Bayless: Making the most of Yale

If you told me four years ago that I would end up in a master’s program, I probably would have laughed. I bounced around a lot before settling on the molecular biochemistry and biophysics major, sweeping through music, chemistry, even a brief stint as a history of science and medicine major. My career goals followed a similarly winding path, ranging from medical school to culinary school, and I even toyed with entering the “real world” and getting a … what’s the word … “job.”

However, it became increasingly clear to me that a lot of the traditional paths through Yale and beyond weren’t going to work for me. Medical school sounded interesting and rewarding, but was I really ready to spend eight (or more) years working towards something I felt unsure about? Not a chance. I did seriously consider culinary school as well, though whether out of genuine interest or boredom with a project at hand remains an unsolved mystery. I felt that Yale tug to do something prestigious, something that others have done before, something established, warring with my desire to find my own path and explore new frontiers after graduation, doing something fresh and different, something that would complement and enhance my Yale education, not merely supplement it.

I’ve never been more thankful for the quality of education Yale provides than in the few months since my graduation; nor did I understand some of its weaknesses as well as I do now. The equilibrium that Yale must strike is a challenging one: how to balance a liberal arts education focusing on developing the minds and analytical abilities of students, regardless of discipline, with the growing need for utilizable skills in the job market. Having studied primarily in the sciences at Yale, I became acutely aware, towards the end of my time as an undergraduate, that employers care that you’re smart and care that you’re driven, but what they really want to know is what you can do. And for many Yalies, that list is painfully short.

At Yale, I was a firm believer in going through the undergraduate experience. I didn’t focus on developing skills or learning practical knowledge that would pave the way for my future. I spent my time in dining halls, on Cross Campus and running to meetings for various extracurriculars. I disregarded my homework far too often to stomp around New Haven at the wee hours of the morning taking photos for the News. I studied a language I would never have predicted. I went abroad through opportunities that Yale made available. And because of these experiences, I was a better person, a more well-versed student, and a more aware global citizen, or so I hope. But that’s not the whole picture.

The big question isn’t about what you learn at Yale. It’s not about learning skills at all. It’s not about getting a job. You have (or will soon have) an education from one of the most renowned and celebrated learning institutions that has ever existed. What are you going to do with it?

For me, graduate school was the answer. I was looking for something that would complement my Yale science background with a mixture of applied science and business and management. What I’ll be doing in a year, or two, or five, I can’t tell you (or probably even accurately predict), but I know that my Yale education will be serving me well in any case. But it’s not important to remember where you went, what you did, or how well you did it; instead, remember you have a responsibility as a Yalie to use all of the resources and opportunities at your fingertips to be the most transformative person you can be. The way to do that? That’s up to you.

Nicholas Bayless is a 2010 graduate of Ezra Stiles College and a former photography editor for the News.

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