Cognitive Development of Twentysomethings

I remember being told as an undergraduate student by Prof Peter Metcalf that one’s choice of major didn’t really matter and that we could reassure our parents that there would be plenty of middle-management positions waiting for us down the road. Many, if not most, people do not work in the same field as what they studied as an undergrad, he said. I was thus reassured with my choice to give up engineering in favor of cultural anthropology. I’m sure he was right about the second part. I’m still waiting to see about the first.

On another occasion, my advisor, Prof Adria LaViollete, seeing that I wanted to pile on more courses within my major, said that specialization should be saved for grad school.  Undergrad was the time for exploration, not specialization. (I ignored her advice and now regret it.) Either way, grad school can come years after the bachelors degree and subsequent formative work experiences. I did take that advice. I’ll never really know if I could have made better decision, but a recent NIH study suggests that a final period of brain development is occurring in people’s twenties. This is worth considering in an era where 1) young people are pushed to make decisions about how they will earn a living and 2) most people will have multiple careers in different fields because of a more dynamic/chaotic job market.

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