UMass Boston

Purposeful Pathways

 "Be who you are, and be that well."
Francis deSales

Partner with your CSM Student Success Center Advisor to discover an academic and professional direction filled with purpose, joy, and a future full of new discoveries.  Then, work together to design an academic pathway where you can start on track, stay on track, and finish strong. 

The following academic and career exploration steps are a curriculur component of the CSM 1 credit Transition Success course; however, all CSM students may benefit by working through these steps independently or with the guidance from a Student Success Center Advisor.


If you’re like most college students, an overarching goal is to find a major you love, discover purposeful work, and secure a great job. 

According to the Career One Stop, STEM careers are about expanding our concept of the universe and inventing the future. It centers on applying scientific methods, new technologies, and creative problem-solving skills to improve both natural and human-built worlds.  Here's more: 

  • Careers in this cluster offer opportunities for inventive, science- and data-loving minds to solve complex problems for a wide variety of products and industries.
  • Wages in this career cluster are typically much higher than the national average for all occupations. Engineering fields offer some of the highest starting salaries of all occupations for new college graduates.
  • Curiosity and creativity are important traits in STEM careers, as workers are on the front lines of scientific discoveries and developing cutting-edge technologies.
  • Workers in math-related careers report particularly high rates of job satisfaction. Mathematicians, statisticians, and actuaries are among the fastest-growing of all STEM jobs.
  • Engineers work in a wide variety of industries all over the world, contributing to high levels of job security.
  • The technology sector employs the largest number of STEM workers, in many fast-growing fields. 
  • Math, design, reasoning, and communication are essential skills in this cluster.

Imagine having the kind of major that inspires deep learning, dreams of discovering solutions to the world's most challenging and complex problems, and pursuing work that is profoundly purposeful.  Keep reading to find out what kind of a STEM major and career are ideal for you.

The Big Six

The findings of a Gallup 2014 study entitled ‘Great Jobs, Great Lives’ which surveyed employed college graduates, shine a light on the long-term benefits of six high-impact college activities, referred to as 'The Big Six.'  This study states:

"The support that graduates recall receiving from the institution as students, and whether graduates feel that their institutions were passionate about their long-term success, are important well after college. If an employed graduate recalls having a professor who cared about them as a person, one who made them excited about learning, and having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams, the graduate’s odds of being engaged at work more than double. Fifty-seven percent of graduates who recalled receiving support in all three are engaged at work, compared with 25% who did not receive this support."

Below are the big six activities.  The first three activities relate to the support that students receive as undergraduates from professors and mentors. The remaining three ask about students' opportunities for experiential learning.

  1. My professors cared about me as a person.
  2. I had at least one professor who made me excited about learning
  3. I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.
  4. You had an internship or job that allowed you to apply what you're learning in the classroom? (answered as yes/no)
  5. You worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete.
  6. You were extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations.

Integrating these activities into your undergraduate experience will likely prove to be a positive predictor of career engagement, life-preparedness, and enhanced overall well-being later in life. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Talk with faculty mentors about your goals and dreams, explore opportunities for research or long-term projects
  • Connect with the Academic, Career, Engagement, and Success (ACES) Center to learn about work-based learning opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, career fairs, and informational interviewing
  • Get involved on campus by joining a club, playing a sport/intramurals, or working on campus. Visit our UMBeInvolved page.

What is purposeful work?

Having a sense of purpose at work is more than just making a well-intentioned contribution to your profession; instead, it’s about making an optimal contribution where you move beyond ‘average competence’ to a place of ‘greatness and excellence'.  This is about pursuing work you love and making a difference by doing what you do best.  This is where you move beyond striving for a comparative advantage in achievement, status, or popularity, to a place where you are giving your unique set of strengths to the world around you, and to pursue work that aligns with your deeply held values. 

Explore what purposeful work means to you. 

According to the Gallup “Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work” research, 80% of college graduates surveyed said that it is very important or extremely important to derive a sense of purpose from their work, yet less than half have succeeded in finding it. Let’s get you on board with understanding just what it means to have a job that gives you a sense of purpose, and how to get there. Can you relate to the following elements describing purposeful work?

► Being deeply engaged, intellectually and emotionally invested in work.  Feeling confident, liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.

► Making a significant and positive difference in the world beyond yourself.

► Capitalizing on the momentum and energy coming from work that aligns with your talents and values. 

► Having a job where your opinions count, having a best friend at work, and having opportunities to learn and grow.

