Hot Potato lecturer encourages students to self-evaluate in pursuit of a degree
By E. David Guel
As a 17-year-old college student, psychology Professor Joe Sullivan was pressured by an academic dean at Georgia Tech into either declaring his major by 8 a.m. the next day or being ousted from the college.
Before that ultimatum, Sullivan had switched majors several times — between mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and aeronautics — through four consecutive academic quarters.
Today he has a doctorate in education from the University of the Incarnate Word; master’s degrees in world religion from Baylor University, divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and psychology from the University of Texas; and bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering from Georgia Tech and history from Baylor.
“Nobody is forcing you to choose your major today,” Sullivan told about 50 students during a Hot Potato lecture Nov. 10 in the Methodist Student Center.
When deciding on a major, students should keep three guidelines in mind, he said: Choose something they like, something they’re good at and something that will lead to a meaningful career.
“There’s something you can choose that you’re good at. I promise you,” Sullivan said. “We’re all good at something.”
“Don’t do it for the dollar marks. The best-paying jobs are probably illegal,’” joked the professor, who advised students to pick a major based on love for the field, not for the pay.
Sullivan also recommended students double-major, as it adds more value to a graduate for prospective employers.
“You’re like hiring two people, one salary,” Sullivan said.
He recommended students choose their major and make other important decisions during the “high time” of their circadian rhythms.
According to the National Health Institute of General Medical Sciences, circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in a person’s environment.
“There’s a best time of day to make decisions,” said Sullivan, who advised students to avoid making important decisions during their “low time.”
“Everybody has one time of the day when you’re high as a kite, and there’s another time of the day when we’re just so low that we can hardly figure out how to stir coffee,” he said. “We need to make our big decisions when we’re highly alert and ready to make some big decisions and be responsible for them.”
Sullivan said people have two high times in 24 hours.
“I can solve problems (at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.) that I can’t solve at 1 o’clock,” Sullivan said of his high times.
After the lecture, one student said getting a job after college is usually not as simple as touting degrees on job applications.
Criminology sophomore Riley Livingston said students have problems when they rely too much on their degree to land a job and not enough on networking and entrepreneurship.
“A lot of those people … spend so much time in academia that they’re alienated from the real world, so when they step in to put in their application they’re flabbergasted. Even if you get straight A’s you could be stepping out and just simply not have a job,” Livingston said.
“What can you step out of college and do for yourself — your own business? If you can have a college education so you know what you’re doing, if you can find a business that you can manage, operate and facilitate — and you love doing it?” Livingston said.
“There are things you can do that you could enjoy. Have a college education that you can fall back on, but go into business for yourself.”