Dr. Paul Chen
Political Science Department
For many students, the hardest part about college is not necessarily getting the degree, but deciding what to major in and how to apply those academic skills in the business setting. In today's world where there are so many career options, it can be overwhelming to research the possible industries and jobs that could meet an individual's life goals and interests. Associate Professor Paul Chen understands well this predicament from his own personal experience. In retrospect, his wide range of degrees has provided him with a well-rounded perspective on life, but the process of discovering his current position and passion for teaching was a long journey. He is open to sharing his struggles as a past, discerning college student in hopes that people will learn from his mistakes – as his mother's advice always taught him: "An intelligent person will learn from his or her own mistakes, but a genius will learn from other's mistakes."
Chen began his educational journey at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his bachelors in English literature. From there, he entered into law school at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, Calif. However upon earning his law degree, he realized that being a lawyer was not the right fit for his interests. Curiosity in theology and philosophy encouraged him to enroll in Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., but he ended up graduating with a degree in Intercultural Studies. Still discontent with the job opportunities accessible to him with this degree, he continued on in his education to earn a second master's degree and doctorate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, Calif. While Chen is proud of his educational accomplishments, he looks back upon his multiple degrees as a testimony to his inability to decipher his major interests and apply them to a career.
After graduating from USC, Chen was accepted into his current position as associate professor in Western's political science department. After years of searching for the perfect career, Chen has finally found his home in the academic setting as a teaching and researching professor.
Chen's area of research interest includes public law, American politics, and the influence of religion on politics. He is currently working on a book called, "Conservatives and the Courts: The Rise of Conservative Jurisprudence in the United States and Its Impact on Law and Policy."
For those students considering law school, Chen has some words of advice from his own experiences. "If you want to go to law school," he says, "get your foot in the door by starting out as an intern or taking an entry level position in a law firm or legal setting to see if you enjoy the environment. Law school will always be there, but it is first important that you reaffirm that you can passionately enjoy the field outside the classroom setting." Although it doesn't make any difference to the law school if one does or does not take an internship, Chen says the personal benefits of the exercise far outweigh spending hundreds of dollars on a law education that may turn out to not be the right fit.
Chen explains that a stereotype of political science majors is that the students go directly to law school after college, but this is not always the case. Chen approximates that one out of twenty students pursue law school or participate in governmental agencies. Rather than be vocational, the general education of the liberal arts degree is designed to prepare students with critical reading, writing and analytical skills that can be applied to diverse avenues of opportunity. Therefore, it is crucial that students view their undergraduate degree more like a certificate, rather than a guaranteed ticket to a specific job. It is the task of the students to take what their certificate has taught them and research how it can be applied to a job position.
"I don't think students think seriously enough about careers," Chen says. "Students should start their job research as freshmen, and not wait until they are seniors to decide how their major can be applied in society." He says that students should be open to exploration and realize that narrowing your interests begins with realizing what you don't like- and this takes experience.
Chen is a firm believer in internships. Advice from Chen's father says that if a student doesn't know what to do after graduation, he or she should get a job to figure it out rather than pursue more schooling – advice that Chen wishes he listened to as an undergraduate. "Finding your calling and vocation often comes from experience within an organization," he said.
According to this professor, organizations run the world. Individuals can do nothing alone, but it is only through their work in an organization that their actions can take on global significance. He stresses that it is important students learn how to navigate and cooperate within organizational systems in society because it will determine the success of their job. "Students should become familiar with the bureaucratic and often slow processes of corporations, learning to negotiate compromise," Chen says, "It is reality."
He suggests students research jobs in political science first from the local level and then pursue the bigger, global positions. In politics, jobs are often filled through nepotism and networking, not always through volunteering or internships. Hence a big break into the competitive track of law can be challenging.
Skills that Chen says students undervalue are business etiquette and formal writing techniques. Students can prepare themselves for jobs after graduation by learning to interview well and writing a polished resume free from grammar errors and misspelled words, he remarks.
He again suggests students be proactive in their job search. "It is rare that your job falls into your lap," he warns, "It takes a diligent pursuit and your job will often evolve over the course of your life."
Chen says, "There is the perfect job in the world for everyone, but most people don't even know it exists." It takes motivation, hard work and realistically, a little bit of serendipitous luck, to live out your fantasy career, Chen explains. But that should not stop students from dreaming and trying new jobs and fields of study. After twelve years of education post high school, Chen can confidently say education has and will continue to be his passion.
"If they could pay me to be a professional student, I would. Some people, like me, just thoroughly enjoy learning and education," Chen said. Paraphrasing Socrates and Chen's fascination in philosophy and literature, "To be educated is to know – that you don't know." He hopes students don't get too discouraged with not knowing their career path because education is a journey of self-exploration and academic discovery… if we knew it all from the beginning, then it would be the university who would be out of a job!
Interview By Jenna Hall
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Dr. Paul Chen