MANILA, Philippines -- Now that graduation is near and a new batch of fresh graduates is about to try its luck in the country's job market, let me share my almost-yearlong, post-graduation experience looking for a job.
My last months in the University of the Philippines (UP) were very tense: all kinds of final reports, a thesis, org activities, not to mention the series of exams that I had to go through before acquiring that precious UP diploma -- my passport to the professional world. I survived all of those and even graduated with honors -- something I was really proud of and which gave me the belief that I was among the "highly in demand" graduates in the country. But I was wrong!
Job offers didn't come on silver platters. My "kayabangan" [hubris] -- which, by the way, is typical of some students of the premiere state university -- got the better of me. I didn't go "prospecting" for a job months before graduation. I held on to the belief and confidence that companies would be competing among themselves to hire me once they knew I was a UP graduate. But to my dismay, I found out that the State University seemed to ring a bell no more.
In fairness -- to me and to my alma mater -- my unemployment is more of a "product" of circumstances than of incompetence. (Here goes the kayabangan again.) The one and only job I applied for (way back in April last year yet) was in a research institute in UP Manila. I expected to be immediately hired because I thought my prospective bosses would have no reason to doubt about my competence, plus "potentials." After all, I was a UP graduate.
But UP, as any other government institution, is a multi-layered bureaucracy. I was summoned to a first interview in June. The second took place the following month. But then my appointment had to be approved by the UP president, but it was not expected to come soon. Months later, maybe. When exactly, even the people processing my documents could not be certain. Applicants accepted in May get to start working only in the following December, I found out.
So in July, I considered another job elsewhere, albeit alien to the course I finished. Molecular biology and biotechnology graduates in the Philippines (there are only around 30 graduates each year and only from UP) usually end up in the academe (either teaching or doing research), or in medical schools and graduate schools here and abroad. Since I didn't like to teach and didn't have plans of studying again (still got to earn!) and I did not want to go to medical school either (I have had enough of headaches!), my only option was to go into research. But pursuing such a career in a Third World country is not at all financially rewarding—not to mention the perpetual process of applying for the job (certificate of eligibility, medical exams, computer exams, two month-long interviews; by the time you start working, your first salary is not even enough to cover all that you spent for all these and your bills!). Thus, I didn't have any choice but to "cross into another field" and see what was in store for me in the corporate world.
No, it's not that I'm leaving science mainly because of money. Molecular biology was very exciting for me. I never thought that I would be doing the same stuff scientists did in TV shows I watched when I was a kid. Biotechnology, cloning and immunology, PCR and other interesting topics: Only a privileged few -- in a country like ours -- are given the chance to learn these in lectures and experiments that often involve very expensive gadgets and reagents. I also had excellent company around: the best professors and the brightest "block mates" (we have four summa cum laude awardees in our batch!). Taking the course taught me discipline.
But back in high school, economics was my most favorite subject; science came only second. But my nerdy habit of watching Discovery Channel and National Geographic, enhanced my penchant for science -- specifically molecular biology and medicine -- while my interest in things that had to do with business and economics eventually fizzled out in the face of an exciting scientific revolution that sees no end until now.
Hence, my decision to abandon my dream of becoming a scientist somehow seeks to fulfill a "long-lost" wish. Nevertheless, I still highly admire Filipino scientists sacrificing so much to advance science and research in the country despite tremendous odds. Indeed, to be competitive, the Philippines needs a robust R & D program. Yet, Filipino scientists and researchers, many of whom are known for their significant contribution to science, remain the most underpaid professionals in the country. I met many of them in UP but, aware as I am of the fact that they are given so little recognition, if at all, by a society too preoccupied with other concerns (valid or not), I can't help feeling sorry for them. I hope that the government and the Filipino people will soon realize their value and importance, otherwise more and more Filipino talents, ingenuity, resources, (including opportunities to excel in the international arena) will be lost.
My decision to "change course" brought me to an entirely different world. After several interviews, I finally was accepted as a "management trainee" for a bank. The job was great! It was like getting paid high for studying accounting (how I love this subject!), general banking laws, personnel supervision and bank products and services. However, in the middle of my training, I realized that the kind of tasks I was being groomed for -- operations and branch work -- was not to my liking. So I quit. My decision did not mean that I didn't like banking or that I hated routine tasks. I resigned because I believed that something else out there is the right job for me.
Hence, I'm now actively looking for a new job. Every week, I get a call from different companies for an interview. And because of this my friends have taken to calling me a professional interviewee. Indeed, at this point, with all the good and bad experiences I have had, I could, perhaps, write a long essay on the "do's and dont's in job interviews -- for applicants, of course.
Looking back at these experiences is quite stressful. While my batch mates are already working, I'm still going through interviews. But I have not despaired, I believe that I will have my job very soon. For now, at least, I'm learning how to be patient, optimistic and to make good use of my time.
Congratulations to the graduates of 2007 and I wish you all the best!
Andrew Agunod Jr., 21, is a graduate of molecular biology and biotechnology from University of the Philippines, Diliman.
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