► Being part of a team where there is mutual trust, pride, a commitment to your organization, and producing quality work.

Learn about your work values by using the Career One Stop Work Values Matcher. 

Engaging in purposeful work will enhance your overall well-being in the following areas: 

Social:  Having time for recreation, and having meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  

Financial:  Feeling financially secure and having enough money to meet your needs. 

Community:  Taking pride in your community, giving back, and being a productive citizen.  

Physical:  Having the energy to get things done and having a job where you can be active outside of work hours. 

Do you see the connections? High impact college activities lead to purposeful work outcomes which then enhance your overall well-being. After all, who doesn't want a great job and a great life?  Keep reading!

Examples of Purposeful Work

1. Being deeply engaged and emotionally invested in work. Feeling confident, liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
It's Monday morning and Domenic is excited to attend a Bio-Physics conference.  It's a very busy day ahead filled presenting his research findings, tight deadlines, and a follow up meeting with his supervisor who gives him great mentoring and inspiration to further develop his analytical skills. 

2. Making a significant and positive difference in the world beyond yourself.
Shakeria just graduated with a double major in Chemistry and Environmental Sciences.  She's doing outdoor field work at the Nantucket Field Station. The outdoor working conditions are sometimes harsh, but the mission of the work aligns with her deeply-held beliefs to reduce water pollution and enhance marsh dynamics.  

 3. Capitalizing on the momentum and energy coming from work that aligns with your talents and values.
Pia's performance on a recent project was stellar.  She was able to quickly and effectively analyze complex cancer research data that was a stumbling block for many of her colleagues.  Her boss was so impressed that she is offering her a promotion to a senior analyst position.  Pia is thrilled with this new responsibility and said the job doesn’t even feel like work.

4. Having a job where your opinions count.
Kevin and Terry work at an Engineering start-up and were often quiet in staff meetings, but their supervisor gently pushes everyone to participate and to express their opinions.  As a result, they have grown more confident and now speak up freely - they even volunteered to be on several working groups work on the latest product proto-types. 

5. Having a best friend at work.
Hilmar calls Michael on the phone whenever he’s feeling stressed out about the latest software product de-bugging task. After these conversations they usually both end up finding something to laugh about and then they're ready to dive in and find the right solutions.   

6. Having opportunities to learn and grow.
Takeshi is quite happy with his job but has aspirations for advancement. He's working on developing new skills in adjusting lasers and optical devices.  He takes every opportunity to learn from his supervisors, attend trainings, conferences, and contributes back to his team and organization. 

7. Being part of a team where there is mutual trust, pride, a commitment to your organization, and producing quality work.
Khalid, Robin, Petra, and Tory think of each other as family. They trust each other to do their best work on an all-important virus testing kit. They IM and call on one another whenever they need help.

You have many talents!

Research shows that the fastest and most powerful way to achieve excellence and success is to leverage your unique set of talents. In other words, capitalizing on your talents allow you to use your efforts efficiently to gain maximum results.  Gallup describes talents as undeveloped strengths which reflect how you naturally think, feel, and behave - and they reveal what you do best.  Gallup also reveals Five Clues to Talent:

  1. Yearning: What kinds of activities are you naturally drawn to?
  2. Rapid Learning: What kinds of activities do you pick up quickly?
  3. Flow: In what activities did you seem to automatically know the steps to be taken?
  4. Glimpses of Excellence:  During what activities have you have moments of subconscious excellence when you thought, "How did I do that?"
  5. Satisfaction:  What activities give you a kick, either while doing them or immediately after finish them, and you think, "When can di do that again?"

Oftentimes, 'talents' and 'strengths' are used interchangeably, but it's best to think of talents as being an undeveloped strength.  Again, a talent what you naturally and innately do well.  Work hard to develop your talents, turn them into strengths, and find meaningful ways to apply them.  Strengths psychology guru and best-selling author, Marcus Buckingham, describes strengths in a very practical way.  He states that strengths are not something that you're good at, just like a weakness isn't something that you're bad at.  Instead, a strength is an activity that strengthens you.  That you look forward to doing and leaves you feeling energized, rather than depleted. 

Doing a few things exceptionally well is a far better path to success than trying to be all things to all people. Equally important, you’ll want to avoid work in areas that you might find draining or have been a problem for you – these are your ‘lesser talents' and weaknesses that will need to be carefully managed.  In these areas, you’ll either need to avoid the work altogether, develop a strong support system, or form complementary partnerships in order to share contrasting talents with others. While it’s important to have necessary workplace skills, like communication and problem-solving skills, focusing too much on trying to be ‘well-rounded’ will never lead you to your unique version of greatness.   

