. Nothing felt worth it. I spent months trying to regain my interest before realizing that the smart thing to do was to quit.

It takes courage to keep going, yes. But it takes so much more courage to quit. This time, it was far from being a no-brainer. I took my time researching different possible career paths. I knew I had to go back to the roots of what excited me as a kid. Books, for sure! But what related to books? I found out I could do my master’s in creative writing and publishing, so I jumped at the chance to change fields.

My master’s experience could not have been more different. I felt the spark again, every day this time. I did work that I could point to as something I was proud of. I was happy. But sometimes I would think back and wonder what happened. Whose fault was it? Mine, for not trying hard enough? The system’s, for making a 17-year-old choose and making them believe that that choice was irreversible? I don’t know. What I do know is that the decision to leave tech and the sciences was difficult. I have doubted my choice many times–when it was too hard to find a job during the pandemic, and when my friends in tech found jobs and started earning way more than me. But you know what? It was also so easy. I just needed that spark again. It made me feel like myself, made me feel alive. And look, here I am! I could be happier, but I’m pretty happy as it is.

I hope 15-year-old me would approve. She didn’t understand that it is ok to switch around until you find something you like, but I think she understood the spark. I think she would be happy that I feel it again.

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By Supreeta Balasubramanian

Supreeta Balasubramanian grew up in Dubai, studied in Dubai, India and London and now lives in Chennai, India. She has a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science Engineering and an MA in Creative Writing and Publishing. Her true passions are proofreading, editing, writing and reading. She enjoys words and would love to live the rest of her life playing with them!