The Graduating Warrior: The Real World: Beyond Fourth Year

Kevin Veloso - 4C Software
Posted on: February 6, 2013

You probably look more like Beaker than The Scream
when thinking about The Real World

The Real World. It’s something some people fear because they see grown-ups living in “The Real World” and that if they were to join them, they’ll have to grow up as well. I think the fear of The Real World comes from not knowing what it is. Is it even a thing? I was not aware of the concept of “The Real World” until I entered university, only being told that it’s where you go when you’re done your undergrad. In this column, I bring the concept of The Real World into light and, hopefully, assuaging any fears that come from it.

As mentioned before, The Real World is this hypothetical world graduates enter as soon as they finish their time in academia, whether it’s finishing undergrad, grad studies, or higher. People are expected to find “big people jobs” (full-time jobs, contractor positions, or for most people, anything that’s available) that feel like extended co-ops. For some, they realize they’re living in The Real World as soon as they start their job and realize that they have their own office, that they’re no longer treated as a co-op student, and have been assigned to a larger project than what they’re used to. Others realize they’re living in The Real World once they’ve left school for four months and realize they’re not going back. Regardless of when you realize you’re living in The Real World, it first starts with job hunting. I mentioned last issue that some fourth years are looking for jobs right now, or returning to a previous employer for a full-time position, going to grad school, or maybe they aren’t looking yet. Some fourth years choose to focus on finishing 4B, trying to avoid the dreaded Senioritus. Look it up on Wikipedia; it’s an actual thing. Others just hope for a pass, pursuing a job that isn’t related to their program because co-op provided the opportunity to explore jobs outside their program. Finding a full-time job that is slightly unrelated to one’s program still counts as entering The Real World.

Maybe The Real World sounds too dreary and that you would rather focus on the mentally stimulating adventure that is academia. For a lot of people, including your profs and TAs, they have found their passion in researching and developing new ideas related to their field of study, wanting to pursue graduate studies, or even a Ph.D in a particular subject. If you plan on staying in academia past your undergraduate career, congratulations! You were in The Real World the whole time! The world of academia definitely counts as being part of The Real World, even if it’s a different part of the world that your friends are in.

One viewpoint that I dislike hearing is that graduate school is the “snooze button” you hit so that you don’t wake facing The Real World just yet, as if that’s the route fourth years should take if they’re unsure if they want to leave school. Some students pursue graduate studies after undergrad to have a better opportunity in getting R&D (research and development) positions (depends on your field of study, of course). Others pursue graduate studies to specialize in a field that will later help them get a Ph.D. If you’re a fourth year that is in the position of choosing between finding a job in The Real World and going to graduate school, I would suggest looking at alternatives available in academia and in industry and see what suits you. For example, there may be some R&D jobs available that may only require a Bachelor’s degree. Some companies may host, advertise, or participate in conferences related to your field of work, exchanging new ideas or methodologies discovered while working in the industry, allowing you to continue your pursuit of knowledge in your particular field. Or maybe some interesting positions you have seen that are outside of R&D require a graduate degree or higher. There are definitely more alternatives than what I’ve listed here.

If you’re still under the belief that graduate school is that snooze button you need to hit to avoid leaving school (ex. maybe you’re comfortable with staying in Waterloo and wouldn’t mind staying a little longer), I would like to provide another perspective. First years can remember making the huge decision of which post-secondary institution to attend. Like fourth years, if they weren’t local to the area, they probably had to make the inconvenient decision to move from their hometown to somewhere closer to campus. It’s as if they had to enter a new world. Maybe not The Real World, but still a world different than what they’re used to. Even if it’s for five to seven years, it’s still a large decision. Like fourth years, their friends may plan on moving to a different city or a different institution once they’re done school, keeping in touch online or by visiting during the holidays. Like fourth years, they had a chance to preview their new world through information sessions (just like company-hosted info sessions!) or through online sources. Unlike fourth years, their friends probably weren’t their roommates for several years for undergrad (although they might be; I don’t know the future). Unlike fourth years, the experiences they had with their friends weren’t like the characters you saw in Single & Sexy. The kind of ties fourth years have made during their undergrad are definitely not the same as the ones they’ve made in high school. If you’re still under the belief that graduate school is that snooze button you need to hit to avoid leaving school (and graduate school isn’t something you want to pursue), take a moment to remember the months before you started university.

Some people may overplan for The Real World, and blow that idea up way out of proportions. It may be difficult to think that you may be at a company for more than four months at a time, but some people think of the extreme and pretend that they’re actually planning out the next 40 years. This kind of thinking reminds me of some obsessive teenagers in high school that think dating someone means potentially marrying them in the future, having ten kids, and teaching them how to be an Overly Attached Girlfriend just like them. Finding ideal opportunities such as finding a good job and a good life partner can happen, and if it does, congratulations on potentially not dying alone! However, realistically, they might not happen, and maybe it’s better to focus on where you’ll find work after graduation, or which institution to do your graduate studies.

The Real World may be scary at first. If you were screaming in fear before reading this article, you probably now look more like Beaker in that photo than the character in The Scream. Again, as mentioned in my previous issue, if you’re really, absolutely, positively petrified of what could potentially happen after graduation, or if you feel like you need a small nudge in the right direction, go seek career counselling, as they’ll probably have better things to say than I do.

To the Engineering Class of 2013, congratulations on earning your iron rings. That’s just one step closer to The Real World. Spooky spooky!