Did you know that talents are often unidentified, unrecognized, and underutilized? Identifying your talents provides insight into what motivates you, how you manage things, and how you work with others. 

In order to discover your unique talents, we strongly encourage you to take the Clifton Strengths Assessment. Please refer to this link for more information on how to access this assessment for free. 

This assessment results will identify your talents instruct you on how to develop and apply them in school, work, and in many other areas of your life. Here are a few examples of talents. 

  1. Responding extremely well to change and dealing with unexpected circumstances.
  2. Knowing how to put thoughts into words and bringing abstract ideas to life. 
  3. Sensing the emotions of others and forming deep, emotional connections.

These are just a few examples of talents.  Gallup has discovered 34 Signature Themes of Talent.  What are yours?  Take the Clifton Strengths Assessment to find out.  Additionally, fill out the 'Five Clues of Talent' worksheet which is another way to get a sense of what you do best.

Read more about You have many talents!  »

Explore your major options

Does UMass Boston offer the right STEM major for you?  If you cannot seem to find that ideal major, you can likely still find one that will meet many of your needs where you can position yourself for success.  Start by exploring both the undergraduate and the graduate academic programs to see what fields interest you the most.  Frequently, students realize their true niche at the graduate level, so for fun, poke around at the graduate level options as that may give you a hint at what undergraduate majors may be worth exploring more. 

Do you have the right skills and talents to succeed in a chosen major?  Are you getting good grades in the related introductory courses?  Does the work come at least somewhat easily for you?  If you’re finding that you’re not performing well in those courses, it’s a clue that you’re likely on the wrong path and you’ll need to re-evaluate your focus.  

Do this: 

  • Read the degree requirements and course descriptions of the courses you find interesting.  Visit academic departmental websites and read the faculty biographies and current research in the areas that catch your eye.
  • Meet with professors who are teaching in areas where you have some interest. Probe and find out about the latest research in the field and learn why these academic disciplines matter. Keep thinking about your life’s purpose, what you do best, and how with the right education and career choice, you can make a positive difference.
  • Visit the bookstore or library and browse through the books in the academic areas where you have some interest.  Are you finding anything that inspires you at either the undergraduate or even the graduate level? 

The more authentic you are with the process of selecting a major and a career, the more engaged and satisfied you’ll be in the long run…and the less regret you’ll have in the future.  Select a major for yourself and not for anyone else!

Obviously, completing these steps will take some time. What you can do now is learn about your options by visiting the ‘Academics’ section of the UMass Boston website to review the undergraduate majors you are considering, and which ones are out of the question. You will be surprised that a quick, methodical search goes a long way. 

Read more about Explore your major options »

Explore Career options: You and the world of work.

Most of us are only aware of a small segment of the thousands of careers out there. In order to find some that are right for you, you will now need to do some dedicated research into the world of work. As you approach this process, be mindful of what you learned when you explored your academic options and your talents. 

Take some time to visit the Department of Labor, ‘Career One Stop’  website and explore the STEM occupation list to research and discover careers that align with your interests, talents, and values. Additionally, check out the other career clusters and occupation lists to see what sparks your attention. 

To dive deeper into career exploration, visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook for comprehensive descriptions of countless jobs, nature of the work, and occupational projcections.  Healey Library Films on Demand  is a cool website to watch educational videos and documentaries in areas that you find intriguing. What are you learning from this research and how does it affect your major and career selection?

Are you sure? The value of informational Interviews.

Do you have a realistic preview of the profession you want to pursue? You'll want to find out early if the profession you have been striving to land is much different than your expectations - that way, you'll have time to re-evaluate and pivot your direction. There is no better way to make the most informed academic and career decision possible than by talking to and evaluating advice from subject matter experts – these conversations are called ‘informational interviews’. Talking with advisors, faculty, and career professionals to learn the inside scoop on the academic rigors of majors and careers you’re interested in will give you a realistic idea of what’s ahead. Ultimately, you need to be sure you have the talents, interests, and skills to meet the demands of the majors and careers you are considering.  Be sure to ask the right questions!




What strategies and/or resources can I use to perform better in your course and in this major?

How can I pass your class?

How do I know if I am in the right major?

How can I make a lot of money from this major?

Can you explain what research opportunities are available to me?

What are the easiest courses to take in the major?

What do you love about this field?

