In the first of our series of alumni voices, Neelesh Mittal (SAS '10) shows that sometimes the right major path leads to unexpected but fulfilling destinations:
When I got to Rutgers in the Fall of 2006, I was ready to pursue a career in medicine. After all, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 5 years old. My entire family knew that and expected me to become the surgeon I always said I would become. I knew that I needed to ace Organic Chemistry, do clinical or lab research, score at least a 30 on my MCAT, and volunteer.
All this excitement came crashing down after my very first semester when I completely bombed General Chemistry I. After some deep thinking, I decided it was no matter because I would study super hard for General Chemistry II and show improvement and then medical school admissions committees would not care.
Flash forward to May 2007 – I did not improve much in General Chemistry II. The same story pretty much repeated itself for many of my major classes. I did however do clinical research the following summer and was published in two leading medical journals. Even with my grades, I pressed on, dropping a lot of cash on an MCAT course and taking the test twice. I got a half way decent score, which was not enough to offset my transcript. Advisers, professors, and smart friends and family all suggested finding a new route to helping people.
I had enough credits to graduate with my Cell Biology and Neuroscience major one semester early, so December 2009 was the end of college for me. This was a good time for reflection. I didn’t do well in my science classes but excelled in my political science and other humanities classes. While I still had a passion for health & medicine, I came to the conclusion that becoming a doctor simply wasn’t going to be that path. I needed a job so I started researching the companies that would come to the Rutgers Career Fair in January. My experiences included clinical research and two publications and a stint as a pharm tech. I figured I could get a basic clinical research job at an academic hospital and buy time to really figure out what was next (because who wants a dead end $11/hour lab job?)
One of the companies coming to the career fair was a medical device company which created devices in the same area as my clinical research. I extensively researched this company and saw they were hiring for a role in Regulatory Affairs – essentially, getting new devices cleared by the FDA and foreign regulatory agencies. I met them at the Career Fair, went into their office the next week for an interview, and got an offer two weeks later. It was the only company I applied to. They loved that I had done all this research and showed a passion for working in teams and across multiple functions. Flash forward 5 years, and I have transitioned to a rewarding sales and marketing role at the same company where I work with surgeons one-on-one in the Operating Room to advance patient care.
Moral of the story: Medicine is not the only way to help people. Life goals made when you were 5 can and should change. Listen to the smarter and older people around you. I can’t speculate what would have happened if I changed paths earlier in my college career, but I know for sure I would have saved a ton of time, money, and stress. Sure, I’m not the guy at the OR table, but it definitely beats not being in the room at all.