I was absent in class; can you tell me what I mssed?

Based on my degree audit, I designed an academic plan and set a target graduation date.  Can you look it over to see if it makes sense?

What are my degree requirements?


What are your main responsibilities as a...? 

Do you get a lot of vacation time?

What kind of education and training is required for this work?

Can you review my resume? 

What do you like most about your work?

Can you introduce me to the company president? 

What do you like least about your work? 

How much money do you make? 

What kinds of problems do you deal with? 

Can you get me a job interview? 

For other ways of acquiring career insight, visit Career Village  which is a website that connects you to real-life experts and gives you a chance to ask all career-related questions. The provided answers are usually very high-quality as they come from people with diverse experiences in their career fields.

Be Career-Wise


Plan early to build your resume. Work with an ACES or a faculty advisor for guidance on building a resume that best represents your qualifications for employment.

Further your education and training.  Consider seeking an advanced degree, professional certification, and/or in-service training at your organization in order to be competitive and on the cutting edge of your chosen profession.  Be sure to join at least one or two professional associations as well, which you can find from the Occupational Outlook Handbook website. 

Job-Crafting.  Sometimes you'll be able to redesign your current job into an even more meaningful work experience. With the help from a mentor or your employer, think carefully how to best apply your strengths to your work or organization. Here's a comprehensive article about Job Crafting

Consider your personal and life-planning needs. Hobbies, a favorite second job, or being a stay-at-home parent are all considerations when narrowing down your work options. 

Be realistic.  Make sure you have demonstratable evidence that you have the aptitude to excel in your chosen major or your future profession. 

Seek work-based learning opportunities. In STEM professions, an internship and/or research experience is a must.  Additional ways to learn about future work opportunities are through job shadowing, work-place tours, career fairs or apprenticeships. Learn about CSM's Research opportunities here.  Learn more about UMass Boston's Internships here.

Plan for happenstance.  Develop and refine your career focus but expect the unexpected. Chance opportunities or life events may hit you by surprise that could inspire a change of course, or something even better than you can even imagine!  Read this interesting article. 

Develop good work habits, and career-ready competencies.  If you're currently working, be sure to develop habits that make you a valuable employee such as having good follow-through, being responsible, and having great human relations skills.   Visit the National College of Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) website  to learn what competencies employers need you to possess in order to be a competitive candidate.

Remember Why All This Matters. (Hint: Your Happiness)

What will happen when you discover and pursue a STEM career that is filled with a strong sense of purpose?

  • Simply put, you'll be happier. 
  • You will be positioning yourself to make an optimal contribution to your academics and to your intended profession - you will set high standards for yourself. 
  • You will seek opportunities to solve some of the world's most challenging problems. 
  • You will flourish in many areas of your life outside of work. 
  • You will have more hope, stronger social connections, and will probably even make more money.  
  • You will likely feel less concerned with your own achievements and status, and instead be more concerned with the needs of others.
  • You will have more courage, ambition, and focus to make your dreams a reality.    

To circle back with Gallup's Research, 'Great Jobs, Great Lives', the article states:

"Gallup studies show that worldwide, having a good job is one of the most important factors in life — because it occupies an enormous amount of people’s time and their self-identity. In the U.S., Americans enroll in higher education institutions to prepare themselves to attain that “good” job. Additional recent Gallup research shows that only 30% of Americans are engaged in their jobs, meaning that the U.S. workplace is missing staggering amounts of economic benefit that comes from workforces that are more engaged. If higher education does not lead graduates to an engaging job, then it has fallen down on a central expectation of students and their families who support them through college."

Here at the College of Science & Mathematics at UMass Boston, we are committed to helping you discover work where you are intellectually and emotionally connected with an area of study and to pursue work that profoundly meaningful and impactful. 

Lastly, remember that as you grow and refine your values, so will your academic and career direction change too.  At times, you may need to pause, reflect for a while, and even return to the beginning of your exploration in order to make sure you are gaining deeper insights.  Stay connected with your advisors as we are your partners in designing your unique pathway to a purposeful education and career.

Create your Exploration Plan

Now that you've taken the time to research your academic and career interests, it's time to design an Exploration Plan with the goal of developing your unique STEM pathway.  While it's not necessary to complete this worksheet in order to meet with a faculty or an ACES Advisor, the Exploration Plan will certainly help to prepare you for that meeting. 

Complete and print out the CSM Purposeful Pathways Exploration Plan  and take it with you to your meeting with an Academic, Career, or Faculty Advisor.

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